Not just for kicks – blog post #6

This post is dedicated to Bill Cummins:

We leave for Ireland in just over a week (Friday evening, Oct. 28, to be precise), and that means we’re just hitting the rough patch.

The mental game.

You see, training relentlessly (which we’ve been doing since the spring) has a certain simplicity to it. An elegant simplicity, even. You train, train, train some more, and when you feel like a break you train harder, and then for a change you train some more.

That’s not to say it’s easy. But it is simple.

Now we’re so close to the actual competition that we can’t train this relentlessly anymore. Now’s the time to let the body rest up a bit, catch up on sleep, and fill up on good healthy food. We still have to train some, of course – but not as hard, and not as much.

Instead we have to get inside our heads and work on the mental aspect of the game. And that is hard. Half my brain screams that I’ll never be ready to compete, that it’s hopeless. But the other half, the one that knows how hard we’ve been working, how much progress we’ve made, and how much it doesn’t matter how ready I feel anyway, that one is trying to fight back. There’s no doubt it needs to win. There’s no doubt I won’t allow it to lose. But the battle is maddeningly difficult nonetheless.

I remind myself that doing live television used to scare me, too, until it stopped being terrifying. And that competing in karate can’t be as much of a challenge as having to come up with something informative, relevant, and interesting to say to tens of thousands of people who turn to you (LIVE) for their information on the sudden resignation of a pope at 6 in the morning with – I swear I am not making this up – less than 5 minutes to prepare. And not just pulling it off but pulling it off and making it look easy. That’s what training and experience will do to you. They’ll make you very good at what you do.

So, really, I just need to relax a little bit and trust my training and experience.

Oh, and speaking of which, we’re headed out to Mississauga tomorrow to compete in this tournament – the last one before Worlds. If you’re in the area and want to come cheer us on, please do!


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Old-fashioned play

The kids decided to make a movie today. They asked if they could borrow my camera. I said sure, but not before you think up a script of some sort, I don’t want you just filming things randomly without any kind of story.

OK, they said, and went away to think and rehearse. Eventually they announced they were ready, so I gave them the camera. Here’s what they did. It was a beautiful day at the lake and they took full advantage of it.


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Normal by death (a novel) – epilogue

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

The wedding was a lovely if quiet affair. They only had their close friends and their kids present, barely 25 people. They had a delicious dinner at Nathalie’s favourite Mexican restaurant, which had gone to the trouble of preparing a tower of chicken fingers and fries for the kids. They’d rented the whole restaurant for the evening, had pushed the unused chairs against the walls and hired a band to play the best dance music from the 1980s. It was kind of weird to mix Depeche Mode with tacos, but whatever, right? The bride was radiant, and that’s all that mattered.

“You make me very happy, Mrs,” Marc whispered in her ear. It gave her goosebumps, to hear herself called that.

“Ditto, my husband,” she whispered back.


Jeff adjusted well to his sentence in prison. The quiet life and predictable routine suited him. He had never written so much in his life. Nathalie had helped him get equipped with one of those laptop/tablet gizmos, and he got to use the internet and check his Facebook page on a regular basis.

He did not see Nathalie all that often. She normally came to visit once every other week, but she never brought the kids with her. Jeff understood. Maybe when they’re bigger they’ll get to know more about their extended family, and maybe at that point they won’t see their uncle as a monster.

The person he saw the most was Martina Labrecque. They had become friends in the months following his verdict, and they were now working on a book project together. He joked that it was great because she would have to do all the publicity interviews and be the one on TV all the time, leaving him to write quietly on his own, as he preferred. A good way to use all that PR experience, now that she’d left her job with the government before they could fire her.

They’d started a foundation, called “Love is a Four-Letter Word,” that aimed to help parents avoid the traps and pitfalls that Jeff’s and Martina’s parents had not. Martina was the public face, director, main speaker, and receptionist – she did pretty much everything, including about half the writing.

She and Jeff chatted by phone most days. Lately he’d teased her a lot about her love interest, an accountant named Marcel, who fell in love with her after watching her on a television panel one weekend.

“You’ll see,” Jeff kept saying, “he’s just getting ready to pop the question, so you’d better be prepared.”

Martina was ready for a lot of changes in her life, but marriage was a terrifying prospect. “I know you mean well, Jeff, but I wish you’d leave my love life out of it, OK?”

“You’re just scared…”

“Yeah, so?”

“So you shouldn’t be. You finally have a shot at leading a normal life, you have the heart of a good man to call your own, why would you deny yourself the simple pleasures of a happy domestic life just because you’re scared of screwing it up?”

“Because I’m scared of screwing it up?”

“Either that or you have a bigger problem with cats than I realized…”

“Ha, ha.”

“Seriously, Martina, you have to get ready for it. Don’t lose that man just because of your fears, OK? After all, you’re the only one who can live a normal happy life. I sure can’t. So you have to do it for both of us.”

“Yeah, I’ll think about that.”


Claire’s health had worsened significantly in the months following the end of Jeff’s trial. The job she had found at the local Tim Horton’s was getting too hard for her physically, and the manager was getting nervous her HIV-positive status was going to become widely known. She was in a tough situation; she wasn’t allowed to fire Claire because of that (there are laws against discrimination on the basis of HIV status), but at the same time in a small town like this things were different…

It got solved for her when Claire handed in her resignation letter one sunny Saturday. “I’m sorry to leave you,” she said, “but I am too weak to come to work much longer.”

“I’m so sorry this is happening to you, Claire,” the manager said in a manner that showed how genuine her feelings were. “You’re a good girl. You don’t deserve that.”

“Thanks. Maybe I look better than I really am…”

Claire died three months later, her mother weeping quietly by her side. And now we, too, are together, happily ever after.



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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter sixty-eight

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

The courtroom was packed to the rafters, and so was the overflow room. Journalists were ready to tweet the verdict. The accused was wearing his best suit, and he’d just given himself a fresh shave.

He was ready. For anything.

“Have you reached a verdict?”

“We have.”

“Tell us.”

“We find the accused, Jean-François Toussignant, guilty on both counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his parents.”

Silence in the room. Jeff’s jaw tightened visibly, but otherwise he did not move. He took a deep breath and prepared to hear his sentence, which he already knew. He would spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

He was OK with that. Because for the first time in his life, he felt free.



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Hanging with Ted, the ed-vid version

If you’re like me you can easily get lost watching one Ted video after another. They can be very captivating. But now there’s even better.

I say “now” but in fact it’s been around since 2012. I’d never heard of it before but yesterday I saw a story about a video they had showing what life would have been like for an average teen in ancient Rome. And I thought, whoa, Ted does kid-friendly educational videos too? Cooooooool.

It’s called Ted-Ed, and yes I’ve bookmarked it. This morning I picked a few videos more or less at random and watched them with the kids and they enjoyed that. Which is fine. But better than that is the fact that the two eldest kids were still, 12 hours later, discussing something they’d learned about the night-vision abilities of toads to make jokes at my expense (toads apparently have evolved in a way that rewards slowness and the girls thought I could be walking faster in the direction of our car after a long night at the dojo).

I guess we’ll be watching more of those…


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter sixty-seven

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

“Sylvie, I’m sorry to bug you again…”

“You are forbidden to say that! I’ll be right over to pick up the kids.”

“Thanks so much. They’ve reached a verdict.”

“Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I think so. It’s going to be over soon, one way or the other, right?”

“God, I hope so.”

“Something else I wanted to ask you…”


“Another favour…”

“OK, what is it?”

“When this is all over and we are back to normal, would you like to come shopping with me?”

“Sure! You know me, I love shopping. What are we buying?”

“A wedding dress.”

“GET OUT! For you?!?”

Nathalie burst out laughing. “Well, who else?”

“Yeah, stupid question. Oh, honey, that is great! Congratulations! I’m very happy for you. And of course yes, I’ll help you pick your dress!”

“You’re an angel. We have to go…”

“I’m on my way!”

[next chapter]


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Life of a documentary

Viewers don’t think about this very much when they watch a movie, but the moviemakers do. First you get an idea for a film, then you’re all giddy and excited and talk endlessly about whether it’s a good idea or not. You decide it is, launch a funding campaign for it, get money, and spend a few weeks walking on clouds reflecting on how lucky you are to do work you enjoy for a group of backers who seems pleased by it. Then you get excited about planning the thing – where you’re filming, how, with whom, when, in what car, interviewing anyone? Then you film, which is a great deal of fun even though it’s exhausting as all get out (we do not spend our backers’ money on luxury hotels or relaxed travel schedules; we stretch every dollar as far as it will reasonably go). Then there’s the dreaded “post-production” phase, where you edit the mass of footage into a coherent narrative, add b-roll, pictures, illustrations, maps, graphics, music, special effects, etc., etc., etc. Then you go around the movie seventy million times looking for typos and imperfections, then you watch it again maybe another 1600 times just because you’re not sure you saw everything properly and then for no reason at all you start hating it. Because it’s consuming your life. Because you have to neglect other important chores to get that #^%@ movie finished. Because you have to stay up nights to make sure the machine encodes it properly instead of waking up in the morning to a computer crash and no movie.

That’s when it’s important to take a wee breather. We did that. We finished our Constitution documentary late last week and put up a “beta” version online for our backers to take a look. (Hey, if we can crowdsource the funding, we can crowdsource the proofing too, right?) Our backers, who are the most awesome people on the planet, obliged and reported a few, fortunately small issues that we have done our best to fix. This was done by late Monday.

We re-encoded the movie and uploaded it again privately to YouTube (no, you can’t see it yet – soon, real soon). That was Monday night. I refused to look at it again until late Wednesday. I’m now 1/3 of the way through it on my last pass before hitting the “publish” button.

And guess what?

Now that I see it in final form like that, I like it. A lot. I hope you will, too.


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter sixty-six

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

“You did what you could, dear,” Ruth Lieberman poured her daughter more tea. “So stop brooding already. You can’t control what happens next.”

Rosie sighed. “I know, Mom. It’s not that. I mean, yeah, I worry about the job I did. I really did my best to present the best evidence I could, and I think what I have is pretty convincing. I don’t really think the jury will find holes in my case. It’s just…”


“I don’t know. The way this accused is taking it, it’s disturbing me a bit.”

“Disturbing you? How?”

“He’s so calm, so resigned, so… graceful. I could tell when I started asking him questions at the beginning of my investigation, that he really hated me. I think he could see where this was going, and he knew he had been caught. So it would make sense to be mad at me, right?”

“Well, yes and no. I actually believe that if he wants to be mad at someone he should be mad at himself for having his own parents murdered. What a creep!”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“What is it, you’re going soft for this man?”

Rosie bristled. She was a cop, she wasn’t supposed to go soft for anyone. But she had to admit her mother had the beginning of a point.

“Hmm. Going soft might be too strong, but I guess you could say I’ve come to see him in a different light since the trial began. Through everything he sat there quietly, answering questions politely, showing respect for the process, and as far as I can tell he seems at peace with his situation. That shows a great deal of emotional maturity, I think.”

“Pfft, I’ll bet you he falls apart when he finds out the jury sent him to jail for the rest of his life.”

“You think?”

“We’ll find out soon, I think.”

Rosie wanted her mother to be wrong. She wouldn’t tell her to her face, but she did.


Ruth Lieberman was right about one thing. They did find out soon. After six hours of deliberations the jury announced it had reached a verdict.

“What do you think it means?” Jean-François Toussignant asked his lawyer.

“I don’t know,” Paul Smith lied.

[next chapter]


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