WOTS Toronto a bust for cash-strapped indies

WOTS Toronto 2012 is touting their 200,000+ attendance this year as a huge success for authors, book sellers and book lovers in the city where it all began more than 20 years ago. But for some indie authors, who WOTS claims to support with “non-profit” spaces, the luck of the draw for placement was more than unlucky–it was humiliating.

The lowest-paid booths, consisting of a table shared by two indie authors, went out at a very affordable price (under $200). Unfortunately, the location chosen for those tables butted up against a wide stretch of well-tended lawn. Canadians are nice people. They don’t walk on lawns. Burundi Hence, the folks on the backside of the indie tent had virtually zero traffic–and really, literally, almost N-I-L. I know. I was there.

Some of the more indie indies rebelled and moved their tables OUTSIDE the tent, fronting on the side where crowds of thousands passed by–but that was only in the last few hours of the festival, after pleas to management to do something for them failed to get action.

Management’s position is this: since WOTS doesn’t make any profit from the indie author tents they had to use both sides, in spite of the fact that one side was virtually useless, and was actually closed in adjacent tents of corporates and national publishing houses (keeping it open created a wind tunnel). The fact that the grassy side was closed in big-name tents meant even less reason for attendees to circle around to the other side, especially with such a glut of offerings right out in front.  Unfortunately, the “backside” indies paid the same pro rata share as the front side folks, and many reported sending their applications and money in as soon as registration opened–earlier, in fact, than  some folks out front.

The folks out front, bless them, commiserated most sincerely between making change, stuffing books into bags, talking to book lovers and getting their names & book cover images out there to literally thousands of potential readers. Backside indies could only watch the action pass them by while they stood, virtually invisible, with their books, cards and hearts on the table. Attempts to get out into the crowd to give away bookmarks, flyers, anything that might entice an audience were futile. The crowds were thick and with so much to see, read and grab their interest, why cut across a sea of people to get to the back of a tent?

The point is, the point that WOTS doesn’t seem to get (really?) is that sales are the not the main goal for most indie authors. Sure, it would be nice to cover costs. But visibility is king. Being seen is the whole point of being at WOTS, especially for indies who don’t have access to the huge media platforms that corporates and nationals (who had entire tents) include in their budgets as a matter of course.

Registration fees aside, there were other costs, such as two nights’ accommodation for out-of-town indies. But more importantly, for these hard-working folks who wear every hat on their writing/marketing/production/administration team, the time spent before, during and after the day-of-no-returns was a greater loss. Sites nearby my ip . Not to mention the sheer exhaustion and hopelessness of keeping books and promotional material from disappearing through the wind tunnel on an unseasonably cold day.

All in all, it is this writer’s opinion that WOTS has strayed far…very far from its grass-roots roots. Indie authors with vast excesses of money, time and self-confidence—step right up.

For the rest, I put this out as a gift and a challenge—how about a concurrent festival that shows more than lip service for the time, effort and (tiny) financial resources of indie authors? How about a NEW indie festival–“WORD GETS AROUND.” Just might catch on. Then, in 20 years when it goes the way of profit-reigns-supreme as so many great peoples’ movements do, indies can start all over again.

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Find your tribe – a lesson for the extroverted introvert

I call myself an extroverted introvert. I would really rather be alone, doing what I like doing (writing, reading, gardening) than be with people no matter who they are or how much I like them. There’s different layers of being alone, of course. Hanging out with my partner is pretty much like being alone–we are are a unit (whether that’s good or bad, who can say) but we can just be–alone–together. It’s good. When my kids were little, being with them was a lot like being alone, because we were a tight unit, our own little wolf pack. It was good.

I didn’t always crave time alone. When I became a single Mom, I wanted ANYTHING but to be alone. In order to be with people I did what many introverts do–without realizing it, I adopted a persona that allowed me to be “out there,” almost someone else; I could be friendly, talkative, ebullient even!

After the kids were grown and I moved to rural Ontario, I spent the first 3 months of my new life holed up in my tiny country house, stepping out only when I really needed supplies. When I went back to the city to see my boys, I slipped back into extrovert mode but I was always eager to go home to my little house where I didn’t have to talk to anyone, see anyone, be with anyone. That was not good. I eventually pulled myself out of the hermit’s life, but it took tremendous effort.

For a writer it’s so easy to rationalize being alone, and it can be an occupational hazard. I have spent so much time alone in my life that it feels like its more normal to be alone than with people. But humans are social creatures and we need to feel part of a tribe. Even the lone wolf archetype encompasses the innate longing for a pack.

And last month I finally found mine. In May I attended my first Annual General Meeting of the Writers’ Union of Canada. Okay, it sounds like a big yawn but it was anything but! Spending three days surrounded by hundreds of writers, many of them my personal heroes, I suddenly understood. I like being alone because most of the time being with other people means being my “outside self”. With other writers I felt absolutely free to be my “inside self.”

At first I stayed outside the pack, just witnessing the camaraderie and feeling out of place in a crowd of old friends who’d followed each other’s lives and careers for decades. But it didn’t take long to start to feel part of it. Sure, there was hierarchy, there were minor power struggles and some jostling for glory–or a cause–or just the desire to be seen and heard. It’s the pack mentality, after all. But when it’s YOUR pack, YOUR tribe, it’s a wonderful part of the whole experience. It’s okay, even enjoyable, to be the newbie when your tribal “elders” are willing to show you the ropes, let you watch and learn. There is a profound sense of security that comes from being with one’s tribe. It is a feeling that has been missing in my life for a very long time.

I left that weekend a changed person. It’s been nearly three weeks and I am still trying to take it all in. I haven’t been able to take the leap to connect again with the wonderful people I met–that’s another step and it will take me some time, and courage, to do that (I am still an introvert, after all). But I know that I have found my tribe. And with that knowledge and security anything is possible.


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The tide of why?

Viktor  Frankl has a lot to answer for–perhaps the least of which is the fact that I can’t sleep tonight.

When I was 15 I read Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl’s brilliant call to self-direction and personal responsibility. At that tender age of introspection, awash in the great unanswered tide of why? Frankl shone a light into the darkness. I followed it. Sometimes it feels like I never emerged; or, at least, have not yet made it through the tunnel. Once I started on “the quest” it seemed to stretch out endlessly, unfurling ever onward, past every milestone achieved, every dream realized, every impossible challenge–both met and failed, every footstep that would surely be my last…onward, ever onward, never satisfied.

I admit after 40 years only the kernels of Frankl’s lessons remain; I have little recollection of the specifics. But thanks to the web I can recall, “. . .the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” The words are as searing today as when I first read them and their stain on my soul is refreshed. It could be any given moment. I am certain that meaning can come, all at once, even in a last breath. And it will all make sense at the last. I am certain.

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My guilty little secret

OK–time to let loose on a guilty little secret. When I first moved full-time to Collingwood in 2002 (after 44 years of cottaging in Meaford & Thornbury) I looked out at the Collingwood Terminals (aka the grain elevator) building at the foot of Maple St. and said, “What is that monstrosity?” I couldn’t understand what it was doing there still, marring that magnificent view of Georgian Bay.

 Well, a few years later when I was researching my book Butchers, Bakers & Building the Lakers: Voices of Collingwood I learned just how significant that “monstrosity” was to local and national history and my nay-saying was spun on its head. Today, I see the grain elevator as a splendid and significant reminder of a past that we should remember, must remember if we are to honour those first courageous immigrants and the generations of Canadians that gave birth to this country and helped it through its first baby steps.

On Monday, April 4, 2011, at the invitation of the Collingwood & District Historical Society, I will be sharing for the first time some of my research on the history of the Collingwood grain elevators (note the plural). For local history buffs, or anyone interested in Ontario or Canadian history, if you are able to come out to the Leisure Time Club on Minnesota Street, Collingwood on Monday night at 7 p.m. you may discover or rediscover some interesting facts. You might also feel compelled to change or perhaps be reaffirmed in your opinion of the Collingwood Terminals building and its future.

I won’t spoil Monday night by sharing any of the history in this blog post, but if you are interested in knowing more about this historic Great Lakes icon, watch this space. I’ll be sharing a few historical notes as I continue to what I hope is completion of this book sometime this year.  Some very cool pics to come, several from my view from the top (I mean reallly up there, at the base of the radio tower–eek! stomach somersaults!) and cool shots from the rarely seen inner depths of that gorgeous beast.

The Collingwood Terminals, June 1929

I am also tweeting on the subject of the Collingwood Elevators to find out just how people feel about its future. If I collect sufficient data before Monday, I will share the result at the CDHS presentation. I am intrigued to hear what people have to say! Please check out my twitter posts at #collingwoodterminals and PLEASE share your thoughts.

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We all have ships…

Some may have sailed, some may still be coming in, but as some wise person once said, 

If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.

(Photo: Geo. Walmsley, January 15, 1958)

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April 27 is Aron Firman's birthday

Or at least it was.

Today would have been Aron’s 28th birthday. For all of you who have lost a loved one or who have friends or loved ones dealing with mental health issues, please take a moment today to send thoughts of love and compassion and healing. Perhaps our collective energy might boost his father’s efforts to establish an Emergency Response Unit for the Collingwood area. The proposed unit would consist of a psychiatric nurse and a plainclothes police officer. This team is trained to DE-escalate situations involving ANY emotional disturbance; units like this exist in some of the more progressive regional police forces (in larger municipalities) in Ontario today but not in the Ontario Provincial Police Services (OPP).

Last year the unit in Toronto resolved more than 300 such cases WITHOUT violence. If you support such a unit, please send a note to your MPP (in Simcoe-Grey Jim Wilson http://www.jimwilsonmpp.com) so that he/she has the support needed to go to the Province for funding. More of these successful methods must be sought out and implemented http://www.theenterprisebulletin.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2939554 .

Police are trained to take control of situations, i.e. employing methods proven to ESCALATE emotionally charged situations. It is not the job of police to calm people down, empathize with their difficulties or needs, or identify whether the situation could be resolved without violence. They are trained to simply TAKE CONTROL.

In this case, it cost Aron his life. He was unarmed. A unit such as the one his father has proposed would have responded differently, especially when Aron responded to the question, “Have you taken your meds?” (a question the officers DID ask) with a shake of the head indicating, “No.” An appropriately trained team would not have threatened a night in jail. They would not have been armed with a Taser to deploy on Aron when he panicked and tried to run. He would be alive today if the Taser was classified as a lethal weapon http://www.theenterprisebulletin.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2881735 . In the report of the SUI, the use of the Taser is unequivocally stated to have caused Aron’s death. As we await news of a date for a coroners inquest into Aron’s death, Tasers continue to be used by the OPP as “non-lethal” weapons.

Mental health issues have risen to an all-time high. It’s no wonder, with the crazy(!) lives we lead. But responses to those issues have not kept pace.  It’s been nearly a year since Aron was killed. When will the headlines remind us, once again, that tragedies like this one are destined to be repeated unless we force change? Political will only follows public opinion when that opinion is informed, unrelenting and HEARD. It’s time we implement alternatives to the standard police/violence/take-him-down model and protect those in our midst–people we count as friends and family–who are most vulnerable. If we don’t make it happen, who will?

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Bullies Win

No matter what is said about bullies, and how they will get their come-uppance some day, how Karma will wreak havoc in their lives eventually, how they are really just pushovers when it comes down to it–sorry, but it ain’t true.

Bullies win. All the time.

Whether you meet them in the schoolyard, the workplace, at the family dinner table or just waiting at a stoplight, make no mistake–if you challenge a bully, if you stand up to him/her, if you stand firm on your principles then be fully prepared for the punch in the nose (or your wallet, or your emotional core) that will almost certainly follow. The proverbial bully who runs away isn’t really a bully at all; he’s a fraidy-cat wearing a bully mask. The real trick is to know when you are dealing with the real thing.

Lesson #1: Don’t EVER mistake a real bully for a fraidy-cat. All you are likely to achieve is to confirm what they already suspect–that you’re scared of what they might do.

Many years ago I worked for a man (but it could have been a woman, too) who was a quintessential bully–and he was enormously successful. Why? Because he had it all figured out. He routinely hired small to mid-sized contractors, beat them down on price and when the work was done (with their materials & labour) he just waited…and waited…and waited. Invoices passed the 30-day mark, the 60-day mark and the 90-day mark. If polite enquiries became more demanding (or desperate) the file was sent to the lawyer who was on retainer to deal with these folks “before legal costs” were incurred (by the guy trying to collect). And it worked. The retainer he paid the lawyer was far less than the 50% or more “we’re not paying” discount that the lawyer “negotiated” on my boss’s behalf. Of course, there were always the courageous ones who stood up for their principles and fought for their money. Some of THOSE files (with the same lawyer) were several years old by the time I saw them. And none of them were resolved within the 6 months that I worked for the bully.

Yup, 6 months. You guessed it. I stood up to him. Told him I was not going to follow his instructions to send a contractor to a site to do work that I KNEW the boss was not going to pay for. I insisted that we pay him 50% up front, as per his contract (obviously, this guy had run into bullies before). Voice shaking, hands sweaty, I quietly refused. He fired me on the spot.

The cherry on top was that he refused to pay me the $4,000 he owed me (unpaid overtime, unpaid holiday time, auto expenses, travel expenses, etc.); yup, I was on contract too, that’s how well he played the game. Hiring people outright meant benefits, OHIP, CPP, etc. In the end I had to eat the worst-tasting crow of my life when I dragged myself back to his office, stood there while he utterly humiliated me, and I literally begged for the money he owed me. I was a single Mom and I knew his foolproof system would crush me–and I needed the money more than my pride. I crawled away with a cheque for 1/3 of the amount he owed me but at least it covered my out-of-pocket expenses. I had worked for him for a month for a big fat zero. His accountant nearly had tears in his eyes when he walked into the boss’s office with the cheque in his hand. He and the rest of the staff knew I had stood up to the bully (as they wished they could do) and lost. And. . . I had to say thank-you before the bully handed me the cheque.

Bullies win. Forget about Karma. Forget about “deep down they are marshmallows and they will back down.” The genuine bullies win. It’s that simple.

A few more lessons I’d like to share about dealing with bullies:

If it’s too late for lesson #1:

Lesson #2: Avoid the inevitable moment of confrontation by getting as far away from anyone you even suspect is a bully. In a word . . . RUN!!

If you missed (or ignored) the lessons in #1 and #2, then

Lesson #3: Don’t EVER stand up to a bully. Take your lumps. Crawl away and find peace in survival. Whatever the bully took from you (or out of your hide) is far less than if you had stood there and duked it out. Remember, they do this because they are good at it. And they really, really enjoy winning.

Lesson #4: Forget about principles. Bullies have had their moral compasses surgically removed very early in life. And anyway, what do principles have to do with winning?

Lesson #5: Don’t try to teach a bully right from wrong. He/she already knows the difference. To repeat the lesson of #4: What’s that got to do with winning?

Lesson #6: Don’t jump on your white charger and fight the good fight for all the victims before and after you. It’s already too late for the folks who went before you–hopefully they’ve learned the lesson and moved on. For the hapless victims to come…you’ll do more for them by walking away (while you still can) and balancing all that negative energy by adopting a positive, compassionate, wholesome outlook and practicing honesty in all that you do.

Lesson #7: Fighting bullies can rob you of your inspiration, compassion and positive outlook. Save your energy for the good stuff. Remember, you attract what you focus on. Focus on love, compassion, caring, openness and well, yes, forgiveness (even for the bully…if you can).

Lesson #8: Spread the word: bullies win.

Here’s the P.S. Remember my bullying boss? Are you thinking, hey, you don’t know what might have happened since. He may have got his just desserts in the end. But, er….nope. The last I heard (a few months ago) he had turned his fortune into a VAST fortune. He owns some of the flagship real estate in the city (we won’t name which one). When I watched him interviewed on television for the re-opening of a fabulously renovated downtown building I was nearly speechless at how effortlessly he played the down-to-earth nice guy. Gad, he’s good, I thought. And how many contractors got sc*#wed?

Bullies. They win.

On sticky bottle

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Post-visit reflections

Hard to believe it’s been nearly two weeks since my sneak preview experience at the retirement home. I am so impressed with my new-found ability to actually take pictures with my phone that I have to share some of the photos I took of the fabulous suite I stayed in. (Tried to upload them that night but, alas, technotardia struck deep.) Looking through these photos reminds me of the strangeness of the whole experience. Even stranger is the confusion of feelings I had about living in a retirement home. Crashing for a couple of days after I came home was a mystery too, and I still don’t get why. Was it culture shock, or, more accurately “elder shock”?

I tried to write a summation of my thoughts on the whole deal the day after I came home, but it was too big. There was too much to feel and think to actually commit anything to hard copy. I had to just absorb it all.

Here are a few of the things I learned, or learned again:

  1. Don’t be late for dinner.
  2. If you are late for dinner don’t make excuses; just be grateful for whatever is on your plate.
  3. Slow is relative.
  4. Peace and quiet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
  5. When life revolves around mealtimes, the spaces in between fill up pretty quick. 
  6. Retirement is an opportunity to re-create your life. So much more is out there waiting to be discovered, even when you’re 90.
  7. Five walkers and walker-owners really will fit into a regular-sized elevator.
  8. Some people are just crabby. It’s got nothing to do with age.
  9. People who accept change as inevitable don’t get caught in a log-jam; they travel on downstream. 
  10. Luxury is not synonymous with comfort.
  11. Men don’t last. Enjoy ’em while you have ’em.

There were a few other surprises, like what it might feel like to live in a foreign country, or on another planet. I had underestimated my own aversion to frailty and the inevitable end of life. After a day, I surprised myself more than once when I saw a worker or visitor (they stood out) and caught myself thinking, “I look like them!” It was a relief to feel I was “other than” an elderly person. But I got my come uppance one morning when I was waiting for the elevator with another resident. She struck up a conversation with, “So have you just moved in?”

It was a long three days. Not just because I was away from home and hubby and pets but because there was simply no escaping that no matter how we dress up aging it is coming after us. If we are lucky. And the women outnumbered the men by about 30 to 1, seriously! At 53 I am so much younger than I think! I am going to (try to) stop looking over my shoulder at the young woman I once was and start to recognize and embrace the gifts that only come with time and experience. It’s tough to not wish for youth to return (especially when I find out I can’t twist like I used to) but really, how dumb is that? It would be like a 23-year-old wanting to trade her youth for experience. You get one or the other; so–love the one you’re with.

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The Gift: It's all about the layers…like an onion!

Now that The Gift: Sharing Your Life Lessons with the People You Love Most is out in the world, I’ve been thinking of the best way to help people take full advantage of everything the book offers. With this in mind, over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of my own answers to the questions and exercises as a way to illustrate and hopefully inspire readers into diving in (or picking up where you left off). First off, the questions look pretty simple on the surface–trust me, they only look innocent. I am always amazed at the places these questions take me, even when I respond to a question or exercise that I have already written about; it seems there’s always another layer. And to paraphrase the great philosopher Shrek, “Ogres are like onions. . .they have many layers.”

So do humans. And so does The Gift.

I think the first thing to recognize is that there can be many different interpretations or approaches to nearly all of the exercises in The Gift. What I will be sharing here is just one way, and hopefully, not just my way. I encourage (in fact, say PRETTY PLEASE to) feedback, differing opinions and approaches, and just sharing in any way (respectfully) to help broaden the perspective of anyone working with The Gift. By sharing an entirely different viewpoint or approach, you may open up possibilities that others (including me) may not have discovered yet.

For ease of reference, I’ll begin at the beginning (woo-hoo!) and then work through the book in the order the exercises appear, but feel free to dive in at any point with questions, your own story or reflections, or comments on my reflections on any part of the book.

To be honest, I really thought I didn’t need to write down my Intentions before starting. I figured, heck, my intentions are pretty straightforward, I mean, I’m writing a book about this stuff. Well, it wasn’t quite that simple when I got down to it. I realized when I started answering some of my own questions that there was a lot more meat to them than it seemed (yeah, we could get into some heavy stuff here about how I channelled a lot of this stuff, so I failed to realize just how deep some of the questions are but we’ll save that discussion for another day.)

I’m going to skip over my answers to the first few questions from INTENTIONS (starting at page 2 of the Workbook) and share what I wrote about Core Values and Beliefs. I chose this one to write about at the outset because it SO surprised me. It unexpectedly opened a door for further enquiry into my own personal beliefs and motivations. (I will be coming back to all the questions repeatedly, so there will be a bit of movement back and forth.)

First of all, if you uncover something you didn’t KNOW you thought, congratulations! The Gift is as much about self-discovery and life review as it is about sharing your life with others. So what did I uncover? This: I harbour a hidden and deep admiration for…wait for it…insecurity! I was so surprised to discover that I actually view insecurity as a form of humility. Where did that come from?

When I wrote about my core values and beliefs it came across sounding like I was “bigging myself up,” something I really can’t stand when I see it in myself (or, if we’re being honest, anybody else). My responses showed I have a pretty high opinion of myself and believe it or not, that surprised me! Remember, initially I answered the question with no intention of actually sharing my answers; it was just a test drive for the book. I was just following instructions like every other reader would, so that I could see what (about the book) worked and what didn’t flow or make sense. And wham! There it was.

According to my answers, I seem to think that I’m purposeful, determined, tenacious (in a good and a bad way), and that I have an unshakeable belief in the fact that my life has purpose and even more—that I have a specific purpose to fulfill in this life. Pretty heady stuff, eh? Think a lot of yourself, do ya? So what happens to folks who big themselves up? They get brought DOWN, man. Like, totally. “Who do you think you are?” “Let’s show this guy a bit of humility.” Wham! Slam! Pow! Holy ego, Batman! Where did that come from?!So…do I mistake insecurity for humility? If I expressed core values and beliefs that sounded a little less hi-falutin, a little less idealistic, a little less like I thought I was getting somewhere, achieving something special, living the dream just a little bit–would that make me sound more humble? Would it mean I actually own the admirable quality called humility? Do I admire that kind of humility? Is that humility at all or an imposter wearing humility’s plain old clothes?

OK, my answers to that question will be shared another day, but PLEASE feel free to jump in, tell me what you think, or share your own Core Values and Beliefs and any surprises you uncovered. Please use this blog to interact, share your stories and get the boost you need to get on (or back on) track with your legacy statement project. I will (attempt to…remember, I’m still officially a technotard) cross-post these on the FB page for The Gift and I’ll (try to!) copy any comments so that we can get a good exchange of ideas happening. OK, team, let’s go!

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Food for Thought

At the urging (dare I say whin-jing) of my East End friend I shall attempt to rectify the deficiency of sandwich-related content on this blog. Forgive me, comrade, I still have my learner’s permit on this thing and can only hope to absorb the lessons of the elders (figuratively).
Given my moo-cow theme I could lapse into a dairy-related diatribe (especially significant for us lactose-intolerant folks) or maybe get lazy and throw in some prewritten but very neat historical stuff about local dairies that thrived in the region but instead, I will mooze with some food for thought. Please note: it is not even 9 a.m. and us literary folk who do not have real jobs are still in our jammies so this post might still have one eye closed.
Food for thought: In life’s game of rock, paper, scissors, who is brave enough to be the glue?

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