Julie

I wrote this fictional short story as an assignment for one of my classes at U of T, Generating Stories, taught by Ken Murray. Some stories tend to stay inside of us until the time is right to share them.


“Here’s a story I never told anyone.”

We were sitting around the campfire and I broke out of my trance when I heard my friend Matt say that. He threw a couple more pieces of wood into the fire and we waited, watching the embers rise up into the sky and scurry through the air like fireflies. We had just finished singing Hallelujah and there was a somber and reflective mood in the air. The brightest star I had ever seen shone in the night sky. The pole star.

“It happened back when I was a kid, growing up in Cape Breton.” He paused and smiled, the memories flooding back to him as he thought back to his happy childhood. Then his brow furrowed and his face tensed, as another memory struck him.

“There was a girl on the island that lived down the street from us. Her name was Julie. She was eleven, a little younger than me, with long brown hair and light brown eyes. Her parents home-schooled her, so I only saw her when all the kids played outside on our street. One day after everyone had gone inside after a street hockey game, only she and I remained, standing on the sidewalk. We just stood there face to face, not knowing what to say, and feeling like we knew each other from another life. She suddenly became shy, and said she had to go and I watched her run home.”

“She became my best friend. We started high school together, which was a tough transition for her. We were pretty anti-social in high school. I mean we had friends, but really only looked forward to spending time with each other. Eventually I had to leave the island when my father got a job in Toronto, the summer I turned fifteen. We wrote each other every week. Then after awhile her letters became more infrequent, until one day they stopped altogether.”

Everyone’s eyes got a little wider. I looked down at my arms and realized I had goosebumps.

“I was totally devastated. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept writing. Every week. I just didn’t send the letters. Writing to her was the only way I knew how to express myself. For years I wrote to her. It wasn’t until I met Lindsay that I stopped.”

“So what happened to the letters?” someone asked.

“I kept them. And then a few years ago, I heard from a friend who’d grown up with us that she had spiralled into a really bad place; she suffered from depression and was addicted to painkillers. Her parents had died in a car crash. I wondered if there was anything I could do. Then it struck me – I had to give her the letters. I located her address and I sent her a package. There were 136 letters in total. I waited for months, hoping for a reply, but I never heard from her.”

We fell silent, disappointed by the story’s ending.

“Until last week.”

I exhaled, relieved. “What happened?” I said with anticipation.

“She said that she’d waited so long to reply because she was so overwhelmed that she had to give it time before she could express her gratitude. She said that the letters carried her through the hardest time of her life, while she was facing her demons, getting help, and struggling just to get from day to day. Initially she had wanted to read all the letters at once, but she didn’t want the experience to come to an end, so she read one every week, over a span of three years, the same time it took me to write them. She said she’s doing well now. She made it through.”

“Are you planning to see her?”

“No, I’ll probably never see her again.”

Matt put some more wood into the fire. No one said anything for awhile. Then one of the guys picked up his guitar and started playing Nothing Else Matters. I looked up at my favourite star and began to sing.

A New Year, A New Start

Happy New Year everyone!!! Hope your 2018 is off to a wonderful start. Have you set any new year’s resolutions? Here is my list of ten resolutions for the year:

  1. Visit 10 hot spots in Ottawa with my friend Hetal
  2. Be more like my Mom (this may take many years!)
  3. Get a job I love, pay down debt, be financially savvy
  4. Complete my Creative Writing Certificate at U of T (it’s my final year!)
  5. Turn 39 (LOL I have to make sure I achieve at least one of these)
  6. Travel to a place I haven’t been before
  7. Take part in Walk In Her Shoes in Ottawa (perhaps Sophie Gregoire will be there again this year?!)
  8. Read lots of good books
  9. Dance, smile, and laugh a lot… and learn to let go
  10. Visit my friends in T.O. as often as possible

Also here are a few foundational things that are important to do on an ongoing basis, that set the stage for accomplishing any goal, and ensuring that I live healthily and happily.

Tools/Ongoing Practice:

  1. Eating healthy and cooking lots
  2. Regular yoga practice
  3. Spending lots of time in nature
  4. Facetiming my grandparents
  5. Lots of laughter!

I’d love to hear your resolutions if you have any!! It’s always easier to get things done with the support of others, and especially knowing that the universe has your back. And finally, even if nothing gets done… there is always rebellion. ;-)

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Cattle Call

I received the nicest email today, from a friend Catherine in my online poetry class. It’s amazing how you can feel connected with someone you’ve never even met. I’d initially been reluctant to take an online class since all of my in-person classes have been so amazing, but I have to say that it was a wonderful experience. The class started out with around eight students and dwindled down to just four of us. We shared our poems, critiqued each other’s work, and offered lots of support and encouragement. The timeline was pretty hectic (one poem per week, and a final portfiolio at the end), but it was actually just what I needed to get my creative juices flowing. The course was taught by George Murray, a published poet and a very thoughtful, supportive teacher.

As we were wrapping up the course, Catherine posted something about a poem of mine, ‘A Mind of Their Own’, which she had said reminded her of a herd of cattle (haha!). The poem is about meditation and how thoughts run wild in our heads, and I guess when she read it, she pictured cows storming in. She said she harboured a big secret – that she had re-written the poem, using cows instead of thoughts. So cool!

You know, I was thinking, after the thoughts about my cat poem and the little old ladies… well, this may sound crazy, but when you say they come in, not one by one but all at once… I imagined a herd of cattle. Don’t laugh! If you read it again imagining cattle, it kinda works, don’t you think?

That’s what I love about poetry, and creative writing in general – it sparks new ways of thinking and sometimes the person reading it imagines something totally different than the writer. Every art form is actually a two-way process; it exists as an interaction between the creator and the consumer. And between the two, there is magic.

Here are the two versions of the poem – mine and then hers:

A Mind of Their Own

They come uninvited;
Not one by one, but
All at once, each with its own
agenda, shouting
Over each other.
That one over there
Looks new,
But unafraid

he has something to say.
Some are urgent, frantic,
while others meet under golden lights,
unaware of anyone else.
A few are caught in the past,
and tell stories around bonfires
Over and over

I thought I’d locked the door
But they come in through the back.
“Now focus on the breath,” the instructor says,
“Bring your attention to each
thought, gently touch it –

And then let it go.”
They are startled by the intrusion,
and pause for a moment.
It feels lighter in the room.
I breathe a little easier.
I was never very good at this

Cattle Call

They storm in, unhinged
not one by one, but
all at once, barreling toward
an unknown end –
snorting in the stirred up dirt.
calling over another;
That one there – he looks
unafraid yet bellows in distress.

Others are urgent, frantic –
they jostle toward their fate,
unaware of their collective
doom. A few are caught
in the past – meadows, grass,
lowing in the afternoons,
over and over.

The gate is locked – the herd
still surges – steaming clouds
of panicked breath –
dull roar of hooves in muck.

Dusk settles on the
restless herd – the cattle
call is over and they
all breathe a little easier.

I think her poem works so well with cows! I can just picture the cows storming in, not knowing that their death soon awaits them. As a vegetarian, I have actually thought of this scenario often – how animals often know that they are going to be killed when their friends in the field don’t return.

It’s nice that the four of us from the class have decided to stay in touch. It’s always hard to say goodbye to people when a course comes to an end – thank god for technology!

Learning to Climb

In this short story, I tell about my adventure in Thailand back in 2006, with two of my closest friends, Neesha and Amy. Wish I was back there!


Brrrrrrrrnnnnnnnnnngggg!!! The alarm went off. 5 AM. Startled, I leaned over to turn it off and thoughts of going to work whizzed through my head. I opened my eyes, pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t at home and didn’t have to go to work after all. Stretched out before me through the window was the Indian ocean, off the coast of Krabi. In bed beside me, my friend Neesha slept soundly. I was always envious of how deeply she slept, and she looked like a princess amidst the white sheets. “Wake up!” I yelled, and went to the adjoining room to shake Amy awake. She was another one that loved to sleep, and she couldn’t share a bed either. At almost 6 feet tall, she liked her space and we always knew that if there was a single bed, it had her name on it.

By 6 AM, we were ready to go. We got to the beach and gazed up at the silver cliffs that loomed up into the sky. What an adventure! Amy was terrified and instantly identified a small cliff (more like a rock) on our right that would be her challenge for the day. I had been rock climbing once before back home, but never outdoors and never in such a beautiful setting. Our Thai instructor was a small man with a wide smile, toothy grin, and lots of optimism. Back home we would’ve had to take a course, sign our lives away, and wear a helmet. Here in Krabi, we were handed ropes and a harness and a big smile of encouragement. “You can do it!” our instructor said to us. Neesha went first. She expertly scaled up the cliff like one of the spiders on my balcony, and reached the top like a champ. I was responsible for belaying her. I felt a huge weight on my shoulders as I became aware that my best friend’s life was in my hands. I would later read that “belay” is the most reverent word in the climbing lexicon; it is the ultimate act of trust. I did not take the responsibility lightly, and I followed the instructor’s guidance carefully, keeping the rope loose enough to allow movement, but providing just enough slack in case of a fall. She descended back to the ground gracefully.

I would later read that “belay” is the most reverent word in the climbing lexicon; it is the ultimate act of trust.

I was up next. I started climbing and I wasn’t nearly as graceful as Neesha. My head hit the cliff rocks a few times. Where was that helmet?! My hands were shaking and forearms sore; clearly I had not worked these muscles in awhile. I got about halfway up and I’d had enough. I yelled back down “Ok, I’m done… let me down now!” In response, the Thai instructor smiled broadly and yelled “YOU CAN DO IT!” Was he kidding?! I saw Neesha give him her ‘serious’ look – she knew when I meant business. He wouldn’t budge. He yelled “YOU CAN DO IT! YOU CAN OVERCOME ANY OBSTACLE!” I couldn’t believe he was preaching inspirational sayings while I hung there, exhausted and terrified. I gazed at the ocean through my disbelief; it was a stunning sight. I shouted back to him that I was not, in fact, going to do it. Back and forth we went like that, and eventually I relented. Slowly, painfully, I continued up to the top. And I made it! What I had assumed I couldn’t do, I managed to do with a bit of force and someone’s refusal to give up on me. I felt great, although I made sure to give them both hell when I got back down. But my ear-to-ear smile gave away my satisfaction.

What I had assumed I couldn’t do, I managed to do with a bit of force and someone’s refusal to give up on me.

On our walk back to return our equipment, Neesha, Amy, and I happily ate bananas and strolled under the huge palm trees along the beach. We chatted about how much we’d enjoyed the experience, nerves and all. Suddenly, I was overtaken by what I thought was a meteor. Something hurtled past my head and fell at my feet. My banana splattered everywhere – on my shirt, in my belly button, in my hair. I was shaking all over and covered in banana goop. I noticed that Amy and Neesha had collapsed on the ground laughing once they’d assessed I was ok. It was a coconut! It had fallen out of the sky and straight for my head – and it had missed me by about an inch. Every year in Thailand, a few people die from falling coconuts and I was this close to being the next statistic. Between laughs, Neesha said to me “What would I have told your parents? Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Patel, we did everything we could but the coconut was just too fast for us.” Ha Ha Ha. I wasn’t laughing – YET. I couldn’t believe that I had survived my rock climbing adventure but nearly gone out with a coconut. Shaken but laughing, we continued along the beach and onto our next adventure.

THE END

Home Is Wherever I’m With You

Wow I can’t believe I’m finally getting around to posting this – it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve been on this site!! I wrote this on Dec.3, but then my computer died before I got a chance to post it

* * *

Sitting at the Starbucks at the MARS Centre, listening to Christmas tunes, beside two young women who are discussing careers and gossiping and talking about job opportunities at UHN. Earlier today I learned the dance sequence to Beyoncé’s formation video:

Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination, cause I slay
Slay trick, or you get eliminated

It was a fun class, and I was exhausted and didn’t think my body could take it but somehow I survived it and even had a bit of fun. Like a lot of things these days, things seem to register as fun well after the fact. :-) There was a girl next to me who I would turn to every time I didn’t catch what the instructor had just shown us. Too bad she ended up leaving early! I wish I could post the video we took but it is forbidden for liability reasons. :p I hate that I have to abide by all these rules… I wish I could just write whatever I want, but I guess censorship is part of writing, or at least thinking about others feelings. I don’t know how Malala did it.. makes me admire her even more. Writing anonymously from her little house in the village, knowing that every word could get her in trouble. And yet still managing to keep a smile on her face!

It’s been a rough little past while, as you can probably tell since I haven’t been writing my blog posts which is very unlike me. However I have been walking the 10 KM at least once I week so I will write them all eventually.

Week 45!! It was a memorable one. I woke up early since I had promised Arvin that I would join him for a session at landmark forum. He asked me to be his guest since he is working on a documentary about mental health and addiction – his documentary profiles three people on the streets who deal wih addiction, and shows how they became addicted, their childhood, where they grew up, relationships, etc. I’m meeting with him next week with a few other folks to brainstorm further [Update: this didn’t end up happening – they met all the way up in Etobicoke!]. I walked from the Distillery where I’d been staying for most of November (at Samir and Shannon’s place while they got married in India), past some beautiful churches, up Jarvis, and to the hotel boardroom where the event was being held.

At first I was skeptical – I had heard both good and bad things about Landmark – some of my friends swear by it, and some people say it’s like a cult and they are really aggressive in getting you to sign up. So I went in skeptical, and emerged inspired. It was the stories that did it for me. One girl spoke about how she and her mother were separated for so many years because she held onto grudges and hadn’t fully forgiven her, and then during a Landmark session, she decided to call her and surprisingly, her mother was at a Landmark course just across the street from her! At that moment she realized that her mother had never actually abandoned her, she was always there. Hmmm… as I’m writing this it’s making me realize that I’m not alone either, and even though I don’t see my loved ones all the time, they are always with me. It’s hard to remember these things when you are feeling a little lost and hopeless (or a lot lost and hopeless).

Following Landmark, I walked out to the Allan Garden conservatory which was closed but I love that area so I sat on a bench there and FaceTimed my sister (or maybe she FaceTimed me, I can’t remember). We were both still upset by the Trump win… in fact I think I still am. I can’t believe how hard it hit me!! I had a great time at Sheldon’s election party, and then as I fell asleep, I was hoping that when I woke up, I would hear that Clinton had won, but instead I read that it was Trump. And my body locked up, and I felt SO much anger. Roshni and I talked about how she had been debating with Dad over a few things, but I could’ve told her that there is definitely no winning those debates!! Lol. Chris also felt really upset about the Trump win, because he resonated a lot with Clinton and what she stood for. I’ve noticed that all the leaders have been very positive in terms of making statements about working in harmony (like Clinton, Obama, Sadhguru, my Mom)… but I don’t know if I buy it. Usually I’m so positive but lately I’ve been a negative nancy to say the least. Where has my sense of humour gone?! There are moments it surfaces, usually around people. I miss the kids I was tutoring, I miss my old life, I miss my creative writing classes, I miss my old self. Not that I’m not grateful for my job and where things are heading, it’s just hard letting go of the things you love.

The next part of my day was pretty wild, insane, magical, unreal. In the middle of our FaceTime call, my phone died, which was pretty odd since it had 42% battery, and it normally works even if it’s 1%. I had an immediate urge to go home, charge my phone, make plans, absolutely anything to get escape this anxiety of being in the unknown – but instead I took it as a sign to explore and I wandered into a church at the corner. As I read my book, The Bandit Queen, about Phoolan Devi, my mind started to spiral into depression and I didn’t think I could continue. The words started to blur and not make sense and my mood got so low. And just then a woman came up to me – she had short black hair, was of African descent, very thin, and exuded kindness and warmth. She asked if I was staying for the event that evening, and I said what event, and she said that they were having an International Fair where there would be foods from all different cultures and music and dancing. I asked what time it was at and she said that it started at 5 PM. I glanced at my watch and it was only 3, so in my head I thought I probably wouldn’t stay that long – she caught my look and said vehemently, “You must come” so I agreed, still not entirely convinced.

I tried to read my book again, and that’s when a short man approached me – he had long white hair and a long white beard (he kind of looked like Santa Claus, or a character from Lord of the Rings), and he also asked me if I would like to join the festivities that evening. Now I could hear the universe loud and clear – I was going! In case there was any doubt, he handed me a long paper ticket and said that this would get me in (the cost of the event was $20, all proceeds going to children’s programs at the church). Just as I was thinking, now what am I going to do for the next two hours, he asked if I was hungry and of course I was, so he led me down to the basement and suddenly I felt like I was in another world. It was like I was in one of those black churches from the sixties, back during Martin Luther King days, where everyone was wearing those amazing hats and long dresses. There were people from other backgrounds too, there was an Indian family who had just left, and I would say white was in the minority. The man brought me a plate of yummy vegetarian food, and I heard from the guy sitting next to me whose name I now forget, that that is one of the values of the 7-Day Adventist church – they believe that a vegetarian diet is best for the mind, body, and soul. Similar to Hinduism in that way.

As I ate, I asked this guy so many questions about their beliefs and his own life story. He said that he was the only one in his family that was religious, the others weren’t into it and didn’t really understand his connection with the church. It’s hard going against the grain and doing something that your family doesn’t approve of. It reminds me of this movie I want to watch called Moonlight, about a boy who black and gay and growing up in a poor Miami neighbourhood. So excited to see it with Rhonelle after the holidays!

I told this guy (let’s just call him Evan because I’m going to keep talking about him) that I had stayed at Chris’s parents place the week before and stayed up all night reading The Book of Job, one of my favourite bible stories. Poor Job didn’t stand a chance… yet eventually his faith in God was restored and he was blessed with fortunes far beyond his wildest imagination (probably because like me he figured out that your imagination doesn’t exactly function in times of despair). Let’s hope my story follows a similar path to the other side! Evan’s eyes widened as I continued to share my insights on Job, and he pulled out a booklet from his bag that was a summary/study of guess what – yep The Book of Job! He said that every week in his church they study a different part of the bible and this week it was Job. What a crazy coincidence.

Then Evan started to excuse himself – he said that he had to set up for a workshop about anxiety and depression. That’s when my eyes grew wide. Oh wait, I forgot to tell you about the other amazing person that I met at the table – her name was Candace and she and I instantly connected. She had been through an abusive relationship and suffered from low self-esteem and didn’t have much money to live on. I told her about things I’d been going through too. It is amazing how we were able to be so open with one another. She and I were welcomed by Evan to join the workshop (he could probably tell we needed it!!). We listened to videos by an expert on mental health and addiction, and then did activities around goals and ways to overcome obstacles. Finally it was time to forget our woes and just play and have fun. We went into the adjoining gym for the International Fair, the event that had enticed me at the start to enter this magical place. Candace and I sampled food from all over the world in that little gym – India, Guyana, Kenya, Jamaica, and many more. We danced and let loose. We had ice cream and authentic home-cooked treats, and watched the kids having so much fun running around and being free.

After the event, we took some pics in the abandoned church (picture above). I was wearing my favourite t-shirt that says “Home Is Wherever I’m With You”. I love that T-shirt so much! Then we got to the bus stop and met this cool homeless guy who was sitting there drinking, and who ended up asking me out! He was actually really sweet; he said that sometimes, a person just needs to talk. How right he is.