Tag Archives: stories

Capturing Life’s Complexity through Writing

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.Throughout my public sector career, writing was a constant. In my recent transition to retirement, I was so grateful to discover the portability of the writing skills that I had acquired along the way in helping me pursue my dream of creative writing.

I always enjoyed the process: A manager would give me the broad parameters of what they wanted to say in a written product and then would send me on my way to write the first draft. The next meeting usually involved reviewing the draft together and exchanging ideas on possible improvements. As we approached the final version, we fine-tuned the product together, ensuring that it met its intended purpose.

One of the comments that often challenged me along the way was the question, “Can we go deeper with this point?”

From my earliest days, I knew that the question could mean many different things and could lead down many different paths.

I recall it was always a delicate balance, not just adding depth, but value-added depth, propelling an idea forward without getting into the weeds. It was about adding quality without adding bulk.

That challenge made writing for the business world interesting and fun for me. When a document reached final approval, I was always left with a huge sense of satisfaction that I got the balance right. That joy was one of the signs to me that writing was my calling and life’s purpose. Continue reading

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Juggling Books

How many books can you juggle?

Let’s be clear, I don’t necessarily mean juggling in the literal sense, as in circus performer. Besides, that could be very dangerous especially if one is juggling hard cover books, or worse yet, dictionaries (… please do not try this at home!)

I mean juggling in terms of how many books can you have on the go at one time.

In the years before retirement, my head was already retaining so many intricate details from work – especially those annoying “strong passwords” that we had to change every few months. It would have been unthinkable to try to follow more than one story at a time.

I would just keep one book (considered “light reading”) on the nightstand and would plug away at it, a few pages at a time. It usually took three or four weeks to get through it, but that was all the time and headspace I could afford.

I look back and think that I probably should have turned off the TV and read more during my evenings, given how it always made me feel more centred and relaxed. But the reality is that after a full day of reading, writing or editing business materials, my eyes were tired and the poster children for moisturizing eye drops. Continue reading

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My First Script

I had been planning for it and talking about it long enough, it was time to roll my sleeves up and get to work on my first script.

The conditions were right:
– retired and having time on my hands,
– the right working environment (my studio),
– the right background music, and
– a number of completed blog posts, ready for posting, which frees my mind for other projects.

Whether you want to call it a New Year’s resolution or just simply a writing goal that happened to coincide with the New Year, my plan was to spend January in preparation mode for screenwriting.

Over the month, I absorbed training material like a sponge. I devoured every article, tweet and video I could find on the theme of screenwriting. Meanwhile, I jotted down several ideas for the outline for my first story. I also started the background research needed to fill in some of my knowledge gaps about my subject. It was a very productive month.

Then in February, it was time to start fleshing out the story. Given the amount of material that I could see flowing organically from my story, I set a target of eight episodes of roughly 40 minutes each.

I wouldn’t even rule out the idea of overwriting, creating more material than needed, and then trim back to what I think are the strongest story lines and subplots.

Does this project sound ambitious? It sure is! Continue reading

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A Love of Writing or Storytelling?

A close up shot of a computer keyboardOn the approach to retirement, when I was asked what my future plans were, without really thinking about it, I always answered “writing”.

For as long as I can remember, with every passing year, I became increasingly aware that writing was my life’s purpose.

I was the kid whose bedroom was referred to as a “firetrap” due to the abundance of paper “masterpieces” scattered everywhere. I was the budding (but bad) poet in university. I was also the employee who raised his hand when management was looking for volunteers for challenging writing assignments.

Over the course of producing and editing thousands of pages of material for different executives and for different target audiences, I always felt more energized when completing writing assignments than with any other tasks. To me, that was a clear sign.

But it was only recently, during a drive to the city, that I realized that I might not have accurately articulated my retirement plans. Someone on the radio mentioned the word “storyteller”. This was a mind blowing moment for me, as it offered an important distinction I was missing.

In retirement, the suggestion comes up from time to time that if I love writing so much, why don’t I offer my services as a writer, either as a consultant or for community work. When that happens, in my head, I hear tires screeching to a sudden stop. Why is that? Continue reading

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What I Know For Sure About Writing

When I attended retirement planning seminars over the course of my career, the psychologists who provided guidance on how to mentally prepare for the transition always seemed to ask the same question: What do you want to do in retirement?

To me, the answer has always been a no-brainer: writing.

My first glimmers of self-awareness about writing came in high school and university. Of all of the assignments in a students’ life, I enjoyed writing essays and compositions the most – and the longer the better – despite the groans from my fellow classmates.

When I stepped into the career world, by some strange stroke of luck, I often ended up in work teams where my colleagues were more than happy to let me raise my hand and volunteer to write lengthy reports, business cases, user manuals and web content while others would probably rather raise their hand and volunteer for root canals.

Writing tasks made me so happy because they presented learning opportunities in an area for which I held a keen interest in becoming better and better.

I enjoyed writing for my managers and executives, as it presented a unique learning opportunity to learn and adapt to their respective writing styles. With the knowledge that I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for them, I never took personally any comments about what I produced. In fact, after working on a few memos, I truly relished getting to a point where I could receive a request, get a few key points about what is intended in the message, and go back to my desk to draft, edit and return a product that was exactly what they wanted and in their own voice. There was no greater compliment to me than when they said “André, this is like I wrote it myself!” Continue reading

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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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10 Things You Must Never Do at a Comedy Show

Over the years, I have had the great pleasure of attending many stand-up comedy shows. I have always been a firm believer that laughter is the best medicine and that a good dose of belly laughs can be a welcomed break from the seriousness of the world.

I have been most fortunate in being able to catch a few shows a year, whether they featured major icons of comedy or rising young stars who were able to successfully guide us into taking a step back and have a chuckle at the silliness that surrounds us.

I would even add to the mix certain musical artists who share so many funny stories between sets of music that you aren’t sure whether you saw stand-up comedy with a side order of music or music with a side order of stand-up comedy.

Either way, I am most grateful for the artists who have the knack for telling a funny story and made a few hundred or a few thousand people laugh. It’s an incredible talent and a joy to behold!

To me, the show that will always be remembered most fondly is a Just for Laughs Gala in Montreal hosted by the legendary Joan Rivers, a couple of years before her passing.

But over the years, I have had many eyeball rolling moments at audience members. I often ask myself if they’ve ever been to a comedy show as they seem to break every unwritten rule about attending a comedy show and in some cases, annoying the rest of the audience.

To help set the record straight, here are my suggestions of things you should NEVER do at a comedy show: Continue reading

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The Writers’ Olympics

I don’t think I am different from other writers. My mind can sometimes wander between paragraphs.

As I tossed a crumpled piece of paper in the wastebasket across the room, I cheered to myself, arms in the air, “Two points!”

But even though writing isn’t much of a spectator sport, I started daydreaming about what other sporting events could form part of an Olympic-level game for writers of all backgrounds.

The opening ceremonies would begin with poets, writers, editors, screenwriters, proofreaders and translators entering the arena, smiling and waving to a cheering crowd of spectators with an appreciation for the written word.

The athletes would gather on the field, in the centre of the arena, behind their national flags, taking care not to drop their notepads and laptop computers as they capture their thoughts on this momentous occasion.

The judges then enter the arena and gather by a symbolic pedestal of reference books, to take the oath to officiate with complete impartiality and to uphold the principles of good grammar and spelling.

Oprah Winfrey, the queen of book clubs around the world, would declare the games officially open with an enthusiastic, “Le-e-et the ga-a-ames be-e-egi-i-i-n!” Continue reading

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A Renaissance of Storytelling

As a little dude, I remember that both my parents were avid readers. And as far back as I can remember, I was surrounded by books, not only in my parents’ library but in the growing library in my bedroom as well.

As an only child with an inclination for “the great indoors”, it didn’t take much coaxing to get me to share in their joy of reading and the love of a good story.

This love followed me around for a lifetime, in all of its forms whether movies, TV dramas, soap operas, biographies, classic novels, contemporary novels, plays, musicals, operas or even newspaper articles. You could say I have been a glutton for good, well-told stories.

Good stories have tugged at my heart and have inspired me. Good stories made me love some characters while I loathed others. Good stories have taken me to places near and far, real and imagined.

Stories have been a constant in my life, no matter how busy I got. There was always time for a good story here and there, for those moments I needed a little escape… or even a big escape.

I don’t know why, but lately I have noticed that my appetite for good stories is growing, bordering on insatiable. The more I see great stories, the more I want to see.

I savour every moment of stories of triumph, stories of personal growth, stories of courage, stories of social change, stories of love, stories of gratitude, stories of survival and stories of our ancestors.

Sometimes when I hear a great story, I sometimes pick up on one idea, one character, or one thread of the story line and think that you could throw the spotlight on just that one element and create a whole new story around it. There is really no end to the potential of storytelling. Continue reading

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Where Is My Chap Stick?

It doesn’t seem to matter how much water we drink, having dry lips is a fact of life in winter with our heated cars, heated offices and heated homes, when the humidity outside is non-existent.

Nothing screams winter like a bad case of chapped lips. In Ottawa, where we are typically in sub-zero bone-dry cold air for weeks at a time, keeping an assortment of lip balms within reach is an essential. It only takes one missed application to get lips so dry, you can grate Parmesan on them.

When I don’t take the necessary precautions, there have been times I have looked in the mirror and thought my winter lips bore a striking resemblance to my cat’s scratching post, with unruly pieces sticking out of vertically shredded bits. I don’t feel too bad though because I know I’m not alone.

Over the years I have tried a number of lip balms including some pretty expensive ones, and to my surprise, the one that seems to work best for me is the basic, classic, unflavoured Chap Stick. The challenge is keeping track of those little guys.

I don’t know why, but I can’t have just one Chap Stick and move it to wherever I am. Even if it travels in the same circles as my keys, my wallet and my iPhone, for some reason it keeps escaping. Continue reading

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