Short Fiction

My story, “Waiting for the Tumour Board,” appears in Issue 6 of The Quarantine Review.

My story, “Cecilia,” appears on Joyland Magazine.


Yes, there were cookies at the TMD1000 celebration!

I wrote the 1,000 articles, but the stars of the celebration were the Josh Rivers images! Not to mention the absolutely delicious and gorgeous cookies from Lola Penelope’s Sweet Obsession!

Mr. Justice Augustus Dindon   Noreen

Hieronymous Hedgehog  image4

image5 More Noreen

IMG_8973      image12


All endings are difficult

Jor liked beginnings of any sort: new beginnings, old beginnings, even in-between beginnings. He was definitely a Cat who liked beginnings. And that was one of the things that set him apart, right from the start, from all the other Cats in The Park.—Chapter One, Humble Beginnings

As you might suspect, The Park’s first leader and the founder of modern zoocracy was my alter ego in that respect. I’ve never liked endings. To me, they hold no promise, despite that silly cliché about one door closing and another opening.

Monday was Jor’s favourite day, as it is mine. Next Monday, I’ll awaken to a different month and a different set of goals, some of which have been on my list for more than three decades. I’m not kidding. One day, a few months ago, I unearthed a list dated 9 August 1987 that scared the heck out of me. It wasn’t that so much of it was never accomplished; it was that so much of it resembled the list I’d made the day before I found it. That 1987 list convinced me that it was time to get on with these things before the final ending took care of them all.

That’s not to say that I’ve done nothing. But when I look at that 1987 list, I see how much of what I wanted to do couldn’t have been done at all in those days. Some fantastic advances in technology had to take place before I could even attempt many of the things on that list, and I feel so lucky to have lived long enough to take advantage of that. That 1987 list was handwritten on lined paper, but so many of my notes for various projects were printed with a dot matrix printer. Before that, I used an IBM Selectric. And before that, I used a manual typewriter. The first word processing software on my first computer was called Volkswriter and it had embedded commands. WYSIWYG was still only a glimmer in the eyes of software engineers.

When I was seventeen, my boss on my second-ever summer job told me that we were all cogs in a wheel. I went home feeling more hopeless than I ever had, even though I knew he was dead wrong. Yes, our reach often does exceed our grasp, but our history—and our story—lies in that reach.

And that’s the reason I decided to use this web site to write about writing The Mammalian Daily. Even though I dislike the idea of writers writing about writing, it’s the history—not the process— that I want to document. I started the story when the world was a different place and the possibilities were by no means endless. I invite you to join me on my journey looking back.

In the meantime, as ever, I have writing to do and people to thank and, in a few days, cookies to eat at the celebration of my one thousandth original article. And, yes, it’s likely there’ll be tears, if for no other reason than that I hate endings.

On creating a world and choosing a government

sortition-definition2Just a quick post about elections (or, more correctly, elections vs sortition).

One of the fun things about creating a world from scratch, as I did in The Mammalian Daily, is deciding how your characters will live and, in this case, how they will govern themselves.

Since The Mammalian Daily was a political statement in itself, I deliberated for a long time about the best choice of government for the animals who live in The Park. My choice of sortition didn’t just have its origins in my studies of the classical world; it made sense to me, as it did to Aristotle.

The Animals in The Park are still debating the subject and there are many, including director Douglas Cheetah, who are pushing to adopt elections. But I have faith that sortition will stand its ground, at least as long as Sylvana Rana, president of Save Our Political System (SOPS) fights for it.

Frankfurt and other Book Fairs (Part One)

Noreen with Maple Leaf hatThe Frankfurt Book Fair opens today. Two years ago, I attended it along with Noreen (seen here sporting her Maple Leaf hat), the author of “Lovely To Look At: What Animals Should Know About Humans.

In the past, large international book fairs such as the Frankfurt Buchmesse and the London Book Fair (and BookExpo Canada, when we were lucky enough to have one here) didn’t encourage writers or other members of the public to attend these professional publishing gatherings. But major changes in the publishing business have forced organizers to acknowledge that remaining a closed shop is not in their best interest. 

I was surprised two years ago to see that the Frankfurt Book Fair devoted a day to welcoming the public. And on another day, they welcomed schoolchildren. It makes perfect sense.

In the coming months, I’ll be writing about the experiences I had at the many book fairs at which I displayed The Mammalian Daily. Stay tuned.

Watson, Hecuba, and Hieronymous


Hieronymous Hedgehog by artist Josh Rivers

Watson the Irish Water Spaniel and Hecuba the hare were the first characters to appear in The Way to Dr. Bourru. But neither Watson nor Hecuba made it into The Mammalian Daily.

Hieronymous, on the other hand, has had a starring rôle, not to mention his own Twitter account. And, just this year, he became the spokesAnimal for GoUnderground, The Park’s oldest hibernation outfitter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Hieronymous  appears about twelve pages into the book, when Watson and Hecuba come upon him outside Dr. Bourru’s office. Hieronymous, who has just come out of hibernation and is a bit confused, hears Watson’s tail wagging and mistakes it for the sound of sympathy. This exasperates Hecuba:

“Honestly, Hieronymous! Sometimes I think you’re still as deaf as the day you were born!”

It seems that from the very beginning, other animals have found Hieronymous exasperating. He’s a bit slow, I admit, but he’s well-intentioned and, to my mind, very sweet and quite vulnerable. But he also has moments of undeniable wisdom. I’d meant him to be just goofy, but he took on a life of his own and I’ve been trying to protect him from himself ever since.

It didn’t start out as social commentary

TitleIt didn’t start out as social commentary.

It started out as a children’s book.

The title is, The Way to Dr. Bourru. And I wrote it in 1989. But it isn’t just a children’s book, it’s a children’s mystery—and a psychological one at that. It’s a tale that weaves its way through the park (now “The Park”) and its inhabitants to answer the question of why it seems that places that are farther away take less time to get to than places that are closer.

The main character is an Irish Water Spaniel named Watson and he spends the book trying to answer this question by interviewing different animals as they make their way toward the office of Dr. Bourru:

The way to Dr. Bourru’s office was usually a very long one and that was one of those truths that was always true and never seemed to need any adjustment for circumstances. That was one of the things about going to Dr. Bourru’s: it always took a long time but if you asked why, nobody would ever look at you and say, “because of circumstances.” There weren’t any circumstances on the way to Dr. Bourru’s; it was just a long way’s away, no matter where you were. Yet, in fact, the farther away you were to begin with, the less time it seemed to take you to get there. And no one had ever known the reason why that was so, but it was so, nonetheless.

A few of the characters in The Mammalian Daily were created in this book but, somehow, Watson did not make the cut. I don’t know why.

Next up: More on the creation of the characters

T-220 and stop: a long look back…and ahead

Metal buttonStop. Pull the plug. Turn off the power. And?

I suppose I would call it retirement if it had been my livelihood. But, of course, it wasn’t. It was an idea that I had (one of many) and one I thought was worth trying.

I can remember the exact minute The Mammalian Daily was born. It was in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where I’d spent the weekend. I’d met up with a friend for dinner at a pub, where I put forward the idea. The year was 1999.

My globe, my world: though the struggle never ends, the dream must never die

globeThis is my globe.

It holds pride of place in my living room, not because it’s special (you can buy it for less than $75.00), nor even because it calls to mind that wonderful line of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: “There is a world elsewhere.”

Instead, its prominence reminds me of my own world—who I am and where I came from, and how far I’ve been able to drag myself away from all of that.

When I was almost nine, my family moved to a three-bedroom, split-level house in the suburbs. Among other things, my mother bought a globe for my brother and she placed it atop the bookcase in his bedroom.

I loved that globe, though I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it was “the world elsewhere” and its possibilities: the hopefulness of youth at a time when things did seem possible. This was the mid-1960s, after all: a half-century—and a world—ago.

I asked my mother if I could have a globe, too, and this was her response:

“No. Globes are not for girls.”

In a way, then, the globe also represents my loss of innocence and my initiation into the “real world” that awaited me.

There were to be other things that were “not for girls” and I can still rhyme them off without effort. Here are the ones that mattered most to me:

  1. Books (I lived with my parents for 20 years and they never once bought me a book, though they bought many for my brother)
  2. Desks and a place to do your homework (my mother outfitted my brother’s bedroom with a desk and chair, a bookcase, a reading chair and lamp; by contrast, she furnished my room with a vanity, a large oval mirror, a chest of drawers, and a slipper chair and matching curtains that depicted a scene from the ballet, The Sleeping Beauty)
  3. Newspapers
  4. Freedom
  5. Travel (a definite no-no for women)
  6. Driving
  7. Independence
  8. Respect
  9. Money and investments
  10. And, finally, the one that ties it all together: Education.

Of course, my mother required high grades and achievement in public and high school (my father didn’t care what I did academically) and they expected me to go to university. How else would I find a suitable husband? But, for some reason, they didn’t expect to pay tuition for a girl.

What they also didn’t expect was that I would want to learn, to achieve, and to accomplish something. That, as well, was “not for girls.”

Long ago, I came to terms with the fact that you can’t fault your parents for not being ahead of their time. And there is ample evidence to suggest that my parents, both born and raised in Canada, were not out of step with the rest of their country. After all, it was not that long ago (1982, in fact) that her fellow Members of Parliament laughed when Margaret Mitchell rose in the House of Commons to speak out about battered women and domestic violence. And, until that year, it was legal for a Canadian man to rape his wife. The University of Toronto didn’t lift its quota on women in medical school until 1968. And Hart House did not allow women to become members until 1972.

The attitudes that prohibited women from full participation were explicit and common in the days of my childhood. When I was in Junior High School (now called Middle School), the girls lobbied to be allowed to wear pants to school. I had a particular interest in this, since I played the cello in the school orchestra. One afternoon, during the course of this fight, my music teacher cornered me on my way to a class and asked if I was in favour of this “thing.”

“Yes, of course,” I told him. And he responded, “Then you’re not a lady!”

I didn’t bother to tell him that being a lady was not one of my aspirations. But being a good cello player was.

I have other wonderful memories of my school days, of which these are but a few:

  • having to take “home economics” instead of shop in Junior High
  • having to embroider gingham aprons and knit baby booties at the age of 12
  • having to cook for and serve the boys after their shop class
  • having to write tests on how to keep a home for a man
  • being told that I typed “too quickly,” while my brother, whose typing speed was slower than mine, was entered in a typing contest a few years earlier
  • being laughed at by one of my high school teachers for reading a biography of Vincent van Gogh
  • having my Grade 12 history teacher pull my nose and tell me that I was “cute”
  • having my guidance counsellor push me to go to a community college rather than university
  • in a third-year university Greek course on the Iliad, having the professor ask me if I was studying Classics because I was interested in the subject or because I wanted to be “a cultured lady”

Of course, these things didn’t just happen to me. They happened to most women, both at school and at home. I have a friend, now a history professor, whose grandmother was enraged when her granddaughter received a scholarship to pursue a Master’s Degree.

“If it weren’t for that [the scholarship],” she said, “she’d have to ask her father and he would say no.”

Overcoming these pervasive attitudes took courage (of which I had some), but also money (of which I had none of my own). And the Ontario government showed its true colours when it refused to give me a student loan because, they said, my parents could afford my tuition. Little did they care that I no longer lived with my parents nor that they had refused to pay it.

I’m often stopped on the street by the young people who work for the “Because I am a Girl” campaign, a global initiative to end gender inequality. They ask me if I’m aware that there are places in the world where women aren’t treated equally. I just say yes, I am. But what I want to tell them is that it’s not so different here. It just looks different. And, yes, it’s better now than it was when I was young. But it’s not all better and some things might even be worse.

After my parents were gone, my brother and I spent months cleaning out their house, moving from room to room, sorting through many decades of detritus. One day, he walked into his old bedroom to find me there, spinning that globe.

“I always wanted one of these,” I said, wistfully.

“Then buy one,” he replied, exhibiting the insightfulness for which he is known. But, when I looked up, I saw something in his eyes that belied his legendary cluelessness.

“I know,” he said.

One of my mother’s greatest criticisms of me, outside of my being “too independent,” was that I lived in a “fantasy world.” If by a fantasy world she meant a world in which women and men are valued equally and are equally encouraged to reach their potential, then she was correct. And although we are nowhere near living in a place like that, “ ‘tis not too late to seek a newer world.” And a better one.

Over to you, next generation.