Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What Happened to Delores Dawn?

"When you hear them - all those stories about the aboriginal girls going missing - that's who they're talking about.  They're talking about her."

What Happened To Delores Dawn? - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
When my mother said those words I felt like I had been living under a rock.  

My father's sister - my aunt - had adopted a beautiful Métis child, called her daughter as she raised her up, only to lose her grip on her in later years - finally declaring her missing.

I don't know my aunt.  We live provinces apart and have never shared life together.  But she is still family and though I don't really know her and never knew her daughter, the truth of the story hits me right in my momma-gut.

What could be worse than not knowing where your child is?

Delores Dawn was last seen on May 13, 2004 on a street corner in Edmonton.  A small woman, timid, dressed in black, looking for a ride.

It was probably the last ride she ever took.

They found her last week in a wooded area near Leduc, identifiable only through dental records, finally bringing closure to the family that spent more than ten years waiting.

What could be worse than knowing your child will never come home?

My heart breaks for my aunt and uncle as they navigate this time of grief.  In a statement to the press they offered a sense of thankfulness - relief that they finally know the truth and can find some closure.

I can't even imagine.  

Of course, a large piece of their hearts knew that she was gone long before evidence made it so - but can you ever really turn off that glimmer of hope, that glimmer that picks at you even when you know it can't possibly be true?

More than a decade of waking up each morning with a wary sense of hopefulness, thinking perhaps this is the day she will come home to you, only to lay your head down at night awash in the freshened grief of those hopes dashed to pieces.

Day in and day out.

What a heavy burden.

And now it's over.  She's really gone.  

Except she's not.  Because a parent never really buries a child, do they?  They gather those memories close to their heart, cherishing every moment of laughter, every tear, every scrapped knee and grade-school award, every single second that defines what it means to be a parent.  They hold onto those through every breath.  They weep on them.  They curl around them and rock them like a lullaby.  They never let go and they never stop loving because love is stronger than death.

Today, my prayer for them - this family I know only through name - is not for joy...not is that their grief be real, their love held dear, their memories cherished and their hope placed in moving forward...that tomorrow when they wake they don't have to ask the sky, 'is today the day?'...that when they go to bed it is not with a shattered heart but a heart bent on healing...that they never try to erase the scars but that through those scars they honor the memory of the daughter stolen away so that somehow her death will matter in the saving of another.

What happened to Delores Dawn?

We may never know.

What I do know is that the circumstances don't matter.  It doesn't matter what she was doing or where she was or what choices she made with her life.  It only matters that her life was stolen - that lives like her's are being stolen all the time and the only people who can do anything about it are the ones who are left behind.

It's so easy to think of Canada as a place protected from the atrocities of the world.  It's so easy to plead ignorant and naive.  It's so easy to be selfish.  

But there is darkness here, lurking in the places we pretend don't exist and it's only by shining light on them that we can begin to loosen their grip.

CBC News Story
Edmonton Sun Report {with video}
Project KARE - vulnerable persons project

Monday, April 27, 2015

Word Count Shaming {Numbers Don't Matter!}

Word Count Shaming {Numbers Don't Matter!} by Alanna Rusnak, SelfBinding Retrospect

I'm quite sure it's not intentional - the stab that slices at my self worth when I see those numbers posted. 

Good for you that your manuscript is weighing down the world with 179,693 words while mine hovers on the lowly precipice of barely breaking 60,000.

You should be proud.  I would be too.

But you also make me feel ashamed.  And that is stupid.

You're not stupid.  I'm being stupid.

I've got this kind of jealousy that makes me want to throw in the towel because 'you're better than me'.

But you're not.  We're just different.

I have placed myself in this virtual community of writers - twitter and instagram and all the other look-at-me-and-the-great-things-I'm-doing places - communities that help all the introverts feel like rock stars.  I've put myself there.  

It's powerful to be noticed, to be heard, to be recognized as worthy.

And it's so very inspiring to follow along with others on their writing journey just as they are following mine.

It's completely empowering IF I can remember that a person's story goes well beyond their story. 

I mean, I am more than the novel I am writing.  I have a life beyond my keyboard that is rich with living.  I have responsibilities and obligations and loves and hates beyond the written word. 

Monsieur 179,693 writes full time.  Full time!

Life has not afforded me the luxury of writing all day - every word I manage to get down comes from a moment stolen away from my children and my husband and my job and my home and at least a million other things.

So perhaps, after putting that in perspective, I should wear my 60,000 proudly and not judge myself based on what others are doing.

And perhaps I can turn my jealously away from word counts and focus it on all those lucky people who get to spend their whole day doing exactly what they love to do and hope that someday I'll be brave enough to do that too.

My worth as a writer is not determined by the number of pages I turn out each day; it is, instead, determined by the heart my toils may touch - be that tomorrow or twenty years from now - this is what defines my worth.

"My worth as a writer is not determinded by the number of pages I turn out each day; it is, instead, determined by the hearts my toils touch - be that tomorrow or twenty years from now - this is what defines my worth" - Alanna Rusnak

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

If I Was Asked To Cast The Movie Version

Knowing your characters is one of the most important parts of story-telling - because if you don't know them how can you even begin to share their life (whether it be fictional or not)?

While fighting through a heavy season of feeling completely stuck (meaning I honestly had no idea where the story was going!) I decided to try an exercise I'd read about but never attempted.

Cast the movie version.

If nothing else it was a fun distraction from staring at a blinking cursor and feeling like a failure.

And, in a happy turn of events, it seemed to stir things up, get ideas bubbling, and I'm now well on my way to an ending that actually makes sense!

~ Please understand that my casting choices are made purely based on superficial aesthetics and not acting merits - though I dare say that each one of my choices have played roles that moved me somehow. ~

Sure, it was a silly exercise but it was a fun little brain break that proved to be just what I needed!

(Now - look at Emilie and look at Jake and go read the excerpt I shared a few weeks ago - Yowza!)

The Church In The Wildwood movie cast

Monday, April 20, 2015

Not Every Day Can Be Perfect

We had a beautiful weekend, basking in family and friends into wee hours - laughing enough to earn new wrinkles, and bodies hurting with cheated sleep and heavy eyes.  BUT too many late nights is a sure way to empty a child of their sweetness.  Even in silence they are growly today - painting their faces in all manner of 'Back off, momma!'

Too many late nights is a sure way to empty a child of their sweetness

They sit at the table while I reheat leftovers for dinner, one trying to tell the other of some wonderful new level they've reached in their ever important gaming world.  "Just be quiet, Zander! I don't care!" Liam spits across the table.

"You're being an idiot!" Zander spits right back.

"Hey!" I call out, turning from stirring the gravy, dripping it on the floor and my sock.  They freeze and glare at me.  "What does that make you?" I ask Zander.

His jaw works and anger darts from his eyes in frantic beams of chaos.  I hold his gaze as if I've shackled his eyes to mine.  Slowly he softens.  It's like watching a flower turn to the sun.  "It makes me a bully," he says quietly.

"And Liam," I say.  "What does that make you, talking to your brother like that?"

"Mean," he says.

"Right.  Mean."

I serve them their plates and we hold hands like we like each other.  Noa prays and we eat quietly.  "We're all tired," I finally say.  "It's early to bed tonight."

No one argues.  They know.  I can see it in the shadows that hang beneath their eyes.

Not every day can be perfect.  

But every day can be redeemed.

"I love you," I say to each of them as I tuck them in - even that big thirteen year old who doesn't think he needs me anymore.

"Love you too," they each say back and I'm sure they mostly mean it.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Make It Monday ~ My 1 Step Songwriting Process

When I decided I wanted to learn guitar my mother arranged for me to borrow one that sat in our pastor's basement collecting dust.  I knew exactly zero things about playing.  I sat on my bedroom floor with that poor old beaten beast laying flat across my lap like an auto harp, tapping the strings and calling my sisters in to tell them how I'd invented a new {and better} way to play.  I had no idea how to form chords or what a strum pattern was.  It must have been a month before I even figured out what I was trying to play was actually a left-handed guitar.  No wonder what I was attempting to mimic from the 'Teach Yourself Guitar' book given to me by my best friend's mother sounded positively horrible.

I received a right-handed Yamaha acoustic for my sixteenth birthday.  I thought it was the most excellently extravagant gift I'd ever been given and, with that paperback teach yourself instruction book always by my side, I dove in and learned enough to start writing my own songs.

Everyone handles their season of teenage angst differently.  I navigated those waters by writing poetry and music.

I did not write good music.  It was rare for anything to have more than three chords.  My lyrics were heavy with my first heart break and the only people who heard my music were the kids that would sit on the disgusting carpet in the church basement after youth group on Friday nights.

The chorus of my very first song went like this:

       I don't want to hear your problems
       I don't want to watch you cry
       I don't want get my shoulder wet
       You've got to let my flower die



That was a two chord wonder.  {So is Tom Petty's Free Fallin' but it would be unfair to compare.}  It had something like seven stab-a-needle-in-your-eye verses; but, because I was the only guitar-playing-singer-songwriter in my circle of friends they all told me how amazing it was. {Liars!} And, because I loved the attention {but played humble} I kept on writing them and bringing them to the church basement and recording them onto cassette tapes with a two track system that made me sound like I was being murdered in space.

Like any hobby or skill, improvement comes over time and though I'm still not a great guitar player - never adventuring beyond a chord & strum method - I have improved in production value, in my melody variances and my lyrics.

I have found it is never something I can force.  I write music when I feel it bubbling up inside me.  Any time I've said, "I think I'll write a song today," it doesn't happen.  It has to fall on me and I have to grab on and go for the ride or it will leave me.

The process is different for everyone.  I've listened to interviews with prolific songwriters who talk about the days...weeks...even years they spend making their song perfect.  I can't relate to this, though it fascinates me to no end.  I suppose when it is your livelihood, perfectionism is important.  Me?  I'm really just doing it for myself {much like my approach to this blog which goes against all the rules of successful blogging} so it's not about perfect, it's about saying what I want to say, having fun doing it, and feeling creative and alive.

I can't remember an instance where it took me more than a couple of hours to write a song from start to finish.  I'm not saying that to brag - I mean, I wonder what I could turn out if I actually dedicated real time to such a hobby...?  But an hour or two gives me enough of an outlet to create something that makes me happy - whether I'm pouring out feelings, being silly, or capturing a memory.

Songwriting.  It's like therapy.  But way cheaper.

So, how do I do it?

Step 1: I do it.  I just do it.

Sorry.  That was rude.

I can't tell you because it doesn't make any sense.  I pick up my guitar, I set a piece of paper and a pen in front of me, I strum a chord and I start singing.  Once in a while I'll have an idea for an opening lyric.  Usually I'll know the theme or tone I'm going for.  I never know how I'm going to find a bridge that works so luckily it finds me.  With my latest song {see below} - and this was a first for me - I had the whole first verse when I sat down.  It came to me in the car on an early Sunday morning as I drove to church for the pre-service worship practice/sound check.  I sang it into my phone before going up on the stage to the piano because I was afraid I'd lose it among the Hallelujah's.  I'd never come at a song-writing session so prepared.  It was kind of awesome.

If you want to write music, all I can say is do it.  Throw yourself in.  Find inspiration everywhere.  Don't be afraid to sound stupid.  {Let my flower die? I mean, come on!!??!!} 

Your process doesn't matter.  What matters is that what you do brings you joy.

 Linking up...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

If I Was Writing a Horror Movie Script I Would Start With a GPS {tales from the road}

Wrong is a feeling.  It's a slow-building pulse that pushes out from your belly and down on your chest.  It's not exactly like fear.  With fear you can't find humour.  But with 'wrong' your glass is still half-full while you're teetering on the edge of half-empty in a fate-tempting dance that can still crack a joke.

It was our second day.  We woke to snow and bitter winds in Bradford, Pennsylvania and, after swallowing down the pitiful motel continental breakfast and making the children stand by our fancy orange door for a photo, we piled into the piled-high station wagon, plugged our first stop destination into the GPS, got THE WORST COFFEE IN THE WORLD from a drive-thru window that said they were Tim Horton's {but I would swear up and down to high heaven that what they passed me was no Tim Horton's coffee but rather the steeped earwax of an angry ogre} and we hit the road.

Our first goal was Kinzua Bridge.  I discovered it's existence while plotting our road trip route and thought it would be an interesting place to stop and stretch our legs.  

The bridge is an engineering masterpiece hidden deep within the Northwestern Pennsylvania forest.  Built in the 1880's, it once soared 301 feet high and 2,053 feet across, making it the highest and longest railroad bridge in the world at that time.  The designer, C.R. Grimm, predicted it would last 100 years - and it did.  For generations, freight trains and later, excursion trains, roared across the Kinzua Viaduct and, since 1963, it has been the centerpiece of the Kinzua Bridge State Park.

I wanted to see it.  Not so much because it was an amazing bridge but because in 2003 a tornado tore through the forest and 11 of the 20 towers that held up the bridge were lifted, twisted and thrown onto the valley floor.  Within 30 seconds, nature had brought this mighty feat of engineering to it's knees, the bones of it's tragedy left as they landed, spread across the valley in a powerful display of nature and her frightful whims.

"Turn right in 500 metres."

Good old GPS.

I'd printed out the Map Quest directions and they didn't have us going far off the beaten path.  The GPS however, had some different plans.

If a highway is 'the beaten path' then we were in a field.  The road was narrow with tall grasses on either side that I might have touched had I put my hand out the window.

"Continue on road in 1 kilometre."

Not that there was anything else we could do.  There was no place to turn around.  There was swamp on one side and shabby clapboard homes rising up out of the grasses on the other.  

~ Silent prayers that we don't meet an oncoming vehicle, werewolf, or axe murderer ~

It went on and on.

"Are you sure this is right?" Scott asked as we passed a mailbox that looked like it had met the business end of a shotgun more than once.

"You know," I said, "it'd make a great premise for a horror movie...if some nutcase could somehow manipulate a person's GPS and send them really far down an untraveled road, luring them into his kill zone* where no one could hear their screams**..."

Funny how narrow, lonely roads make you remember every scary movie you ever watched.

When the website said the bridge was 'hidden' it wasn't kidding but, after a long stretch of creepy, silent road we saw a sign peeking through and things finally opened up to bring us onto national park land.

And that wrong feeling went away as if it had never existed.

We had arrived.  We were fine. There were no killers lurking in the shadow of one of the biggest train bridges ever built.

Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania - road trip

Kinzua Bridge is really not a winter destination.  There was not another soul to be seen when we parked the car by a port-a-potty with a wicked lean. The bitter wind buffeted us as we picked our way through a snow choked path, tripping over old footprints that had hardened into hazards.

We were not dressed for it.  When your final destination is sunny South Carolina you don't think to pack big coats and boots and hats and mittens for everyone.

Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania - road trip
But we suffered through it because the bridge was awesome!

Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania - road trip
Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania - road trip

Kinzua Bridge, Pennsylvania

It would be incredible to go back in the summer when the forest below and around the bridge is in full leaf or in the fall when everything would be on fire with colour.  If you ever find yourself in Northwestern Pennsylvania, put this stop on your list - it's worth it! Creepy serial killer roads and all!

*I might write this script someday.  Don't steal it.
** If you do steal it, name a character after me - not the pathetic victim with running mascara - let me be the strong survivor who heartrendingly discovers the maniac is her long lost baby brother after she knocks him out and ties him to a tree with her blouse***
*** Don't steal that either - it's obviously gold.

A Little Romance To Lighten The Mood ~ an excerpt

The Church In The Wildwood quote

“Hello, Apple Man,” Iris said, leaning against the door frame and biting her bottom lip as she smiled at him.

When he passed the money into her hands their skin touched briefly and he felt a jolt of electricity.  She wore a flowery sundress and a string of wooden beads around her neck and he was mesmerized by the shape of her calves as she slipped over to the desk under the window to stick the bills inside the cover of a book that lay there.

He felt shy.  He always did in the beginning of their visits.  Just as he always thought to himself that this was the week he would resist the call of her company.

It was hopeless.  He was as weak as any man before him and it didn’t matter that he had studied the scriptures and believed the ten commandments really were a compass by which to live ones life - he could not resist.  She was his north star.

She made her way back to where he was still standing in the doorway.  Her dress moved about her knees in it’s own kind of slow dance and he felt a warmth flow over his body as he raised his eyes to her face.

“You’re letting the bugs in, silly,” she said, taking his hands and leading him out onto the porch where she walked backwards to the two-seater swing that hung there on rusty chains.

It groaned when they sat but it held.  The upholstered seat cover was so faded that it was nearly void of colour and the quilt flung over the backrest was torn in several places. Samuel sank into the seat and Iris sat beside him, tucking her legs up underneath herself before she tipped up his chin and kissed him sweetly.

Kissing Iris was like finding himself and losing himself all in the same breath.  She was so small but the moment she was that close she became the whole world.  She was firm against him and he couldn’t help but yield beneath the pressure of her mouth, tasting her, synchronizing the movement of his own mouth, exploring her face and hair with his hands only to pull her harder against himself like he was starving.

She sighed against him and moved her head back so he could kiss her neck and explore the contours of her throat.

“I’m quite certain I love you, Iris Carver,” he said against her skin before he lost his nerve.
She pulled back from him, her hands on either side of his face as she gazed into his eyes like she was searching his soul, reading him and tracing the arch of his brow, her breaths coming long and deep.

The kiss that followed made him realize he really knew nothing of kissing up until that point and then somehow she was on top of him, one knee on either side, their bodies so closely intertwined that, for the first time, he understood the phrase ‘making love’.

Her dress was pushed up on her legs by the position she was in and somehow his hands were on her thighs and they were so smooth and warm and -

“Iris,” he gasped.

Her lips were on his throat.

“Iris,” he said again, raising his hands back to her face so he could pull her back.  He could see her pulse in her throat and he could feel the way his own was rushing in a hyper, scattered rhythm.  “I can’t,” he said but he wanted nothing more than to lose himself in the curve of her thigh.

Her breath was ragged and she untangled herself from him, pulling the skirt of her dress down and wiping hair from her eyes.  “I’m sorry, Reverend,” she said, wounded, spitting his title like a curse.

“Don’t,” he said, facing her.  “Don’t do that.”

She looked out over the dark yard and could just make out the shape of Paisley’s old truck.  “So what’s the deal, Apple Man? You come every week.  You give me money.  You are kind to me.  Now you tell me you love me but you won’t love me…?”

He took her hand, tracing lazy circles in her palm, thrilling at the touch of her but fighting an internal battle that shone through his eyes.  He chose his words carefully.  “I don’t give you money for any of this, Iris,” he said.  “I give you money because of my jealousy.  The idea of another man with his hands on you for any reason other than love makes me mad with rage.”

She pulled away from him and walked down the porch steps to stand on the grass in front of the garden, her arms wrapped tightly around her middle like she was trying the hold herself together.

He stayed where he was, studying the curve of her neck and the untidy wisps of her hair and he felt cold without her beside him. “I do love you, Iris,” he said, not raising his voice for the distance but knowing she could hear him over the late night stillness.  “I love you for your strength.  I love you for your brokenness.  I love you for the way I feel when I’m close to you.  I think I’ve loved you since that first moment in the grocery store.  Nothing hurt me more than when you walked away from me.  And you walk away from me again because I won’t do - that…?”

She didn’t turn towards him when she answered. “Paisley loved me and I drove him to his death.” She walked farther into the yard to the rusted truck, and plucked a sprig of mint from the herb garden in the truck bed.  She held it to her nose and let it’s fragrance linger on her senses. “When I take Joseph to the library he looks through fairytale picture books and they’re all the same.  Some poor romantic who sings in the woods gets rescued by a prince who takes her to his castle and gives her pretty gowns and fancy feasts.  That’s not real life.  Paisley brought me here.  There was no castle or fancy meal.  I didn’t even have a wedding dress.  But he was good to me even when I stopped being good to him.” She let the mint linger on her lip so that the taste crept into her mouth.  “You don’t have to rescue me, Apple Man,” she said.  “I’ve already been rescued.” She put the leaves between her teeth and chewed them.

Samuel studied her from behind, feeling helpless and desperate to have her close to him again. “We’re all lost, Iris,” he said.

“But most people have a map,” she replied as she slowly wandered back towards the porch and sat on the step, her bare feet damp from the dew on the grass.

“No they don’t,” he argued, rising from the swing and taking the spot beside her on the step.  He bumped against her playfully with his shoulder.  “Nobody really knows where they’re going.  We’re all just wandering around with our fingers crossed, hoping we’ll meet somebody that will make our lostness a little less lonely.”

He turned towards her and cupped her face in his hands before kissing her very softly on the lips.  “You can’t rush me, Iris.  My head has been trained my whole life to fight against this.”

“Stop fighting,” she pleaded.

“It’s not so simple,” he said.  “There’s my congregation to think about.  There’s a whole town that holds me to a higher standard and if I betray that trust…”

“Love conquers all,” she said quietly.  “That’s what all those fairy tales say.”

“Ha!” he laughed softly.  “If only that were true.”

She leaded towards him and rested her head on his shoulder.  “Just once, I’d love something to be simple,” she said.

He let his cheek rest against her hair, his arm around her small waist as the faint smell of mint hung on the air.  “Me too, Iris,” he said.  “Me too.”

A Book Trailer

Some days it's good to take a step back and focus your energy on something else.

I'm feeling dried up in the way of words {I'm still struggling to make my ending work} but I had some fun pulling together this little book trailer today...

Here's hoping, that with tomorrow, comes new inspiration.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring? Is That You?

There's a whisper of something warm on the air.  The squeals of children playing in the field sound a little like summer though while they run their breath still shoots ahead of them as steam does from a train.

We are still falling from winter.  We celebrated the Resurrection by scraping our windshields in the early hours so we could get to church on time.  Nothing bursts from the garden yet - no hint of colour on this grey landscape - and our hearts are weary with dreams of spring but we keep on believing because if we stop aren't we just like that dirty pile of old snow outside the barn, clinging to the shadows instead of grasping for the sun?

I wasn't built for the cold.  None of us were, really.  We ache to peel off layers and dig our fingers into the soil and hang the laundry behind the house.  We pine for crab-apple blossoms and free-range chickens and a cat that naps for less than nineteen hours a day.

We long for Spring, yet she drags her heels with the stubbornness of a harrumphing mule and we think about crying if it wouldn't make us a fool.

The snow that fell yesterday was fat and prideful and as I watched it fall to the ground I wanted to scream.  I would have too - if it wasn't so pretty...

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