Real Writers


From February 22nd, 2015, the 4th most read of Best of 10 Minutes

10 Minutes of Words

I was so happy today to discover that I’m not really a writer. Despite having sold four novels (and written five others) and more than twenty five short stories, I am not a ‘real writer.’ Never mind the half dozen plays I’ve had produced — I definitely do not fall into the category of ‘true author.’

For one thing I don’t let real life get in my way. I like real life. I enjoy my day job. I like hanging around with friends. I look forward to grocery shopping and even a clean house. I often find real inspiration for stories in the mundane tasks and ordinary people I meet.

However, I don’t really worry about inspiration. Most of my stories don’t come from those ‘out of the blue ideas’ or thoughts at all hours of the day and night. Generally my stories are generated through a fairly organized…

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Alternative Medicine


This stirred a few people up on December 9, 2014; Best of 10 Minutes #5

10 Minutes of Words

The other day I heard the head of the alternative medicine foundation or some such on CBC radio describing alternative and traditional medicine in very large words. They are a range of ‘alternative modalities of treatment’ etc. His language was so highfalutin that the host threatened to fine him 25 cents every time he used the word ‘modalities’. She was probably going for better communication but actually she was on to something bigger. When people have little to say they say it with the biggest words possible.

In any case, our expert went on to say that you can’t really define alternative medicine because it encompassed so much from ‘healing touches‘ (oh my god just rattle those chicken bones over me) to things like herbal therapies and physiotherapy.

Now, when you get to a certain age, spending time in the physiotherapist’s office is kind of part of…

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From October 24, 2015, #6 in the Best of 10 Minutes.

10 Minutes of Words

Yesterday, I spent much of the day giving interviews or writing about what I saw at the War Memorial in Ottawa on Wednesday morning. Today, I am at the ragged edge of my emotions. I cannot, right now, say any more than I already have. But if you want to read my account, you can read this article I wrote for the Ottawa Citizen or listen to me in interviews on CBC North radio and Northbeat. (starts at 3:44)

This, I guess, is how trauma works. I go back and forth between normal and surreal. I get on with my life, doing all the things I always do. Then a random thought or an image pulls me up short and I see it all again, a flash like a photograph or else a slow motion film. And I can’t stop thinking about it. But that passes and I catch…

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Originally published on January 22, 2015, The Best of Ten Minutes #7

10 Minutes of Words

It is three months ago today that I witnessed the senseless murder of Nathan Cirillo at The Ottawa War Memorial by a putative terrorist (or as I prefer to think of him, a madman with a gun). Since then we’ve had attacks in a café in Australia, at school a Pakistan, in Paris and in the north of Nigeria. We’ve also had various acts of equally meaningless violence carried out by all sorts of individuals who have persuaded themselves they have a reason to kill. Some of it is inspired by ideology, some inspired by nothing but voices in their head.

You cannot witness such a thing without being changed. At first, in deference to my British heritage, I practiced the stiff upper lip, vowing to keep calm and carry on. All well and good. But gradually the horror began to seep into my bones. Eventually I relented and went…

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First appearing on November 16, 2014, this was # 8 in the Best of Ten Minutes.

10 Minutes of Words

There is nothing special about virginity. Everyone was a virgin once. Some people, apparently, more than once. Rob Anders, the doltish soon-to-be former MP, always claimed he was saving himself for marriage. Frankly, looking at Mr. Anders, he should have made wiser investments.

Still, some people seem to put inordinate value in the state of virginity. Suicide bombers and other terrorist martyrs are promised a specified number of virgins when they get to heaven. 72 seems like a lot but really a young vigorous fellow could go through those in a month or two. And then what do you have? Frankly I’d rather be promised a half dozen experienced older women who might appreciate an eager young man romping around paradise. An argument for quality over quantity, perhaps, though I might make a stronger argument for skipping it altogether. Particularly since I don’t think forcing women to do anything…

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Casual Racism


The second of The Best of Ten Minutes, the 9th most read post first appeared on May 10th, 2015.

10 Minutes of Words

I have a black friend who is constantly being asked the question: where are you from? Ron (not his real name) always answers Toronto, where he has lived for twenty years. The questioner will often say: Yes, but I mean, before that? At which point, Ron will say: Oh, you noticed the remnants of my accent. While they are nodding, he will say, Yeah, I grew up in Nova Scotia.

I, too, am from Nova Scotia, but nobody ever asks me where I ‘really’ came from. Well, unless I say the word ‘aunt.’ Then they know I’m from down east. Ron’s family came to Canada as United Empire Loyalists so I guess his proper answer should be: I grew up in Nova Scotia, but my family came from….<pause> …the United States. His family came to Nova Scotia only a few years after mine (from Yorkshire in England).

This is one…

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I Am Spock


The first of the Best of 10 Minutes — originally posted on February 28th, 2015, it was the 10th most read of 365 posts.

10 Minutes of Words

The death yesterday of Leonard Nimoy, best known for his role as Mr. Spock in Star Trek, created — to mix my SF metaphors — a great disturbance in the Force. Mr. Nimoy was eulogized across mainstream media and on social media, a constant stream of accolades and tributes filled the news feeds. Well, at least it filled mine, but I am a SF writer with a lot of friends in fandom.

Still, Nimoy was a significant figure in the pantheon of pop culture but I think that he was more.  The role that he created, assembling it from bits and pieces provided by writers and directors and from his own deeply held beliefs and abilities, transported him beyond mere ‘star’ status so he could say something profound about America and its hugely divided soul.

Spock (like Nimoy himself, the child of immigrant Ukrainian Orthodox Jews) was an American in…

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Today’s ten minutes stands in for one of those cute Google animations, marking a significant event in history. Nothing dramatic like the the building of the Berlin Wall which happened this day in 1948 or as fascinating as the (re)discovery of Machu Pichu in 1911, but significant to me nonetheless. Today is the 365th consecutive day I have written this little blog. So while, technically, it has its anniversary tomorrow – we’ll be celebrating it today.

For those who weren’t here at the beginning, my stated purpose when I started was to use this as a kick-starter to get me into the work day. Was it helpful? Hard to say – I’ve produced very little original fiction since starting this exercise but my work as a publisher had long ago cut into my writing time. I have found that I am more task oriented. Starting the day with a deadline does serve to focus the mind and I like to think that writing this blog each day has helped me balance my day job on Parliament Hill with my work at Bundoran Press, my writing life and my personal ambitions.

It has also helped me on a personal level. I’ve blogged about the impact of terrorism on my life – and why I refuse to be afraid of nearly absent bogeymen. I’ve expressed my grief over the loss of personal icons and have pronounced my views on politics, religion, art, writing, memory, science and a host of other topics, serious and mundane. I like to think I’ve entertained my readers and occasionally made them think or at least snort in disagreement. While most of the feedback I’ve received has been positive – occasionally I’ve had a few suggest I should keep my opinions to myself. As if that would ever happen.

I’ve never really been able to guess what will catch people’s attention, what will make my normal daily readership double on even increase tenfold. These things have happened but why? Who can say? Well, dear reader, you could say. Which is why I’ll be taking a brief break from daily blogging. But I won’t be going away. Each day for the next twenty days I’ll be posting the Best of 10 minutes. Among the reposts will be the ten most read blogs followed by the ten that I thought deserved greater attention. Perhaps, if you’re so inclined, you could leave a comment or two and tell me why you think those first ten succeeded and why the second ten did not manage to catch your attention.

I’ll try to use that feedback to hone my blogging skills, so that when ten minutes returns in 3 weeks, I’ll be able to deliver more and better content for my reading public.

And that’s ten minutes.

Trophy Wives


My father was 14 years older than my mother and I certainly know lots of people who have connections with those much younger than themselves. I’ve never really understood it – all my relationships have been with women a couple of years younger or older than me. It was funny a few years ago when someone asked Liz, my wife, if she was my trophy bride (given she is two years my elder). Very complimentary to her, I guess; to me, not so much.

Still, I sometimes wonder when age differences move beyond the understandable and move into the creepy. The heart wants what it wants, according to Woody Allen – and I fully recognize the irony of quoting him in this context. But what exactly is it that it does want in these cases?

Some might think it is a desire on the part of the man to cling to youth – his youth by proxy – and, more importantly, potency. Yesterday I saw a picture of retired Senator Rod Zimmer coming from court with his twenty six year old wife (he is in his 70s). It wasn’t his legal problems that were at issue though he has plenty of those – she was being charged with weapons possession as part of a drunken incident. I was struck by how angry she looked and how tired and stooped he appeared. And what was she seeking – financial security or a father figure? I wondered if the two things – his youthful wife and his legal troubles – were linked to a common cause, a desire to still feel in control of the world.

Of course, none of it is simple. The pattern of older men and younger women is common place even when the man isn’t rich or the woman isn’t alluring. It may be a cultural thing, part of the infantilization of women that some men need to feel like men. And according to Kate Fillion who wrote extensively on the subject in a book called Lip Service, the same phenomena occurs with older women and younger men. It is less often commented on and perhaps less common but the dynamic seems remarkably the same.

I’m sure that in the end it all comes down to our selfish genes and the desire to find the right mate even if child rearing isn’t what we have in mind. Or it could be someone was too busy to fall in love (again) until the candle was almost burnt down to the base. Tony Randall married for the second time late in life (his first wife was deceased). He sired children and seemed enormously happy – though I often felt there was a deep sadness inherent in that family. He would never see (and didn’t see) his children graduate primary school let alone have children of their own.

For me, I’ve always needed to have a deep relationship – based on shared values and experiences, shared tastes and shared times together. Liz and I spend hours every day just talking and while I’m quite capable of carrying on an endless monologue it is in dialogue that I find my joy.

And that’s ten minutes.

Back to the Future


A few years ago Stephen Harper promised to change Canada so we would no longer recognize it. It has sort of come true – but only because few of us were alive and really observant back in the 50s. That is what Harper has been after all along, it seems. A return to the post-war glory that was 1952.

Instead of a cold war, we have a war on terror. A fight against enemies at home and abroad that are hard to identify precisely but ever-present in our fear-fuelled minds. Rather than Joe McCarthy we have our own Bill C-51 designed to root out ‘commie symps’ or, as we like to call them now, terror symps.

The military has been elevated to a position of prominence and the word ‘royal’ inserted everywhere. We haven’t quite gotten around to having a friendly general run our country but we do have a Prime Minister who loves to ‘dress up’ as a soldier. Meanwhile, actual veterans are ignored – their problems swept under the carpet as if they didn’t exist. Anyone who raises their voice in protest is vilified and their loyalty questioned, as if military service wasn’t the ultimate statement of loyalty.

The attack on women and on others who have gained from progressive policies over the last half century or so continues unabated. While the Prime Minister says his government won’t re-open the abortion debate, individual MPs are permitted – perhaps encouraged – to keep probing at the edges. In the meantime, the government defunds women’s organizations including those concerned with reproductive health. And various tax measures are designed to make the traditional stay at home mom family structure the most financially beneficial one to pursue – if you are rich enough to take advantage, at least.

To top it off, we have returned to the baby bonus or if you prefer family allowance – a monthly cheque from the government to show how much they care. Like the old family allowance it is taxable so the benefit in the end is not nearly so great as they claim. But what do people remember – the monthly cheque or the tax bill once a year? You do the math.

It’s all very subtle, isn’t it? Well, that’s what they want you to think. But the problem for the Conservatives is that people are ever more sophisticated, they are ever more able to talk among themselves and are no longer reliant on government propaganda and a compliant media.

People these days are – despite all the continuous distractions or maybe because of them – more likely to seek out their own answers and less likely to believe what ‘they’ want us to believe.

Time will tell, of course. It is possible that they might be able to fool enough of the people for enough of the time. But I don’t think so.

And that’s ten minutes.