A Tire Swing Story is a bite-sized "imagining" inspired by an object I discover while wandering. It could be a curbside trash gem or a message sprayed on a wall. A lost mitten, or an antique store find. Anything goes. I photograph the object and post them together, the story and its inspiration. There will be a new story every Monday and Wednesday. On Fridays, I'll discuss writing, life, love, and coffee. (In no particular order and maybe all at once.)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Casual Fridays: The Sound of Silence

Hi guys, it's Britt. I am writing this post from the Picton Harbor Inn. I am lying on a bed that is covered by a paisley-with-splashes-of-pink comforter. Beside me is a bag of Smartfood popcorn and a glass of red wine poured from a 375 ml travel size bottle.

I have just learned that tomorrow morning there will be a continental breakfast, which is a relief, since the only food I brought here is the popcorn.

Aside from the sound of my typing on this keyboard, the night is so quiet. This calm little spot on the bay is where I am going to be staying for the next few days.

Why am I here? Oh, a series of reasons. The rough holiday my family and I had. The chaos of moving back to Toronto from Korea in the fall. Life's general ups and downs. But it's more than that. Sometimes you need a little break. A bit of silence. And in that silence, amazing things can grow.

I'm thinking about the year ahead. I've never been so big on New Year's resolutions, but I'd like to make some now, (in addition to the usual: "eat better," "do yoga," "read more books" standard ones.)

In 2011, I want to not only write more, but I want to finish the novel I started two years ago. I want to start a business, a publishing endeavor that I'm deeply passionate about. 

I want to think big. No. Bigger than big. Huge. 

So what about you? What do you want to do in 2011? Do you need a different job? A change of scenery? To finally sign up for those tightrope lessons? 

Whatever you dream about, let's do it together. Let's all be the authors of our life stories. 

Have an inspired weekend, everyone. See you back here on Monday. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Henry decided that Tuesday afternoon would be a good time to die. Wednesday was his day off and they weren't expecting him back at the factory until Thursday morning. And his mother was in Puerto Vallarta on her yearly trip with the ladies from her senior's group. 

On Tuesday, Henry woke early, made coffee, and began to clean his one-room apartment. He scrubbed the kitchen cupboards and mopped the floor. He emptied the refrigerator and then sat down to pay his bills. 

Shortly after noon, Henry changed into his best clothes: a blue suit his mother had bought him for his father's funeral, ten years before.

In the third drawer of his dresser, Henry retrieved his father's gun and placed it on the bed. His father had kept the gun loaded. Henry surveyed his apartment a last time, and realized he'd forgotten to close the blinds. Afraid that a neighbor might look in at an inopportune moment, he went to shut them. 

Outside, the February sky was clear and blue. Henry saw a woman and little girl leaving the video store below. The girl was holding a yellow plastic pinwheel. She began spinning circles on the sidewalk. Her blond hair flew out around her and the blades of the yellow pinwheel twirled. Henry's breath caught in his throat. She seemed to be made of sunlight.

Then the woman yanked on the girl's free hand to pull her along and the girl dropped the pinwheel into a puddle. She tried to retrieve it, but the woman hustled her into the car. The last Henry saw of the girl, was her blond hair and small face in the rear window as they drove away.

Without knowing why, Henry walked to his door and unlocked it. He went along the long hallway and down the stairs. Outside, he scooped the pinwheel out of the puddle.

Henry knew that then he wasn't ready to die--not until he'd returned the pinwheel to the little girl. He placed it in his window so when she came back, she would see it, and know it wasn't lost. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Shelby dreamed of flying. Day after day, she sat on the shelf in Mr. Whatsit's Tourist Emporium and peered through the front window of the store at the birds. She could see gulls wheeling through the sky, and hear the songs of the seaside sparrows. Down at the pier, pelicans fished, and pigeons vied for popcorn and crumbs dropped by tourists. But Shelby could no more join the birds outside, than fly to the moon. 

She became depressed and let herself go. Dust collected in the grooves of her shells. Her price tag yellowed and curled. 

New knick-knacks came and took a place on the shelf and were purchased immediately. Shelby remained at the back, forgotten. 

But then one day, a little boy and his family came into Mr. Whatsit's shop. When they got to Shelby, she closed her eyes and waited to be passed by. But Shelby didn't know that this particular boy had been looking for a bird just like her. And he wasn't the type of child to mind so much about the dust. Shelby was placed into a dark bag, and was jostled around for what seemed like a long time. She fell into a deep sleep and dreamed that she was dead. 

A loud sound scared her awake. It was a terrible shrieking, like the cry of an eagle, but much worse. In the darkness, Shelby trembled so hard, she thought she might shatter.

Then the boy's hand reached in and lifted Shelby out of the bag. She was nearly blinded by the sudden burst of light. When her eyes adjusted, she could hardly believe what she saw. Clouds. Thick, fluffy white clouds. And they were beneath her. How could that be?

The boy continued to hold Shelby up to the window. He spoke softly to her, and his words were sweeter in her ears than any bird song she'd ever heard.

"Look," the boy said, "we're flying."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Introducing....Casual Fridays

Hi guys, it's Britt. I've decided to start calling my Friday posts: "Casual Fridays," because it's the day when instead of writing a Tire Swing story,
I just let it all hang out. Think jeans in the office.

As most of you know, my mom has been in the hospital for the past week with a head injury. Yesterday she came home, and we're all fussing around her. She's pretty confused, and is having a tough time remembering things. Her memory will eventually come back, but we're not sure how this will effect her personality in the long term. I've been doing alot of thinking about our minds, and the qualities that make us, us.

So today I want to talk about quirks, or our little idiosyncrasies.

One of my sisters hates to have her hands touched. The other one must eat a banana every morning. Laura whistles when she gets nervous. Alison rubs her feet together when she's trying to get comfortable. Jeremiah paces when he's thinking. Jessie swallows a piece of gum almost right after she's popped it into her mouth. Craig makes beat-box sounds while he brushes his teeth.

I'm completely obsessed about whether or not the oven is turned off, even if I didn't cook anything that day. Before I leave the house, I have to touch each of the burners to make sure it's cold. One. two. three. four.

What are some of the quirky qualities in the people you love? What drives you nuts about your partner? What makes you cherish them even more?

In stories, quirks are what can make a well-developed character really live.

I'll never forget the description of the character of Frank, in author Guy Vanderhaeghe's book, Homesick. Check this out:

"Frank the usher was fifty-five; a nancy boy with fluttery hands, wide-awake astonished eyes, and a habit of whispering conspiratorially everything he said. He sucked peppermints constantly because he worried about his breath, carried his comb stuck in his sock, and walked as if he was holding a ball bearing between the cheeks of his ass and didn't want it to fall out. Frank was a great fan of musicals and sometimes when he watched them at the back of the theatre his feet would start to shuffle rhythmically. Once Vera saw him suddenly attempt a pirouette in the dark."

Have a wacky holiday weekend everyone, and I'll see you back here on Monday for a new story.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I swear to God, this is my last year at Santa's Workshop in the Bellview Mall. I know I said that last Christmas, but then December rolled around, and I needed to make my car payment, and I have to admit, the hours aren't bad.

But the Mrs. Claus wig makes me itch, and the dress is too tight and jacks my boobs up.

And it's humilating having to deal with all those freaked-out kids. Last year one of them got so scared, he peed on Charley's lap, all over his Santa costume. And the boss didn't even let poor Charley go home, just gave him a new pair of red pants.

Right now, Charley's got a live one. A boy on his lap is trying to pull off his beard. I make my way up there with a big smile on my face. "Santa, honey," I say, "is this little boy trying to get on your naughty list?" The crowd laughs and I grab the kid.

On our break, we sit outside smoking and eating candy canes. It starts snowing big fluffy flakes, like we're in a postcard. Charley passes me a gift box. Inside is a Christmas ball. "For your tree, Deb," he says.

Then he leans his head back and sticks out his tongue. I watch one of those snowflakes land in the middle of his tongue and dissolve, and I can't help but laugh. So I stick my tongue out too, and I feel them: fresh and sweet little pinpricks.

I could've stayed out all night long with our heads facing the sky, just catching snowflakes, but our break was over and it was time to get back inside.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Those blue candy heads are poison. No one who works at this grocery store will listen to me. When I told them, they tried to kick me out.

They're in it together, even that blonde girl with the ponytail who asked if I wanted a glass of water. I laughed in her face because she can't fool me. There's something in that water. They want to take me someplace and erase my memory. So no one will know their secret.

I knocked the glass of water out of that girl's hand. Then they made me leave. Now I'm waiting outside the store. I pulled my wool hat down low, and started pacing so their security cameras can't get me.

A little boy and his mom go to the candy machine. He's smiling and looking at the poisoned candy, so I start banging on the glass to warn them. His mom gives me a dirty look and that's when I realise she's in on it too. I watch the kid feed the machine a quarter. He gets a blue candy. I scream and bang on the glass some more. He puts the candy into his mouth.

But he doesn't die. And that's when I know I've been wrong.

It's the red candy heads that are poison.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A change of plans...

Hi guys. It's Britt. Today I was going to write about airports. I was supposed to be heading to Arizona for my stepsister Courtney's wedding. But just as I was finishing some last minute preparations,
I found out that my Mom in Windsor had an accident. She fell and hit her head and is in the ICU at the hospital. My sisters and I rented a car in Toronto, and raced to Windsor, where I am now.

I had to cancel my flight, and so will not be writing about airports today. Or weddings.


Another place where stories intersect. Different stories, often difficult ones. There's dark stuff here, but there is also light. From where I am sitting in the waiting room writing this, I can see a baby dressed in a blue sleeper (those little outfits with feet). The baby is being held by an old woman who smiles, and the skin beside her eyes is like crinkled paper.

Some of you might wonder why in the middle of this, I am posting on this blog today. And the truth is, I need to write because writing helps to anchor me, to keep me sane. I'm not sure how long I'll be here. I do know that my Mom is the single most stubborn person I know and there's no way she'll be cooped up in a hospital for too long. She has taught me everything I know about strength, and persistence. She'll be okay. We all will.

I'll be back on Monday with another tire swing story. Have an inspired weekend, guys, and wrap your arms tightly around everyone you love.


"The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder." Virgina Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Carol's planting geraniums in the bathtub. She made Larry carry it out to the garden, and then she spray-painted the side of the tub bright green.

These days, Carol loves to plant things. She digs a little hole with a spade and picks up a seedling. She inhales the pungent, spicy scent of geranium. This one will have pink flowers, the others, red. She places the plant into the hole and presses the earth around it. A splash of water, and just like that, it'll grow. It's that easy. 

Carol's got a secret. She has that same dizziness, and soreness in her breasts. Upstairs in the bathroom garbage can is a little white stick. And on that stick, a plus sign. 

She looks down at her hands caked with dirt, black beneath her fingernails.
On an impulse, Carol licks her finger. The soil is chalky on her tongue and tastes slightly metallic. Like blood.

It's too soon to tell Larry the secret. Don't want to get his hopes up again. 

Carol puts a piece of dirt in her mouth and chews. She wonders about bugs. She considers that she might be going crazy. She swallows another chunk. 

Maybe if Carol eats enough dirt, the baby inside her will grow roots. And this time, the roots will make it stay.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I've got Sadie on the weekends. 
It's a good thing my daughter's Christmas pageant falls on a Saturday, or I'd be out in the damn cold. Weekend visitations only. Courtesy of the Belleville Divorce Court. 

Sadie looks fantastic on the stage, all covered in ornaments. Her face is painted up green, but I can still see how happy she is. I give a little whistle just to let her know that I'm here and loving every minute of it.

"Dad," she said to me last weekend, "we need to make me a costume for the Christmas pageant."  "Okay, Sadie-love," I said, "You tell your ol' Pop what we gotta do."

We had to make her into a Christmas tree. 

Righty'o. Easily done. I sawed down some of the lower branches of a pine in the backyard. Then I took her to the store and we got tinsel and glue. "You'll be a tree in no time, Sadie-love," I said. 

Midway through, we could both tell it wasn't gonna work. "I don't look at all like a tree," she said. 

So, she didn't. And when I returned Sadie on Sunday night, I knew her mother would get her costume fixed up right. Caroline handles all of the necessary, important things. The Monday-through-Friday things. 

I'm in charge of playing in the park, and holding our daughter on my shoulders. When we swim, I'm the shark. When we ride, I'm the horse. I'm just a clown and I know it, but I'm Sadie's clown.

When I saw a section of cement drying near my new bachelor's apartment, I made us put our hands in it together, Sadie's and mine. And it helps me sometimes, if it's a weekday, to walk by there and see my big hands beside her little ones.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Windows at Night

Hi guys, it's Britt. I have a confession to make:  I'm a bit of a Peeping Tom. It started when I was a kid riding in the backseat of the car at night. I'd try to catch glimpses into the windows of houses we passed. A table set for dinner. Someone reading in an armchair. An ugly painting on the wall. All of these things I imagined as little clues to people's lives. 

And I still like to look in windows at night. 
(This is where I start to sound creepy, don't I?) 

Before you answer that question, let me say that I think inspiration is everywhere. It's not about standing and gawking at the people inside, more just catching a glimpse while passing. And letting that glimpse become a seed for a story. 

I'm actually kind of nuts about it. Once, I took the Greyhound across the country, from Toronto to Halifax, just to look out the window of the bus. 

Check out the "Homes at Night" photography of Todd Hido. http://www.toddhido.com/

He uses film and natural light, and does the first prints himself in a darkroom, (which being an old-fashioned girl, I love). When you arrive at his site, click on "photographs," "homes at night," "houses" to see what I mean.

Todd Hido, Homes at Night 2690
Some of these photographs of houses at night are a little spooky, even for me. But don't they make you wonder what's going on in there? What are these people's lives like? What are their days like? Their secrets? Their fears? 

Have an inspired weekend, and I'll see you back here on Monday for a new story. 


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do you know what it's like to want something you can't have? Does your heart break at the mere sight of this impossible thing? I pace the window all day, watching my hydrant. It calls to me: "Buster," it says, "pisssssss on me." 

What does it matter what one dog wants in this crazy world? A world where what you love most can be taken from you in an afternoon. 

The humans in yellow helmets came and drilled the sidewalk. They carried chunks of concrete away in wheelbarrows. 

If I make it out the door now, I can't get high enough to reach the hydrant. Even on my hind legs, my nose just grazes the base. 

The cat thinks this is hilarious. I fear that I'm about to snap. My owners still toss the tennis ball for me to retrieve. And I catch it just to please them, but underneath this happy-go-lucky exterior, I am a ticking timebomb. 

The terrorists in yellow hats are back. I watch their every move with a growl in the back of my throat. My nose makes smudges on the glass. If they try to take away my hydrant, I will explode. There are limits to what one dog can handle. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

My five year-old son wants to be an astronaut. He flies his toy rocket through the air in our living room. 

Who are these men who explore the cosmos, who push the borders of our universe and return to tell the tale? 
I do not know any astronauts. 

When I was five, I was going to be a cowboy. How simple it was, how easy to assume I'd be larger than life. But as it turns out, I am the exact size of my life, and my life is small.

On the television, a car commercial. 
The sleek silver car races along a twisting road. In small print at the bottom of the screen: 
"Professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt."

In the kitchen, my wife burns herself pulling a cake out of the oven. I hear her cry out. The pan falls to the floor and chunks of cake litter the floor. I go to the freezer for ice cubes. 

"Here, use this," I say, holding out the ice tray." "No, that's all wrong," she says, "It's running water I need." She turns away from me and holds her hand underneath the tap. I return the bag to the freezer and leave the kitchen.

In bed, I lie awake wishing I could still believe in cowboys and astronauts.
My wife beside me feels as remote as a distant star.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Our Life Stories. The Unexpected Twists

This is my mom, Heather Parker, as a little girl. It's dated August, 1960.
The woman with her is my Gramma. I've always loved this photo. It really feels like a moment frozen in time.

Today is my Mom's wedding day. She is marrying a guy who is, honestly, everything my sisters and I were secretly hoping she'd find.

For a long time, it didn't look like my Mom's story was going to change much. She and my Dad divorced twenty-five years ago and she never remarried.
Time passed. She settled into her comfortable routines. 

Then, in an unexpected twist, Stewart arrived. 

They were friends for a painfully long time. Slowly, their friendship grew into more. And today, they're getting hitched. 

It's amazing when I stop and think about all of the times I thought that I knew where things were going, and then life surprised me. So here's to our stories, and the unexpected twists.

Have an inspired weekend. See you back here on Monday.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wilson Niblet was no ordinary squirrel. For one thing, he wasn't fond of nuts.
He didn't care for hoarding, and hated the taste of bark. The inside of trees was too damp for his liking, and he detested the smell of pine.

The other squirrels called Wilson odd.
He thought they were small-minded.
He spent most of his days perched on a windowsill reading books over the shoulder of Harold Miller, who sat inside, in an armchair by the window. Wilson especially liked the philosophy books. "Every man is capable of greatness," Wilson read, exchanging the word man, for squirrel.

One afternoon on his way to the windowsill, Wilson spotted Don Lowell's brown shoes outside Jane Friedman's house. Don, being a polite sort, had removed his shoes upon entering. Wilson's body twitched and his grey fur stood on end. He wanted those loafers. He needed them. No more living inside frigid trees! Wilson Niblet would winter in style. "Fortune favors the bold," Wilson told himself as he crept toward the shoes. "A squirrel who hesitates is lost."

Later, Don Lowell stood on the porch, shoeless and confused. Jane put her hand on his arm. Surely he couldn't drive home in his sock feet. Maybe he would have one more glass of eggnog?

Don spent the entire afternoon inside Jane's house, and then some of the evening. By the time he was ready to look again, Don didn't much care if he ever found his shoes.