Tag Archives: hometown

Solitude and Scribbling in My Writing Cave

Snowy stairs up to my writing cave

A Writing Cave in Winter

Weeks have piled up into months since I escaped the necessary evil that is Toronto. Here in New Brunswick, looking down from the window of my second-story writing cave onto the snows and thaws of the tree-walled lawn where I learned to ride a bicycle, indeed where I first learned to mumble, chatter, yell and sing in my mother tongue, I consider that the number of hours I spend each day in writing, reading, corresponding and editing is greater than the number of people I have spoken with in person more than once since I arrived here in mid-December. I have crossed paths with more deer and rodents than bipeds.

View of my snowy acre from the window of my second-story writing cave

My Writing Cave: A Room of One’s Own With a View

This semi-exile is a boon to my productivity (and piano playing), but the menu of stimuli to which I am exposed—though excellent—is sparse. In the neighbourhood I left in Toronto, I could walk in less than 10 minutes to my choice of half a dozen live music venues (including, importantly, first-rate jazz on an almost daily basis); a dozen Japanese or Korean restaurants, three each of Indian, Lebanese, Thai and Vietnamese; three new and used bookstores and a library to which I can have delivered any of a million books, DVDs and CDs; as well as swim in a public pool, go to my favourite repertory cinema, visit the dentist, do all banking, grocery shopping and other errands; and, most significant for me, meet with groups of native speakers of French, Spanish, Portuguese, American Sign Language, Korean or Japanese; or step onto the subway for access to ten times as many possibilities. Taking my New Brunswick writing cave as a point of departure, a 10 hour drive would scarcely bring the majority of such options within reach.

Fortunately, this is an era which enables me to make do with online substitutions for a number of these amenities, such as certain manifestations of language practice and films. However, such substitutions are not the same thing as being there, in that place where there is every day too much to do, where to partake of one golden opportunity causes you to miss out on several others.

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. Hitting huge log with heavy axe

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. (I did split this sucker!)

And yet, my writing cave lets me work with loud music on at 03h00; it lets me leap out of bed before dawn or crawl out at noon, depending on what the muse whispers to me in the morning or demanded of me the night before. The writing cave leaves me space — indoors and out (and psychologically as well as physically) — to start every day by doing my thumpy, jumpy, kicky taekwondo forms, or to contend with insomnia by pounding it out on the heavy bag in the garage below. It shows me the moon and the sun through its skylight; its windows like big-screen TVs show me snowfall, windstorms or chirping birds and meandering deer over a sun-glazed acre of land which is mine to neglect, maintain, or run and roll around on. Below my window, I can chop wood from a wind-felled tree, soak off the wholesome grime in my claw-foot bathtub, and then sit with my father by his fire discussing how the Romans could have saved their empire if only they had listened to us, or learn how to speak toddler-ese when my niece drops by, until a bottle of the world’s finest wine has breathed long enough and we gather to feast on local, organic, fair trade, free-run moose.

The Writer at Work. Splitting a log

The Writer at Work

The world-famous city I was born in vs. the agreeably overlooked town I grew up in. Like moving and resting, waking and sleeping, getting dirty and bathing, an excess of one makes you wish for the other. Plainly, (unless I find a home* some other where), I must divide my months between the polis and the outpost.

*Home is where I hang my hat. Home is where I hang around. Home is where I hang out. Home is where I let it all hang out. Home is where I hang my head. Home is where I hang myself. Home is where I feel that I am myself, and that is not a place, it is a state of mind that comes more frequently and stays longer in some places than in others. “Wherever you go, there you are.”

My Snowy Acre of Tree-Walled Lawn

My Snowy Acre

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Filed under family and relationships, habits, Optimism & Inspiration, perspective, writing

My Hometown and the Ballad of Johnny Montes

flag of New Brunswick

New Brunswick

On Thursday, I came from cosmopolitan Toronto—where I have lived restlessly for the past decade—back to my quiet east coast hometown, Rothesay, east of Saint John, New Brunswick, which I fled in the 90s in search of adventure. Now, as we flip the great Mayan calendar to the next 5,000+ years, is this the place I want to live?

I have lived, for brief and extended periods, in Asia, Latin America, and even on a fly-in reserve in Manitoba. And all over the world, when you ask someone, “What makes you like this place so much?” the cliché response is always, “Mostly, it’s the people.” But, as I recall, that was part of why I left New Brunswick. Old-fashioned, conservative attitudes, something about this place always made me feel like I had to hold my oddball self back so as not to agitate everyone around me. But isn’t that what I just said about Toronto?

OK, so maybe it’s me. But, for a change, I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about the people of my hometown. Not the ones I know and love; I’m talking about the ones I’ve never met. A strange concept, for a place where it always seems everyone knows everyone, but I’ve been away a long time.

Saturday morning was the first time I’d heard the name Johnny Montes. I was asked to fill in at the last minute to work the door at KV Billiards which was holding a fundraiser that night for Johnny and his family. Last month, Johnny’s car hit some ice and he went off the road. Over recent years, I have been involved in the slow, costly, nerve-wracking process of recuperation of a family member who suffered similar injuries in a similar accident. It is, to say the least, not easy.

#65 Johnny Montes from Bigwave's "Riverglade National" Photo Report http://www.vitalmx.com/forums/Moto-Related,20/Bigwaves-Riverglade-National-Photo-Report,578804

#65 Johnny Montes from
Bigwave’s “Riverglade National” Photo Report http://www.vitalmx.com/forums/Moto-Related,20/Bigwaves-Riverglade-National-Photo-Report,578804

I soon found out Johnny’s a bit of a celebrity in the motocross world, and a very popular guy around here. A few years younger than I am, he grew up in the trailer park near my high school, where he was likely a neighbour to some of my childhood friends. Who knows; I may even have seen him as a toddler when I was visiting friends there three decades ago.

Just before 7:00pm, I met the owner and she sat me down at the door with the donations jar and a stack of pamphlets which explained what the event was about. Some people picked up a pamphlet, but it was obvious that pretty much every one of the hundreds of people who came in that door from 7:00pm to 1:00am knew Johnny. And they don’t just know him; they really care about him. People were stuffing big bills into that jar, more than a few people surely put in more than they earn in a day, a few pausing to confirm, “This is for Johnny?”

It was assumed I knew Johnny and everyone connected with him. “Is Juan here yet?” That’s Johnny’s father. No one made me feel like I was out of the loop. Johnny’s mother introduced herself to me—why? Because she didn’t know me. One stranger after another was quick to fill me in on who everyone was—“That’s his sister”—and it often turned out I did have connections with people. And people with whom I had no connection fell into easy conversation with me. Doesn’t take much to make a connection around here.

Three damn fine local bands donated their time and talents: Bigg Medicine, Chasing Dragons, and Penalty Box, with a DJ in between acts. The song that summed it up for me was a satisfying cover of “I Love Rock’n’Roll”. The place was packed but no one was pushy. Some people came back again and again to drop more money into the donations jar (which had to be emptied frequently to make room for more) or just to see how the doorman was doing. People from ages 19 to 69, a few guys in suits, a lot of guys in baseball caps, several wearing number “Montes” jerseys, and lots of attractive women but none looked like they had gone out of their way to get their outfit and makeup just right. It was, without a doubt, the most human bunch of people I have been around for a long time.

But the most New Brunswick moment I’ve ever had was just before 1:00am when a 30ish guy in a baseball cap came over and offered me a beer. I thanked him but said no. I was still working, after all. “C’mon. You’ve been standin’ at the door here for like five hours. You should have a beer.” He wasn’t on his first, and why would he be. What he said next proved him to be a true New Brunswick gentleman. “Look, I’m not gay or nothin’; I’m not hittin’ on ya. I just figure you could really use a beer.”

You’ll just have to take my word for it; there was not a drop of homophobia in that remark. His tone said, ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’, more sincerely than Seinfeld. This guy was just clarifying the parameters of the offer. They say Canadians are ‘nice’. Well you can’t get much nicer than New Brunswick. And I had to drink to that.

I don’t know Johnny Montes but, the way everyone speaks of him, I want to know him. In the New Year, there is to be an auction in support of Johnny. In the meantime, donations are still being accepted.

Now, someone sing us The Ballad of Johnny Montes. What, nobody’s written it yet? He deserves a song. Someone’s gotta write it. Come on, I’ll race ya!

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Filed under geography, Optimism & Inspiration, family and relationships