Writing Hurts Like Hell – Breaking the Story Board

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I encourage my writing students to create a story board before starting their novels. I stole the idea from Walt Disney, who created a visual story board for the animated cartoon movie Snow White. I think is was something like a half mile long. This isn’t exactly what I do, not having half a mile of wall space.

I use one large card for each scene. Each card indicates the names of the characters in the scene and, very briefly, what happens in each scene. The cards look something like this:

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The story board is a form of visual plotting. You can see how the story progresses. You can see where you might need more development, where scenes are missing, where you might need a previous scene to make a later scene make sense, and where you might need to delete a scene because it doesn’t advance the story. It gives you new ideas for more scenes and new directions for the story.

The story board creates a structure for your novel, so that when you start writing, you know where you’re going and how to get there. Starting off with that structure burned into your head saves a hell of a lot of time, cuts down the chances of getting writer’s block and makes it possible to get back into the writing if you’re away from it for a while. It also allows you to put together a realistic writing schedule because you can see what has to be done and the scope of what has to be done.

All this said, there may come a time when the story itself takes over, when the actual writing reaches a point where the story board doesn’t make any sense and you just have to write.

OK, the blood-sucking editor of the Twisted Tails anthologies, J, just said, “But Biff, you spent all that time sweating and suffering over a story board…and then…and then…you have nothing. Ha ha!”

And the fox said, “Ha ha!”

“Hey fox,” I said. “Guess how J writes a novel?”

“With brilliance, insight and feeling,” said the fox.

“Thanks, fox,” said J, smiling like a self-satisfied Canadian, who’s actually an American living in New Mexico.

“No!” I said. “He sleeps. Yes, he goes to sleep with a laptop in his lap and dreams. And while he’s dreaming, he records the dream and when he wakes up…presto…novel finished. And perfectly formatted.”

Just as J and the fox were about to say nasty things about me, I ran into my bedroom and crawled under my bed with my desktop computer. I can hear them shuffling around my apartment looking for me, but I know they’re afraid to look under my bed, fearing whatever stuff a writer hides under his bed. Like the stuff I got from my stag party about thirty years ago. I won’t get into details that might even scare me.

So yes, this just happened to me. I had the story board completed for my next novel, the details of which I won’t get into because they might even scare me. I estimated a short novel of about 60,000 words. I had everything worked out, plotted, carded, and on the wall at my studio.

But, as I approached the 60,000 word mark, things started to happen. The characters started doing things that I hadn’t planned. The story line started finding new paths that wandered far away from the story board. Tomorrow, I’m going to break the 80,000 word mark…and I’ll be nowhere near finished.

So, am I sorry I bothered putting all that time and effort into a story board?

No.

Now, I should mention one other thing. I created that story board three years ago. Then, I took three years off to study photography. I came back to the novel a few months ago. I had the story board to come back to for re-orientation. But more important, I had a structure in my head that had three years to simmer and evolve. I dumped the opening chapter for something that, after three years of second thought, worked much better, and then continued with the original plan.

But, like I said, around 60,000 words things started to get out of hand.

I think J and the fox are looking for me in my refrigerator, and eating everything in it as they look. I didn’t know foxes ate avocadoes. I didn’t know editors ate.

But get this. It’s working. Each day when I start to write, the words are gushing out. New ideas and new directions are falling into the manuscript line inspired rain.

The fox said, “Did someone just say ‘inspired rain’?”

“That sounds like something dumb that Biff would say,” said J. “He’s still here. The refrigerator is empty. Let’s find him.”

So I have to make this fast. The story board gives you a structure to start with. It organizes your brain, and your creative instincts, around that structure. And once you have that structure, you can toss it when the story goes its own way. Without the structure to begin with, you would never have gotten to that point where the story would have taken off on its own.

Now, having said all that, there are writers who never use a story board. I mean, some writers just all asleep with a laptop in their laps. The story board is meant for people like me…busy people with fulltime jobs and myriad other things to do.

If you’re not writing fulltime…take the time to do a story board, especially if it’s your first novel. Get that structure in your head and, if the time comes, dump it and just let your story take you where it will go.

“Hey J,” said the fox. “Biff’s under his bed. And…holy shit look at the stuff…oh…the stuff!

Oh, shit.

Writing Hurts Like Hell Two Day Weekend Writing Workshop

like-hellThe Writing Hurts Like Hell weekend workshop gives you the tools and techniques you need to start and finish a novel. You’ll learn how to overcome writer’s block, create memorable characters, develop a compelling plot and set up a writing regimen to fit your schedule and lifestyle. Based on ten years of teaching writing workshops, Writing Hurts Like Hell will lead you step-by-step through every phase of writing a novel. Classes will be held in various locations around the city. The techniques you’ll learn in this workshop can be applied to other forms of writing as well: poetry, creative journaling, business writing, short fiction, blogging, podcasting, screen writing, etc.

Instructor: Biff Mitchell
Location: Various (first meeting will be at Starbucks at the Regent Mall)
Time/Date: November 5 and 6 (10 am till 4 pm)
Price: $95. Payment is cash only. No cheques, promises or trades.
For more information or to enroll: biff@biffmitchell.com or leave a message at 455-2433. Please be sure to say your phone number twice, slowly and clearly.

Enrolment is limited 10 students. To take this workshop, you must enroll prior to the first day of the workshop. The workshop is currently held in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Biff Mitchell is the author of five novels, dozens of short stories, novellas and poems, the bestselling eMarketing Tools for Writers, 2nd Edition and Writing Hurts Like Hell: How to Write a Novel When You Don’t Have Time to Write a Short Story.  Biff has been teaching writing workshops for 10 years including the Maritime Writers Workshop, the FogLit Literary Festival and the UNB College of Extended Learning on subjects ranging from science fiction and mystery writing, how to get published, how to write humor and how to write a novel. You can visit him at biffmitchell.com.

Booklet for 105 Personal Demons

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Oops. Took down the old website and totally forgot that I had links to downloads from it, including the booklet that I put together for the personal demons. Fortunately, I have copies of everything, but no time to put them up at Dropbox. So here’s the text of the booklet for the demons. (BTW, they’re all going up at Saatchi Art. Just over 50 up so far.)

Demons

Our demons begin infesting us early in life―around the time we’re infants, before we can walk or talk, when the bottle or breast takes a long threatening time to arrive, not to mention, in the case of men, having your foreskin sliced off. They say we don’t remember these things and maybe we don’t, at least not consciously. But everything that happens to us is recorded somewhere in our bodies or minds, and some part of us never forgets them. It’s in these regions of our being that most of our personal demons reside and nibble away at us like an itch beyond scratching until the day we release them.
But sometimes we’re reluctant to release them, a fact that used to baffle me until I got some much-needed counseling from a psychologist who spent most of our sessions talking about Monty Python. The psychologist recommended a few books that I could read to find out what was going on in my head; thus, freeing up more session time to talk about Monty Python.
This is what I learned from those books―we get used to misery. In fact, we get so used to it that we’ll sometimes do everything in our power to stay miserable because it’s the devil we know and God help us if we ever had to be happy. Like, happy day after day.
So we let our demons rampage through our personal horizons until we go nuts, die, or change our minds about the misery thing.
From an artistic point, I think our demons give texture and dimension to our lives. They make us interesting and they make life interesting when they’re not killing us or making our lives unbearably interesting.

***

I teach a workshop called Writing Hurts Like Hell. In the first class, I introduce my students to “mindless writing,” an idea I stole from Dorethea Brande’s 1934 book On Becoming a Writer. In mindless writing, you pick a topic (it could be a dream, a feeling, a word, anything) and you write about it for several minutes without stopping to correct, revise or judge. You write down whatever comes out of your head even if you go off topic. It’s surprising what comes out; in fact it can be shocking. Some people can’t do this exercise―almost always because there are things about ourselves we don’t want to know.
For instance, our personal demons.

***

Until things became too emotional (and close to out of control), one of the classes I taught was on personal demons. We each picked a demon of our own and talked about it. Then we wrote about it—mindlessly, of course. Then we wrote about someone else’s demon. Some people picked innocuous demons, like a recurring dream or an argument they wish they hadn’t had with someone close. Some picked demons that had been eating into their lives for years. On occasion, the ones who’d picked a demon they thought was harmless would, after five or ten minutes of writing, suddenly find themselves writing about an entirely different demon, something far from harmless. Often, this was when tears would start, but they kept writing and then they read aloud what they’d written. These people were confronting their real demons, the ones hiding for years under layers of denial and forgotten memories.
Strangely, many of the people who did this exercise felt better afterwards. They felt a sense of release, a sense that just writing and reading about the demons somehow exorcised them.

***

I tried an experiment. I was short one credit in my last year of high school, so I couldn’t graduate. However, I passed the college entrance exams, so rather than spend a year in high school repeating one subject I went straight to college. A few years after I graduated I started having a recurring dream that I was back in high school and couldn’t find my locker, couldn’t find my class, realized that I’d missed almost a year’s worth of French or Anthropology and I was going to flunk the exam the next day. The dream always ended with me realizing that I’d graduated from university with an honors degree, so I didn’t need to pass any damn high school exam.
But until I got to that point in the dream it was confusing and terrifying. After suffering through this for most of my adult life, I used the dream as the basis for a short story called School Dazed for one of the Twisted Tails anthologies. Since I wrote this story, I haven’t had the dream again.
It occurred to me: you can exorcise your personal demons by writing about them. I tried this with a few more demons and it worked almost every time. Unfortunately, I had enough personal demons to fill a library and the stories were beginning to sound like carbon copies of each other. It was time for something new.

***

Many years ago, in a youth I’ve long since regarded more as dream than reality, I used felt-top pens, black ink, pencils, sable brushes and gold leaf paint to create drawings of wild landscapes and even wilder portraits. I was asked by a local boutique gallery to exhibit some of these, so I spent what was then a fortune getting my best drawings framed. I was pumped with fantasies of making a fortune off something I loved doing. I had plans to quit my job and maybe even move into a loft studio in New York. Unfortunately, the gallery went bankrupt the day before my exhibition and I lost everything.
That’s when I decided to become a writer.
I still did the occasional drawing, but over the years I lost the technique and the confidence of my pen and brush strokes.
Last September I started drawing again—in earnest. I didn’t know why at the time, but I couldn’t stop. Something was stirring in my head and I had a good feeling about it. At first the drawings were awkward and rambling, without any real substance or cohesive direction. These, I chucked into the garbage but I kept drawing.
Then, one evening when I was teaching my Writing Hurts Like Hell workshop and talking about mindless writing and personal demons, it struck me that maybe this was what the drawings were all about. Since I’d lost interest in writing them out, maybe drawing them out was something I could get into with some enthusiasm.

***

After the workshop that night I put together some guidelines for personal demon drawing, the first one being that they had to follow the rules of mindless writing, at least to some extent.
I decided I would write down on whatever scrap of paper was handy the name, feeling, memory or awareness of a demon whenever it occurred to me. I put the scraps of paper into a folder and didn’t start writing them in more detail until I’d finished drawing all of them.
Next, I started writing them up in no particular order. In fact, I can’t remember which write-up goes with which demon. I did this so that anyone looking at the demon might attach their own demon to what they were seeing
The actual drawing was simple: I placed a gel pen somewhere on the paper and let the demon flow through the pen without me guiding it (sometimes they started as a dot, sometimes as a sweeping curved line, whatever they wanted). This allowed each of the demons to take their own form directly from my subconscious.
At no time did I plan the form of a demon. They had to emerge on their own. Sometimes nothing would come, so I assumed that day’s demon wasn’t ready to be released. Sometimes the demon would be completed within a few minutes. Sometimes it would spill onto the paper for a while and then stop and I’d have to come back to it later and maybe later again. The idea was to resist forcing the demons in any way, but to let them flow out of me onto the paper in their own time and in their own form.
One thing I noticed is that many of the demons appear to have a humorous aspect. I think this is because I believe that humor is the last quality left that has any hope of redeeming us. Some might say it’s our capacity to love, but love doesn’t always make us laugh.

***

So what exactly are these demons?
First, they’re not exact—they can be just about anything. In fact, one person’s demon might be another person’s angel. Personal demons could be regrets, bad memories, painful reminders, things from our past that we can’t undo. They could be:

• Unfinished things
• Embarrassment
• Nightmares
• Haunting visions
• Past injuries
• Fear
• Bad Memories
• Moments of inexplicable panic
• Lost love
• An insult that hit home
• Past sickness
• Close calls that continue to haunt
• Intense moments of dread
• Intense moments of grief
• Things you wish you’d done differently, or not done at all
• Something you can’t put a name on or understand―it’s just there hiding somewhere in your head, or maybe in your big toe
• Whatever bugs you

The demons in this document are in no particular order. If you come to the studio to view them, let them disturb you in a way that`s personal to you. Or just laugh at them in a way that`s humorous to you.

The Demons

1. The flying cones that hovered over my parents and brother and then stuck themselves into my chest when I was four years old and we were all sleeping on Dad’s parents’ balcony in downtown Toronto and I couldn’t move or scream or close my eyes. They came back a few years later and whisked my Uncle Arnold out the door at my parent’s house and flew off in to sky with him. The next morning, my mother found me on my knees asleep as though I’d drifted off while looking under the door.
2. Falling from the top of the building into the metal scrap pile and killing both my eye teeth when my head hit a metal beam. Strangely, I didn’t break anything, received just a few scratches and lost maybe ten drops of blood.
3. Running down the stairs at my Grandmother’s on my eighth birthday with my brand new cowboy guns and holsters and extending my arm to push open the glass door and smashing right through the glass. A plate of it stuck deep into my arm and I could see where it was sticking into the bone. On the bus, we had to leave it there all the way to the hospital.
4. Setting fire to the dry grass by the railway tracks when I was nine and letting it get out of control and then watching it on the news that night and waiting with my brother for the police to show up and carry us off to jail. (Tip: Don’t use paint cans full of unidentified fluids to put out a grass fire.)
5. Setting fire to my bed when I was five years old and letting it get out of control so that the fire department had to come and put it out and then waiting upstairs with my brother for the firemen to cart us off to jail. (Tip: Don’t play with matches if you’re under the age of five.)
6. Blowing air into my brother’s hamster, Stinky, and then watching it die later that day and knowing that I was responsible for his death but not telling anyone what I’d done. I wrote a story last month called I Killed Your Hamster but it didn’t release the demon. Maybe this will draw it out.
7. Reading in the paper about the kids just outside of Toronto who were killed by fumes from and old gasoline tank and dreaming about their skeletons chasing me. They showed an artist’s conception of the tank with a cutaway where you could see the two kids inside and another hanging face down from the entry hatch at the top.
8. Dreaming about the Charley McCarthy doll coming to life and chasing me when I was about eight or nine. He was alternately the doll and then a skeleton, but the doll was far more frightening.
9. In Winnipeg, leaning against the ping pong table trying to impress the beautiful girl I was talking to and leaning too hard so that the table collapsed in the center causing the punch bowl on one side and the 200 boxes of cards (that the church was celebrating having designed and made themselves to raise money) on the other side to collide to the horror of everyone present. I really know how to impress a woman.
10. When my brother almost froze to death in Winnipeg and had to be rushed to the hospital with severe frostbite.
11. When I called my daughter a fucking bitch and she wouldn’t speak to me for two weeks. Now, I called her dickhead; she gives me the finger; I take a picture of her giving me the finger and save them in a special folder. When I have 200 of these I’m going to put them on Facebook in an album called “Terms of Endearment.”
12. Getting into an argument with my mother when I took her out to dinner for fish and chips and it was the last time she ever went out of the house before leaving for the hospital to die a few months later. (Lesson learned too late: Be good to your mother.)
13. Watching my father struggling with the snow plough months before he died and not helping him, rationalizing that it was good exercise for him. (Lesson learned too late: Be good to your father.)
14. Standing outside the principal’s office waiting to get the strap when I was eight for asking my teacher what the word fuck meant.
15. Climbing the cliff at the Welsford Falls after a few beers and having no equipment and reaching a spot about 50 feet up where couldn’t climb up any further, but couldn’t find my footing to climb down. I froze for about 15 minutes, hoping that nobody would notice that I was scared shitless.
16. Running at the car full of drug dealers who’d been terrorizing the neighbourhood for weeks, thinking: Go through the windshield on the driver’s side and put both Sai through his eyes. The driver swerved at the last minute and the dealers never came back.
17. The time my brother and I hid the can of sand snakes in the laundry room and they got out and dozens of women began screaming and leaving the building with their babies. They all knew who’d done it and we got the belt that night. I’ve never been able to stop wondering how the hell they got out of that paint can.
18. The last time I drove while I was drunk and drove, at one, point for about a quarter of a mile down the highway asleep and was waked up by the lights from the police car behind me. This a long time ago. I got a stern warning and an escort home.
19. The time I stood up before the entire school to give my speech for president of the student council and couldn’t make heads or tails of my writing. After an embarrassing and noticeably long time, I realized I was holding the speech upside down.
20. The time, when I was quitting smoking and yelled at the secretary for typing my report upside down. She took it away from me, turned it right side up, and handed it back to me. This upside down thing seems to be one the themes in my life.
21. The time I wrote a poem to a beautiful woman at the campus library and tried to analyse what made her beautiful in the poem and ended up ruining the vision of beauty she projected. The poem was published in the campus newspaper and ended with the plea: If the girl in the blue sweater should ever read this poem, I hope she reads just the first line: The girl in the blue sweater sitting across from me is beautiful.
22. Stealing the money from my mother’s purse when I was 10 and she found out later and cried because we were strapped for money at that time and that was half the money she had left for food for the next week. I’d spent it on candy and other stuff for myself and some friends.
23. When my brother and I kept throwing the red chicken into the pond until finally it couldn’t swim back to the shore and drowned.
24. The Christmas Eve that Dad had to work all night on the gates and I got home at about 2 in the morning drunk and Mom had spent the night at home by herself.
25. The time I threatened to leave my son on the roadside for acting up in the car. I screamed at him loud enough to make my daughter cry.
26. The time in Germany when the Spanish guys surrounded my brother and I with switch blades to our throats for ripping them off for duty-free booze and cigarettes.
27. The first time I had sex and was so nervous that I didn’t even know that I’d premature ejaculated.
28. The time in the abandoned mansion in Winnipeg that was said to be haunted and I stood in that room feeling the cold and the evil so intensely that I couldn’t move. I’ve dreamed about this in one form or another throughout my adult life.
29. The time my grandfather picked me up out of the bed when I was sick and threw me down onto the bed so hard that I bounced up almost halfway to the ceiling. My crime: I spilled milk on his paint job on the roof extension below my window.
30. The time I lost my ink drawings when the boutique gallery went bankrupt the day the exhibit was to open. I stopped doing ink and gold leaf drawings for about 35 years.
31. Dangling 200 feet in the air from an abutment on a cliff, afraid to put my hand into the handhold because there was a big black translucent spider in it. After a few minutes, I put my hand in and the spider scurried further into the crevasse.
32. Standing up in the pillbox in Germany and feeling something strange on my face and realizing that I was standing up in spider webbing and the place was solid with spiders. I had to wait for my brother and two friends to crawl backwards in the narrow tunnel leading into the pillbox.
33. Not breaking up with a wonderful woman until I got her published even though my daughter told me that I should stop it before it went any further, that I was hurting her.
34. When I took the kids camping and they sold us wet wood and I emptied a container and a half of fire starter on the wood and lit it and burned off my eyelashes and eyebrows. My eyebrows have never been the same, something I’m reminded of every time I look into a mirror.
35. The time my father slapped me in the face by my father for calling my mother , who was close to death from pneumonia, a “lucky pig” while he was dishing out ice cream for her. That was just the way kids talked back then, but I’ve felt guilty about it ever since.
36. The demons outside the window when I was 7 and sick with pneumonia. They were like swirls of light came close to taking form as faces and bodies and them swirled into formlessness again and began to take shape again.
37. The regret of going to university to study literature instead of going to Greenwich Village in NY to live in poverty and…just write.
38. The regret of looking away just as her eyes met mine, and not looking back and running over to her and getting down on one knee and asking her…anything. I wrote a poem about this that was published in the university newspaper, but the regret never left.
39. Getting so close to the grading for my black belt in Karate and then slipping a disk in my neck, and ending my chances for ever getting that belt.
40. Passing the smoke spewing VW and losing control of the car because the back tires were an inch too small and leaving the road at close to 90km/hr and almost killing myself, my daughter and her friend.
41. The guilt from when my brother and I put the praying mantis on trial for killing other insects, found it guilty and hung it. It was such a beautiful creature…and we hung it.
42. The time I told Dawn I would take her to the play and forgot all about it and then found out the next time I saw her that she’d bought a new dress just for that occasion.
43. The time my son and I drowned the mouse in the jar and then saw how small the tiny dead body was. We were both almost in tears.
44. The time I was swinging my daughter around and banged her head into a low-hanging tree branch. She didn’t start crying until she saw the look of horror in my face.
45. The time my son, right in front of me, put his hand on the burner just a few minutes after I’d turned it off; followed by the mad rush to the hospital.
46. The time I went to the Island with Diana and found out later that Denise had come all the way from Moncton to see me. She stayed slept in my bed and left a letter for me that made me feel about two inches tall.
47. The regret of not going to the Pacific School of Photography because the tuition was too high.
48. The time I hid my miniature lucky rubber duck inside the play hut at the school and somebody stole it. I’ve had a lot of bad luck since then.
49. The time I let Derek Smith’s younger brother beat me in a fight because I would have had to fight him next if I’d won. Derek probably would have beaten the shit out of me, but that would have been something I could have put behind me. Deliberately losing the fight wasn’t.
50. Losing my Bud canoeing hat for the final time. Till then, it seemed to be psychically glued to me, un-losable. Lesson: We lose things.
51. All the times that I said stupid things when I was drunk and hurt some, pissed off others, and made the rest change their minds about me. These moments hit me from time-to-time like itches I can’t reach to scratch.
52. The time, just before Christmas, I fucked the Mexican’s girlfriend in the bathtub in the shared washroom and he kicked down the door and punched me in the head. Graham house alcoholic, thought it was cool. I felt like shit for the next few Christmases.
53. The time I came across a stream running through a clearing in the woods and was amazed by the delicate ice formations along the shallow banks. And then I started dropping bits of snow and ice onto the patterns and breaking them and was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of regret for having destroyed something beautiful. Years later, I wrote a story about this called The Clearing. Unfortunately, that story didn’t exorcise this particular demon.
54. The time I leaned out the window to destroy the satellite dish for the apartment below me because the tenant’s daughter had the volume turned up unbearably loud just to piss me off. I fell out the window, and the only thing stopping me from falling the remaining three stories was the damn satellite dish.
55. The time I didn’t buy the square table at Value Village even though I thought it would be perfect for the studio, and it was only 20 dollars. I came back later to buy it but it was gone. Fortunately, though, it was there again about a month later for 15 dollars. I bought it. The demon was that month of regret.
56. The time I sold my comic book collection for 30 bucks so that I would have money to spend on my kids that weekend. I could see by the way the guy at the comic store acted that he knew he was ripping me off. But I needed the money. I still fantasize strangling him to death.
57. The time I missed the turnoff in Quebec City and my daughter and I drove around and around the same route for hours trying to get out of the city. That’s when I found out that she smoked…when she offered me one at that point when I thought I was going to lose my mind.
58. The time I shot a gopher in Winnipeg with my Cooey 22 and it jumped up in air and let out a scream like a human baby. I never hunted again.
59. That Spring when I went through my apartment and tossed out everything I didn’t need…just to lighten the life load. And realized a few weeks later that I’d thrown out a box containing hundreds (maybe even a couple of thousand) pages of notes I’d made over the years, including the interviews with the witches who dug up the grave and stole the skull of an infant to use in their rituals. When I finish the novel I’m working on now, I plan to write about that period in my life.
60. The time our faces were just a few inches away and I didn’t kiss her.
61. The time we were sitting in the theatre waiting for the movie to start and I reached forward and moved the girl’s head to the left so that I could see better. This one has made me cringe over the years.
62. Leaving Susan at the party while I went out to smoke a joint that lead to another and another at that place neither of us had been before and coming back to find out that she’d left because she was paranoid and thought that I’d left. She was on mushrooms that night.
63. Coming out of Black Creek covered in little red bugs, and we all thought we were going to die. Today, Black Creek (Toronto) runs through pipes.
64. Punching Graham in the head after he tried to stab me with a kitchen knife because I wouldn’t take a drink of his cheap wine. I didn’t really have to hit him to get the knife away from him.
65. Not having sex with Kathy when we were both on Orange Double Barrel acid. She wanted to but I kept getting distracted by walls and floors and stuff.
66. Having to sell my Canon 60D so that I could pay the bills when I was unemployed for four months.
67. Lying to my wife about the bank account, making it seem that everything was OK when it was really a disaster.
68. Coming back to New Brunswick too soon without giving British Columbia a half decent chance. But the trip out was a blast. We arrived in Vancouver in drizzling rain after taking the bus from Winnipeg (where the engine fell out of the car on downtown Portage Avenue during rush hour) and found a joint on the sidewalk, which we immediately smoked.
69. Starting smoking after eight and a half years off cigarettes—one of the hazards of hanging around with artists and writers.
70. Losing my temper when I tried to get the new windshield wiper on the car the way the clerk at Canadian Tire explained (lying bastard…he sold me the wrong one) and slamming the wiper holder so hard that I cracked the windshield. Did pretty much the same with a car door once, but I’ll just work on the one demon for now.
71. The time I was angry because the car wouldn’t start and slammed the door so hard that I took off the hinges and it never closed properly again.
72. Backing into the car at the UNB SUB in the rain and leaving without realizing that I’d hit the car. Found out about it the next day when I saw the dent in the back of my International Scout and called it in. Good thing I did—the police showed up at my door the next day. The car turned out to be an unmarked police car.
73. The time I swam into the ice cold water to retrieve the Frisbee and my lungs went into shock and I would have drowned if Pete hadn’t grabbed my hand and pulled me out.
74. The time I tried to save the canoe when we broached on the Nashwaak in ice cold freshet water and finally heard Nanook yelling for me to let go of the canoe. I almost made it to the shore before my lungs went into shock, but I was close enough for Nanook to grab me and pull me out of the water. Hopefully, drawing out these demons will keep me out of ice cold water in the future. Remembering how it feels to not be able to breathe really sucks.
75. Running into the woods chasing a bear that had just crossed the river minutes before we put in on the left bank, thinking about how I had to turn the camera sideways if the bear was standing. If the bear was standing. I must have broken my own personal speed record running back to the canoe when my beer-sopped brain finally realized what I was doing. Hint: Stay in the boat.
76. Coming around the bend on the Tobique River with Pete and I so drunk we couldn’t get it together until the last minute and missing, by a few inches, being shredded by a log jam with tree trunks and branches spinning like blades.
77. Going almost out of my mind in those last weeks of college trying to write an essay for my French Lit in Translation course just to be told by the prof that the topic was impossible to write on. These were the same people who wouldn’t let me write my honors thesis on graffiti as a literary form and almost laughed their asses off when I suggested a comparison of character development between two comic book characters: Sargent Rock and Sargent Fury.
78. The time I had to chew the fried pig’s brain and onions while the host, Nicolai (a Romanian naval officer who jumped ship in Halifax) talked about how pig’s brains were such a big gourmet item in Romania because it was such a small part of the pig so it was expensive. During the whole five minutes it took me to finally be able to swallow it, I was continuously on the verge of throwing up in his face. The stuffed grape leaves were great, though.
79. Telling one of my aunts (who was a bit of a bitch) when I was five years old that my Mom had given me an 11 dollar bill and looking into her spiteful eyes as she exposed me on that one. Can’t figure out why I even remember that, but I do. Vividly.
80. In Germany, spending most of the night throwing up in the washroom at Pete’s gasthaus after drinking several glasses of half beer and half vodka. I haven’t been able to drink vodka since. Except in Schlordy Pop, but that’s without demons.
81. The time Pico went feral after I fed him the giant moth and he shit all over the apartment and attacked me and I had to lock him in the kid’s room when they weren’t there because I was afraid he would attack me in my sleep. He recovered just before I was going to have him put down but, every three or four months after that, he went feral again, usually for a day or a few hours. The people I gave him to think it’s just great when he goes feral.
82. The time I came home and my wife and kids weren’t there and there was no note and then the phone rang.
83. The recurring dream in which I look at my arm or leg and there’s a hole in it and, as I look closer, I notice that the hole leads into a hollowed out area of the limb and inside there’s cobwebs and dried broken bones and the inside seems almost cavernous and if I touch the area around the opening, it crumbles and the hole grows larger.
84. Watching my father just hours before he died from emphysema being fed. The nurse had to practically force the white stuff into his mouth and it just came back up and his arms and legs were swollen to twice their size.
85. Almost throwing up on my first flight in an airplane in air cadets after spending too much time in the observation tower.
86. The recurring dream of flying up into the air and soaring and then suddenly realizing that I can’t fly and then I plummet to the ground and have actually hit the ground a few times. So much for dying in real life when you die in your dreams.
87. Getting into a major argument with a close friend and then coming home and finding an invitation to a party from her.
88. Standing at the edge of the cliff with Cass at Grand Manan and being terrified that she would step out too far. Everything turned out OK, but this still crops into my thoughts occasionally, especially after we heard about the couple from Quebec (the wife fell; the husband grabbed for her and they both fell to their deaths).
89. The time I tried to shove a pencil into my head because I’d been arrested for assaulting a man who I was actually trying to save from being beaten up by three others. Spent the night in jail and rolled my first cigarette the next morning. The charges were dropped when the guy stepped forward and admitted that I wasn’t one of the attackers. Note to Self: Mind your own business.
90. Watching my daughter fly over the top of her first bide and hit the sidewalk face first. She took it fine until she saw her face in the mirror and thought that she was going to look that way forever. School photos were two days later.
91. Watching my youngest brother have seizures and have to be put into a cold tub of water with a spoon in his mouth about four or five times a year. I was sure he was going to die each time.
92. The time one of the female announcers told me the radio ad I’d written that morning was in bad taste and she refused to read it because it advertised a bar for women to meet men who, for the most part, had jobs. This was during a recession. She was right.
93. The time Cass and I were on the ride at the exhibition and we were at the very top when the ride operator started shaking the ride back and forth because we were upside down and coins were falling out of my pockets. Cass had to drag me away when we got back to the ground because I wanted to kill the operator.
94. The time her son was killed in a car accident and my ex and kids were going to Nova Scotia along the same route and I was so terrified that something might happen to them that I couldn’t go into her office and tell her how bad I felt for her.
95. The time Nanook and I went over a waterfall on the North Renous and I lost my Olympus OM 10 after taking just one picture with my new wide angle lens that my wife had given me for my birthday. I still miss that camera. Also lost an unopened can of beer.
96. Going down York Street on cross country skis during a snowstorm on St. Patrick’s Day and not being about to stop or turn as I went through red lights at two intersections before just sitting down. Painfully.
97. Watching as Murray set the paper ribbons (from computer printouts) hanging from the lamp in the center of the room on fire while all of us (ripped out of our heads on acid) tried to figure out exactly what was happening. If we hadn’t wised up when we did, the place would have gone up like a match. Advice: Don’t do LSD any time after the 60s.
98. The trip back from Bangor with Susan in the MG Midget on the no-access highway with the speedometer almost on empty and, around each bend, only darkness for miles and no gas stations in site. I swear this is the night I started losing hair.
99. The time my brother, Steve, and I were carried for miles down the Humber River in a fast current on a rickety raft that we couldn’t steer. A few days later, we moved. A few days after moving, hurricane Hazel washed the whole area away.
100. The memory of my brother and I eating those big fat house spiders when we were young. Very young. And stupid. Very stupid.
101. The time I was on the school bus in Germany drinking beer and then rushed off to run in the 1600, found my gym teacher high in the stands and asked him where I had to be and he pointed to a group of runners way down on the track at the starting line and said (obviously toning down his anger), “Down there…with them.”
102. An hour after missing the 1600 (and two weeks after I ran in an international marathon) when Chris from the school marathon team came onto the bus and tossed a medal at me and said, “You missed the medal ceremony.” Went for a ride on my friend’s motorcycle that evening and lost the medal.
103. Not asking the woman in the clothing store on a date. My daughter told me she was interested. Now she’s somewhere else, far away. The woman, not my daughter.
104. When the vet asked if I wanted to take Cam’s body or leave it with him for disposal and I was so distraught about the dog’s death that I shook my head yes to the second choice and realized later that I should have brought her home to bury out back.
105. The time the refrigerator repair man shook my frig and smashed a $300 collector’s plate that was sitting on top of it. I knew I should have moved that plate.