Creative Non Fiction

I was a Burger Flipper

With all of the hoopla about adopting a livable wage, the question constantly asked is, “Does a Burger Flipper deserve $15.00 an hour?”

Yes.  Yes, they do.

When I reflect on my days as a Burger Flipper, I have fond memories of being shouted at by angry customers.  I remember coffee spilled all over me, and change thrown at me.  I remember managers bellowing, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean,” while handing me a broom.

Burger Flippers, you see, don’t have it easy.  They have scars on their hands because they got a little too close to the grill.  Burger Flippers use toxic cleaning solvents that should never have contact with skin. They wear big bulky gloves and a mask while scrubbing the grill at the end of the night.

They clean all of the equipment (the cleanliness standards at most fast food restaurants are higher than provincial health standards); and mop the floors, and ensure food is properly stored in locked fridges for the next day. This takes at least an hour to do.

Burger Flippers are constantly under threat to cook meat properly and ensure e coli or other food contaminants aren’t lurking. They are expected to sweep up stale french fries, along with bits of lettuce and ketchup packets that were accidentally stepped on in the haste of the lunch hour rush.

Burger Flippers go home after their shift and wash the chemicals out of their hair.  They throw their uniforms in the washing machine trying, in vain, to get the stench of grease out of their clothes.

Eating a french fry is one thing. Smelling like one is another.

Burger flippers get used to working under conditions that are as humid and stressful.  No one can multitask like a Burger Flipper. It is a job where team work is paramount. If one or two members aren’t doing their fair share, the whole system breaks down. Orders are backed up, customers are angry, refunds are demanded.

Burger Flippers see the greatest aspects of humanity, and the worst. Customers can’t see past the ugly uniform and the horribly shaped hat. They don’t realize the person they are yelling at is a fellow tax payer with bills to pay.

Some Burger Flippers have a second job. Some are in still in high school or attending a post-secondary institution. Some Burger Flippers have families to feed. Other Burger Flippers have massive student loans.

In the fast food industry, it is drilled into their heads that they have to do more with less. This also translates into home life when paying bills, as they are forced to get by with a less than a livable wage.

So yes, if someone asks, do Burger Flippers deserve $15 an hour?  They do.  And they deserve your respect too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creative Non Fiction

Shell to Shell

No pets until the children can look after them! That was the deal. Until my son and daughter could clean up after a pet, we were not getting one. End of discussion.

That is until last Sunday when I was sitting at the table, enjoying my morning coffee. My daughter strolled up and asked, “Mommy, can I have a turtle?”

“A turtle?”

“Yes, I really want a turtle,”

I chose to ignore this random request until my son said, “Mommy, I’d really like a turtle,”

“Why a turtle?”

Staring at me with his big brown eyes and batting his long eye lashes- lashes a woman would kill for- he said, “Because turtles make good pets,”

I looked over at my husband who said, “It’s fine, we saw a turtle at the pet store and they said they really wanted one.”

“Why were you in the pet store?”

“Just browsing,”

“Nobody browses in pet stores. Especially with two children. That’s just asking for trouble.”

Later that day we went grocery shopping. We went to a few places, then headed to the supermarket. I got out of the car and my husband asked, “How long are you going to be?”

My suspicion grew, “Why?”

He raced off without answering.

I went into the supermarket, and to my wonderful surprise, I found some wine. I’m not entirely sure what led me to it, but I looked at the brands and continued roaming around the store. Finally, after I settled on a loaf of bread and a bottle of Malbec, I went out to the parking lot to find a handful of cars, but none of them were mine.

So I waited.

And waited.

Thirty minutes later, my husband pulled up. The groceries we put in the trunk were sitting on my children’s lap. I got into the car and my daughter said, “Mommy I love the turtle.”

“OK, what?”

“He’s so cute,”

I looked at my husband, “Where is it?”

He looked down.

“Is there a turtle in our trunk?”

He nodded and we drove off. We pulled into the driveway and my husband said, “Wait, there’s more,”

“There’s a turtle in the trunk, what more could there be?”

He sighed and said, “He’s big”

I jumped out of the car and opened the trunk to see a traumatized turtle- about a foot long- scrambling to escape out of its tank.

My heart broke.  “Let’s get him into the house,”

We carried him upstairs and placed him in my son’s room. The turtle tried climbing up the sides of the tank, only to fall. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the little [big] guy. We put some water in the tank and fed him. Eventually he started to settle down.

My husband looked at me defeated, “I’m so sorry. It wasn’t until she brought him out of the house that I realized he was so big,”

“Who?”

“The woman on Kijiji. She had a dog and a cat too, but I didn’t get those,”

“Good thing.”

Later that evening, I put my children to bed and checked on the turtle. We all decided to call him Charlie though my daughter insists on calling him Charlie Brown. Seeing him settled in his tank, calm and gently floating in the water, I was relieved.

I sat with him for a while, my tough exterior and his, commiserating shell to shell. Watching him float in the water, my shell softened.

…..Let’s just hope his doesn’t.

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Embracing the Princess stage

“I’m running late because of a tu-tu.” I actually heard myself saying this to a friend a few weeks ago.  I’m sure there are other mothers who can relate.  You think you have everything ready to go, and then my four-year old decides she doesn’t like the tu-tu she’s wearing.  It isn’t pink enough.  It doesn’t look princess-y. The inevitable costume changes ensue.

Why do we put up with this?

My daughter has been playing princess for over a year.  There have been countless princess tea parties at our house, and at her daycare.  Some parents say the whole industry of marketing the princess is teaching young girls that it is better to be pretty than smart.

I’d like to agree to disagree.

During the princess stage, little girls know they are beautiful and everyone should adore them.  Playing princess means imaginative play, creativity, and most importantly, self-confidence.  Why on earth would a parent want to quash that?  In adolescence these same girls will feel, no matter how hard they try, that true beauty is unattainable.  Even the most gorgeous young woman walk around insecure.

And who said princesses are stupid? Snow white didn’t eat the apple because she was easily duped by the evil Queen.  She was probably hungry.  Who wouldn’t be after wandering through the woods for hours?

Real life Princess Maxima of the Netherlands was an investment banker; and Mary, the princess of Denmark has a combined degree in Commerce and Law.
By reading stories about princesses and fairies to my daughter, I am cultivating literacy and phonics skills as well as a sense of fantasy.  Anyone who has read Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings knows that the characters they are reading about aren’t real.  The Japanese have built and industry around manga as a form of escape.  Why would we deprive our young daughters of this?
If a little girl wants to drape herself in gaudy jewelry and tacky shoes, we need to let her.  She’ll do it when she’s little and she’ll be doing it again when she’s eighty.
I’m embracing the princess stage, where my daughter feels beautiful and admired, no matter what she’s wearing.   I am dreading the stage when this same little girl will feel inadequate and insecure.  The princess stage doesn’t last, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone.
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Editing- My Nemesis

Let’s start off with the positive.  Last November, I won NaNoWriMo for the first time.  It was an amazing feeling of accomplishment, completing a manuscript that was in my head for a long time that just didn’t want to come out on paper.  Until I forced it to.  And come out it did.  Roughly.

Once the NaNo challenge was over I left the manuscript, only to pick it up again at the beginning of January.  To be fair, it did not look as bad as I thought it would.  To be honest, it did not look good either.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been deleting, cutting and pasting, rewording and reworking my first draft.  This is a humbling experience for a couple of reasons.  I was hoping that I could be one of those brilliant writers that hands over their first draft to an editor.  Secondly, I know that with all of the ripping apart that I am doing, I will hand it over to someone else who will rip it apart again.

But I will say one thing.  It has made me realize that writing is the easy part.  Editing and making it readable for others is the difficult part.   So I decided, if I ever have writer’s block- which creeps up every once in a while- I’ll start editing.  That way, my feeling of lack of creativity will superseded by my frustration in finding synonyms.  Synonyms for words such as superseded.

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Expert

Word Count Goal: 50,000 words
Cups of Coffee today: 2 (not enough)
Today’s Headline: Man involved in Quebec standoff taken to hospital

A few days ago, I attended an incredibly informative workshop (Thank you Linda Hall) about creating a publishing package. It was suggested that we include what qualifies us to write our book in the query letter.

This reminded me of a conversation I had last year with a woman in the publishing business. When I told her that I my manuscript was set in Japan, she asked me what qualified me to write about Japanese culture. I explained that I had spent over two years teaching there and she replied, “Spending some time in a country doesn’t make you an expert,” 
I asked her,  “Does it help if my husband is Japanese?” 
She laughed and said, “Yes, yes it does,”

Having such an ‘expert’ at my fingertips has been truly helpful.  My husband is supportive and has given me good feedback for scenes I have written.  He has also found useful websites including a YouTube video of someone taking a train to the city my protangonist lives in.

Today he was not so helpful. 

In the scene that I am currently writing, my protangonist has been invited to a man’s house for dinner.  The scene is romantic: a dimly lit kitchenette, latin music playing in the background, he speaks softly while demonstating how to wash rice.  The man’s fingers move in seductive motions and my protagonist feels drawn to him.  I did my best to show how the Japanese are normally very careful and precise, especially when handling food.

To make sure that the scene is authentic, I asked my husband to demonstrate how to make rice.  His response was, “I’ve already showed you a million times.  Try YouTube.”

Thank you Mr. Expert.

In his defense, he was preoccuopied with trying to get my children to finish their milk. But when I started to head to my writer’s room, he decided he was interested in showing me the process of cooking rice.  Instead of being gentle and precise though, my husband slammed a bowl down on the diningroom table, stuck his hand in it and motioned how to clean rice.  The rice, though imaginery, took a beating.

“Are you supposed to be that rough?”

He glared at me. 

Once he was finished manhandling the bowl, he sat down all proud of himself, and said, “That’s how you make rice.”

I thanked him, and then he started, “But if you’re camping,”

I told him that I didn’t need to know about making rice when camping, but he kept going, “So it’s called a Hangou,”

“I don’t need to know this,”

“I’m telling you this for your information,”

“But I don’t need it..”

“The Hangou looks like a binocular case…”

“I don’t need to know about this,”

“So you put the rice over a kind of bonfire,”

Now I couldn’t get him to shut up. 

Finally, I said, “Stop right there! I have enough for my scene.  Thank you very much,”

“Then you put your finger in the rice,”

At this point, I got up walked away.  I’ll watch YouTube later.

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When writing, does location matter?

About a year ago, I took over a small room at the end of my upstairs hallway and designated it the writer’s room.  I’m lucky that my husband doesn’t have any use for the room, so every chance I get, I take a few moments and  lock the door.  The room transforms into my personal creative space.

 
But is it necessary to have a room of one’s own?  Virginia Woolf explored this topic in her famous book of the same title.  Now please don’t think that I’m arrogant enough to compare myself to the likes and caliber of Virginia Woolf.  But I do think she had a point.

For me, it’s a break. In the mornings, I go into the writer’s room, turn on my computer and wait for the brilliance to flow from my fingers.  Most mornings what I write and it is not exactly brilliance (sometimes it is not exactly coherent); but it is a chance for me to sit and ponder my novel.  It is also a time for me to drink my coffee and look at my storyboard.  That isn’t to say, though, that I don’t get out and find other places to write.

Cafes are a nice alternative to sitting in a room and writing by myself.  I feel comfortable and it provides an opportunity to be around other writers. There is an attitude out there, however, that real writers are not in cafes.  

Some writers believe that one should be hunched over a desk, in a dimly lit room scrutinizing every sentence. Others believe that real writers are in bars, discussing tales of drunken debauchery, stabbing each other in the back with one hand, while refilling their each other’s scotch glass with the other.   

I wonder though, as I sit in both cafes and in my writer’s room, if the location has an effect on my writing.

Looking back through my journals, I always include the dates, but never the location.  Most entries have been written when I was sitting in a parking lot while my husband is in Future shop.  Though the quality of the writing isn’t all that different, the tone certainly is.  If I’m in a parked car with screaming children in the back seat, my writing is blunt, chalked full of exclamation points and spelling mistakes.  If I’m in a cafe, I write in a much happier tone (go figure).  The same is for my writer’s room. I am calmer and more productive.

But as for an exploration on what constitutes a real writer, I think I’ve stumbled on the answer.  Here’s the truth. Writers are writing. It’s what we do. It doesn’t matter if it is in a café, parked car or in a designated room. It also doesn’t matter what one is writing, as long as the words are coming out.  If you consider yourself a writer and you are writing, then you are real.

Write on!

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I AM WRITER!

A few nights ago, I woke up with a start.  I usually go through the normal writer anxiety:  What if I never get published?  What if I’m not good enough?  Will I be considered a real writer even though I don’t have an addiction?

The question that woke me out of a dead sleep was: If I do get my novel published, will anyone read it?

This kind of self doubt is enough to kill any kind of creative process.  I’ve spent so much time motivating myself to finish the book that I haven’t put any thought into it’s potential market.  Sure my mom will read it, but will it appeal to the average reader?

Last week, I took the initiative. I joined a novel boot-camp that promises to keep me motivated.  The thing is, I was full speed ahead and then all of a sudden I wasn’t. It’s not because I have writer’s block. It’s actually for the exact opposite reason. I have writer’s flood. 

I have too many ideas in my head and they’re escaping before I can catch them. Perhaps not a flood but writer’s wasp nest. I feel like a bee keeper, and not a good one.

The story has to be marketable.  It has to be Hunger Games meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The thing is, my character is a fifty year old woman.  Putting a bow & arrow in her hand will kill all suspension of disbelief. 

What kind of antics and missteps can I put her through?

When describing my novel, I mutter, “My character goes through some bad experiences, and then some good experiences, and there’s a conflict..and.. Oh! I forgot, there’s a love story. Did I mention the conflict?”

Bored yet?  I am.

The key to writing a character-driven novel is to have the readers like the character; and to make the plot interesting enough that the readers will want the characters to prevail. So I sit down to write the most likable person that everyone is bound to cheer for. Here she comes. There she goes.

Then it dawned on me.  Maybe instead of creating a fictional person that everyone will support, why not encourage the person writing it?  Me.  In order for people to believe in her, I have to believe in myself. 

We need to be our own biggest fan. We need to shout a big “Hurrah!” or “Bravo” every time we finish a scene. Small rewards to keep ourselves going.  Then, when it’s all said and done, we can give ourselves a big reward, or simply say, “I told you so.”

Who better to have believe in us – but us? I have given so many ideas to other writers about their stories, and it’s been pretty good advice. Why can’t I talk to my inner writer like I talk to them? I feed her (sometimes more than I should), I tend to other needs, but I need to talk to her and say that it’s OK. We’ll get er’ done. 

So now, I have someone cheering me on. Me. I am writer! .