Pain: a sensation of hurting or strong discomfort. (from Webster's). Yes, it's been a week of pain, but not mine - my daughter's and my mom's - I'm just in the middle, unable to help. My daughter's chipped front tooth from a playground fall almost a decade ago came back to hurt with a vengence, just at exam time. An infected emergency root canal then blew her face up so she resembled Miss Piggy  - and she couldn't sleep. As much as I wanted to take her pain - I couldn't.

Then there's my mom, who lives in this cloud of pain, and again I can do nothing but listen. And as she said, in one of her more philosophical moments, pain is like the wind ... nobody can see it, just its effects. So today, as a strong wind blows in from the west, I imagine pain - somewhere there's pain, and all I can do is hear it howl.

Actually, there are painkillers, and they do work - but the pain always comes back unless something gets fixed somewhere. My daughter's infection is now under control with antibiotics, but for my mom - her pain - and her fear - have become one and the older she gets, the more she's that vulnerable little girl who just didn't understand why there had to be so much wind - so much pain - in her world.

I suggested to her, during one visit, that she had to take the pain and bury it. She looked at me like I was nuts. So I told her to remember some happy moment from childhood. This she could do. She remembered a time when she was ten or eleven and her dad took her into Zhitomir, and he let her have a sip of his dark beer and that she wasn't to tell anyone. Pleasures are good, but forbidden pleasures are even better. 

Pain as wind - I like that metaphor. And Stalin was the mean wolf who blew down the kulak's homes. He huffed and he puffed all this anger out at the kulaks. So what was his pain?
What made him into such a cruel leader? I read somewhere that after his first wife died he lost his humanity. Still, it's hard to imagine pain in a monster.

public speaking

I'm taking a public speaking course - one night a week for the next six weeks. In the first class we got to laugh and cry with each other. Turns out the other eight or nine people are all self-conscious and nervous like me.

Different people from different backgrounds all have different reasons for improving their ability to present themselves in public. There's a teacher who wants to be able to speak more articulately in front of her peers at school meetings. There's a mom who's trying to lose her shyness after years of only speaking to kids. There's a salesman who wants to get a better job. There's a student who's practicing for job interviews. There's a woman who's more terrified of speaking in front of a group than of parachute jumping.  

Yeah, so we're all in this together ... learning to speak so that others want to listen.  Our homework for next week is to give a two-minute opinion piece.  In my opinion, public speaking ... just might be fun. 


Sunny day, but I feel glum. Publisher informed me that my book will only be put out in softcover because it doesn't warrant hardcover. That makes me feel great. :( Yeah. 

Yesterday, it was exactly three years since I signed the contract. Honestly, I wish I could focus on something else. But even the sequel I spent the last two years working on has to wait in line - as my contract says - and so now I'm not sure what direction to move in. 

With my mom doing so badly in the hospital, all I can really focus on is these books about her childhood. Plus, I'm still totally fascinated with those places and those years. Still, maybe I should try to get into into some contemporary fiction. I've a couple in my drawer that could use a fresh edit. 

Maybe if  I'd finally get an ARC I'd be feeling more optimistic. (Although, having to cut the last three chapters doesn't make me feel too thrilled about finally seeing that ARC). Sigh.

How come getting a book published is so painful? 

Wind chill

Forget the musty trails,  try frosty trails instead. And forget the meandering, brisk walking's the  only way to keep warm.

It's been one of those weeks where the windchill was constantly in  the -40s (on Wednesday, supposedly, Winnipeg was the coldest place in North America). I must remind my dear old mom (who frets that she didn't survive the gulag so her daughter could work outside here on the prairies) that working as a letter carrier in Winnipeg isn't like being in Siberia. I get regular meals (and no, it's not cabbage soup twice a day), dress in layers (Gortex is amazing), and have a warm barrack (I mean, home) to return to. My boss doesn't stand around with a gun or a mean dog, 'supervising' my progress. Well, not yet.  

My mom (still in the hospital) told me a story yesterday of how a fellow gulag inmate had tried to warm herself near some coals and her quilted jacket caught fire. She ran into the snow and rolled around to quench the flames. My mom noticed some lights out in the field and went out to see what was happening. She walked the woman back to the barracks. By then the woman was frozen solid. They put her into a shower and she recovered. But my mom says the woman "went crazy" and was never herself again.

Stay warm, eh!

Political Activism

The above link is about recognizing Soviet communism as the monstrosity it was. You can sign the petition and work towards creating a better understanding of the past so that the future can be better.

New Soviet documentary

This will be on my must-see movie list for 2009:

On another note. Boss said we're not to climb snowbanks anymore. Sigh. Where's the fun in that? And I've got my super-duper mountain climbing socks from Marks Work Warehouse. I'd like to CHOOSE my own battles and if I feel like climbing snowbanks while I deliver the mail, I think I should just do it. 

Okay, that's my rant. 

Robert Frost's poetry

Wisdom from Robert Frost's
 "The Road not Taken"

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

And then I must add the lines of his other poem which has accompanied me on many a snowy walk in my own local woods.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

How can you tell I spend all my time walking? 

Word of the year CHOICE

Getting on the bandwagon here ... my word of the year is going to be ... CHOICE. You know, kind of like the poem about choosing the path less traveled. I think it's what defines us as humans (with my apologies to the Killers who ask: are we human or are we dancers?).  I'll say that I have freedom with my act of choosing. 

Now what shall I choose?

Places on a Map

I gave myself a renewed subscription to Russian Life's "Chtenia: Readings from Russia" for the new year. It's an amazing little journal that arrives with the seasons. My renewal came with a free modern map of Russia. I've put it up on my wall and pinpointed places that have a story for me - (because of my mom). Wow, is Russia ever a big place - and pre-1991 it was even bigger. 

Siberia just goes on and on. Because of its sheer size, winters there really are colder than elsewhere. It has something to do with the Ural mountains and the fact that there's little coastline to moderate the temperatures. There's just so much land with virtually no towns or cities shown on the map. I guess the small settlements - often gulags with forced labour - never got to be given a name on a map. I can find Arkhangelsk - north of St. Petersburg near the White Sea Canal. I can also see Vorkuta - a notoriously harsh gulag. But I can't see the little place near Yaya (just southest of Tomsk) where my mom was sent. In fact, most of the places of my mom's life can't be found anywhere. 

Fedorofka, her home village has been renamed Kaliniwka. Koenigsberg, where she spent her teenage years is now Kaliningrad, East Prussia is now Poland and no Yaya.  Today, it's no doubt just some leftover barbwire in some bush.  Then there's the place where she was sent as POW in 1945 - somewhere in the Ural Mountains - Shadrinsk - I found it!  It's on the Iset River. 

I must try and keep these places real. I would SO much love to travel by train through Siberia. 
Maybe someday. 

Happy 2009

Funny how the new calendar year has nothing to do with new. I mean, I look out the window and it's old snow, sleeping trees, and a sun barely able to peek over the horizon. Frozen energy.

New is supposed to be full of life, no? Instead, this time of year it's all about surviving. A time to survive the short, blustery hours of daylight, and the long, colder hours of night. And that does takes energy. Not the loud burst of frivolity of a new year's eve party (although I've done my share), but the daily grind of sticking to it and believing that spring is waiting.

Hey, it's kind of like writing a book. You write and you write and sometimes it seems dark and the words are hard to find ... but then you survive and spring, or should I say getting published, looms on the calendar like a tree thick with buds. (Hopefully it won't be like my plum tree that blooms so pretty and never gives me a plum.)

OK. Happy 2009 everyone. Spring's a comin! It'll be the real new year for me. Did I mention my book's coming out spring, 09? Fingers crossed.

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