Friday, August 31, 2007

Da Count - Collaborations

Writing is mostly a solitary pursuit. Usually, the writer gets an idea, the writer sits down to compose the idea with a pen on the printed page or onto a typewriter or dictates the concepts into an audio recorder or types it onto a computer screen via a keyboard (I'm fortunate to have experience all four of these ways of composing and still use all three). Then, when the writer is done the writing, they read it with an editor's eye, looking for what doesn't work, what needs to be changed, etc. Then more often than not, they'll write a second draft. Then another read, another edit. A third draft. A fourth draft. Repeat until it tastes right -- or in recipe terms: "salt and pepper to taste."

So when I write, I mostly do it on my own. Sure, I have folks that I bounce ideas off of, and some first readers who offer their opinions, etc. But for the most part, the writing is a solitary thing.

But I have had the pleasure of collaborating on writing projects with various folks over the years -- and it is a wonderful experience.

One of the first serious collaborations I did was with my friend John Strickland. We actually would spend an entire afternoon working on a story together in round robin style. One of us would sit in his office, write a few paragraphs and then tag the other person who was usually in the other room, reading, listening to music. When we got to a certain point, we'd discuss the story, the characters and then finish the story off. After that, we'd take turns doing a full edit and rewrite until we ended up with a story we were pleased with.

The other person I have regularly collaborated with over the years is my friend Carol Weekes. All of our collaboration efforts have been online. We met through local Ottawa area writer circles online in the mid 90's and most of our collaborations have been via email exchanges. One of us would start a story then pass it back to the other person who would add something -- then the back and forth would continue until the story was done, and the edits and rewrites were done the same way.

I dedicated my short story collection One Hand Screaming (which includes a couple of our collaborated tales) to John and Carol because I felt that they had helped teach me more about the craft and discipline of writing, and working with them elevated my own skill and ability because I had to force myself to keep up to the high bar that they both set in their writing.

I have had various other collaborations over the years, but one of the most fun was when I joined with a group of friends and theatre folks in Ottawa to come up with a show for the Manotick Fringe Festival back in the early 90's (which seems to have been replaced with the Ottawa fringe). We signed up to be in the Fringe Festival, but didn't know what we were going to do. We thought about doing a spoof of various fairy tales and just started doing some ad lib workshops around various scenes. Out of one of the first sessions came my character Walter Wolf -- a timid pushover of a wolf. Then came his quest: to seek courage and strength. The play we workshopped into existence became Very Hairy Fairy Tales and we had a blast with it, bringing it to the Fringe Festival that summer, but also doing a small tour of area public schools where we performed it. Lots of great fun.

The most recent collaboration I did was writing a short story with Carol Weekes and Michael Kelly for our appearance at BakkaPhoenix Books in Toronto last weekend. As usual, the collaboration was a unique experience. I started this story about the manager of an independent Toronto bookstore (not unlike Bakka) who discovers this strange little aged book on the shelves. Then I passed the story along to Carol, who added to it; then it went to Mike, who finished it off. One simple round and it was done. Very cool. We each took a turn at editing and re-writing the tale and voila "Relic: How to Get Ahead in Retail" was born.

The story (signed by Carol, Michael and myself) is now available at BakkaPhoenix in chapbook form for a mere $1.50. We did a limited print run of 100 copies and had a good time doing it. Over beers after the book signing last Saturday we talked about how fun it might be to work on more stories as a trio and perhaps collaborate on a larger work. I'm certainly looking forward to it.

I often also see blogging as a collaborated effort. First, someone determines what they're going to blog about. Then they post it. Then people come and read it. And some of the people who read it make a comment on the blog, most often adding something to it, enriching the original post, and carrying forward a discussion of ideas and feedback. I'm fortunate to have had that experience as well, both as a blogger and as someone who tries to make the rounds and check out what other bloggers are up to. Through blogging I have met countless creative individuals and occasionally worked on various collaborative efforts with them (tip of the hat right now to Bsoholic, Susie and RainyPete whom I have done some fun cross-posting with) -- all of which have been fun and interesting. And because I know so many creative folks through blogging I'm sure there will be more fun collaborations over the years.

So this week, I'm counting the many and various forms of creative collaboration that have and continue to enrich my life.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

HNT - TiT - Mark Attacks

Terror in Toyland (TiT) - An HNT Adventure
by Mark Leslie

Continued from this post

As Mark was beginning to lose consciousness from the Play-Doh Fun Factory being pressed down on him, his mind flashed back to his dear friend Susie. He thought back to how she had miraculously appeared on his blog to save him as he tried to escape from Darth Tater and his friends and then how they got split up after the train accident.

I have to find out what happened to Susie, Mark thought. I have to make sure that she's all right.

Thinking about his friend gave him the strength to fight back. Mark freed himself from the Play-Doh Fun Factory and launched a quick and vicious attack on the two Play Doh men.

"Haaaaaiiiiiyaaaaa!" Mark screamed in his best fake kung-fu voice.

"Hiya!" Yellow Play Doh man said.

"He's not greeting you, you dolt," Greenish-Brown Play-Doh Man bellowed. "He's attacking. Look out!"

Just as he was saying this, Mark launched a kick the stunned the Yellow Play-Doh man.

Greenish-Brown Play-Doh Man took the opportunity to run away at this point. "You hold him off," he said. "I'll go let Darth Tater and his crew know that Mark got away."

Mark kicked Yellow Play-Doh Man in the face, sinking his foot deep into the gooey texture of his body. When he pulled his foot out, the Play-Doh Man's head was loosened perfectly.

All it took after that was a quick right hook and Mark was able to knock the Play-Doh Man's head right off and he fell to the ground.

"That takes care of you," Mark said. "Now for your friend."

But when Mark turned to see where the Greenish-Brown Play Doh man went to, all he saw was that the Greenish-Brown Play Doh man had already met his demise in the Play Doh Fun Factory. There was nothing left of him but a pile of spaghetti-like Play-Doh.

Confused, Mark looked all over the place. There was nobody around.

He wasn't sure if this was a friend or a foe who had done this.

A strange creaking noise from off to the left startled him, and he turned to see what it was.

To Be Continued . . .

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Simply Audiobooks

I have been enjoying listening to podcasts as well as the free books available from for a couple of years now.

That's why I was quite intrigued to find Simply Audiobooks online. It works kind of the same way that Netflix does. You sign up for a very low monthly subscription and you can rental audio books that are shipped directly to your home.

Because Simply Audiobooks does not appear to be affiliated with one particular manufacturer they have a full and broad selection of audio books. I spent some time looking for books that I have always wanted to read but just didn't have the time for. Isn't that always the case with book lovers? You see at least half a dozen new books that you want to read every couple of days and yet you think about that giant pile of "books to read" that are sitting at home just waiting for you. With my mp3 player, I have at least been able to listen to some of the books I haven't had a chance to read yet while walking or driving to work.

Listening to the books has allowed me, on average, to expand my reading of novels and non-fiction books dramatically. Granted, when I had a daily 3.5 hour commute into work, I listened to quite a bit more of podcasts and books on CD -- but even in the short 10 minute drive to work and 10 minute walk from parking to my office, I'm able to get in a decent half an hour to 40 minutes worth of "audio reading" per day. Not bad at all.

While I'm not likely to use the "ship to me" feature on Simply Audiobooks, I am quite likely to check out their monthly download subscription service. For as low as $20 a month, you can download two audio books per month. That's quite a bit steeper, of course, than the free (which is 100% free), but there is a much larger selection and it certainly is cheaper than buying the same products from a retail store.

I have also found that, over the past 10 years or so, the general quality of abridgment done to create an audio book has dramatically improved. (Books converted to audio format are often abridged - it's usually to keep the cost of the audio book down by shortening the running time - unabridged audio books tend to be as much as 10 CD's or more and can cost a lot more than the hardcover version of the book -- not a concern, of course, with a subscription service like Simply Audiobooks.) Good abridgment is done seamlessly -- so seamlessly that even if you've read the full length novel, you might have trouble figuring out what exactly was cut and from where. Good abridgment is like an excellent editing job.

I discovered Simply Audiobooks via my participation in frogpond, a BzzAgent community of folks who are invited to check out different websites and internet offerings, offer their opinion of them, and if they like what they see or the services they test out, they can invite their friends to check it out.

Frogpond Badge

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Duck Duck Goose

The other evening after work, my neighbour Chad took the kids to a park on the lake in Burlington to feed the ducks. Alexander and I followed them down to join in on the fun.

It was fun watching the kids toss corn from the two buckets Chad had brought. And though the original intent was to feed the ducks, the swans and the geese ended up moseying their way in and getting most of the grub.

Watching the swans muscle the other fowl out of the way gave me a new impression of these stereotypically graceful birds. They can be downright frightening when they launch an attack -- and yet we had them eating the corn out of our hands and they didn't hurt us at all. Interesting.

Being the King of Injuries, Alexander still managed to find, even on this stretch of beach the only tiny spot (about 2 square feet) a spot where there were sharp rocks, and fall there while running to throw corn out to the ducks that were in the water.

"That's my boy!" said Papa Bunny (to quote from The Dumb Bunnies books by Dav Pilkey)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Group Book Signing

The group book signing that I did on Saturday with Sandra Kasturi, Michael Kelly, Brett Alexander Savory and Carol Weekes went over quite well despite the nasty rain that afternoon.

We were introduced by Chris Szego, bookstore manager extraordinaire, then we each spent a few minutes introducing our books and doing a brief reading from them.

Everyone who attended also had the chance of drawing from a hollowed out skull cup to see if they would win one of the eight free books we were giving away. We, of course, also had other fun prizes much to the amusement of those who didn't win the "grand" prizes.

Michael and I went into an over the top running joke pitch of the collaborated short story that we wrote with Carol called Relic. We kept flogging the fact that the chapbook was a horror story about an evil ancient book found on the shelves of the very store we were in and that it was written specifically for this event; we also continually pointed out that the chapbook was limited to 100 signed copies and that they could be purchased for a mere $1.50.

(And yes, before you despair that you missed a chance to get a copy of Relic: How to Get Ahead in Retail, there are still copies available at BakkaPhoenix. Call and reserve yours today -- see, I haven't stopped with the flogging)

As always, the staff of BakkaPhoenix was wonderful, the folks who showed up to support us and check out our offerings were fun and delightful to chat with, and we had a good time. It was also great to see my writing buddy Carol Weekes, whom I hadn't seen in about six years, and to finally meet her husband Rick.

I think the toughest part about the day was that I promised Francine I wouldn't buy any books. It was a difficult promise to keep, because BakkaPhoenix has an incredible selection of titles. I think within the first 10 minutes of arriving I'd already spotted at least half a dozen titles that I wanted to get. And their speculative fiction magazine selection is incredible. But I stayed true to my promise and didn't buy anything. (Francine is still amazed - I've never been able to not buy something at a book signing or visit to Bakka before. See, I am learning self-control.)

Carol, Weekes, Sandra Kasturi, Brett Alexander Savory, Mark Leslie, Michael Kelly

Thursday, August 23, 2007

HNT - Make Mine Mac

It's funny. I have posed as a model several times over the years, and most of the time it was for where Francine worked. When Francine worked at La Senza in the early 90's I modeled a new seasonal line for a regional staff meeting. During the meeting there was a mini show of the different new products coming out and myself and a bunch of ladies did our mini fashion show as part of the meeting. (And before anyone makes any wise cracks, I wasn't modeling bra and panties -- La Senza does have a small men's line -- I was modeling their pajama's and robes)

Several years later, Francine's team at The Brant County Health Unit was putting together some posters promoting stretching in the workplace (one poster was for the importance of stretching in the active workplace, and the other for stretching in the inactive workplace). This was a long and painful photo shoot. I remember doing a calf stretch and then having to hold it for more than fifteen minutes while the ladies made minor adjustments to every single wrinkle and fold in my clothing.

I have to admit it was strange having a woman I'd just met fondle me in front of my wife. One of the funny things about the poster was that my neighbour Chad and Rob (one of his buddies from work) came home from work one day laughing their asses off when the poster appeared in the staff room of their workplace. They still rib me about it. But man, I'm quite delighted with the poster, as the photographer did take the time to work Photoshop magic over my bald spot. Now if only he could have done something about these cheekbones . . .

My latest modeling gig was finally related to my own workplace. And Alexander got to get in on the action too. We just brought in a whole new line of clothing and used our staff to create a new catalog . I modeled some of the new Alumni line of clothing (with actual McMaster Alumni - Donna, who I work with, and Josee who worked at Titles but just graduated and moved to Ottawa, my old stomping grounds)

So without further ado, here's a look at the latest modeling gig. Of course my favourite shot is Alexander's "attitude" shot at the very end.

You can be a model too - every Thursday.
Just get "half-nekkid"
Click the image below for more info

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Summer Chills at Bakka-Phoenix

I'm quite delighted to be part of a group of Canadian horror authors who will be appearing at Bakka-Phoenix this coming Saturday at 3 PM for a "summer chills" event.

I will be appearing with Sandra Kasturi, Michael Kelly, Brett Alexander Savory & Carol Weekes.

We'll each be signing some of our latest releases. Bakka-Phoenix is going to have copies of One Hand Screaming (my short story collection) as well as the sci-fi anthology I edited North of Infinity II.

While I'm excited that I'll be hanging out in such fine company as these are writers whose work I admire, I am particularly delighted that it will be at this venue where Carol and Michael and I launch our latest short story: Relic: How to Get Ahead in Retail. The chapbook, which will be limited to a 100 numbered copy print run was written specifically for this event. The story, which takes place at BK Books, a bookstore suspiciously similar to Bakka-Phoenix, Canada's oldest science fiction book shop, explores what happens when a mysterious ancient book is discovered lurking on the bookstore shelves.

Here's a teaser opening for the story:

The odd book seized Barry Petrovic's attention immediately. Morning sun glinting off a passing bus spot-lit the book in the front display window of the store and he paused. He didn't hear the squeal of the bus brakes nor smell diesel exhaust because seeing the book gave him an all-consuming sense of deja vu. It held him spell-bound. Despite the feeling, Barry was certain he'd never seen the book before. It was thin, at least a quarter the thickness of the other paperbacks beside it, and the spine was a mangy yellow, suggesting two or three decades of shelf life, or more.
No, he felt certain that he'd never seen the book before, at least not in the two months he'd managed BK Books, the country's oldest science fiction bookstore. He would have certainly remembered seeing such an old relic among the stacks of newer titles.

For anyone who has read my short story Browsers, you'll know I have a soft side for horror stories that involve books or take place in bookstores. I was delighted when a slightly modified version of Browsers was selected to appear in the forthcoming anthology BOUND FOR EVIL: Curious Tales of Books Gone Bad by Dead Letter Press and was equally joyed when Carol, Michael and I crafted this tale that we set at a fictional Bakka-Phoenix.

The event is going to be fun, and there will be snacks and cookies served at it, not to mention free goodies as well as a chance to win some free books. Yes, that's right, cookies and free books. All you have to do is show up. Gotta love that.

Saturday, August 25, 2007
3:00pm - 5:00pm
BakkaPhoenix Books
697 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON

Monday, August 20, 2007

Is Too Easily Amused By Little Things

If there were report cards that could be sent home with me based on my every day experiences (not just my work day, but my life in general), there would probably be a comment somewhere on the report card that read:

Mark is too easily distracted and amused by little things

It reminds me, quite a bit about the types of comments that used to appear on my report cards in public school. Mark is a good student, but is too easily distracted by fellow classmates. Or: Mark is a bright student but often spends too much time trying to amuse his friends rather than pay attention to the focus of the class.

I suppose that's why, when I saw this video clip of Homer Simpson I thought: Poor Francine. she has to put up not only with the fact that this is the type of goofy thing I regularly do, but I'm also easily amused by it, and will spend hours of my time laughing and giggling when referring to it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

HNT - TiT - Play-Doh No Fun Factory

Terror in Toyland (TiT) - An HNT Adventure
by Mark Leslie

Continued from this post

Mark was still unconscious while the Play-Doh men dragged him over to the Play-Doh Fun Factory.

"He's going to be churned through the Fun Factory machine, and we'll see how HE likes being squished and squeezed and then left out to dry and then be thrown in the garbage." Greenish-brown Play-Doh man said.

"Yeah, and that'll teach him to change underwear between episodes and think that the readers didn't catch the continuity issues with the pictures." Yellow Play-Doh man said.

"What the hell does that have to do with anything?" Greenish-brown Play-Doh man asked.

"I was just sayin'."

"Well stop sayin' and being all self-referential. We've got a job to do here."

"Alright," Yellow Play-Doh man said, and then mumbled under his breath. "But his underwear did change sometime between The Great Train Escape and Desperately Seeking Susie."

"Are you still going on about his underwear?" Greenish-Brown man bellowed. "Give it up, man. Let it go already."

And, the argument over, the hauled Mark into the Play-Doh Fun Factory and started squishing him down.

Mark woke with a start as the Greenish-Brown man started to squish him in the machine.

Will Mark be able to escape?
And if he does will his underwear be different again?

Is anyone interested in being a continuity editor for this series?

Will the Neilsen ratings support bringing this series back for another season?
All of these questions (okay, maybe one of them) will be answered in the next episode.

To be continued . . .

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Will Alex Play Neil To My Scott Young?

On the weekend when we were up in Levack, Alexander and I were riding his bike down to the Levack Mini Mart. Okay, Alexander was riding his bike -- I was walking beside him. I did try to catch a ride by standing on the back of his tricycle, but I'm just too heavy.

Anyways, as we were walking past my buddy Pete Mihajic's house, we could hear that he was playing drums. He was playing along to the latest Rush album (Snakes & Arrows) -- and doing a damn fine job, I must say. (Anyone familiar with Neil Peart, the professor's drum style would know how difficult it is for any drummer to attempt to keep up with his eclectic drumming style)

In any case, Alexander was intrigued (banging and clashing is always interesting to a 3 year old), so we went inside and watched Pete play. My son was delighted to watch -- and then, even more delighted to pick up the soft sticks and start playing. He managed to try out most of the drums and symbols he could reach and delighted in the sounds each of them made. And he only fell off the stool once. (He has unfortunately inherited his mother's sense of balance along with father's joy of banging on things)

As I was watching the joy he took and the skill he displayed in playing the percussion (and also thinking about how he likes strumming my guitar or pressing the keys of his grandmother's piano), I wondered if he might be musically inclined. I started thinking about Scott Young and his son Neil. Scott was a beloved Canadian journalist/writer/storyteller whose son Neil Young became a well known musician.

I, of course, fantasized about becoming a writer of Scott Young's caliber and also wondered what might happen if Alexander pursued the musicians life. After writing an autobiography called A Writer's Life would I later write one called Alex and Me? I mean, after all, some of the best reader response to my blog posts over the past few years have been my tales of Alexander and the fun challenges of fatherhood. Maybe one day I could turn them into a book.

Who knows -- the fantasy was fun. And in the meantime, Alexander and I are just going to keep on rocking in the free world and see what comes of our pursuit of happiness.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bachelor Daze: Just Take Those Old Cliches Off The Shelf

It happens every time.

Whenever I'm going to be at home alone for any stretch of time (this week Francine and Alexander are hanging out up north at my Mom's), I have all these dreams and fantasies about being a bachelor, about living the life I used to (or often dreamed of living) back when I was a single man.

First I imagine the simple things such as sitting in the living room in my underwear and eating a block of cheese the size of a car battery (a la George Costanza in Seinfeld).

Then, thinking how crude that would be, I imagine lounging around in a red silk bathrobe, puffing on a pipe and sipping scotch in a moment of relaxation before the flock of Playboy bunnies come into the room and start an exotic pillow fight (a la Hugh Hefner).

I usually enjoy that thought for several minutes before moving along to the idea of just drinking beer and renting really bad movies that Francine won't ever want to watch, or of calling up some friends and seeing if they want to go hang out in Hess Village and see who can out-drink who.

I have visions of staying up all night just farting around on the internet, of leaving the toilet seat up, of whizzing with the door open (a la Homer Simpson) or of putting on an old Bob Seger album and dancing around in my underwear (a la Tom Cruise in Risky Business) or maybe just putting on "Who Wears Short Shorts" and singing along to that (a la Homer Simpson again)

Dozens of fantasies swirl in my head in the days leading up to my bachelor week. But when it comes right down to it, I end up feeling lonely and longing just to see or talk to Francine and Alexander. Oh, and for the record, here's what I've ended up doing and planning for this week:

1) Buying groceries
2) Mowing the lawn
3) Watering the flowers every night
4) Putting a new rail on the back deck
5) Vacuuming and dusting the house
6) Making actual meals (with meat and vegetables) and sitting down at a table and eating them (rather than in front of the television)
7) Actually washing the dishes right after I finish eating rather than leaving them until the end of the week
8) Working on cleaning up the library/den where I write
9) Actually getting some writing done
10) Calling Francine and Alexander multiple times a day

And then I realize that, while life was pretty decent and certainly lots of fun when I was single and free to do whatever I want, whenever I wanted, what really comforts me, what really gives me my strength as a person are the two most significant relationships in my life -- my role as a husband and a father.

So I spend my time keeping myself busy with the chores that need to get done, missing Francine and Alexander and looking forward to seeing them again.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Da Count - Digging for Hunted Treasure

The other day, after our trip to the beach where we bought him some fun sand and mud play gear (mostly shovels and pails) Alexander wanted to take some of them into the bathtub with him. Why not? I thought, and we headed upstairs with them.

As usual, he wanted me to be part of the action and he said. "C'mon Dad. Us digging for hunted treasure."

At first I thought it was cute how he mixed up the terms "digging for buried treasure" and "hunting for treasure" -- but after a few moments of playing the game with him, shoveling bath water into a small red pail and then stirring it ("Got to mix it up, Dad") and pretending to drink it as if it were some magic elixir, I realized the truth.

My son was teaching me how to dig for hunted treasure.

I interpreted it like this: "hunted treasure" is that magic something, that thirst for life, that pleasure of living in the moment. It is a special and wonderful thing that most of us adults lose so often in our days. Yes, it's often hunted for by everyone but rarely grasped -- maybe because we try too hard. And "digging" for that hunted treasure meant simply taking life, taking the moment in a giant embrace and just focusing on the simple and wonderful joy of the moment.

Of course, Alexander has been teaching me how to dig for hunted treasure his entire life. I remember this photo of him at a beach day just days before his first birthday where he was looking into a plastic pail and grinning as if he'd discovered the secrets of the universe in the bottom of it.

I think he had, and it took two years for me to realize and properly understand his message.

So this week I'm counting "digging for hunted treasure" and how I've spent most of this week learning, again, how to do that with my son and my wife. Sure, we've spent a lot of time laughing and playing in the pool, at the beach and at playgrounds. But even when we've been working around the house, I've paid special attention to how Alexander finds something fun and exciting in the work before us -- finds a reason to laugh and smile and play. Of course, it's a simple thing, really. He's just digging into the moment; and of course, teaching me again. It's funny, I'd always thought I'd be the one teaching my son about life and not the other way around.

And here's hoping that people reading this are pausing in their hectic and busy lives to dig for their own hunted treasure.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

HNT - Vacation 2 2007

I'm off work again this week. I took a week off in July and a week off in August. I like splitting my time off in the summer into two separate weeks. Typically, for a vacation, we don't go on any big trips -- we just enjoy family time together and do a day trip or two during the week.

This week has been all about doing some work around the house. Mostly yard work and re-working our den -- we replaced our computer desk for a beautiful new one and had to shuffle around the bookshelves in order to fit the giant new desk in. It was a lot of work, taking all the books off a set of eight book shelves in the den so they could be relocated. But it was worth all the hard work because we were also able to fit in a comfy reading chair in the corner which is perfect for this mini library in our basement. (That and every time I re-alphabetize or re-organize the books, I rediscover some wonderful book I bought years ago but that I still haven't had a chance to get around to reading . . .)

We also managed a return trip to Port Dover, a visit to African Lion Safari as well as a few days of fun in our pool.

Here's hoping that everyone else's summer has been just as fun. Happy Half-Nekkid Thursday to you.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Da Count - Fun At Work

Over the past few weeks at work we have been doing "staff retreat" days -- these are days when we attempt to get our staff out of the office/store and out doing fun team-building exercises. One of the things we did was watch an inspirational video about the employees at Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. The basic concept (so easy to forget as the days get hectic) is to have fun every single day at work. When the staff started to follow the basic principles of having fun, doing their best to make their customer's day, actually "being there" and choosing to have a positive attitude, they went from a drab fish market to world famous. (You can actually watch a live web cam feed of this unique workplace as well as short video clips on their website -- if you hate your job and don't like where you work, check it out - it's inspirational)

I was, of course, inspired by the video. I got to watch it four times, and each time I watched it, I gleaned something new from it. Also, each time I watched it, it was with a different set of people, so I also got to learn a lot from them as well as get to know many of the staff members that I don't regularly get a chance to interact with much better.

But also, watching the video and chatting with staff members, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have chosen the field that I did. Yeah, sure, I've spent the past 15 years working in retail -- but I'm actually working in retail heaven. Ever since I was rather young, I knew that I wanted to write. (Okay, before that I really wanted to be a Stunt Man but my fear of heights made jumping off tall buildings a little more difficult). So in 1992 when I got a part-time job at Coles The Book People in Ottawa, the magic started happening. I connected my love of books with where I was earning a living.

I mean, wow, I get to hang out surrounded by books, and interacting (mostly) with people who love books. Let's look at the down side: yes, for most of these past 15 years, I was barely earning a living and often had to work two or more jobs just to keep my head above water. Working in retail doesn't pay so nicely (when I was an assistant manager in Ottawa not more than 10 years ago, I was making 16,000 per year working 50+ hour work weeks); you have to work weekends and evenings and working in a service role for customers can sometimes be painful.

But on the flip side I have the two greatest things I could ask for in my day to day life: books and people. I love them.

Yes, I'm now earning a decent living and able to pay the mortgage and keep food on our table. But it has never been about the money. To me, the rewards are internal -- a fun, challenging job that I can maintain an interest in. From 1999 to 2006 I did work at Chapters/Indigo's head office in a mostly IT role -- so I wasn't as close to books and the cool people I worked with weren't customers, but publishers and my team mates and other fun head office folks. I did develop a passion for data (maybe because the data was mostly books, music and video data) and I loved the job. But when the opportunity to work in Hamilton at the McMaster University Bookstore (Titles) came up last summer, it was like a dream come true. I get to do a job that I love (sell books), I get to be involved in some IT/data projects, I get to interact with vendors and publishers and I get to serve customers. (Oh, and I earn a salary that is NOT below the poverty line)

There is something extremely rewarding about helping a customer who comes into our store looking for something, chatting with them, determining what they need, and helping them out. My greatest satisfaction is helping recommend a book to a customer or hearing a customer rave about some book I'd never heard of, but there is a really phenomenal thing that happens in September when first year students are here looking for their textbook and classroom supplies -- they need a lot of help and guidance, and the sheer volume of them is staggering (imagine Tickle-Me-Elmo or Cabbage Patch Doll or even Harry Potter types of line-ups and crowds), but every single interaction with these students -- looking at their class registration, helping them find their textbooks, advising them on what to buy now, what not to buy and what to wait on or pointing out the cheaper used textbooks we offer, and sending them on their way -- is fulfilling and rewarding. And it makes me feel young. A fourteen hour day working the floor during "Rush" (that's what we call the first 3 weeks of September) is definitely a rush and is so enjoyable that it feels like merely a few hours. Except of course for the fact that at the end of the day I'm exhausted.

So this week I'm counting the fact that I am privileged to work in such a rewarding and fulfilling job.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

HNT - TiT - Attack of the Play D'oh!!!

Terror in Toyland (TiT) - An HNT Adventure
by Mark Leslie

Continued from this post

The greenish-brown Play-Doh man took a quick jab at Mark. He tried to duck away from the attack, but moved too slowly. The Play-Doh dude grabbed him and twisted him around until he stumbled to his knees.

"Y-you don't have to do this!" Mark exclaimed.

"No," the yellow blob Play-Doh man said. "We don't have to do this. But we want to. It's fun."

"Besides," the greenish-brown Play Doh man said, "We're tired of being poked and prodded and shaped and molded . We've always wanted to try doing that to one of you humans.

"Yes," yellow Play-Doh man said. "Pay-back is sweet."

"D'oh!" Mark bellowed as he was forced and held down to the ground.

"Referencing Homer Simpson won't help you now, you fool!" The greenish-brown Play-Doh man said.

To be continued . . .

Why is Mark in his underwear and being attacked by Play Doh monsters? Click the image below to visit Osbasso and learn more about the underwear
(Os won't have an answer for the attacking toys, though)