The Triumph of Narrative

I have started re-listening to archive editions of the canadian Massey Lectures.

Robert Fulford has always been a hero of mine. From his inspiration in Big Band music to has absolute passion for everything north of forty.

What strikes me the most in listening to this, is the fact that twenty years ago, this was broadcast on a weekday evening on national radio. You could tune into it directly from the airwaves for the cost of a receiver that was built to handle whatever information in the broadcast spectrum was available and that you turned the dial to.

More specifically. Our national radio service thought that  canadians and people around the world listening to our powerful international shortwave service would not only be interested but capable of enjoying a talk like this. And that it might provide a springboard to interesting conversations no matter where you live.

For the price of an AA battery and a couple of  Rupees, I was able to sit in an ancient wooden chair with no seat in a little town outside of Darbhanga, Bihar and listen to our national radio as late as the mid nineteen-eighties.

People gathered in squares and restaurants all over the world to listen to the radio. Radio havana cuba, deutsche-wella, radio nederlands, abc,cbc, swiss radio international, the voice of china, the voice of america. You’d listen to stuff like this after dinner, while doing the dishes or some sewing, or reading the newspaper.

I can still hear the announcers. The chimes and national clips of music drifting in and out.

But mostly I remember a globe where ideas like this spread freely, people listened, and talked about them. An age where we grew and advanced and developed. A world where civilization began to floursh.

As an important writer once stated. If the story is good. It’ll still be good years later.

This one’s a keeper

The Triumph of Narrative

Never wrote a short story before.


There’s an ordonnance that says you can’t water your yard by machine unless it’s between three and five in the morning. And then only on every second day. On Mondays nobody gets to water anything. No matter how you do it.

Watering by hand, I get it. Out in the backyard after supper, get out the hose and ‘giver  a few sprinkles. A quick wander round the perimeter, maybe poke under the bushes with the water and stuff while we’re at it. See how things are doin’.

It’s a far cry from having a hole drilled into your house then right back out again so it can be connected to a flexible pipe that has a watering machine on the end. Instead you’re a little organic mandelbrot on the front lawn spreading water where it’s needed and making your neighbourhood green and look good on behalf of the city and real estate prices. That’s value.

Here’s the deal though, you can go to any store you want and buy  whatever attachment suits your fancy and attach it to the end of that flexible hose. Hell, you can even go digital if you want. Lot’s of these attachements make it so you don’t even have to be there. Reels and crawlers, auto-oscillating three armed sprayers, turbo pattern masters on polymer sleds. There are heavy duty brass pulsators and orbital sun-mate gear driven heads. You can bury the pipe in the ground and get a four pack of nineteen to thirty-two foot spray heads that will give you forty to three-hundred and sixty degrees of coverage.

You can go out every once and a while and see how it’s doing, maybe move it around if you want. See if the ground is squishy. Sure sign of water. You don’t really need to know what you’re doing because whatever it is you’re watching or paying attention to between April and September is bound to be interupted every couple of minutes to tell you how it should turn out. You might even enjoy getting up Sunday morning to watch a show about how to best organize your yard requirements.

The point is – you can turn that thing on and leave it. You can go to bed, go inside and watch TV, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing. It’s pretty much foolproof with just enough necessity to make you think you’re on top of something important and rewarding. Even better if you can find an app that runs the whole show. (Now that’s something worth sharing).

The problem is – the city doesn’t want that. Not really. Well they do but they really don’t. They want their communities to look good but they’re only ‘gonna go so far.

Unrestricted people pouring water onto their yard at thousands of gallons a minute without any thought. A large chunk of it seeping off the lot and into the storm sewers along with the water from people who insist on washing their cars and hosing down their driveways and sidewalk in a ritual of sanitation. It really doesn’t look good. Not at all. So yes, if it’s dark, and between three and five on alternate mornings we’re okay. Not ‘gonna really look.

And it works  ..mostly ..sort of.

The kind of properties you want watered get watered. The rest ..well let’s just say it’s not going to be brought up in conversation. The grass is undoubtably a little drier and ragged. A little thin ..mostly in lots of places in most yards. A little browned and pretty brittle, even the green stuff. Well maybe not brown actually, more like straw coloured if it were a little more golden. As it is, it’s a too tiny and bleached to really tell. Not much green in there though. That’s for certain.

But all that’s beside the point.

I was thinking about a completely different world. One where there’s this business with older men. It’s ‘kinda cool.

Most people don’t have the time to figure out the yard watering garden thing. Some people are really into it but they usually fence their properties off and out of sight so they don’t have to deal with the visual riff raff. You know, the people whose idea of a backyard resembles the space around the houses on that flat marshy stretch at the bottom of the hill out there by the something or other sideroad.

Anyway. Not everyone is buyin’ five thousand dollar charbeques and egg-smokers to put next to the outdoor couch and big screen TV. Alot of people are just trying to keep up a little scrabbled lot like you by the side of the highway.

The one where you slow down at the end of the big thick grey wire anchoring the guardrail posts to the ground and cross a gravel covered culvert to get into. There’s likely a slightly circular bare spot somewhere because they probably have a dog.

Mostly we’ve managed to get these people up off the ground once they’re in town. Limiting the amount of space these people can affect in the outside world, we’re getting pretty good at it because once they start… little things pile up. Lumber, tarps, bits of leftover machinery and the inevitable pile of dirt. We gotta’ watch it because it’s catching like a virus and you don’t want it spreading in the neighbourhood.

Worst of all it could go Eco. Ton’s of painted bark and some scraggly bushes that look an awfully lot like the ones on the edge of the vacant lot you passed on the way home. No bayberry groomed hedges that’s for sure.

Anyway, the majority of the residents seem to get it right. A tree, a little shade, a sunny spot and a small place that they can tend grass and flowers and plants.

I heard a  comment the other night that I’d never heard before. An idea that most people no longer have a place to direct their nurturing, care and compassion. They may have a small animal or a few house plants, but otherwise this little patch of land is it. It’s the limited place where their soul pours out into the world and world pours back in.

But what I was thinking about was this world of older men. It would be shady. It’d have to be. And the shade would come from trees. Big ones. Lot’s of them. Trees wouldn’t be these spindly ornamental things we put in and pull out for decoration. They would be cultivated and proper residents of the neighbourhood. They would comprise the landscape that the buildings are mingled into.

Early in the morning and later in the evening, these men would come out and water their lawns and flowerbeds by hand. Out there for hours and hours, silent and content in knowing that they were part of ‘taking care’ as the sun climbs into the sky. Standing out on shaded lawns or sitting on the stoop with life swaying about them in the breeze during the best part of the day.

The part of the day where for most of their life they had always been somewhere else. Doing something else and trying hard to figure something out for somebody else. Now they can sway with the water in the cool of the morning and begin to understand what it’s like to paint or dance. Life coursing like the water through their hand to where it’s needed most. There is so much time to relax, to observe, to be calm.

They take on watering their neighbours’ yard. Not because it’s a career choice but because it’s calming. We discover it’s good to have these men in our midst. And after a time they begin to dispense wisdom along with the water. Easy words like ‘how’s it going?’ or ‘good to see you’. Simple things or maybe just a tip of the hat.

Sometimes their advice is more selective along the lines of ‘I don’t think any amount of watering is ‘gonna bring that back’. They know because they’ve seen it and they’d like you to know while you still have time.

It doesn’t need to be much more than that. Just a little shove that gets you away from the dock before you slip your paddle into the water. A growing feeling for life and change. Slow, gentle, constant and always in motion. A way they can adapt to a world where they aren’t the main feature. And finally, their souls can learn how to blend in.



(for pat landon)




foto friday – incowrimo

Every year about this time I take a day or two off to spend some serious time working on another project that has held my interest for over four years now.

International correspondence writing month is where participants sign up with a plan to send at least one letter every day for a month. February being a good one because it’s the shortest.

I want to share yesterdays post from the site and encourage you to take a look.

You have till the end of the month to join in if it appeals to you.

Clicking on the following link will take you to the site.


One of the great things about being a human being is our nearly unlimited capacity for discovery, adventure, and storytelling.

This perfect combination seems to feed our imagination, widen our horizons and bring us closer together at the same time. There’s something in being able to venture out our front door and return at the end of the day filled with thoughts, emotions and ideas that we want to share with others.

Whether it’s exploring a local shop we’ve never been in, setting out across a continent or peering into a recipe book; we press forward fired by the possibility of being surprised by the unexpected. The chance of coming across a strange and wonderful thing not part of our ordinary life. Something that inspires us to be better, embrace the richness of life and pass it on to others.


Every once in a while we stumble across a ridge that offers us a nearly unlimited view. It literally takes our breath away to look out and realize that every direction is an unexplored adventure. The immensity is overwhelming and exhilarating.

Looking at this years list of participants is a bit like that. More than a bit actually.

Your mind goes a bit numb as you realize just how many hills and trees are out there. And unless you’re just pausing on your way to a definite somewhere, it’s hard to know which direction to head.

I remember first coming across this project and thinking it was like some strange land already peopled by others. How do I introduce myself? Where do I start? Where’s the best place to go and how do I get there?

Fortunately that’s what this post is about.

You may have noticed the picture at the top of the page?

One of the most interesting things about a compass is it never tells you where to go. Instead it tells you where you’re headed.

Combine this with a chart and a plan and you can get almost anywhere you want.

If you think about it, the chart is already there. Write a letter to someone once a day for the month of February. Not very complicated and lots of room to manoeuver. We’re supposing you have all the necessaries for this adventure, pens, paper, envelopes and stamps. Pretty simple.

The next thing is the plan. Where do you want to go and what do you want to see? Personally I’ve never seen Kamchatka nor have I seen the local flower shows. Mostly it’s a case of opportunity, planning and interest.

Sometimes I like to stay close to home and get to know my back yard and daily surroundings better. Other times I decide to venture somewhere completely unknown.

And how does this relate to the address list you ask?

Incowrimo has always been a platform for exploring and adventure. Nobody says where those letters are supposed to go.

It offers unlimited connections around the globe and doesn’t mind if you want to write your next door neighbour.

Deciding for yourself what you want to do is probably the hardest and most rewarding part of the project. Spending a bit of time coming up with a plan is the most valuable thing you can do.

The fact that it’s -international- correspondence writing month gives you incredible opportunity not to mention a great deal of scope. Decide who you want to write. Not by name, but who will make your list.

People with only the letter B in their name? People who live in countries with mountains or by the sea? Someone who lives in the same state or region or maybe someone who lives in a region like yours on the other side of the planet?

Maybe you’ll write someone who lives somewhere you can’t imagine no matter how hard you try. Write to someone living close to where your favourite characters come from. Somewhere you might want to live one day. There are a lot of possibilities.

After that, it’s only a matter of finding the right names and you’re off.





InCoWriMo 2017 has a new site

Like the plucky little rooster that it is, it looks like International Correspondence Writing Month will be with us again for another year this coming February. While not yet complete, it appears the site is up, running and pretty much functional seeing that the whole deal is only about three and a half months away.

Given there’s a major holiday season and several other events happening between now and then, it isn’t too early to start thinking about this years flurry of mail. It appears some things are yet to be expanded on the site, but you can already leave your name and address and get on this years list. As always the FAQ, instructions and pledge are back, including a downloadable certificate. And it looks like an address book and planner are shortly on the way.

It’s good news for all. And if you haven’t participated before, or are wondering what all this is about click here and go have a look or copy and past their new address —  and be sure to share it with your friends. (I’ll be keeping the link on my sidebar until the spring).


incowrimo 2016 – some final thoughts

SnailMailFor a number of reasons, I decided to stick to the official Incowrimo site this year even though there were other ‘hidden’ ways to participate in this project. The fact that I’m still seeing traffic, searches and enquiries from India, Europe, and Australia halfway through March tells me that there is some real interest in a month of International Letter Writing.

Apparently a quite a few people poked about here and at Incowrimo after searching for it. In they end they didn’t take part in this years Incowrimo thinking it was cancelled.  There were others who were inspired to write but left very little trace on the site. And there were a significant number of posts and links recommending Incowrimo 2016 but unable to provide reliable information. Information was scarce.

Personally, I think Incowrimo is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever participated in and it would be sad to see it slip away. This year, I tried to keep tabs on things in hopes we can make 2017 another successful year.

Last year, there were over 400 participants spread all over the world.

Incowrimo 2015 participants

The first thing I noticed this year was the difference in participation. There were only 31 people who added their names to the Incowrimo site. This meant that very few letters were shared between participants. For the 40 odd letters I sent out only 6 came in; and not all of them from this years project.

In addition to several smaller individual projects, 2 online forums heartily supported Incowrimo 2016 with open invitations to participate. Many forum members involved in 2016  were already members, or had followed the project there from previous years. As a result it was pretty much hermetically sealed but yielded great results within.

Don’t get me wrong, both ‘Fountain Pen Geeks’ and ‘A World of Snailmail’ are fabulous forums for anyone interested in handwritten letters, writing and writing instruments. If you have even a passing interest in the subjects, I would highly recommend joining. But in the end neither is focused strictly on promoting Incowrimo, and quite rightly so.

There were 72 people who had clearly posted their addresses to other members on the 2 forums as was their preference. What I found really interesting was the fact that 80% of them were from the United States. This compares to 55% on the Incowrimo site. Given the additional number of people who popped in and left in confusion,frustration or dismay, it seems like the number of truly international participants would remain constant or drop slightly.


One of the things I liked most about an International correspondence project is the International part. Personally I would like to see this flourish and grow even more. Writing to individuals by hand and online has shown me that there’s a distinct difference between the two and the humanity involved in sending a physical letter is no small thing.

Most disturbing this year, was the 75% drop in participation. Whether it was because the insanely great 2015 site had gone missing in action this year I’m not sure.  How or why it wasn’t updated remains a mystery, but I am committed to seeing that the project moves forward into 2017 with community support. I’m a big believer in Open Source and know it is a way of making amazing things possible.

To this end, I posted a survey about maintaining a list of addresses or database for Incowrimo. The results are interesting and I’m planning a separate post for them. If you haven’t taken the survey, I’d encourage you to take a minute or two now. It will be up til the end of the month. Meanwhile, thanks to everyone that made this year what it was!

incowrimo 2016 – address list

Incowrimo – feb 26


There’s only a couple of days left and already a couple of letters have come back. Yes come back :(  So far this has been a rare occurance for me. Letters soaked and unreadable, lost and shredded in transit yes. But returned to sender without even leaving the country is more than disappointing. The really frustrating part is that I reposted them at the local letterbox and they were returned the very next day. The postal carrier refused to pick them up to be delivered, only one of them had any signs of the stamps being cancelled.

I don’t know why and am slightly disturbed. To make sending out mail easier this year I made up a whole batch of these and guess that I’ve sent out at least 25 or more by now. Some I know have arrived, but after 9 days of circulating without leaving the country these two came back at my expense. I hope they are the only ones.




Incowrimo – feb 16 part 2


If you’re Canadianfrom Winnipeg, Edmonton or anywhere outside of the GTA; a sight like this isn’t going to be special or even something to write home about. **

It means that although I did get to stick some new pins in the map; I didn’t get take as much time to write.

I grew up in what is known as a snow belt, so this snow isn’t a shocker by any means. But for people living in places like Singapore, Quezon City and Delray Beach this would be the picture to represent at least a couple of hundred words.

People have asked about winter, what it’s like and the snow, so I thought I would take time to share a brief post.

For the most part, winter can be like this. Large storm systems blowing in much like thunder or tropical storms. Today it began in the morning and this picture was taken at the end of the afternoon.  About 35cm fell by then (about 14″) and as it’s wrapping up to be a total of 50cm (or 19.5″) by the time it’s over tonight.

What this means is that in order to go to work, or even the store, you have consider that you have to shovel out. The car you parked outside work this morning, yes you’ll have to shovel it too because this is most likely what it’ll look like.  You never get used to it, you wont like it and it’s not something you ever look forward too. Especially if it’s bitterly cold. And dark.

In fact we’ve been pretty lucky today in that it’s been a very cold week. We woke up on Saturday to see our thermometer at -40C the magic number where farenheit and celsius meet. Cold weather like this is generally dry and makes the snow light and fluffy. Closer to freezing, it becomes waterlogged and heavy; weighs a ton and is real hard to move. The bright side is these storms rarely last long and the snowfall will end by tonite. That leaves only a relatively light shovelling tommorrow.

If you can imagine, there are winters and places in Canada that can get nearly this much snow every day. Say maybe 30cm (about 12″) for several days in a row. And occasionally this will go on for a week or two. It’s unusual for it to snow like this for more than three or four days a couple of times during the winter and would only be considered unusually heavy if a bunch of these storms followed one another for the better part of a month. One or two storms do not a bad winter make.

Lately the media in search of attention has made a great deal out of these storms. The fact is that municipalities in this country have relinquished their desire to clear snow.

As far as I know, Montreal and many parts of Quebec are the only places that still take clearing roads seriously. In Ottawa, a city with a moderate snow, plowing may not even start on many roads until 10cm (4″) or more has accumulated or 10-16 hours AFTER the storm has started depending on which one is worse. This can be read both ways and is, and the majority of roadways may not be plowed for 24-36 hours. It’s a bit of a disgrace, but makes great news. And everyone has something to twitter about.

I hope one day to post pictures of a heavy winter, but for now this snapshot will do. Sorry for those who find this pedestrian and boring. I’ve only become aware through corresponding this past year just how much daily life we take for granted. And how it could be fascinating for someone else. Meanwhile I hope it’s more pins and letters tomorrow and the postbox will be filled.

And in case no one has mentioned it, snow clearing in Montreal should be on everyone’s bucket list.  After a storm it’s all done in 36 hours.With regular swipes every couple of weeks.

The link below for those who are interested, is a residential street close to where I used to live. Filmed just 3 weeks ago. Although it’s longish and I didn’t add the commentary (bad language alert) it is worth watching to the end. Especially if you’ve never seen this kind of thing.

** (note)  I’m not being unkind to people west of the Rockies. It’s already complicated to explain Canada’s regions. That we’re so big and really diverse. It isn’t personal, and I don’t pretend to ignore you, it’s just you’re so different and I know you’re big kids and able to speak for yourself.

Incowrimo 2016: these 20 plus people would love to recieve your correspondence


I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes my brain is not the fastest thing on two wheels and some things can take time before properly muddling themselves out. But it still isn’t halfway through the month (barely) and this means it’s far from being too late.

I have added a link to the column to the right that redirects to both the official Incowrimo site (here) and one to the people who have signed up for this year. And get this – under the list left over from last year – which is I admit, a real vote of confidence and pretty tricky thing in itself.  (that would be here)

If you visit the second of these two links and scroll on down to the bottom..  just above the comments section is a ‘Sort by Best’ option that can be changed to ‘Newest’. Scroll down a ways and you will find the following post.




If you choose ‘see more’ at the bottom.. you’ll find the list of people signed up for this year.

Just above the comments it says, “If your name is not on the above list but you would also love to receive InCoWriMo 2015 correspondence, feel free to use the comment section below to add your name and mailing address (for all the world to see).”   Change this to 2016 and it means that if you too would like to recieve letters, putting your address in the comments will add it to this years list and you can get started on your own correspondence right away.

I know this is all pretty pedestrian, but it’s all there is, and until the site undergoes a revision so far it seems a reasonable and convivial way to make it work :)