Category Archives: #MondayBlogs

Why not read books simply because they’re well-written?

Not because they’re written by a man or a woman,

Or by a non-white or a person of a particular ethnic group,

Or written by someone from a specific country … or not THAT SAME country, yet again.

Or because someone else has told us that we MUST read it, or it has won a big award. (Awards are not always the best indicator of the quality of the writing.)

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Why not read a book that’s from a different genre than you usually read?

Or non-fiction instead of fiction (or vice versa), poetry instead of memoir, children’s books (to recapture your childhood!) instead of academic and scholarly.

Or how about choosing a book with a different setting, one you’re not familiar with, or possibly a setting that doesn’t exist in this world at all?

Or read a book about people and events you don’t relate to in your life, but instead one that introduces you to new experiences and new people, new possibilities.

Leave your comfort zone behind … Read dangerously!

Don’t read a book because you’re told it’s the next Gone Girl or Girl on a Train. Harry Potter or Twilight.
(You do realize that these are marketing ploys dreamed up by publishers to encourage more sales, right? That’s what bestseller lists are all about. Or “If you liked this then you will like that …” all to convince you to try something you may not have otherwise picked up, simply because it compares favourably to something you’ve already enjoyed.)

Why not read a book BECAUSE it’s unique, it’s different from what you normally read, and is written by a new-to-you author?

What’s so wrong, or scary, about that?

I’m suggesting you reconsider your criteria for choosing what to read next and go with a book you have heard is simply well-written instead of for the reasons listed above.

Perhaps you’ve heard that the author has told the story well (fiction) or has handled the material in an expert manner (non-fiction) so the book is convincing and a pleasure to anyone who may read it.

And that the book is well-written regardless of who may have written it – no matter what their background, how many bestsellers they’ve published, or their writing experience.

If you only read traditionally published books, read a book written and published by an indie author. If you only read print books, read an eBook. Mix things up a bit. Discover something new!

When we judge a book by the quality of its writing, we are giving that author their due. We are giving them credit for all their hard work in mastering their craft of writing, because they’ve managed to use that craft to entertain, enlighten, and possibly even educate us in a way we might never have realized was available to us before as readers. That book has opened new doors and convinced us of more that can be available, if we just open our minds to the possibilities.

As for where you may find these well-written books … The more you read and and the further afield you explore what’s available to be read, the better you will recognize what is good writing – for you! What YOU consider to be a well-written book. Because, in the end, it really is up to you, the reader, to decide.

If, after you begin reading, you realize the book is not as well written as you hoped, give yourself permission to set it aside, knowing that at least you gave it a try.

But always be adventurous! Check out some of the books I’ve recommended on my other blog, Reading Recommendations. Read some of the books that the authors I’ve promoted on the site have in turn recommended. Talk with your local librarians and other readers you trust.

Eventually you will become the best judge of what is a good book FOR YOU.

And now, please excuse me while I go back to reading a few well-written books!

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(This rant was brought to you by my having read yet-another article “telling” readers that we MUST read more books written by this particular group of writers [insert nationality, ethnic group, gender here] … with no suggestion in the article at all about the quality of their writing being a factor. Harrumpf!)

Guest Post: Rick Bergh on How Our Children’s Books Ended Up in Haiti

Rick Bergh has been featured previously on Reading Recommendations, first in March 2016 and again in April. He’s back now to tell us how it is that his children’s books are now being read by Haitian children!

Rick and Erica Bergh

Rick and Erica Bergh

How Our Children’s Books Ended Up in Haiti

I love how life surprises us when we least expect it.

My wife, Erica, and I had completed two of our children’s books and brought them to our annual Boxing Day gathering – a wonderful family tradition on my mother’s side, which I have not missed in 56 years.

My cousin, Mark, purchased a few copies of these books (after all, you expect your family to buy your books, right?).

Little did I know those children’s books would find their way to an orphanage in Haiti! All the way from Calgary, Alberta!

Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s no big deal …” But it was for me. Let me explain.

Over ten years ago, my daughter, Keeara, went to volunteer at the very same orphanage – she was an 18-year-old girl trying to figure out her next step in life. Her time in Haiti coincided with her mom’s struggle with cancer. So the whole family was in transition and wondering what the future would hold.

Pam, her mom, said “Keeara, go and volunteer at this orphanage.” She did and it changed her life forever. She became an elementary school teacher as a result.

Fast forward 11 years and my cousin’s daughter, Emily, is now volunteering at the same orphanage. We did not make the connection until I asked Emily what orphanage she was going to and it was the exact same one where Keeara had worked.

IMG_6067WOW! So, now Emily is reading these stories to the children – the same stories that I made up and told to my children, including Keeara. Our next book due to be published soon is actually about Keeara (Stretchy Cheese Pizza) and her son, Connor.

And now Emily was reading these same stories I told our children when they lay in bed asking me to tell them a story. Fascinating that it was not long ago when an 18-year-old-Keeara was reading books to these special children in Haiti. And now, they will soon be reading stories about her and her son, Connor.

We are sending copies over for the children in Haiti to read as soon as the new book is published in June. The stories come full circle!

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Zika, we hardly knew you …

And thank goodness for that, I say!

I’ll be leaving Bequia in less than two weeks, after having been here for nearly 6 months. When I arrived last October, everyone was extremely concerned about a new mosquito-borne virus making its way through South America and that was expected to pose a threat shortly within the Caribbean region.

We all did what we could (well, most people on the island did) to clean up our properties, to make sure there was no standing water in which mosquitoes could breed. There were island-wide cleanups organized, and people really did seem to be consciously trying to combat the threat of a new virus (too many of us had suffered from Chikungunya two years ago and we didn’t want a repeat!), so it looked as though we might have it beat.

Unfortunately, the government’s way of dealing with mosquitoes is to fog with chemicals … which they have done far too many times this past year. It’s an unnecessary expense and the mosquitoes are still here. Everything else, though is effectively affected, including the honey bees. I spoke with a Bequia apiarist last week who told me he had lost more than a third of his bee population and honey production has been way down. He hasn’t been able to supply local stores at all lately. He also said he noticed the Bequia Sweet birds (grackles) had disappeared from his part of Bequia, but there was one in a tree by our verandah just now, so I know they have not been decimated.

There have been attempts made to breed out the particular type of mosquito carrying all these viruses, but that’s more of a long-term proposition. The one way to ensure the immediate eradication is to clean up the island. We did go through a period earlier in the winter, when the Christmas winds blew strong, that we saw fewer mosquitoes around our house … but recently the numbers have been increasing again. A neighbour did discover a large source of standing water filled with mosquito larvae at a property that has been sitting empty for a number of years. Once that was dealt with we noticed the numbers of mosquitoes are dwindling again.

Anyway, that’s my report – and it’s why I’ve written so little about Zika over the past few months. It’s been a non-issue in SVG, with only one case reported, on Union Island, about a month or so ago. This “new” virus certainly did not ravage the population as Chikungunya did.

And speaking of which … I’ve been experiencing Chikungunya-related pain again recently in my shoulder, and I’ve spoken with and heard from others who still have not shaken the symptoms of that nasty virus. No wonder we were all so worried about another virus threat! I for one don’t think I could ever go through that agony again. That was totally debilitating!

So it was with great joy and relief I discovered the following article about a possible means of combatting these pesky mosquitoes. Ironically, it’s a method developed at Laurentian University, in Sudbury where Dennis and I both lived for a time. It’s cheap, it uses recyclable materials, and it’s proving to be more effective than other methods. I’ve passed on the article to people on Bequia who are committed to finding a way of permanently dealing with this mosquito problem.

Here’s hoping it will work on Bequia!

Canadian team set to turn tires against Zika virus

The ovillanta design. Photo courtesy Daniel Pinelo.

The ovillanta design. Photo courtesy Daniel Pinelo.

More Cowbell!!

Most of you will understand the reference in the title of this post, but for those who don’t …

This came to mind when a professional friend asked on behalf of a client how that client might obtain more reviews for his book. He told her he had reviewed many books for other authors, but they were slow to reciprocate.

I suggested to my friend that her client is approaching this from the wrong direction. “IF” he only wants promotion for himself and his own book, he should then pay to hire a publicist who will provide him with organized publicity and professional reviews.

However, if he wants to take a long-term approach and promote not only his own book, but also writing and reading in general, then he needs to change his approach, become an important part of the writing and reading community, and work with other authors to promote EVERYONE in the business!

He could even take this one step further and become … an influencer. (And this is where the “more cowbell” part comes in.) We ALL need more influencers, more people in the background whacking on that cowbell behind the lead musicians, adding more noise and information – and promotion! – to the mix.

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So when it comes to promotion, don’t just think about what’s in it for you and your own books … think of how you can play more cowbell for the sake of all authors. You will be amazed what this will eventually do for your own writing and publications.

So don’t wait for me or Christopher Walken to order more cowbell! Do us all a favour and become an influencer and help everyone get their books promoted, read and reviewed. Trust me, what goes around will come back around to you, as well.

I have written about this concept previously, many times, on this blog. Here’s a recent iteration on the theme: No Author is an Island. I offer some advice as to how you too may become An Influencer. Because we can always use More Cowbell!!

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After rereading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing …

Ray Bradbury, 1997 (Photo Credit: Steve Castillo/Associated Press)

Ray Bradbury, 1997
(Photo Credit: Steve Castillo/Associated Press)

I’ve just finished rereading Ray Bradbury’s brilliant but brief book on writing – about how he wrote, and what he thought writing should mean to all authors – and I must say that I feel particularly exhilarated, refreshed, and ready to write again! It’s like receiving a much-needed kick in the seat of my pants to be refocused by his words.

And there are any, many quotes I’ve underlined in my print edition (Bantam Books, 1992) and I will trot them out as necessary. Some you’ve probably read before in those lovely quote boxes that circulate on Facebook and other social media. But I wanted to mention one in particular, because what he says here reminds me of a blog post I wrote previously.

What is the greatest reward a writer can have? Isn’t it that day when someone rushes up to you, his face bursting with honesty, his eyes afire with admiration and cries, “That new story of yours was fine, really wonderful!”

Then and only then is writing worthwhile.

And here’s my take on this: Why Do You Write? Sept. 2014, and Why Do You Write? July 2014.

So … pick up a copy of Bradbury’s book, you lot! Read it, study it, underline pertinent passages – if it’s a print copy you own! – and feel the writing energy flow once again from your brain into your fingers and begin writing … with a new-and-improved attitude towards your art. A Zen attitude!

Popular posts … Who knew?

For the longest time now, since about 5 or 6 years ago, the two most popular phrases used on search engines that have brought people to my blog are “baking bread in a pizza oven” followed closely by “meeting my best friend for the first time”. Here are the two posts that those searchers click on: Baking Bread in the Pizza Oven and I met my best friend for the first time.

The first search always made sense to me, because home pizza ovens are becoming popular among foodies, Dennis had built one here on Bequia, and I had written a number of blog posts featuring our experiments in using it, both for making pizza and baking bread.

The second search I always took as being very flattering. There seemed to be a lot of people out there on the internet who were nostalgic for that first meeting with a best friend in their own lives and wanted to read about and enjoy my personal experience.

At least, that’s what I thought … until recently, when those same search words came up with “writing an essay about …” attached to them. Then I saw a site link attached to those searches, and noticed that some of my hits and views were being directed from – a writing instruction site!! So, instead of being flattered, I became worried those students could be plagiarizing my essay and turning it in as their own work. I considered taking down the post altogether.

But then I realized that my experience was uniquely my own, and perhaps these students were being sent to my sight to read an example of how to write about meeting your best friend for the first time. (Oh, how we can delude ourselves at times …)

So I decided to leave things as they were and write this post about my findings instead. Perhaps … just perhaps, one or two of those students have come to my blog, read that post and more, have liked what they read and became subscribers. That’s a big “perhaps”, I know, but we can always hope the intentions that bring readers to read our work are ultimately good.

And maybe there’s an online writing instructor out there who actually did find my blog post to be a compelling example of how to write an essay about meeting your best friend for the first time, so much so they are recommending that all their students check out my blog!

And here’s the subject of that original blog – Darcie Friesen Hossack!

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A Profile of Blogger, Carin Makuz

I first met Carin Makuz when we were enrolled in the online Humber Creative Writing Program in 2006 and we’ve stayed in contact ever since, and have even met in person a few times! I’ve subscribed to Carin’s blog pretty much since the beginning, and when she began batting around the idea for The Litter I See Project … well, I just had to become involved, and I’ve been helping to promote this great idea all along. Here’s Carin to tell us about this very interesting project that was intended to bring attention to the two problems of Litter and Illiteracy.

Carin Makuz , rt, with friend

Carin Makuz , rt, with friend

When not writing short fiction or essays, Carin Makuz can be found wandering the shores of Lake Ontario muttering about darlings that won’t take a hint. She is a workshop facilitator for abused women and youth at risk. Her work has been published in journals in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. She has won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and been nominated for the Journey Prize. Essays and fiction have been broadcast on CBC and BBC Radio. She combines text with photography, reviews books and chats with writers on her blog, Matilda Magtree, and runs The Litter I See Project.

What’s the background to this idea of yours? When did you first think of the concept behind your blog?
The Litter I See Project grew from my interest in bringing attention to both litter and illiteracy. When I walk I pick up litter; I carry bags for this purpose. I’m doing it to tidy up the schmutz but sometimes I find interesting things, notes, lists, etc., and I wonder at their origins: were they dropped by accident or intentionally? I wonder about the kind of person who can be trotting along, having a fine time in a park, at the beach, on a street, anywhere really, and then just toss a can or water bottle on the ground and keep going. I wonder what they think will happen to it and if they’d even notice or care if someone did the same thing on their lawn. I wonder how people learn this behaviour. You could say I’m a wee bit passionate on the subject. As a society we talk a lot about big problems … The Environment, the oceans of plastic, etc., all of which seems so impossible a thing to tackle. And yet, really, change begins with our attitude towards the small stuff. Like litter. Because how we view that reflects how we see our communities, and our environment, in general. I’m equally passionate about literacy, and the two things, litter and illiteracy, have more in common than alliteration; both are pervasive, but only one is visible. With all this in mind I began photographing certain pieces with the idea of writing about them, maybe doing a thin collection and giving any proceeds to a local literacy group. But I wanted the effect to be broader than that. When a friend suggested I do something online, a light went off. That was it!

How are you organizing the material for the blog?
I drafted a plan, figured out a way of offering a small honorarium (am a big believer in paying for the written word), invited a number of writers to participate, created a site and named it The Litter I See Project. It went live in June of 2015. How it works is that I send out a picture of a piece of actual litter from my ‘collection’ and, using that ‘debris’ as a prompt, or inspiration, the writer responds in the form of poetry, prose, memoir, anything at all. As submissions come in I try to keep posts varied, giving consideration to genre and a few other things, but mostly it’s just a happy, trashy party.

Carin has also arranged for donations to be made on behalf of the blog to Frontier College in Toronto, a school dedicated to teaching literacy.

How much longer do you see publishing this particular theme?
No idea how long I’ll keep the party going. Through winter anyway, and probably spring.

Is there anything you have learned through writing this blog that you’d like to share? Any surprises you hadn’t expected?
It’s been more work than I thought but the best kind. I love getting these constant surprises in my inbox. I send out a muddy grocery list and get back poetry; a chocolate bar wrapper in a ditch inspires a childhood memory. I’m in awe of the talent in this country, most of which isn’t celebrated nearly enough. I also like the way the litter conversation has already grown to include larger questions, such as in Betty Jane Hegerat’s piece about homelessness, and Tanis MacDonald’s ‘rabbit litter’.

The lovely thing about a blog is that it’s your own world and if you don’t like something you can change it. I’ve been hanging out in this space for over five years and I’ll keep doing it as long as it’s fun. If that requires adding, changing things, great. When it stops being fun, it stops being.

Blogging is a commitment like any other kind of writing. You get out of it what you put in. I think readers sense the place you’re coming from, the vibe you create. That was a pleasant surprise, the feeling of connection with readers, something you don’t get from traditional forms of writing.

Was there a single post you were particularly proud to have included? And what made it special?
If I had to pick one special post it would be bill bissett’s. I was beyond chuffed to have him kick things off with his fabulous piece, ‘yr littr has arrivd, eet it’.

Overall, what is it you hope your readers will take away after reading your blog?
My hope for readers of The Litter I See Project is that, in addition to the attention and conversation it brings to the problems of litter and illiteracy in communities across the country, it might also serve as a way of introducing readers to new writers. The posts are all intentionally positioned as bite-sized morsels, meant for easy browsing, a few at a time …

Now, in keeping with the Reading Recommendations idea, please name three authors or books you’d like to recommend to readers.
If I had to recommend three books, I would reply with: Egad!! Only three??? I’d have to go with a theme; makes it a little easier to choose. So, let’s say the theme is “writing from a disadvantaged place” … in which case I’d recommend the following:

The Education of Augie Merasty, by Augie Merasty (with David Carpenter)
A Crowbar in a Buddhist Garden, by Stephen Reid
One Hour in Paris, by Karen L. Freedman
How Poetry Saved My Life: a hustler’s memoir, by Amber Dawn
(oh, are we up to four already??) (;

Also, I HAVE to add Anakana Schofield’s Martin John because a) it’s different than any book out there; it’s daring and changes how we think about sexual deviants, harassment and all manner of perverted crimes. Including the ones we pretend aren’t happening. And because, b) it’s brilliant.

I’ve chosen this theme, not because I only read heartbreaking or uncomfortable stuff (far from it!), but because I feel books that express well what it is to be human help us to understand one another and become a more broadly-thinking and compassionate society. Despite the topics covered … residential schools, prostitution, rape, sexual perversion, imprisonment… none of these books are written in the mass market scandalous-to-cause-reaction style. They’re not scandalous at all. They’re written from a real place with real feelings about things that happen all the time whether we like to admit it or not. That’s both the scary part and the part that matters most.

What are you working on now or what do you plan to do when you finish writing this blog?
Currently working on a collection of short prose and, forever it seems, a medium sized novel.

Carin Makuz maintains a main blog, Matilda Magtree, where she publishes regular segments, (at) eleven: chatting with writers (I was once hosted here!), this is not a review, and Wordless Wednesday, featuring her photography.

A number of Reading Recommendations-promoted authors have been featured on The Litter I See Project: Alice Major, Betty Jane Hegerat, Bruce Hunter, Fran Kimmel, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Katherine Govier, Kimmy Beach, Lori Hahnel, Rosemary Nixon, Steven Mayoff.

A Profile of Blogger, Shaun Hunter

I first met Shaun Hunter in Calgary through the city’s writing community. Shaun is known locally for her non-fiction, personal essays and memoir writing, but I’d like to focus on this brilliant concept for a blog she has been publishing lately. Here’s Shaun to tell you all about Writing the City: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers. Welcome, Shaun!

Hunter_Shaun Web-0755 I have lived in Calgary most of my life but have only rarely seen the city imagined on the page. About a year ago, I went looking for the city in novels, poetry and creative nonfiction. I was curious: what could writers’ stories tell me about the city that shaped me and continues to confound me? In the spring, I shared a few of my findings on a literary Jane’s Walk through downtown Calgary. The idea for the blog grew from there: Writing the City: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers would be a virtual walk through Calgary’s literary history as I was discovering it.

For me, and I hope for readers, the blog is a treasure hunt: every week turns up a fresh surprise tucked away in the city’s literary history. The series roams Calgary’s past and its geography, following the meandering path of my own curiosity. The featured excerpt has to be from a published work of fiction, poetry or nonfiction, and has to capture some aspect of the city – no matter how uncomfortable. The blog is not intended as a travelogue or an exercise in civic boosterism. The series offers the city as writers have engaged with it and lets readers make their own connections.

The blog launched at the beginning of Stampede Week 2015 with daily posts. Since then, I’ve been posting a new excerpt every Friday. I plan to wrap up the series after this year’s Stampede, but there is more material than I can feature on the blog. A book proposal is in the works. Stay tuned!

I know from my own experience that Calgary is more than its stereotypes of cowboys and oil barons. But seeing the city through the eyes of writers, I am continually surprised by the different responses writers have to this place. As the series unfolds, my own connection to the city is deepening in ways I had not imagined. I have kept that story out of the blog series, but it’s simmering underneath.

So many of the posts have stories behind them, but one in particular stands out. I am a latecomer to local history. Only recently have the stories of early Calgary begun to capture my imagination. Last summer, I set out to correct my historic deficit and showed up for a tour of Union Cemetery during Historic Calgary Week. The guide, Ruth Manning, had deep roots in the city and was a trove of stories about the people buried on Cemetery Hill. On a ridge overlooking downtown, she talked about what she believed to be the first lines written about the site that would become the city of Calgary. With her eyes closed, Ruth quoted from memory the words of NWMP officer Sir Cecil Denny as he stood above the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers: “Our first sight of this enchanting spot was one never to be forgotten, one to which only a poet could do justice.” In that moment, on that historic hill, I felt myself sinking a little deeper into the city’s soil.

This seems to be a golden age in Canada for literary mapping. Noah Richler offers a compelling exploration of the country’s literary landscape in This is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada (though he doesn’t stop in Calgary). To date, Project Bookmark has installed sixteen plaques across the country, connecting poetry and fiction to specific Canadian landmarks. You can take literary tours of Vancouver and Toronto through these excellent public library projects: Vancouver: Literary Landmarks, Toronto Poetry Map and books set in Toronto neighbourhoods. 49th Shelf also offers an annotated literary map of the country.

Calgary is not just one story. Talk to people who live or have lived here, and you discover that each one has a unique connection to this place. I hope that in discovering writers’ stories about Calgary, readers experience the city as a complex urban landscape with fascinating contradictions, ambiguities and humanity.

Reading Recommendations:
Calgary’s Grand Story (University of Calgary Press, 2005) by Donald B. Smith
In Calgary, we often wear change like a badge. But go back to the city’s first gilded age in 1912, and the story of two of its landmark structures (the Lougheed Building and the Grand Theatre) and you will see that Calgary is consistent with its beginnings.

The Calgary Project: A City Map in Verse and Visual (Frontenac House, 2014) by Dymphny Dronyk and Kris Demeanor
I’ve featured a few of the fine poems in this anthology on the blog, including those by co-editors Kris Demeanor and Dympnhy Dronyk, as well as Cecelia Frey, but there is much more to discover. My only caveat in recommending The Calgary Project is that you won’t be able to fit the book in your back pocket as you explore the city’s streets.

Long Change (Random House, 2015) by Don Gillmor
Don Gillmor’s fictional take on the city’s illustrious oil sub-culture is at once excoriating and compassionate. There is an unforgettable New Year’s Eve party at an oil baron’s estate west of town you won’t want to miss, and a dinner party that will change the way you look at geology. I’ve posted a glimpse of Gillmor’s novel on the blog.

Author bio:
Shaun Hunter is the author of five biographies for young readers about the lives of celebrated women writers, artists and scientists, African-American Olympians and Canadian entrepreneurs. Her personal essays have appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and The Globe and Mail. In July 2015, Shaun launched Writing the City: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers, a weekly blog series that explores the way writers have imagined the city in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. She leads occasional guided literary walks of Calgary. Shaun has a master’s degree in Canadian Studies from Carleton University. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

What’s next?

I’m working on a proposal to turn Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers into a book, and making notes toward the personal story percolating underneath the blog series.

Thank you, Shaun! I suggest that everyone reading this check out previous posts Shaun has published on her blog. You’ll find writing by many talented and accomplished authors, some very surprising (such as Graham Greene, Rupert Brooke and Nancy Huston) and quite a number who I have promoted on my blog, Reading Recommendations … such as Katherine Govier, Aritha van Herk, Bruce Hunter, Lori Hahnel, Barb Howard, Betty Jane Hegerat, Fred Stenson and Don Gillmor.

Zika is the new Chikungunya … an update

Not to be alarmist or anything, but …

NO! I DO WANT TO BE ALARMIST WITH THIS BLOG!!!

I’m reblogging a post I wrote in June 2015, part of my series about the virus Chikungunya that so many of us suffered from in 2014, and that some are still suffering from today, if the number of hits those posts continue to receive is any indication.

Last June, a brand new mosquito-borne virus named Zika was beginning to enter the Caribbean. At that time, we were told that it was a “Chikungunya or Dengue Fever-like” virus, but we had no idea then of the long term effects this particular virus would have on pregnant women who contracted it and the babies they subsequently gave birth to.

Here’s a report from Barbados of their first documented case.

And a more recent report: Three Zika virus cases confirmed In Barbados

And an absolutely alarming video of what’s been happening with babies born since last June … It’s reported that there have been over 3500 such births in Brazil alone!!

And finally, a report released today by the CDC that the first cases have been reported in the US.

Following is the blog post I wrote back in June 2014, and in all this time not one word has come from the St. Vincent Government by way of warning to citizens and tourists, and there have been no plans discussed as to how we will be better prepared this time to combat these blasted mosquitoes that are carrying the new virus. Other than the NGO Rise Up Bequia posting to its Facebook site, I have seen nothing at all about this virus. You’d think they would have learned from Chikungunya, right?

Perhaps now that the US has reported cases, our local Caribbean governments will begin to take this new virus much more seriously and we won’t be caught as we were with Chikungunya, essentially closing the barn door after the horses had already escaped.

And a word of advice to the authorities … fogging with chemicals has never, ever worked to eradicate mosquitoes in the past. All it does is kill off the honey bees and poison the rest of us on the island. We need to clean up all standing water and any places where mosquitoes breed. And every citizen must become vigilant about this. We can’t afford to wait for the government to do this for us. We also can’t hide our heads in the sand again, claiming that this will scare away the tourists. We owe it to those tourists to be honest, to warn them of the dangers involved should they contract any virus, and let them decide whether they want to take the risk. Really, there would be little risk involved, if they are made aware of the need to always use insect repellent – and (a BIG if here) if the people of the Caribbean do as much as they can to clean up the environment and diminish the number of mosquitoes.

So, yes, alarmist, but I believe the alarm is necessary. I would not want anyone to have to go through what I did with Chikungunya. I still have problems with pain in my shoulder, a full year-and-a-half after I first contracted the virus. NO ONE needs to be unnecessarily exposed to any virus, since we really do have the means to rid our islands of mosquitoes.

Here’s my blog post from last June:

At the very least, this new virus has a name that’s easier to spell and pronounce. But it’s still yet-another virus the Caribbean region must contend with, and only a short while after declaring that ChikV was over and done with in most islands.

12-year-old girl first in the Caribbean to contract the Zika virus 

It was less than a year ago I contracted ChikV when I returned to Bequia for a few weeks to spell Dennis while he paid a visit to Canada. Throughout the months of suffering … and yes, I do not use the word “suffering” lightly! … I wrote about the virus in a number of blog posts (collected here) that received a great deal of attention from around the world and comments written by others who had also contracted the virus while they were visiting, or living in, the Caribbean region, and who now took comfort in the knowledge they were not alone, that they were likely not going to die, and that they would eventually, eventually recover and feel “normal” again.

Well, here I am, writing this 11 months later, and I can honestly say I am feeling about 96% recovered, the only lingering pain being that soreness that seems to be inside the very bones of my right shoulder. That still bothers me every once in a while (just last night, again), but is not excruciating or debilitating, just annoying.

So you may understand my trepidation with the announcement of this new easier-to-spell-and-pronounce virus, Zika. I am gun-shy about travelling to the Caribbean again any time soon. While I currently sit in the woods of Ontario, surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes, I at least know these are the non-virus-bearing variety. Besides, they’re also large enough to carry away a small dog and move so slowly I have a fair chance of actually swatting and killing them before they can manage to bite. It seems like more of a fair fight to me. The mosquitoes on Bequia are sneaky and have a way of beating all our attempts to eradicate them – especially the fogging with poisonous chemicals, which was the only attempt made by the government to deal with Chikungunya last year, and instead resulted in the kill-off of part of the bee population. The mosquitoes themselves somehow managed to dodge that bullet. What stopped the further spread of the virus was that nearly everyone on the island contracted it and, since the virus could not be spread from human to human, it eventually died out, naturally. This is what’s called “herd immunity”.

Let’s hope Caribbean health authorities and governments learned from their mistakes last year in dealing with ChikV and, instead of hiding their heads in the sand (believing that by doing so they were somehow protecting their tourist industry), they take immediate action to stop the spread of Zika, the new kid on the beach, before it gets a foothold. No one … NO ONE! should be made to suffer again as we all did last year with Chikungunya. Bad enough already we have to contend with the constant threat of Dengue (which I have had), Malaria, West Nile, and all the other mosquito-borne diseases, fevers, threats, than to be worried about Zika, as well.

And we can begin eradicating viruses such as Zika by educating the people! This blog post, and the other earlier posts I wrote about ChikV, are my attempt to spread the word to help stop the spread of the virus. Please share this, and my other posts, wherever possible so that many more people read and hear about these mosquito-borne viruses and learn to take proper precautions.

SPREAD THE WORD TO STOP THE SPREAD OF ZIKA!
(How’s that for a slogan?)

I want to hear from you, if you contracted Chikungunya last year and have been following my blog posts abut the virus. How are you doing? Have you now recovered? Please post a comment below and let me and my readers know of your experience. I really do want to hear from you!

From the vaults – Home and a sense of belonging, April 19, 2013

I was reminded of this blog post I wrote back in 2013 while completing an interview with another blogger. Her first question was: If you had to choose just one, would you prefer to live in Toronto’s Beach, in Calgary where you have also lived for many years, or in Bequia in the Caribbean where you have a house? Where I “belong” has long been a question I’ve asked myself. And since writing the following post, we’ve bought a trailer that’s permanently situated in an Ontario campground, and I plan to spend summers there from now on, and winters in Bequia.

My writing pal, Lisa McGonigle, published an article, In It For the Long Haul, in the Feb. 2012 issue of The Fernie Fix about her long-distance lifestyle. I met Lisa several years ago at the Fernie Writers’ Conference, before she published Snowdrift, and I’ve followed her travels since that time.

This particular article resonated with me because, although my travels have not been as far-flung as Lisa’s, I have maintained two residences, one in Calgary and the other in Bequia, and spent these past five years flying back and forth between the two. Most of my worldly possessions have remained at the house in the Caribbean, along with the cats and Dennis, while I’ve moved around between Calgary apartments to house-sitting situations, accumulating more stuff in an attempt to make a home for myself in the city where I actually worked. Because of the nature of my business, I was able to manage three trips to Bequia every year, usually during their off-season. I told myself I didn’t mind the Calgary winters – really – and I was able to build a good business as well as an extensive network of friends and colleagues that always made me feel “at home” again every time I returned to Canada.

Unfortunately, my circumstances changed in the fall of 2012 and I decided to return to Bequia – at least for the winter months – and reassess my business and my life. I gave away most of what I’d accumulated over those five years, stored the rest in a locker as well as with several friends, and flew off at the end of November. (I have Vincentian citizenship, so I am allowed to stay indefinitely. And the immigration and customs agents usually say, “Welcome home!” upon my arrival. I never hear that from Canadian officials.)

The plan was always to come back to Canada in April, because I had committed to giving a presentation at a Calgary library on the 12th. I’m also planning on attending my high school reunion in Toronto’s Beach in May – the neighbourhood where I grew up. I figured 7 weeks was lots of time to see everyone I needed, and wanted, to see, and to visit with family.

The reality is, though, that Thomas Wolfe was right: You Can’t Go Home Again. Or once gone, easily forgotten? I feel as though I no longer belong in Calgary. People are too busy; appointments and dates are being cancelled; all plans I made previous to the trip have suddenly dissolved. It’s left me wondering why I’ve come back.

But then I never felt as though I belonged on Bequia either while I was there over this past winter.

So now I really wonder where home is for me. Sometimes I think it’s in the air, on a plane, somewhere between Calgary and Bequia. If I were once again Lisa’s age (which is about half of mine), I would consider a new start in a brand new place, creating a new life for myself. New horizons, new possibilities.

But I find I’m too old for that now, so I’ll have to be content to live vicariously through Lisa as she continues on with the adventures of her own life. And create and invent reality in my own mind by writing stories.

… when you remember that You are the author of Your own Life story, You enter into the beautiful process of becoming, as You should be, the author of Your own life, the creator of Your own possibilities …
Mandy Aftel

Since this original post was written my good friend Patricia, who we first met in Calgary in 1980 and who has also managed to “relocate” herself a number of times during her life, ending up part of the year on Bequia, wrote this comment concerning her own experience and thoughts about Home and a sense of belonging.