Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Originally published  Saturday, October 20, 2001 St. Catharines Standard

"Writer's group helped me to find my voice: All that I've learned, I owe to people from The Writing On The Wall" by M. Fogel

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a writer.  Now as I look back, I remember the first place I really felt as if I was one.  It was a spoken word reading group:  The Writing On The Wall.
I'd spent the last month working on my latest short story.  I felt it was pretty good.  I'd revised it umpteen times and I was just about ready to ship it off to perfect strangers in the publishing industry who couldn't give a damn that I thought I could be the next Hemingway.
I went downtown to have a coffee and sit and think about whether I should mail it out or if I should just keep it to myself.  Maybe it wasn't good enough.  Maybe those editors just wouldn't get it.  Maybe I should just drink more coffee.
It was one of those typical nights spent in the downtown core.  There wasn't a whole lot going on, none of my friends were at our usual coffee shop, but I knew there was a poetry group meeting in the Niagara Artist's Centre building, so on a whim, I headed down to 2 Bond Street with a copy of my manuscript.  I figured most of my friends were there and it would be a good place to get a feel for how my story sounded to an audience.  When I got there, I signed up at the door to read.
When my turn came up to read, I got that feeling you get when a letter from a publisher arrives in the mail.  Only now I couldn't just shuffle the feeling away amongst the junk mail.  My name was announced.  It was time to present my work.
I walked up to the stage and the MC greeted me with a handshake and said reassuringly, "Good luck.  You've got 10 minutes," then he walked off the stage.  I began to read my story, a tale of a boy walking his dog and watching two lovers in the park, and a hush fell over the room. The story took on a new life as I read it aloud.  I tripped up on a sentence near the end.  I realized that the line was awkward and I decided to work on it when I got home.
The crowd was very forgiving, and as I finished reading the story there was an absolute silence; then, thankfully, a moment later, applause.  After my reading, I decided to stay to listen to the other writers and poets read their work.
Later, as I walked home, manuscript in hand, I made a promise to myself to catch The Writing On The Wall again next month.  I figured there was no guarantee it would improve my writing, but it was, after all, a great place to listen and be heard.
The Writing on The Wall was started in late spring of 1996 by Amy Eggleton and Eileen Cochrane and ran through the winter of 1997.  Together with the help of a loosely formed bunch of Niagara-area poets and writer and with the help of the Niagara Artists Company on Bond Street (who generously lent us their
space each month), Amy and Eileen managed to bring a little bit of "big city" culture to Niagara.
I owe them and all the poets and writers I met that year a debt of gratitude. They gave the downtown crowd a chance to have our own not-so-Dead Poets Society.  They taught me to accept myself for me and helped me see sides of my friends that I would otherwise never have realized existed.
The old crowd has moved on to other things.  Some, like me, got married and are now starting a family.  Others have begun challenging and fulfilling careers.  But every once in a while when walking downtown I'll run into someone from one of the reading series and the memories of those evenings spent sitting and reading our latest to each other while sipping coffee flood right back.
To my knowledge, there were four amateur spoken word readings in St. Catharines during the past five years.  Calling All Poets was the first I attended.  Then came Calling All Writers, The Writing On The Wall, and most recently, The Voices In Your Head, which is still held in the same building as The Writing On The Wall was.
I hear the poetry readings at the NAC are still fairly lively.  Perhaps one day I'll attend.

Renegade Tattoo is looking for a new home...contact Renegade if you're interested (www.renegadetattoo.ca)

So the boys are up north at their Grandma's for the March Break. Sheri has been coming out with me everynight since they left. So it's been great fun hanging out and stuff....

Obviously, I haven't been spending my weeknights in front of the PC so far, so no great blogs this week...

Monday, March 15, 2004

(This is short story I wrote around 1993.. It was inspired by three different incidents with three different women I had crushed on like-realbadhighschool style. Needless to say I didn't get the girl. And I didn't get the kiss either... That's okay, I got my Sheri in the end and she is 1000 times better than any adolescent crap like this. Still, it's sweet for what it is; an attempt to capture a moment of desire in time. I caught major flack at Writing on The Wall back in 1996 for using the word unfurl. I suppose it was justified)

"The Friend" by M. Fogel

It’s mid-summer and the sky is a deep cobalt blue. I’m out for a walk with my friend Elyse. We ran into each other at the corner of James and Main Street earlier this afternoon. She was coming out of the cafe at the corner, a purse over her shoulder and a cigarette in her mouth.
I was across the street pondering the empty shell of the St. Paul House, the hotel where Elyse and I first met. Two years ago it caught fire. Now it’s scheduled for demolition. She called to me from across the street and I came over and we just sorta started walking together.
Now, over three hours later, after walking around town while catching up on old times, we sit together on a park bench in the town gardens.
She says she loves her boyfriend Gary--they just got engaged--but she doesn’t always feel satisfied with the decisions she’s made. He works at the Laundromat--I’ve met him; nice guy. She works midnight’s at a variety store. I am attentive and hang on her every word.
She turns to me and says again, “I really do love him, I do. It’s just that...” She looks away as her words hang in the air.
I admire her profile in the warmth of the afternoon sun. She has long strawberry-blonde hair, a petite nose set in just the right place. Her eyes are bright and deep brown. They sparkle revealing an intelligence that she usually conceals when in the company of men. When she smiles, she smiles a smile that could stop a war. She’s not smiling now though.
She sits transfixed on a point in the distance. I look in the direction she is looking and see a dog and her young master crest a hill, just now entering our field of vision. The dog is running circles around the boy, tail wagging frantically. The boy is in his late teens. The dog looks almost comical, like the whippet in the Simpsons. The boy holds his leash with a tight grip as if it were still attached to the collar. The dog begins to do laps around Elyse and I where we sit on the bench. The sight is so ridiculous, the dog so endearing, that I can’t help but laugh. Elyse just smiles.
The boy stops to look at the totem pole erected in the centre of the gardens. He glances up and down its enormous trunk. I see him gazing up at the carved faces and wonder what he sees. I wonder if he sees a glimmer of humanity in the totems, or if he only sees animal faces carved in wood. He turns his attention back to his dog who is now running circles around the native monument. He calls out to the dog and then runs past Elyse and me where we sit on the park bench. The dog bounds past after her master and then they are gone.
Elyse lights a cigarette, then passes me her open pack. I accept one graciously. Until this afternoon, I hadn’t seen her for months and I realize this as I place the DuMaurier between my lips. We smoke together in silence. A slight wind rustles through the trees. No one is in sight. For the moment, the park is ours. We are alone.
The wind picks up momentarily, causing the leaves in the trees to rustle louder in crescendo then fade into silence. All is silent now, save for the sound of a bird chirping in a nearby tree.
I turn to my friend to ask about work but my words are silenced by her eyes as she turns and meets my gaze. They are many shades of brown and seem deepest brown around her pupils. She smiles, then tilts her head ever so slightly to the left.
And she reaches out to me.
And we kiss.
Slow and cautiously at first, then more forcefully, lips against lips, almost dancing on our park bench as we lose ourselves in each other.
I feel her hand on my neck, holding me to her. We breathe in unison as we kiss. Then too soon, she releases me and I unfurl her. We look at each other for but a moment longer. Her gaze is wanton. She is tempered but unsatiated. Her cheeks are flushed.
Then she says, “I have to go. Gary’ll be expecting me.”
I watch Elyse walk away, knowing full well that I’ll never kiss her in that way again. I hang back for awhile and sit alone on our park bench. I think about the totem pole and St. Paul House and humanity in general. And I wonder if the boy thought Elyse and I were a couple.