Tag Archives: experience

How I Suddenly Found Myself in the Gutter

When moving into a new house, it is amazing what we discover in those first few days. It only took one rainfall to notice that something was off with the universe.

At the back of the house, as a gentle rain fell onto the roof, the eavestrough system seemingly couldn’t keep up as a torrent of water overflowed over the side of the eavestrough, falling like a sheet.

The odd part was that there seemed to be more rain falling off the eaves system than was actually falling from the sky. The math didn’t quite add up, but then again there were a few things about this house that elicited moments of squint-inducing confusion.

When my partner mentioned it in passing to his parents, his father diagnosed the problem as a blocked gutter system. What we didn’t know was that something of this nature would actually keep his father up at night with worry, as in the days that followed, he kept asking if we took care of it yet.

I took a moment to count my blessings. Given that my own father and grandfathers have not been with us for some time, I forgot what it was like to have a family member take such a keen interest in my home maintenance issues… and to such an extreme. It was heartwarming to have someone who cared like that.

I understood that misdirected water could impact several other things in and around the house if not taken care of soon. And for the water to be falling in strong cascades off the side of the eavestrough, we realized that we probably should move it up our lengthy to-do list. But between unpacking and still putting in full days at work, energy and time was in limited supply.

The following Sunday, when my partner concluded his phone call with his mother, he announced that his parents were coming over to help with some yard work. “How sweet and generous of them”, I said as I rummaged through packing boxes to locate a spare stick of anti-perspirant as I was starting to run low.

Shortly after their arrival, I realized that my plans for unpacking would have to wait a little as my father-in-law showed up with a very tall ladder, ready to investigate what was going on with the eavestroughs.

I admit that I was a little out of practice when it came to surprise visits from my elders to tackle home repairs, but it was a familiar concept to me as I recalled times my own granddad showed up out of the blue like Superman, ready to save the day, with drill, hammer and saw in hand. And when those serendipitous moments happen, you take the help when it is offered.

What I hadn’t planned on was being in the middle of the action. Obviously, we wouldn’t have dreamed of asking the nonagenarian among us to climb the tall ladder. And I knew in my heart that my partner was not fond of heights, whereas I tended to make friends pretty quickly with ladders. It became clear who should take the bullet on this one.

Given the warm sunny day and my unfortunate genetic predisposition for burning to a crisp in a matter of minutes, I excused myself to go slather on some high intensity sunblock in preparation for the task ahead.

When I returned, everything was set up and ready for me to scale the ladder like the little mountain climber on the Price is Right. Even though I felt pretty secure and safe in knowing that someone was below keeping it steady, it took a few minutes to get truly comfortable with the ladder.

Once I did, it felt just like in my days as a teenager, working at “your friendly neighbourhood pharmacy”, washing the gigantic store windows from atop a very tall stepladder, laughing with each passerby who said, “Want to come do mine?” like I hadn’t already heard the joke at five minute intervals.

It didn’t take an eavestrough specialist to see that a good cleaning was indeed needed to remove the debris that accumulated. Even though I had a trowel handy to use as a scoop, it turned out that my hands were the more efficient method for clearing the path. Once I had cleaned a segment, a good blast with the garden hose helped to carry away any remaining dust, dirt and soil down through the eavestrough system.

And then, I’d climb down the ladder, we would dispose of the debris I had scooped out, we would move the ladder and the hose a few feet over, and start all over again.

I forget exactly how long we were out there to do that entire side of the house, but it couldn’t have been more than an hour. I admitted that I was having fun and completely lost track of time.
Who knew of the huge sense of satisfaction I would feel from a sparkling clean eavestrough system, although logically, it would make sense that this task would appeal to the OCD cleaning gene I inherited from both sides of the family tree.

If I had my phone in my pocket, I probably would have taken photos as I was so proud of what we had accomplished. If someone had suggested that I would be adding “gutter cleaning” to my resumé of home maintenance experience, I would have thought that they were crazy. But that day had come… and I rather enjoyed it!

And now, with every rainfall since, my partner and I find ourselves with our noses practically stuck to the north windows, giggling at the silliness of watching the gutters do their job, and not a torrent of rain falling beside it.

I think my dad and my grandfathers would have been proud!

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under home, Humour

When Social Media Posts Are Out of Sequence

When I started using social media, I spent a lot of time on it. To me, it was a kind of cocktail party I could access at any time to see all of the interesting things that my friends were up to and to catch up on their news.

But have you ever opened a social media app and thought that you were losing your marbles? It happens to me all the time.

Something changed over the years that has really cut back on my usage and my overall interest. The turning point for me was when someone decided that showing “top news” or “most relevant” posts rather than “most recent” posts should be the default for certain apps.

Since then, there have been days when I have opened up a social media app, seeking a relaxing break from a busy day, and I truly thought that my app was gaslighting me.

In the sequence presented by Facebook, one friend posted pictures at the airport, then on a beach, then getting ready to leave the house, then in the hotel room, then back on the beach, then stuck on the tarmac, then waiting for the Uber to take them to the airport, then back on the beach.

Another friend posted pictures of a several-day multi-stop European tour. Thanks to the app, the order in which they appeared was so messed up, I needed Gravol just to follow the order of their itinerary.

A friend’s pictures of a major home renovation project, rearranged by Facebook, had me thinking that they tore it down and started over four times. Continue reading

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The Moment I Became Picky About Pens

Like most of the people I know, through most of my adult life I bought pens by the dozen and never gave it much thought. I confess that I did develop a short list of favourites and bought some brands over and over, but I never really gave it much thought.

And truly, the only real criteria that ever dropped a certain one from my short list was if the pen repeatedly skipped, leaked, smeared, spit gobs of ink, or scraped the paper. But beyond that, I never really gave it much thought.

When my aspirations as a writer started surfacing, surprisingly, my position on pens never really changed even though I started going through them like tissues. As long as they were well-behaved and got the job done, why should I give it more thought?

True enough, much of my writing is done with a computer these days anyway, but there are times when I still enjoy the tactile experience of feeling like the writing instrument is an extension of the human body. And some of my notes still get entered in journals so writing tools are still an essential.

I forget what I was randomly Googling one day, but one of the suggested links provided was “ballpoint pen reviews.”

“That’s a thing?” I asked myself. So ever curious about tools for my craft I clicked on one of the links and started reading. This let me to another link… and another… Continue reading

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When Did Everything Become an “Experience”?

Back in my school days, I was a huge fan of marketing classes and thought that one day I might want to work in advertising. Life took a different spin and I didn’t end up working in that field, but I still had the opportunity to put some marketing know-how to good use in the field that chose me.

Just the same, as much as I bow to the wisdom of the marketing masters, I really don’t understand when or why everything suddenly became an “experience”.

Picking up something at the store has become a retail experience. Getting a bite to eat has become a dining experience. Music is now a listening experience and movies are now a viewing experience.

Did everything have to become an experience?

I was amused when I recently visited an establishment and noticed a poster prompting readers to tell management about their experience. The odd thing is that it was posted in the men’s washroom.

What would I have written back? Do they really want a description of my bathroom experience? (Careful what you wish for! Creative types with a sneaky sense of humour might actually take you up on the offer.)

“My approach to the urinal was a pleasant one as the aroma of disinfectant pucks filled my sinuses with a gentle, welcoming blend of lavender and chlorine.

The automatic flushing mechanism was very effective in bathing the urinal in a fresh cascade of water, reminiscent of a serene waterfall, a perfectly choreographed three seconds after I stepped away. I couldn’t have cued it better if I had flushed it myself. Continue reading

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Why I Still Love Print Newspapers

This past week I did something I haven’t done in a long time, I read a newspaper!

Normally, I get news coverage from the car radio on the way to and from the office, and 4 or 5 times per week, I supplement that by checking out an online newspaper or two. And that is on top of the articles that I may check out when friends repost them on social media.

But it has been years since I sat down and read an actual print version newspaper.

There must have been something in the air during the more laid back, hot, hazy, humid summer days that put me in the mood to just relax and gently savour the world’s stories from a page that wasn’t glowing at me with bright ads blinking like Times Square … that and the fact that there was nothing on TV, so I had the time.

It could also be my slowly approaching retirement that has me rediscovering things that I enjoyed in the past but didn’t always have time for when I was busy building a career.

It didn’t take long for me to notice the huge difference in experience when reading a print version newspaper.

When I check out online news sources, it is perhaps to my own detriment that my reading is like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter.

I scan through the titles, I click on the ones that spark interest, I read a few sentences until I get the gist of it, and then it’s on to the next. I probably miss quite a bit that way because if the headline doesn’t catch my attention, I may skip an article altogether.

With a newspaper, because the whole article is open and in front of me, I am more likely to look beyond the titles and to preview a greater number of articles. And when I choose to read one, I will likely spend more time reading an article to the end. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Misc blogs, pop culture

The Irony of Black Friday Shopping

This past Friday, on my way home from work, I decided to check out a nearby department store to see if they had any stock left for a couple of items I use, which I had seen in their most recent Black Friday flyer at really attractive prices.

I also wanted to look for a few items on my Christmas gift list, which I cannot divulge at the moment as this is classified information between me and the North Pole.

On my arrival, a man bumped into me, trying to exit through the “in” door with a panic-stricken look on his face, as he ushered his son ahead of him. I could have sworn he mouthed the words “don’t do it”, but I thought to myself that I must have imagined it. But being the polite Canadians we are, we both excused ourselves, even though I clearly had the right of way.

Ten feet into the store, I understood the gentleman’s escape route.

I had never seen the store this busy before. Some people were clustered together, blocking the aisles, as they scrutinized their flyer while pointing to empty shelves, to the ire of others trying to whizz by with full shopping carts on their way to the checkout line. I could hear babies crying, young children whining and adults barking at each other. When combined with the aromatic combination of seasonal scented candles, ladies’ perfumes and snow tires, I was heading into sensory overload. Continue reading

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What Surprises Me Most After Four Years as a Blogger

Last year, I posted a blog entitled “The Ups and Downs of Blogging Statistics” in which I admitted to checking out my blog statistics and keeping an eye on trends, but not obsessing about them, given that this was “rehearsal” time for me.

Blogging was a building block for me to refine my writing creative skills in preparation for my aspirations as a creative writer. My blogging was for the fun of it, and you were more than welcome to join me along the way.

But four years into the blogging journey, there is one aspect that often surprises me: the posts that keep getting viewed weeks, months or even years after I have originally posted them, and getting fairly consistent views over the long term.

As a blogger, I don’t sit down and think to myself, “This post will get a thousand views”, it doesn’t work that way. And even after posting the link on Google, Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard and sometimes Pinterest, we are sometimes at the mercy of the algorithms for how much prominence (and page views) a post might get.

I have read a good number of articles on blog promotion, and I have definitely taken experts’ advice to try to maximize clicks whether through a well-chosen title, a sharp picture to accompany it, adherence to a consistent posting schedule, as well as seeking lessons learned by the most viewed posts. Continue reading

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Could Robots Replace Writers?

Not too long ago, I was listening to an interesting report on the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) and the types of jobs that could be replaced by robots. Of course, the occasionally insecure writer in me wondered, could robots replace writers and screw up my retirement plan?

While I am certainly not an expert in the field, nor should this blog post be interpreted as an expert opinion, the Pollyanna in me says if it could happen, we are probably some time away from that.

To me, a good story really boils down to three things: the reader, the writer and the story itself.

For a story to be successful, it needs to engage the reader and resonate on a human level. It needs to connect with readers on an intellectual and on an emotional level. The story needs to stir up feelings in the reader to keep them coming back for more.

To achieve that, the writer needs to tap into their imagination, their emotions, their experience, or all three. Plus, with each writer’s unique point of view in the way that they craft a story, additional layers of interest are created and the writer’s sense of style is stamped on the story, much like a fingerprint.

A good story could be a testimonial of human experience that discusses the strong emotions felt along the way such as the struggle, the pain and the joy. A good story can take us to a world we could only imagine. Good stories can also scare the crap out of us, play with our minds, or inspire us.

To do all of the above requires heart and passion. Continue reading

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The First Time My Own Writing Gave Me Palpitations

Regular readers will recall that I put the blog on autopilot in early summer, finalizing several blog posts at once, to offer me some free time to spread my wings and try some other creative writing projects.

It didn’t take long for me to sink my teeth into fiction. I guess ideas had been simmering long enough that putting words to paper came quite easily.

For one story in particular, I already knew my main characters and the main source of tension between them. I started committing those to paper.

What started with a few ideas soon became an outline. Then I rounded up the index cards I filled out over the last weeks related to this story and started typing ideas into their respective places.

What I loved was that I could keep the story up on my computer screen, walk away to put a load of laundry in the machine, come back and add a few sentences, entertain the cat a bit, come back and add a few more sentences, do the dishes, add another couple of ideas. Momentum was building and I was already enjoying the creative writing process.

I’d be lying if I said this particular story was a complete work of fiction. There are a few threads to the story that are inspired from my own life, but only a few people will know which is which.

Well into the process of engineering the flow of tension and conflict, I wrote a first draft of a heated conversation between two characters. For this dialogue, I tapped into something deep in my soul, loosely based on something I experienced personally.

In no way does the conflict in the story line resemble anything I’ve ever experienced, but whether someone is angry about life, people or circumstances, anger is anger. It’s universal and can motivate some very impassioned reactions in any of us.

As I was deeply into the writing zone, almost on autopilot myself, the words and associated emotions poured out of me. The exchange between the two characters flowed seamlessly.

The interaction seemed so natural. In some ways, I was not only creating a moment, I was living in it. The strength of conviction and motivation behind the dialogue was unlike anything I had written before.

When I finished typing out the conversation that concluded with one character storming out of a fictional room, the creative bubble around me faded as I returned to reality. In that moment, I noticed that my heart was racing, my breathing was fast and shallow and I felt beads of sweat on my forehead.

I was having palpitations! … over something I just wrote! Who knew that was even possible?

Instantly, this experience became one of those moments as a writer that I will never forget. At this point I didn’t care whether this piece made it to print or not. The fact that I was able to dig that deeply as if I was in the room with the two characters was a huge rush. The fact that it was able to elicit such a strong response felt like a huge emotional welcome into the creative writing world.

I was overjoyed! I was thrilled! I was euphoric!

If this is what it means to be a writer, then I want a lifetime membership! An experience like this makes it all worth it.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, please know that there are plenty more where that came from! If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Inspired by the Creativity of Others

A few days ago, I attended a concert at the National Arts Centre, here in Ottawa, to see The Tenors perform with the National Arts Centre Orchestra conducted by Jack Everly.

Much like all of the Pops series concerts I have seen in recent years, the concert brought me on a roller coaster of emotions, between goose bump moments of arias and their triumphant crescendos and moments where I felt a tad verklempt, hearing favourite songs performed live in brilliant new arrangements.

Throughout great performances like that, I can’t help but ask myself, “How do they do it?” How much of it is natural aptitude and how much is hard work? How many thousands of hours each performer put into their craft over the years, to become one with their instruments and to make it look so easy? How hard did each one have to work to achieve this level of proficiency, to produce such beauty that can elicit such strong emotions from spectators?

This inner monologue replays in my head again and again whenever I feel deeply inspired, whether it’s at a concert, in a museum, in a theatre, reading a book or watching a great movie. It’s like a vortex of creativity, swirling around, reaching out and stirring up my own artistic momentum to keep doing what I love doing, keep practicing, work hard and don’t let go.

I sometimes pause and wonder if I will ever get to the same degree of skillfulness and versatility in writing as someone who can pick up an instrument and play a song, just like that. Then I think to myself that I have been known to pull a rabbit or two out of a hat on a few occasions.

Whether it’s a blog post that I was able to commit to paper in one sitting in under two hours (it doesn’t happen often, but it does), a blog post that successfully reached out and really struck a chord with readers, or writing a piece at work that was exactly what was requested, offering the right words at the right time, and being able to do so under crazy time constraints. I reassure myself that I am on my way. Continue reading

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