Copyright, 2021 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
Let’s say I do it, let’s say, dearest,
I tear down this crummy, old fence
of ours—then what?
Do I replace it with another fence,
clean and white and perfectly straight,
the wood treated with poison
solvents to keep it from weathering?
Perhaps a higher fence, six feet
or more, the boards squeezed close
together to dissuade prying eyes;
a solid wall to keep others out.
If I plant some kind of hedge, caragana
or what have you, as has been suggested,
will I feel suitably secure (i.e. is such a flimsy
barrier a credible deterrent against thieves)?
The other option is to leave our backyard
wide open and accessible to the alley…but
I’m not comfortable with that.
I agree that our fence is worn out,
dilapidated, something of an eyesore;
I apologize if it embarrasses you.
But as I’ve just explained, it’s no easy
matter replacing it—and some of your ideas
involve considerable expense. We must not
act hastily, allow emotion to over-rule reason.
I think for now I’ll keep propping it up as best
I can, until a practical solution presents itself
or, more likely, the entire goddamned thing finally
collapses, defeated by a horde of years.
* * * * *
Apparently I suffered from a
“cute anxiety”, that’s what Miss Haynes,
the school counselor, told my mother,
which somehow explained the boils,
bed-wetting and frequent crying fits.
I remember wondering if this cuteness
was curable and how I got it when I
was such an ugly child, my sisters said
so, and no one else took my side or
stated a contrary view.
We’ve had more snow this winter than in at least a decade. We’ve broken one snow shovel, shaken our fists at the sky and moved God knows how many tons of snow from our sidewalks and property. And, of course, this much snow means a big run-off come Spring. It’s a good thing we’re situated on a fairly substantial hill—hopefully the water will flow down and away from us.
I notice that at 49, snow shoveling is a whole lot less fun than it used to be. I have to take frequent breaks, lean on my shovel, gazing glumly at the white expanse in front of me. Our long driveway has become my nemesis; I joke that it’s an alternative landing strip for the space shuttle. I say even worse things when I’m scraping it off at thirty below. Because as well as being a snowy winter in these parts, it’s also been seasonably cold. Note the choice of words. We’ve gotten off lucky for the past few years, experiencing relatively mild cold seasons. Not this year. 2012-13, we’re getting the real deal. Saskatchewan at its most nasty and inclement.
In the old days, the cold never got to me. I could play road hockey with my pals until our clothes were frozen stiff as cardboard, our cheeks and noses raw and inflamed. Not any more. My body has developed a strange sensitivity over the past decade and I’m prone to awful chills, getting the shakes so bad my jaw locks tight and my body stiffens, arms clamped against my sides, shoulders up around my ears.
I think I’m starting to understand why so many Canadians become “snowbirds”, fleeing to warmer climes as soon as the first Arctic front descends from the north.
But this is Canada, after all, and whining about the cold weather is like complaining that grapes won’t grow on Pluto. There are certain realities you just have to adjust to, certain mentalities you have to adapt.
Be at one with the snow…become your shovel...
Keeping in mind, in six months we’ll be bitching about the heat and bugs.
On that happy note…Cheers!
One of my heroes has died.
Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, an aviation pioneer, a far traveler and fearless explorer of unknown places. Watching Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon is one of my earliest memories. They inspired me to look up, and instead of endless, daunting depths, view space as a domain not entirely empty or hostile to our kind.
After July 20, 1969 we were earthbound no longer.
(for Neil Armstrong)
The First Man must be humble
yet self-possessed in times of crisis
confident, as one who’s been sorely tried.
Drop him, spin him, shake him
race his heart,
see if he dies.
Undaunted by fame,
puzzled by all the fuss,
natural in the glare.
Stick him in a close compartment,
sling it into the girding dark;
crown him with hero’s laurels
should he return.
I saw the man walking on the moon. I watched it on TV. I couldn’t believe someone was really up there. I went to get my mother and ask her. She said she was too busy. She was cleaning up the kitchen or something. I told her about the man on the moon. But she didn’t seem to care. She had other things to think about. She told me to go outside. She told me that was enough TV for today.
I know, it seems like I’ve had the moon on my mind since the beginning of the year. The whole 40th anniversary thingee really got to me for some reason. Made me ponder how much time has passed and (perhaps) how little time remains.
A busy, creative, exhausting summer and those 4 linked short stories grow ever nearer to completion. Stay tuned, I think this quartet of tales is going to make a definite impression on you.
But I decided to take this past weekend off, rest up, read a couple of books (both on Orson Welles, as it turned out) and build another plastic model.
And, sticking with the moon theme, the model I chose was the Heller Apollo 11 lunar lander. This is a none-too-detailed, cheapish reproduction of the fragile craft that took Neil and Buzz down to the surface of the moon…and back up again (to rendezvous with Michael Collins). Found it on eBay for a small stipend but it took me forever to set aside some time to put the bloody thing together. And I’ve got eight or ten other model kits in the basement, waiting their turn. Everything from an X-Wing fighter to a German zeppelin. Sheesh…
I set up on a table on our back deck–the weather for the past week has been perfect, clear and hot and not much in terms of a breeze. I got myself settled, arranged my parts and glue and paints and commenced work.
There were a few minor annoyances. First of all, none of the instructions were in English. Second, this model is quite small and that means small parts that resist and defy my clumsy, shaky fingers. I had…difficulties. Mainly with the struts. Oooo, those bleepin’ struts. I still break into a sweat when I think of them.
Sherron found me some terrific copper-tinted paint that went on thick, allowing me to apply a bit of texture, a convincing impression of the gold foil we see in pictures of the lander, a blaze of colour on the otherwise monotonously grey moon.
Finished the model and thought it needed a little diorama so I made one of some papier mache stuff Sherron had lying around. Spray-painted it while it was still wet, hoping to give a better illusion of the fine lunar regolith.
It’s not perfect but it ain’t half bad.
Have a look…and then sit down and tell me story about a model you built as a kid, a memory you treasure (or rue) to this day.
C’mon, don’t be shy…
I’m a writer. But the printed word isn’t merely my vocation, my bread and butter; it has been, from an early age, a constant companion, confidante… and refuge. It gives my life purpose and direction, helps define me and makes me who I am.
I’ve always been a reader. For diversion and escape, yes, certainly, but I also possess an insatiable desire to know, learn everything I can about other people and places, give in to possibility, open myself up to astonishment. As a child I discovered that the ability to suspend disbelief for prolonged periods of time was a valuable coping mechanism, a life skill they didn’t teach in school.
I read anything I could lay my hands on. Remember the Companion Library series? Two classic kids’ books printed back to back: Heidi and Black Beauty. Hans Brinker and Tom Sawyer. We had the entire set and once I finished them, I scanned the rest of our modest collection, plucking out anything that looked halfway promising. I can recall spending many a rainy afternoon with the likes of Zane Grey, John Buchan and Daphne DuMaurier.
Remained a bookworm through my teens, acquainting myself with the work of Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick. They were the guys who inspired me to scratch out my first short stories. Crass imitations of far better authors; calling those early efforts “juvenilia” is being excessively kind.
But I caught the writing bug and what followed was a long apprenticeship that continues to this day. My first sales came in my early 20’s, to CBC Radio and a now-defunct literary magazine called Rubicon. Writing was no longer a hobby, it was an obsession. “The pain I can’t live without,” as my colleague Robert Penn Warren puts it.
Even after twenty-five years the process of creation, committing words to paper, is still a source of profound mystery to me…perhaps even magic. At the end of the day, when I look at what I’ve written, I get goosebumps. I have no firm recollection of composing those pages. In truth, I’m no closer to understanding how and why I write than I was when I first started out, all those years ago.
But here’s the strange thing: while I continue to revere fine writing and apply myself, day by day, year after year, to the service of literature, the amount of reading I do has declined precipitously in the last couple of years.
Now, as I’m sure you’ll understand, that’s a hard admission for a man in my line of work to make.
In partial defense, I add that I do read a fair amount for research purposes, books and magazine articles, not to mention the endless hours spent on-line, Googling like crazy. I like to read non-fiction to get my mind warmed up in the morning. Something historical, twenty or thirty pages over breakfast before heading upstairs to my office and commencing work.
But reading for pleasure, picking up a book for the sake of killing a few hours, immersed in a fictional universe? For a considerable length of time that notion hasn’t held much appeal. I’ve found other activities, diversions to occupy me.
It’s no coincidence: since 2007, I have enjoyed a period of remarkable productivity in terms of my writing–two novels completed, a couple of radio plays, short stories, essays. That productivity comes at a steep price, i.e. many long hours sequestered away in that little room at the top of the stairs.
When I finally lurch out of my office in the late afternoon or early evening I’m bleary-eyed, soft-headed with fatigue, barely sentient. Words. I’ve spent the last eight or ten hours staring at words, wrestling with and endlessly rearranging words, so many bloody words—
And so settling into our big arm chair with the latest Ian McEwan or Irvine Welsh doesn’t interest me. Sorry, lads. At that point I want to hang out with my family, catch up on their lives. As well as being an author guy, I’m also a husband and father. Those responsibilities are important to me.
Then, as it gets on into the evening, I’ll chill out with a glass or two of scotch, pop in a “South Park” DVD or an old “Black Adder” episode. Later, in bed, I might get through another ten pages of that non-fic book before my eyes refuse to stay open a moment longer and I reach over and turn out the light…
How did a lifelong reader descend to this, treating books like a luxury, an indulgence, rather than a necessity? Holding off starting a new novel by a favorite author because I don’t want to “waste” an afternoon reading it.
Shame on me.
And I feel worse when I check out on-line forums and see how much the real bibliophiles are reading. The sheer amount of books these people claim to go through is ridiculous, unbelievable, impossible. They have to be lying. When do they have time to, oh, y’know, work, sleep, interact with their families?
Their devotion to books is inspiring—to the extent that I had decided to amend my ways. I’ve got shelves and shelves of wonder-filled books and I’m giving myself permission, here and now, to spend every free moment I can rediscovering my all-consuming passion for reading. No movie or other media can move me like a good book can. Nothing else gives me that sensawunda.
And I’m going to do my best to ignore that niggling, insistent voice bemoaning the valuable time reading takes away from my own writing. Pay no attention…or, better yet, counter with the argument that it was through reading that I learned everything I know (what little that amounts to) about writing. Reading a well-crafted book is a form of professional development, damnit! How can I grow and improve as an author unless I acquaint myself, firsthand, with the work of gifted colleagues who are breaking new ground in character, structure and narrative? Closely studying their sentences, the way they frame their thoughts.
As a child, I recognized the power and majesty contained in words. Reading untethered my imagination and charged my creative energies. I dearly wanted to do what my literary heroes did, tell a tall tale that would hold readers in its thrall. Make them forget who they were, all their problems, the fears bedevilling them. That was the initial impetus.
I aspired to be the next L. Frank Baum or Arthur Conan Doyle. Creator of something that would live forever.
A story for the ages…and the ageless child inside us all.
Copyright, 2009 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
I’m a Trekkie.
I realize I just cost myself a lot of cred with my hard core readers, the ones who expect me to be a cynical bastard 24/7. But I can’t help it. If I was ever in the same room as William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy or Nicholas Meyer, I’d probably swoon. Ridiculous. Stupid. But there it is.
I spent all afternoon–that’s right, all afternoon–putting together a model of the starship Enterprise and I’m feeling positively giddy as I look at the end result of my endeavors. Okay, it’s not perfect. It’s been thirty years since I put together a plastic model kit; I took one look at the instructions and howled for my son Liam to come and help me. Liam is a genius at Lego or, really, anything that requires assembly. He put together our barbecue when he was eleven because I went into a stuttering rage and had to be restrained from smashing it into its component atoms. True story.
I have a terrible temper. Murderous. Especially when it comes to recalcitrant objects.
Liam very patiently lent his assistance to assembling the kit. To his credit, he insisted I do all the work, he just supervised to make sure I didn’t end up splashing the fucking thing with gasoline and setting it ablaze.
I screwed up, no question. Supposedly the snap together unit (from Polar Lights) was “Skill Level 2, For Ages 10 to Adult”. Ten? Maybe a ten year old Stephen Hawking. I chose mismatching engine nacelles and my spray paint was too old, my hands shook too much and I didn’t have the right colours so had to mix and match but, y’know, I got the thing together and got to spent three quality hours with my oldest son.
It brought back a lot of memories for me too. From the time I was eight or nine years old, I loved watching “Star Trek”. Every Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. (after Bugs Bunny), I’d be in front of the TV, ready to watch the latest exploits of the Enterprise crew. And, later, me and my buddy Brent would buy and build the AMT models; his were always so much better than mine (fucker had a lovely touch) but I forgave him. His Klingon battleship was gorgeous (except he kept dropping it and breaking its long neck).
Scan-read William Shatner’s autobiography some weeks ago and was somewhat surprised to learn that he and Nimoy didn’t become friends until long after the series was over. Gene Roddenberry doesn’t fare well in Shatner’s account–in fact, the Great Bird of the Galaxy turns out to be a first class asshole. Sigh.
Ah, well, so Gene wasn’t a nice guy or a good writer or faithful husband…his initial concept of a “wagon train to the stars” was a good one and he was fortunate enough to secure three leads who, despite their disdain for each other, created a rare chemistry on-screen.
Whenever I’m in a bad mood, I crack in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”. It’s by far the best of the series and a terrific movie, by any standards. Lots of action, suspense…and a death scene that makes my eyes sting every time.
Trek‘s message, however crudely delivered, was a positive one, humans using their ingenuity and courage to overcome obstacles, revealing the very best qualities of our species (while not shrinking from portraying the absolute worst). It’s a theme that resonates, not just with kids but with grownup kids too. Human existence need not be nasty, brutish and short. We can aspire to reach the stars and use the enormous mental capacity that we’ve been given to achieve great things.
Shatner was a shit, Nimoy a drunk, Roddenberry…well, no need to speak further ill against the dead.
But what they succeeded in creating, together, transcended all of them and for that we can forgive them their flaws and foibles.
They lived long and they prospered…and by accident or design, succeeded in creating a legendary series that is still relevant, still entertaining (especially if you like camp) and still capable of instilling joy in the heart of a 45 year old man with a bent back, stiff fingers and irritable bowel.
And that’s saying something.