It doesn’t fade. People, sayings, inspirational quotes that invade your preferred social media feeds even; they all offer a hopeful lie. In turn, we all grab ahold of the wish bar and get pulled along for the ride of disappointment.
Somewhere, as we float through the clouds; bob across the waves; peer, squinting, over the mountaintops, we hope the lie can become truth. Perhaps the one quasi-inspirational quote to ring true is, “It’s the hope that kills you”.
So true is the mourning.
Years ago – at least it feels like years ago – my partner informed me that should she pass, I had to wait one full calendar year before taking up with someone new. I’m sure it was brought on by the discovery that a person we knew had found a new partner mere months after the passing of their recently deceased life partner. I promptly informed my wife I would never marry again…which may have been delivered with incorrect intonation, thus prompting a stern look… and a tepid reception to my somewhat apologetic clarification.
She, in turn, informed me she only had to wait six months – because someone had to cook. I suspect she wouldn’t want to ski or ride alone, either. But it was definitely the former that was of most concern. Not everyone likes to cook. I think 3 months is ample time for her. One should not risk scurvy.
Truth be told – unlike the aforementioned social media quotes that so many love to mindlessly repost for their own self-help (as if posting said jargon-filled cries for help would somehow solve their collective predicaments) – it would be much more than a year for me. And I speak from experience when I confirm for you the falsehoods found in the promise the emptiness and pain will fade. If anything, it amplifies with surges, not unlike a king tide – something we should remember happens with the push and pull of the moon. A cycle of frequency, ever present in our little piece of the timeline in which we humans plod along.
A surge of grief does not respect your mid-flight joy to be headed on a vacation, nor does it care you’ve just harnessed the ideal 15-knot wind on a beam reach, or even that you just spent three hours climbing the side of a cliff to reach a flat, safe, stress free summit. No untracked powder run; no flowing singletrack; no glass-water paddle gives you reprieve. Those are the moments of joy and relief struck aside by the inappropriate arrival of the reminder you can’t pick up a phone or send a message to share your achievement. The lines of communication have been severed. There is no tech support capable of reconnecting you. The reality of abandonment lingers.
This, of course, is not to say everyone abandons their loved ones on purpose. Quite the contrary. Aside from a few in unrelenting pain who willingly and rightfully choose to travel on to the next plane of existence – or not – depending on their belief system, very few accept the end of their life with grace.
Regrets, I’m sure, are the first thing to offer up. We might choose to self-eulogise in a reminiscent fashion, give definite instructions to our friends and descendants, or even spend our last days, hours, or minutes worrying about how others will cope in our absence. The latter, I’m inclined to think is utter arrogance. In turn, we the diligent bedside sitters offer comfort to the soon to be deceased that “we’ll be just fine” – another example of arrogance an observer of the human species would find typical, if not amusing. We really are brutally self-indulgent…right to the bitter end.
And that’s where I have to leave this uncomfortable rambling. The mind of Albert is not a reliable source for calm thought. No quotes should be heeded. No ramblings should receive more than a minor deliberation. When colleagues joke about about my extended holidays and random work hours, and lightheartedly quip, “I want to be Albert”, I promptly remind them, “No. You do not. No one should to be trapped in this mind”. There are no self-help posti-quotes that will repair this brain…or heart.
But one must try…arrogant as that may be. Even if it takes the entire mourning.
My mother, Norma Mary Hartery-Berkshire, passed away ten years ago today – 14 January 2013. She was ready to go, having stated, “I’ve had enough. I’m outta here.” It was a final, definite declaration from a lady who knew how to end a debate with grace. In hindsight, it’s funny; however, to be candid, it’s been awful. But it’s time to start writing about happier things.
Perhaps the happier writings will finally make the mourning fade to black.
Albert Thomas Berkshire is a writer, director, producer, and traveling booze model. He has lost too many to death, and equally, too many to life. To see a happier world though Albert’s eyes, follow him on Instagram for random moments of delight…and of course, some ever-tasty, spouse-enjoyed, self-indulgent food porn. Just not a poached egg. The vortex of poach eludes him still.
“Welcome to the club.” she said. “We’re orphans, now, you and me.”
I’d never thought of my life like that. I’d never thought much about orphans. To me, orphans were kids in a Charles Dickens novel, or the unfortunate boys of Mount Cashel. The later, I surmise, would have been better off on the streets than in that horrible place.
But here we were. Two of a kind. Both, it seemed now, without a parent between us.
I don’t remember, particular details of the phone call. I think I went a little numb. We still talked – possibly for an hour or more – but the next part of the conversation when into that strange audio effect you experience in television shows or movies when everything is muted, as if a stun grenade had just detonated and left my ears ringing. A surreal state of bewilderment. You are fully aware of what’s happening around you, but you are just detatched enough to not fully remember details. A generalization of general events, if you will.
As the conversation rolled on, I suspect we had a heart to heart chat about the loss of our mothers, made easier by a fair amount of levity. She always knew when to inject some happy thoughts and quirky observations into a conversation.
When I look back at the almost 18 years we were friends – some days of friendship better than others (as all relationships go) – there were countless funny moments, and lessons on humanity. All, now, are cherished. And like all reflection when a friend passes on to the next dimension, better appreciated. Treasured, even.
From the sublime cartoon clippings that would arrive in the mail – and still adorn the refrigerator door – to the little gifts that lightened my wife’s heart, this dazzling light in our life knew just how to make a friend smile. And she wasn’t just generous with friends. She was a friend to the animals; always being the voice they did not have, and the home they could not find. She took in strays and loved them like best friends. Her husband – and partner through life – always had a sharp sarcasm for the cats that roamed their home, and his silly monikers for the animals seemed to give her great delight. But they never gave her pause. She was undeterred.
She was also ridiculously well read. Vonnegut, I believe was her favourite. Her wit was sharp. Bright-eyed with even brighter lipstick. Her heart was far too big for her body. And her sense of fashion was all her own. Perhaps the most memorable accessory was a string of pearls she liked to wear while mountain biking. After all, she was out, and she certainly wasn’t going to be seen in public looking half-put-together.
A few weeks before she passed away, she posted on Facebook a quote from 17th Century Japanese poet, Mizuta Masahide; “Barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon.”
Her friends all knew what she meant.
Emily wasn’t a religious person. Not in the least. But just days before she died, she renewed her vows with her husband, Daniel, in a ceremony performed by a priest. And when she died on Good Friday, I looked at my wife, and in a broken smile, said, “Emily died on Good Friday – for the animals. I think she’d appreciate the irony in that.”
It was the night before before she died that I woke up to the brightest moon in memory. I felt like Em was drifting past the window to say hello to some friends. Friends she kept in that oversized, generous heart of hers.
Once the girl in a string of pearls, she is forever the girl in the moon drifting throughout the night sky, keeping pace, shining her beauty on us. Lighting the way, in the darkest moments.
There’s one less member in our orphan’s club, and one more twinkle in the sky.
Hi Ho, Emily. Hi Ho.
Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. Emily Crumback was one of his most intriguing friends, and the first person to read the final draft of his first novel – We Made A Pact. To honour a friend like Emily, you need only love an animal, read a book, or appreciate music – preferably Van Morrison. It’s all she would ever want. For a shorter, lighter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and anti-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire
“Brain?” I asked, “Why must you be so fucking difficult?
There was no measurable response. Seems Brain thought it best to turtle in its moment of study light interrogation.
Why do you ignore the rational? Why do you insist on dragging yourself out of the light and into the spaces that exist on the fringe of positive thought? Why, when you are supplying a perfectly acceptable appreciation of the beauty this world possesses, do you feel the need to surmise the opposite reality?
Why can’t you just enjoy the sunset?
Brain, it seems, likes to play by his own rules. He dances around the necessary, ignores my desires (primarily writing, I might add), and seems to expend enormous computing power creating scenarios that will likely never happen. (Heli-skiing still has a chance, though.)
And then there’s his relationship with my legs and stomach. With Legs, he’s in harmony. They’ll hike for days through mountain passes or hammer out a 100km mountain bike ride together with minimal disagreement. But the moment he reads a menu and sees Eggs Benny – he orders Huevos Rancheros. This, I suspect is to deny me a finish line in my lifelong pursuit of the perfect poached egg. The one that comes from the fabled Swirling Vortex of Poach. The one that Brain refuses to even attempt. Chicken!
Why, Brain, do you go through spurts of social segregation? What is it about going out with friends that you occasionally find so unbearable that you will hang out with the cat and hammer out words on a screen rather than pick up the phone and make plans with the wonderful people in your life? (This, I might add, is a rather rewarding delight until it has to be explained as, “I just wanted to stay home and write.”)
Brain fails to fully appreciate the proven scientific benefits of companionship. (He has also misspelled scientific twice in this piece). His approach is to let someone else be the first to pick up the phone to make plans in the event his invitation is declined. He likes to just be on his own, knowing full well it leads to an overdose of sci-fi movies and a repeat viewing of the IT Crowd. The latter, showcases his inability to admit that chick flicks are high on his list, too. Maybe he’d respond well to a viewing of The Holiday. (It is almost Christmastime.)
But it isn’t just movies where Brain and I disagree. We have battles over music. My gut calls for classic rock. You know, the stuff to which our older brothers listened when we were kids. That music left me forever tainted, except for my appreciation of the once-upon-a-time mentioned Led Zepplin, Jethro Tell, and a more recent appreciation for Muse. And Rod Stewart. The early stuff around the time of Faces. (And why does Brain insist Mona’s “Lean Into The Fall” is so reminiscent of Stewart’s “The Killing of Georgie”) Brain, instead, prefers to write to modern, alternative music. It’s an angst-motivating genre. Great for intense writing moments and a flow of thought. It’s that moment when your fingers are actually keeping pace with your thoughts. (If you’re my neighbour, and your bluetooth speaker system is Hydra, I apologize for the Saint Motel and K. Fray marathon. I didn’t (Brain didn’t) realize we were connected. Rocks, though, doesn’t it?)
And then the moment Brain and I agree on the benefits of him winning the music-selection argument, we suddenly have more questions for each other. Or him. Mostly him.
Brain, I continued, “Why did you suddenly think that pressing the Home button on your iphone would turn off the bidet? More importantly, why did you press it two more times before acknowledging that the controls were on the wall? And why, I shudder to ask, did you instantly wonder if there was an app available to control the bidet? How did you go from “Ha Ha. Silly mistake!” to “Fuck, that would be a killer piece of home automation. I wonder if there is money in that?””
Have I overloaded you? Have I exposed you to too much Facebook, Ello, Twitter, Instagram (surely our four times looking at Instagram together was not overload)? Is the espresso getting to you? Do we need to downgrade to dry cappuccinos? Please don’t say you think decaf is a better option. Do you need more protein? Do you need a break? Do you need an app for that? Would you prefer to shut off more frequently? Or is that what spurs your creativity?
And where does your creativity originate? Your family members (I realize there’s only one brain in my head, but I mean those controlling your relatives. My relatives.) all seem fairly normal. Or are you now suggesting that they’re all as nuts as me (us) and they are just better at hiding it?
And why did talking to the empty chair do so much for you in such a short time? More importantly, why can’t you live the rest of your life in that peaceful moment of reconciliation?
Perhaps, Brain, you just want to be free to run amuck and create whatever streams through your senses. I’d ask you how you’d reconcile that with mortgage payments and grocery purchases, but I’m not entirely certain our better-half would appreciate the cynicism of the explanation.
Or maybe, you just need to find your focus again. Rediscover your passion for storytelling. Embrace your unexpected desires to throw words at a page.
How does that sound, Brain? Have we agreed on a plan that allows us to get back to writing? Or was this your plan all along? To get me into the mindset of one of our new characters?
And Brain? If it was…well done.
Well done, Brain.
Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. When he isn’t writing, he’s usually thinking about writing. Sometimes he’s just fighting with his less-than-motivated brain. Or he could just be getting in the mindset of one of his new character. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and in various e-book formats. You’ll find it at amazon.ca and at chapters.ca For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and anti-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire
I don’t know that I’ve ever really paid much attention to the practice of qualifying the level of badness. Terrible. Horrible. Worst possible news. And the new internet-of-things triple-period emphatic overstatement: Worst. News. Ever.
In this case, It. Is.
An old friend died. We only hung out on a handful of occasions over the 13 or so years that I’d known him. We talked a lot on the phone, but only saw each other in person every couple of years. We’d meet up at concerts, football games, and once at a figure skating event. I knew he was passionate about figure skating, but I thought it was more of a business passion – until I read the condolences attached to his online obituary. A representative from Skate Canada had left a message expressing how great a loss his passing was to their sport.
David Ash and I first met when I was assigned to write some radio commercials for him. Over time, and after I left my day job at a radio station, he kept in touch. I continued on as his writer and producer for his radio commercials for his sports tours, concert promotions, and pretty much everything else he wanted to advertise – including the radio campaign to sell his over home at Big Valley Acres in Saskatchewan. We did a lot of work together over the years.
David was one of those clients who got away with phoning me at home – at ten o’clock at night. He didn’t seem to have an off switch for work. Mostly, as I recall, because he loved his work. He was, after all, The D Ash of Dash Tours. I swear, I was working for him for about eight years before it registered with me that D Ash made up Dash Tours. Sometimes, I guess, we writers are a little too close to the product.
And what a product, was he!
David was delightfully generous. He would send me concert tickets, football game tickets, invite me to the VIP parties, and always wanted to feed us. And we – my wife, my friends, my colleagues – all had some crazy times and some wonderful times with him. His generosity never ceased to amaze. Everyone left with a smile.
Years ago, we found ourselves in Vancouver with David. Irish rockers U2 we on tour, and we were there with David. My friend flew out from Newfoundland to come to the concert because we promised him his $1000 seat would only be $250 and he’d have the time of his life. Of course, this friend also trusted me the time I told him we had a condo in Whistler that turned out to be a basement studio apartment. At least this time, with David, he was guaranteed there would be a band…possibly a drum solo, too.
After hammering back a couple Red Bull knock offs (I highly recommend against this activity, and have never had one since), we headed to Vancouver’s GM Place to see U2. Turns out, our tickets were behind the stage. But the that “behind the stage” was in the Vancouver Canucks’ private owners’ box. Yup. David had a connection, and we had the box! And that’s when the real David started to shine. About 35 of his guests were treated to a full hot buffet; we had a waitress and a bartender; a private washroom; and we had David. And throughout the course of the night, the 14 or so rum and Cokes (again, on top of the upper drinks that started the night), David invited every single person down to the front row of the box to get a close up look at the band, to hang out and chat with him, and to hear his stories. And they were great. He was incredibly generous, inclusive, and everyone there – many who had known him for many years – loved him.
I credit David with sending me to the best concert I have every seen in my life. Back in the 1995, David Bowie was going through his “don’t talk about the past” phase. He would never play anything in concert except his current album. So years later when David Ash sent me tickets to see David Bowie in Kelowna, BC, I figured, “Well, Reality is a pretty good album. I should go see Bowie.” That night, Bowie played everything from Reality – all the way back to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It was brilliant. He was engaging, funny and everything I hoped he would be. And to this day, when we old dogs who are now coat tailing the baby boomers, sit around and tell our own concert stores, I still tell people about the concert David sent me to see. And all he said when he told me he was sending tickets was what he always said, “You make me sound good. It’s my way of saying thanks.”
A couple years later, I called David looking for Neil Diamond tickets for my wife. At the time, $200 got you in the upper levels at Neil Diamond concert. The nosebleed section. But she was determined and David said he’d send her tickets to the middle deck. She was thrilled. When the tickets arrived, she was on the floor – third row from the stage. I called David, and all he said was, “Tell her to have a great time.” Again…unbelievable generosity from a man we rarely spent any time with in the course of the average year.
I can’t say I’ve ever been a football fan. David, as anyone who knew him, was the ultimate – and original – Super Fan. He was the original Gainer The Gopher for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. The man lived and breathed Canadian Football. He was known in every circle of the CFL. And when he invited us to sit Centre Field at a Riders vs. Lions game in Vancouver, we thought it was a great idea. And really, a chance to head down to VanGroovy for a weekend, stay downtown and shop and dine was a great getaway at a great time. It was, of course, Halloween.
And that’s where it got a little bit weird. At least for David.
My wife loves to dress up. She has a robust Tickle Trunk. She loves costumes. And loves to stick a wig on me. We also had made YipYip costumes the year prior for a Halloween party at our house. You may know where this is going. We stuffed the two YipYip costumes in the back seat of our car, put seat belts on them, and drove to Vancouver. The poor valet at our place in Vancouver had no idea what was happening. He thought we left our kids (we don’t have any) in the car. And that should have been a hint that our humour was not as recognizable as we thought it might be.
Maybe I should explain…again. YipYips, if you aren’t familiar, are big furry alien characters from the TV show Sesame Street. They come to earth, discover a house with an open window, a phone rings and they assume it is intelligent life and try to communicate with it. “Burrrrrrrrr-ring!”
It’s okay. David didn’t know either.
So we dressed up as YipYips for the game, sat next to David for the entire game – right on the 55 yard line (Yes, in the CFL, the field is 110 yards long, though being Canadian, one would think is should be 110 metres), and David never had a clue who we were or why we were sitting in the seats he had reserved for us! And still, he didn’t ask these furry aliens to leave. He just let them have fun.
And we did. A lot of it. We were also the darlings of Chinatown that day, being stopped for a lot of photo ops on our way back to the hotel. But that wasn’t a surprise – we were furry cartoon-like creatures in Vancouver. Statistically speaking, it was a social inevitability.
That evening, we met David for dinner with a number of his other tour guests. We were late (I should clarify here, in case my wife reads this, that I was the cause of us being late.) And when we arrived at the restaurant – a steak house (we are vegetarians), David greeted us, told us he was sorry but they didn’t have a big enough table for us to join them, but he had the owner reserve a booth for us, and took the liberty of ordering some Alaskan crab legs for us as a starter. I hadn’t eaten crab in 20 years. It’s shellfish, bottom-of-the-ocean hangup to which I like to cling. My wife asked me if I was going to eat the crab, and I said, “Of course. David ordered it.”
And that was the thing; people wanted David to know they appreciated his generosity. He never sought praise or recognition. But he certainly earned it.
Over the next few years, I, along with a couple of friends, were his guest at a couple private parties at the top of the CN Tower, and at that same event, he took the time to talk to everyone. There must have been over 200 people there, and most he knew by name. We did photos with David, we had laughs, drinks, dinners, and we had access to everything during the 100th Grey Cup weekend. We were travelling with David.
David, as some know, was that guy in the crowd at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, BC, who handed off the giant Canadian flag to Sidney Crosby so that it could be skated around the ice with Team Canada when they won the Gold Medal for Men’s Ice Hockey. He was the crazy guy in the stands who had the flashing red light on his head that he turned on every time Team Canada scored – in both Women’s and Men’s ice hockey. (He even had a green one for Rider’s games!) Incidentally, he donated that flag to the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame. Personally, I think it should have been draped over his coffin and buried with him.
It was because of David I saw Bowie. It was because of David I got to understand Rider Pride. It was because of David that I realized just how great crab legs really are, that one should never drink two Red Bull thingy drinks and then finish the night with a diet of rum and cokes. (I think my dilated eyes really concerned him that night). It was because of David that Neil Diamond pointed at wife and sang to her – and they had their “moment” – as she describes it. And it’s because of David that I have so many crazy stories about so many crazy people I met in the stands – everywhere we went with him.
I can only imagine the stories David had – that he wouldn’t dare tell us.
He was, after all, the Original Super Fan.
David Ash died on February 28th, 2016 in Regina, Saskatchewan – fittingly, the home of the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. He was the most generous person I have ever known. A friend whose phone call I will forever miss. His memory, however, will always warm my heart.
Albert Berkshire is an author and storyteller. This one is true. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire
People do, however, love to ask about your favourite colour, or food, or car, or brand of bike components…or more recently my favourite book or musician.
Maybe it’s the debate of merits that prompts these questions. People love to debate things.
Years ago, despite what I thought was an impressive collection of Nazareth vinyl, had you asked me my favourite band, I might have said it was Kiss. I had what I was certain were all their albums (yes, also on vinyl), I dressed up as Ace Frehley for Halloween when I was in sixth grade, and I certainly didn’t miss the opportunity to serenade a girl in my elementary school class (from a safe distance, of course) with the words to Beth. Though her name wasn’t Beth. A boy’s gotta try. Even the dorky ones. And to be frank, I may have been a kid, but I was pretty certain Gene had stumbled onto something pretty impressive, and I, too, wanted to rock and roll all night (Kiss, 1975). Possibly with non-Beth Beth.
And then there was the in-between years of Top 40 pop music throughout the mid-eighties that may have been the influence in a few embarrassing record purchases. Except for Madness and The Talking Heads. Madness (Our House, 1982) I can still appreciate. David Byrne of The Talking Heads (And She Was, 1985) was brilliant. (‘Though, there were too many feet in the video. Other people’s feet whig me out.)
Today, since technically by reading on you validate my need to share, I’d have to go with Led Zeppelin as my favourite band. Back in high school, when we were so much more learned and sophisticated than those elementary days, my friend Joe introduced me to The Immigrant Song. I was forever changed. Music, it seemed had more than instruments and choruses. It had feeling. It had emotion. It had lyrics that reached out and grabbed your mind in as tight a clench as with which it held on to your heart. It made us think. And we talked about it. What did it all mean? Most importantly to a couple of high school kids looking for their place in the world, the other kids weren’t hearing this stuff on the local AM radio. We had something different. And we were, in our minds, beyond cool.
Bonham, Jones, Page, and Plant made me listen. They made me rethink what words could do. And to this day, through the many incarnations of U2, the storytelling of the Eagles, the showmanship of Pink Floyd, the depression of Morrissey, the absolute cool of The Verve, the anger of the Pogues, the Ramones, The Violent Femmes, Amanda Palmer, Transvision Vamp, Nirvana, A Perfect Circle (I slept in a ditch that night), and what was described as possibly the first ever on-stage smile of Billy Corgan (also a ditch night), I am most influenced by Led Zeppelin.
Sidebar: I have been on the receiving end of the stink eye on a couple of occasions for interrupting a conversation to turn up Going to California when it started playing on the car radio. And I may have attempted a butt-grope at a high school dance during the standard last-dance song, Stairway to Heaven. But it’s as far as I got. Those Brothers and Nuns didn’t miss much.
Music, admittedly, I will gladly debate with anyone, any time.
Colours. I have a colleague who will debate colours. This possibly happens more in our day to day world of advertising and marketing consultations, but there are specifically studied, established and accepted theories on the impact and influence of colour. The soothing light blue, the urgent red, the hungry yellow (which is why so many fast food restaurants use yellow and red), the calming green. Seriously, we can all mellow out and take a nap at Starbucks.
We can debate these things, but in the end, you either like a colour, or you do not. And as I was asked a couple of weekends ago by a friend as we were getting ready to go out, “Albert? Is green your favourite colour?” I replied without delay, looking at my shirt, “I guess it is. I seem to have it on.”
I’ll get to the heart of the matter (Henley, 1989) in a moment, but first, the others. Sushi. Porsche. SRAM. In case you wondered.
And the book? That’s the tough one. I’ve raved for years about John Birmingham’s He Died With A Falafel In His Hand. A roaring memoir about his time in share housing in Australia. Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos left me somewhat dazed and confused (‘Zep remake, 1969). Douglas Copeland’s Generation X, The Bubblegum Thief, and All Families Are Psychotic each kept me feeling like I was going to be forever young (Dylan, 1973). Joseph Monniger’s Eternal On The Water gave me a new appreciation for ravens and crows, and being a lover of nature and the First People’s spiritual world, it still resonates with me. But I’d have to argue that Tom Robbin’s Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates may be my favourite book of all time. The insanity of the characters, the rolling storytelling, and the depravity of the idea and ideals truly did take me over the hills and far away (‘Zep, 1973).
A couple of days ago, walking through a parking lot in search of a Thai restaurant (second most favourite food), my wife’s mother said, “Albert…Rosie and Marie said to tell you they enjoyed your book and that you are a good writer.”
“That doesn’t mean they liked it.” I said.
“No.” she relied. “I guess it doesn’t.”
“It’s okay.” I said. “It’s all very subjective. It either resonates with you, or it does not.”
“Well…” she continued. “We did have very different ideas about the ending and they debated it for quite some time. And they want me to ask you if he was or wasn’t…”
“Paulette,” I interrupted. “Your daughter still hasn’t read it. So we should stop there for now.”
I went on to explain that other than the beginning chapter and the ending, I hadn’t read it since the editor did her thing. It’s my preference to not know how she changes my story. (When I hand it over to the publisher, I’m happy with the story I wrote. If they feel they need to change something, then they change it. I know what I wrote and that was the story I wanted to tell.) My point was that I’m certainly not going to explain the characters’ motivations. That, I leave up to the reader – to debate, or not to debate.
But what she said was possibly the nicest feedback I’ve had on We Made A Pact.
It spurred a debate. And that’s the greatest compliment I think I could ever receive for my work.
By the way, that shirt I love? I got it in June of 2011. I was in Seaside, Oregon, when I walked into Moment Surf Shop. I wasn’t looking for a shirt. I don’t like to sport a lot of logos. But this one just had the right feel – at the moment. Serendipity, I guess.
The shirt certainly has seen better days, but it’s been a constant. It’s been the slip-on shirt after more than one muddy mountain bike ride, and has faithfully hung out with me by the pool…sometimes on a sunny day, it’s just been wrapped around my head. It’s just one of those things you come to appreciate. Even if it is just a shirt.
Pretty certain we can’t debate the merits of a shirt. That, I guess, is a safe zone for me.
But I’ll always debate the impact music can have on one’s life. I listened to a lot of music when I was writing We Made A Pact, and from that extensive playlist, I narrowed it down to 24 songs that I felt spoke the emotion of the story. Maybe one day I’ll share that playlist.
We can debate it, if you wish.
Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and in various e-book formats. Just follow the links if you’d like to check it out. I hope you will. Public reviews are always welcome. Swapping stories of the first record purchase is welcome, too. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire
We were bobbing around on the lake. Two kayakers, surrounded by hundreds of others in kayaks, canoes, rowboats and stand-up paddleboards. There was an eerie calm on the water surrounded by a festival of events. It was early and everyone looked slightly unsure of what it was they were doing. I was no different.
Hundreds of people were about to swim across the lake. It was the longest open-water swim in Canada, and a friend who was participating asked me to be her safety paddler. I was the person who followed her from start to finish ensuring she had someone to help her should she be unable to continue. That day, I had the easy job. But that’s not the story. Not today.
Paddlers are, like any other subset of outdoor enthusiasts, part of little communities. We intersect and intermingle at random times, acknowledging each other and our sport – or pastime-become-passion – and almost always strike up a conversation as one paddles past the other. Much like any other subset of human culture, we tend to be drawn to each other by our equipment. In the same way two car lovers might swoon over each other’s classics or super cars, or fashionistas might delight in each other’s shoes, paddlers tend to check out each other’s boats. It is the common ground.
“I like your boat”, she said from about stroke away. “It’s exactly what my husband and I want to buy.”
I looked up to see a woman who, I guess, looks like every other woman in a paddling vest, sun hat, and kayak, looking at me.
“Is it a …”
“…Soltice”. I finished her sentence. “By Current Designs”.
“I love it.” She complimented.
The conversation continued with niceties for a few more moments until I told her that I was thinking about selling my kayaks (my wife doesn’t love kayaking as much as I do, so another sport was proposed), and that’s when things turned awkwardly…fortuitous.
In the process of telling this woman how to get in touch with me – pen and paper not being a ready instrument of communication whilst on the water – something sparked a memory for her and she looked at me saying, “I know you. You changed my life.”
Were it not for the hundreds of people surrounding us on the lake, I could tell you the silence fell on the conversation like a blanket thrown on a horse’s back. But the silence was all internal. I’d never heard anything like that in my life – short and relatively inexperienced as it may seem to some.
Jokingly I suggested that it’s not every day a guy gets to hear a woman confess her life has changed because of him. But she was quick, thankfully, to explain herself.
“You bought one of my paintings.”
I stared blankly. I’ve bought a few paintings. And this wasn’t really registering. I was half-listening for the start of the race and trying to find my swimmer in a sea of identical swim caps.
“The Poppy! I met you the night you bought it. We were introduced but you were rushing out the door.”
The Poppy is a beautiful painting that jumped out at me at an open house for a local business owned by acquaintances. It was on display and when one of the business owners was touring me through the new space, I immediately asked if it was for sale – knowing they were not a gallery. It was, and on the impulse, “I’ll take it” rolled off my tongue before I even knew the price. I have no regrets of the purchase, and it is hanging on the wall just behind me in the living room of my home. I love it.
In retrospect, the paddler-come-artist was giving an accurate description of events. I was headed out the door because I had to be somewhere else and I never made the time to speak to her. My disinterest in a fellow creative was not intentional, just circumstantial.
“I had decided I was going to quit as an artist.” She continued. “I wasn’t selling any paintings and the night you bought The Poppy, and the way it was explained that you just saw it and said, ‘I want it” changed everything.”
At this point, I’m squirming around in my cockpit. Perhaps not the most sensible action when bobbing around on the water.
“I went home, raved to my husband about “this guy” who just saw one of my paintings and had to have it. At some point, he became tired of hearing about you, went to bed and I went into my studio and started painting. I was inspired.”
A quick aside, if you will allow me: Over the years of my career – my day job as a writer and producer – I’ve worked with a lot of people who shared in brainstorming and creative session in the pursuit of creativity – the author Tommie Lee is perhaps king of the creative heap in that category. But this, this was a passive, almost surrogate, participation on my part. I’m also certain my jaw is, at this point, still dangling to display one of my adulthood prides of not having a single filling in my teeth. Oh…it was agape. Seriously. Never had a cavity. My dentist hates me. Onward.
She preceded to explain that she now had her art hanging in winery galleries, was painting even bigger pieces contrary to the suggestions and advice of galley owners, and was completely sold out. She was inspired. I was … silenced. And there are not many people or incidents that leave me speechless.
The race started. I began looking for my swimmer friend and we parted company, each paddling after different people. But that night, and for the next few days, her story – her completely sublime telling of her impressions of the night I bought the painting – resonated with me.
And now I was inspired. I sat down and finished my editor-suggested changes and corrections to my novel. The procrastination and the doubt was washed away by the chance meeting with the artist, Korenna Corby.
Korenna, humble to the core, later agreed to create the cover art for my novel, We Made A Pact. The painting, I feel, explains everything. And while she claims she’s not an illustrator, she certainly was willing to step out of her free-form comfort zone to paint the piece for me.
Maybe that’s what creatives – artists, writers, producers, actors and storytellers – do. We help each other…even when we don’t know we’re doing it.
At least, that’s how I remember things.
Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is fortunate to have been influenced by the right people – at the right time. The cover art was painted by artist Korenna Corby (www.corbyart.net). After far too many creative delays, empty bottles of Pinot Noir, and temporary mental inabilities to let go of it, We Made A Pact is set for release by Friesen Press in April of 2015. Albert will likely celebrate with a long paddle across the lake. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire and on Facebook @ facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire.
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