Tag Archives: Mrs Dim

As the first snow falls…

The youngest weasels examine Canadian snow for the first time.

All this last week, Eldest Weasel has been checking the weather forecast every morning. On my days in work, I’ve been watching happy shoppers struggle out with armfuls of de-icer, sand, snow shovels and Christmas lights. And at least one Barbeque, but hey, it was a bargain, and it’s a healthy way to cook…

I get nervous when the forecast talks about snow. Judging by all the de-icer and snow shovels, so do a lot of other folks around here. I’ve had little experience with serious snow as an adult. I remember my parents having to cope with terrible winter weather when we lived in Sunderland, but the only dangerous snow driving I did in the UK was when the car spun out on a corner on some black ice. Since we were only doing about ten miles an hour, it was a stately revolution that ended with us facing the wrong way on an empty road. A little slower than those Tea-cup rides for toddlers at fairgrounds. We just sat there for a second, said “Huh.” and drove on.

The year we arrived here in Canada they were just recovering from an unusual amount of snow – it doesn’t normally fall on Downtown and the suburbs, you understand, just on the mountains. Vancouverites weren’t sure how you went about clearing your drive without throwing the snow onto your neighbours’ drive. They certainly weren’t sure about driving in snow. Gary, a supervisor at work, gave me this sage advice:

“When it snows and you’re waiting at a red light, don’t pull away when that light goes green. Count to ten, and I bet you there’ll be someone come sliding right through the intersection…”

Last year there was no major snowfall, but we did have a couple of white days, and on one of those I was driving the kids down a steep hill that also turned a corner. On the bend I felt the wheels lose traction, and in a very male reaction I snapped off the stereo, yelled at the kids to be quiet and got a death grip on the wheel. We were fine, and the snow melted the next day, but I can’t help remembering that I wasn’t cool and calm under pressure, just very, very scared.

If there IS the big snowfall this year, I may just hand in my notice, let Mrs Dim drive the bigger and heavier car to work and walk the kids to school every day. Frostbite may be preferable to car accident.

Here's today's forecast....DOOM!

Haven’t we been here before?

Just have to take the next step....

It doesn’t seem that long ago that every post I published was about my frustration with the jobhunting misery. First it was resistance to the idea of going out to get a ‘real’ job at all, something I have resisted since going freelance all those years ago. I really, really didn’t want to, and that was all there was to it, no clever arguments, no belief that my writing income would suddenly triple, no great Business Plan to grow that income….I just didn’t want to.

Go ahead, picture me slumped in a corner with my thumb in my mouth. I know how childish I was being. Really I do. After all, Mrs Dim told me.

After the fit of pique had passed, I got stuck into looking for work and the second gloom descended. Finding work was difficult and for several reasons.

First, the economy was not good. Remember the banking collapse and global financial EEEK!? Guess when I was looking for a job?

Second, I hadn’t had a real nine-to-five job since Eldest Weasel was born. I had precisely two people I could call on for references, and they were both connected with my writing. They couldn’t comment on my ability to get into the office on time, dress myself, or talk on the phone coherently.

Third, everyone else I had worked for had either gone out of business, moved on from my last point of contact or, in one case, burned to the ground. That doesn’t inspire confidence in a future employer.

Fourth and lastly, I needed a job that still allowed me to get the Weasels to school and back, at 8.45 and 2.50 every day. So, work hours of 9.15 to 2.30, if I don’t have far to travel.

And honestly, the childish thing crept back into it. Thanks to my portfolio career to date, there is a long, long list of jobs that I never want to do again. I found the one I want to do, I’m doing it, I love it, but sadly, writing plays does not earn enough money to buy essentials like clothes, food and Wii games.

I’m sure there are jobs that fit the hours. Other Mums (and face it, that’s what we’re talking about here: employing a Mum) get jobs and still get their kids to school. But search as I might, I couldn’t find a job I was qualified for that fell within the insanely restrictive parameters.

Finally at Mrs Dim’s suggestion I went along to the hiring session held at the World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer and lucked out. A job I could do, at hours that suited, for some money. Within driving distance and time allowance. SUCCESS!

It’s not a fulfilling job. It’s challenging enough, trying to remember the location of forty thousand products, trying to placate angry customers who just want a dozen electrical or plumbing questions asked and they can’t speak to the electrical or plumbing guy because there are ten people already talking at him. It’s hard staying on your feet in pretty much the same spot for four hours at a time. But it’s a job.

But this week we had to admit something else. Since June I’ve only had one complete weekend off. I’ve booked holiday here and there, but I have worked almost every weekend since I started work and Mrs Dim is beginning to unravel. She works long hours at her job, which is far, far more demanding than mine, and then she has to spend her whole weekend wrangling weasels alone, and then go back to work Monday morning. Plus, when do WE get to spend time together? We don’t count slumping on the same sofa at nine thirty in the evening spending time together, by the way. On Wednesday we both fell asleep in the middle of whatever we were trying to watch.

So I’m jobhunting again, off in pursuit of the magical job which will only require me to work weekdays, 9-3, preferably closer to home, something clerical, at least $12 an hour, no heavy lifting. And if possible, something that leaves me enough energy to keep on writing, reviewing and appraising scripts in the evenings.

And while we’re wishing, Middle Weasel would like her own Millenium Falcon….

Writing collaboration – Is co-writing a contradiction?

David's not far away, he's really that small....
Three men, three computers, many, many, many ideas.

There are some things that you do alone – dying is the one that comes to mind. Good start, a nice cheery place to kick off. But writing is a solo occupation, usually at least. No matter how many people contribute to the initial idea, only one of you can sit down at that keyboard and hammer it out.

A long time ago, I heard that some of the American TV shows used writing rooms, whole rooms full of teams of writers, to create their stories. I couldn’t see how that worked. Now, of course, we’ve seen TV shows based on people writing TV shows (like “30 Rock” and the excellent but sadly missed “Studio 60  on the Sunset Strip” ) and we know that the Writer’s Room is a place the stories begin.
But is it a good way to work? Well, I’m not going to do a big analysis of how other people have made it work, or the famous screenwriting partnerships, because other people have already done it and I’m fundamentally lazy. Let me tell you how we at TLC manage to write as a trio.
Our big project this last fortnight was a pantomime. We’ve cracked the main canon of panto, writing Aladdin, Cinderella, Babes in the Wood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington, Puss in Boots. We’ve also done some more off-the-wall pieces, like the Space Panto “Watch this Space” and the Arthurian epic “Knight Fever“. This time we were turning our attention to Sinbad.
Stage one is research, and Steve handled that, reading through dozens of variations on the Sinbad story and presenting a choice of storylines for us to consider. David and I made some choices and put forward any elements we felt should be included. Steve then came up with the definitive storyline that we would work from, and divided it up into scenes. There’s a standard we use for producing panto scripts that Steve and David have developed from years of experience on both the stage and script side of panto. We have a certain number of scenes for each half, a longer first act than second, each main stage scene is followed by a front of curtain scene to allow for set changes and so on. There should be certain character types included, certain scenes that are must-haves. Each of these scenes should still, in some way serve the overall story. If the Princess has been kidnapped, the characters have to snap into action to save her, not simply go into the palace kitchens and bake a cake just so the panto can have the slop scene.
With the scene outline completed, we each take two or three scenes and write them. That’s the bit where the collaboration is suspended and we’re writing alone again.
 That’s the bit Mrs Dim had real trouble with. Although we were all writing different parts of the panto, it’s still handy to have the others nearby. Stuck for a gag? Ask David. Need a song suggestion? Ask Steve. Written something that makes you laugh? Tell one of the others and see if it makes THEM laugh. That’s an important test. So Mrs Dim, who works in a real office with real work to do, wandered occasionally through the living room to see three middle-aged men sitting with separate laptops, sniggering at juvenile jokes, surfing the web, or listening to music. It didn’t look like work. But we were doing what we needed to do – juvenile jokes are the bread and butter of panto, the web supplies both corny jokes and useful information, and if you’re rewriting the lyrics to a song, it’s a very good idea to have the real song playing so you can match the rhyme scheme and scansion.
Ultimately, we end up with enough scenes to build an entire pantomime. That’s when the other important part of collaboration comes into play. We sit and read through the whole thing, taking different parts to perform. Reading it out loud is a useful check – does that gag work as well out loud as it does on the page? Is the name funny when you can’t see it written down? Do those stage directions make sense to other people? Those read throughs are my abiding memory of our TLC writing meetings. We laugh unashamedly at our own jokes, and at those of the others, we fight to keep our own worst jokes in and kick out others when the script is running long, we suggest the worst songs to annoy David (Ask him to include “Endless Love” in one of his scripts and you’ll see what I mean) and we tease Steve about his typos.
The theory says that this method of co-writing would work with anything, but on other projects we work individually and put the final pieces up for peer review in the partnership. We produced a sketch a day for the period of time David and Steve were here in Canada, but each sketch was written by one person and reviewed by the others on completion, only a few changes being made after the sketch had been read. We’re starting a new chapter in collaboration with a planned radio sitcom idea, and I think that different format will test our collaborative powers somewhat.
A solo occupation? Yes, ultimately, you always write alone, but what you do with that writing, who you show it to and what you do as a result of sharing it is where the joy of collaborative work lies.

5 things you should know about working from home

When this was all I did, I kept EVERYTHING to hand

I’ve been thinking a lot about working from home recently. Partly because I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I work, and partly because my friend Lucy sent me this: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home That made me laugh, but it’s all true.

I’ve told the story of my becoming a full-time writer many times in this blog, and if you’ve read through my back-posts, you’ll have seen me go back to being a part-time writer. Now I feel it’s more important than ever that I capitalise on my chances to work from home. I keep the thought of going back to working full-time at home as my ultimate goal.

Five Things You Should Know About Working From Home

  1. It may not be for you. Sorry to be blunt, but it isn’t easy. And there’s two parts to that. It isn’t easy to be productive in the home environment, and it isn’t easy to find a job that’ll let you work from home in the first place. Yes, people will sell you books explaining how telecommuting is changing the face of the workplace, but I dare you to go ask your boss if you can work from home. He’s likely to say “For god’s sake, you’re a Zoo Keeper! How are you going to feed the lions? Facebook?” Ok, he’ll only say that if you’re a zookeeper, but I bet he doesn’t agree.
  2. Working in your pyjamas isn’t as much fun as you might think. No, really. I see this used as a justification all the time. Folks saying “I used to have to wear power suits every day, and now I sit at the computer in my pyjamas and make $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!”. For one thing, unless you’ve got a computer in your pyjamas, that sentence is grammatically incorrect. For another, how businesslike are you going to feel, in your pyjamas? I once had to do a serious interview with a genuine TV personality. She returned my call unexpectedly early, and I found it hard to remain detached and focussed on taking notes because I was in my dressing gown while talking to Charlie Dimmock. By the way, she doesn’t know this, so please don’t tell her. One traumatised person is enough.
  3. It can be lonely. Just run through in your head how many people you talk to every day at work. Even if you hate the people you work with, can you imagine spending the day alone? You like the thought of that? What about the next day? And the next. And the next. Every day, just you and your PC, only communicating with others by phone or email. You will find yourself cruising Facebook, looking for live users to chat to for the pure human interaction. Well, that’s my excuse. If you find yourself on You Tube looking at kittens, give it up.
  4. An unstructured day can be unhealthy. Now I know that some of you can spend waaay too long in the office. One of Mrs Dim’s first bosses had his desk next to the front window and would always be visible in his office until seven or eight, his face glowing in the light from his monitor. Turned out he was playing Solitaire most of the time, and he ended up having a heart attack at his desk. What was my point? Hang on. *pause* Oh, yeah. even if you like to hang it on at the end of the work day, there are little clues to keep you in the regular rhythm of work. You probably can’t get into the office before 6am. You see everyone else going to lunch between 11am and 3pm (FROM 11am to 3pm if you work in advertising) so you know it’s lunchtime. And at some point they’ll turn off the lights and lock the doors so the cleaners can get to work. If you’re childless and working from home, who’s going to regulate YOUR working day? You are, that’s who. So if you let lunchtime slide because you’re on a roll, or start working at five in the morning, no one’s going to stop you. But no one’s going to make you go outside either, no one’s going to make you take a break, make you eat something. There are days I go outside to collect the weasels from school and I am surprised by the sunshine. If the light’s bright outside, I close the blinds so I can see the words on the screen, and then four hours later I step out the front door….It’s a wonder I don’t disintegrate into a pile of ashes.
  5. People won’t believe you’re working. If you’re a parent returning to the work environment via working from home, the chances are you’ll know other parents who aren’t out at work all day. They may well believe it’s ok to drop in on you at coffee time (read: any time their kids are at school/playgroup/college/scoring dope) and talk your ears off while you’re wondering if your partner will be angry there’s no money coming in from your business today. If you’re at HOME, you’re not at WORK, folks, no matter how fancy your home office is. If you’re working, don’t answer the door. If you answer the door, don’t blame me.

Slightly less clutter, slightly more productivity in slightly less time

So now I’m trying to empower my business, big up my personal brand, claim my webvibe and…you know, earn some money. Today (and I still can’t believe I did this) I decided to take some positive steps towards increasing sales of my e-book (www.tiny.cc/ghfo9) and so I went online and discovered the excellent blog by Kristen Lamb . I followed her advice and bought her e-book ‘We are not alone“. Yes, read that bit again. I wanted to promote my e-book, so I went out and bought an e-book. Should I just have sent myself that  money? All will be revealed when I have read through “We are not alone” and followed the advice within. If I can consolidate my social media platforms and expand my webpresence without losing my grip on my brand….I’ll be very surprised.

Blogtrotting

Use your computer with caution

I didn't have a relevent photo for this one.....

That was a title that made me laugh, then I realised it would have no significance for 90% of the people who stumble across this blog. Never mind, I’m not explaining.

I’ve noticed that my blog entries over the past month have fractured into two distinct streams – the real life commentaries, talking about the riveting renovations and my lack of progress in taking the writing world by storm, and the more Meta pieces about issues that I think might be of interest to folks who don’t know me. When I found myself sitting down to write an entry solely because I thought it might turn up on google searches, I had to stop and think about why I was writing in the first place.

 Yes, I check my readership stats obsessively and I’m unreasonably jealous of those lucky bloggers who make the front page of Freshly Pressed and get thousands of hits but there should be a more pressing reason to blog than getting the big numbers, right? I call myself a writer, and that’s because when I need to express something, or explore an idea, I reach for a pen or a keyboard, not a camera or a paintbrush. This is who I am, it’s what I do.

I’ve been involved in some discussions over on LinkedIn, the business networking site, with colleagues from “PWAC” about the importance of Social Networking and using it to boost your business. That’s why I moved my posts over here to WordPress, as you’ll know if you’ve read them all. I used to have a blog on Yahoo 360, which moved to another place (Multiply) when 360 closed. Let me go off on a tangent for a minute here…I’ll get back to Linked In, I promise.

360 was an online community thing, a bit like Facebook. I had a group of virtual friends, we all blogged and commented and had online talks.  Some of my friends I only knew through their avatars.

Bowzer, for example, will always be a small dog to me, because that’s how he presented himself and he never broke character.

 Kate was a real person, and although she preferred to use Gil Elvegren pictures for her avatar, she appeared in person a couple of times, so I knew what she looked like. This was back in the days when there were fewer weasels and I was just beginning on my great writing adventure. I had more time to waste in front of the PC and these people filled that time and probably a gap in my life too – I had moved far from home and missed having friends to talk to. The important thing for this entry was that my blog back then was a personal joke. I wrote what I wanted to write, I wrote things that were deliberately silly, took joy in including photos that made me laugh and had no relevence to the subject. I was not motivated by anything but the urge to write. Yes, I wanted my friends to read and comment, but their approval and laughter was the only goal I had, not increased business success.

Back to Linked In. Someone posed the question “Why do we have a Linked In group?”  and I used it to whine about my lack of success through social networking – not enough people have bought my book, I’m not getting calls from agents etc etc. I got a gentle slap down from others in the group pointing out how I should be doing the social network thing. It comes down to using social networking as a business tool, and that’s when I pull up short. There are days when I’m out walking the dog and a dialogue is running in my head. I would get rid of it by writing it down, but I can’t use it in my blog because that’s not the wisest business course. I worry about who’s going to read it and what they’ll think. I’m self-censoring. That’s a good thing if I’m whining again, but does that mean I should be running two blogs, one for me and one for business? What happens if more people read the fun one than the business one? What happens if no one reads either one?

Mrs Dim says the posts I put up are interesting enough but too pedestrian and I guess I agree with that. This one certainly is, but unless I’m laying the ideas out, I can’t get my head around them. I intended to talk about the blogs that I follow, the ones that I read on a daily/weekly basis, but I guess that can wait until next time. Meanwhile, in the spirit of capitalising on the power of Social Networking: BUY MY BOOK! (www.tiny.cc/ghfo9) VISIT MY WEBSITE: www.tlc-creative.co.uk  Follow me on Twitter! Send me MONEY!

Sexism – Opening the can of worms

Some time ago, I was asked to be in a magazine article about men taking on the role of Mum (Mom, to you North Americans). Because Mrs Dim had a proper job, no, a CAREER, and I was just playing at being a writer, I was labelled a Househusband and asked my opinions on all sorts of things. Oh, and they wanted some photographs: Would I mind just putting on this apron and holding a duster…?

The picture was really nice. It was of Eldest Weasel sitting next to me at the piano, neither of us in an apron. I heard the photographer sulked for three whole days, but really, I wasn’t going to put up with that. So I have strong views on sexism and equality.

Obviously, not the picture I was talking about....

I used to get irked, as a neophyte writer, when I saw competitions that were restricted to female writers, like the Orange Prize for fiction. There are none, that I know of, that are restricted to men. The reason for this is the perception that men dominate the writing industry, and they don’t need any help to succeed. Since I found my niche writing plays, got published and began to earn some money, my bitterness has faded somewhat (In the early days I even considered entering competitions disguised as Damina, my most common typing error, but it hasn’t happened…yet.) But this week my good friend and Star Script Reader Lucy V Hay posted notice of a women only Screenwriting competition: http://networkedblogs.com/79hge and I dropped a snide little note on her Facebook page, demanding the end to sexist writing competitions. That’s lead to a fairly long string of comment and counter-comment and I wondered if the blogosphere has anything to add. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • There is no doubt that men are the majority in screenwriting success. More films written by men get made, more succeed at the box office, and women screenwriters seem limited to cuddly rom coms like Norah Ephron writes (Which aren’t bad in themselves: I’m a big fan of “Sleepless in Seattle” and am irrationally attached to ‘Music and Lyrics”, but this is not the be-all and end-all of female writing.)

 

  • Faced with a dearth of decent scripts by female writers, the incomparable Zahra has asked for women to submit scripts. Only women. Plot lead, not character lead. This is not going to be “Eat, Pray, Love” on a shoestring, folks.

 

  • Lucy encourages her friends on Facebook to stretch themselves and come up with something suitable. If your window onto the world of screenwriting was Lucy’s Facebook page, you’d believe that it’s a fifty-fifty split between men and women. Lucy herself is no slouch behind the keyboard, having written and produced “Slash” which is NOT a Romcom.

 

  • I point out that excluding men just because they’re men is sexist.

 

  • Lucy asks if it would be considered racist to hold a competition for black screenwriters (who are also under-represented). I have to say “yes.” Isn’t it? Excluding white writers because they’re white isn’t “better” than excluding black writers. You’re discriminating on grounds of skin colour, and that’s racism.

The problem comes when you say “Ok, we won’t use positive discrimination, smartarse, so how ARE we going to get more women screenwriters?” I don’t know the answer to that one. I’m tempted to say “It doesn’t matter”, partly because I know that’ll wind people up, but also partly because I think then you get the really passionate ones rising to the top DESPITE the prejudice. Yes, they have to be 100% BETTER than the male opposition, but that leads to better films and the men having to raise their game. In an industry accused of dumbing down and looking for the lowest common denominator (Michael Bay, I’m looking at YOU), I’m all for raising the bar. Kathryn Bigelow made ‘The Hurt Locker” and that was pretty good. A lot of people started saying “Hey women can direct, can’t they? Why aren’t there more women Directors?” I don’t think anyone held the door open for Kathryn, she didn’t make “The Hurt Locker” (Or her previous films, let’s not forget those) on a “Give her a leg up, she’s only a woman” programme. Oh boy, I’m going to be in SOOOO much trouble for that one.

I’m a regular reader of Scriptshadow where I learn a lot about writing scripts and reading them, and one of the things I have learned from there is that GOOD scripts are hard to find, even from established writers. It shouldn’t matter the sex, height, hair colour or favourite muppet of any writer, as long as their scripts are good. I can’t believe that the first thing readers in studios check is the gender of the writer. What’s more likely the problem (and this is something that Zahra mentions) is that the execswho greenlight the various projects are looking at returns and betting on a particular demographic, which determines which types of movies get made, and those are, for whatever reason, not the ones usually written by women.

These days we’re told a lot that the internet is a great leveller. It can raise public awareness and the wrath of the many against what used to be impregnable corporations. It allows the little guy to produce his own web series and distribute it, bypassing the big studios and riding the word of mouth wave to financial success (or at least, infamy). Can the internet beat the masculo-centric viewpoint of the movie studios, or are they right in their assessment of the movie markets? Sure, I like films where things blow up, but I haven’t been to see ‘The Expendables” yet, and I won’t go until I’ve seen ‘Toy Story 3″. Probably not even then. The two screenplays I’ve written that I’m happiest with are character pieces where nothing blows up. I grew up with “Star Wars” and have a deep abiding passion for Sci-Fi but I have NEVER written anything with spaceships in. In eighty-odd plays, only three could be considered to have any Sci-Fi connection. One is a Star Trek spoof sketch (“Strange New Worlds”). One is a time-travel comedy (“Fight the future”) , and the other is a deep thought play about a 1950’s “Flash Gordon”-style film cast, stuck when their leading man is injured in a car wreck (“Waiting for Twist Stiffly”). I don’t believe I write like a man, or like a woman, or like a small, furry creature from Alpha Centuri. I write like me, and if I entered a competition for screenwriting, I’d enter it as me, not as a man.

I believe that good female writers should have as much success as good male writers. If women only screenwriting competitions will get us there, then ok, I’ll back off and cheer ’em on. But if you have a better idea, I’d love to hear about it.

Work V Childcare : which is harder?

She ain't heavy...she's my daughter....

She ain't heavy...she's my daughter....

For those who don’t know, when my first daughter was born, I gave up work to look after her while Mrs Dim carried on defending the country through advanced filing and HR systems. Prior to becoming a Househusband, I had worked in a variety of jobs. I’d worked at a TV studio, a Solicitor’s office, a pub, a hotel (or, if you prefer, an hotel), an off-licence and finally for the Civil Service (That’s GOVERNMENT work, folks…) So I’d worked shifts, I’d worked nine-to-five, I’d had in-trays and drip trays, I’d been on call and offline, I’d been management, team player and independent worker. I like to think I have a broad experience of working environments.

Then I tried to do the domestic thing and, predictably, I was lousy at it. I had never really run my own house before and got dreadfully behind with the minor things like food and cleaning. I was bang up to date with the internet surfing, but that didn’t help as much as you might think. Slowly, very slowly, and with many shouts and yells and ‘discussions’ I formulated a system to achieve domestic harmony. This can be abbreviated thusly:

Do all the housework before it mounts so high it can topple and kill you.

My house was still not, say, as nice as Nigella Lawson’s, but there was food on a regular basis, the floors were clean enough to walk on without sticking and the laundry would eventually be put away after it was dry. As a bonus, I managed to keep Eldest Weasel fed, clean and healthy, as well as entertained, even when the other two weasels arrived. Before that happened, however, I was already taking on paid writing work, fitting it in between domestic duties and the various marriage maintainence tasks like conversations and evenings out.

Talk about a desk job...work from home...

Talk about a desk job...work from home...

One of the topics of conversation that I noticed was often aired was the comparison between the effort of working (ie, what the man did during the day) versus the stress of childcare/domestic duties (ie what the woman did) I got into trouble by disagreeing with the majority and saying that I found staying home with the kids to be the easier option. People were offended, I discovered. It didn’t matter that I was basing my opinion on accumulated evidence (I have worked, and I have looked after kids: Work was harder.) I was saying something unpopular. Now, please unclench your teeth and read the following statement carefully:

I am not belittling the enormous amount of work necessary to raise even one child and run the average household. It is immense.

I truly believe that running a house is a herculean task, and adding kids into the equation makes it harder by an exponential amount. If you want to bring in the option of being a single Mum, then I will raise my hands and back away. That is effort I could not even contemplate. But look, you can only base your assumptions on your own experience. I can’t say “Climbing Everest is easy – you just keep climbing until you run out of Up”. It might make sense to me, but I have no frame of reference for mountain climbing in the Himalayas, so I would clearly be talking out of my…well, I’d probably be wrong. So, from my own experience, bringing up three Weasels, even moving every two years, even trying to maintain a writing career, even while emigrating to another continent, that’s STILL THE PREFERABLE OPTION FOR ME THAN GOING OUT TO WORK. I’m not saying this because I’m a man, or because I’m a Virgo, or because I was born in Sunderland. I’m saying it because, on the balance of the evidence available to me, that’s how it is.

But I can appreciate that women often feel they are being done down because they are, ultimately, the only ones who can actually have the baby. There’s no real way around that, if you’re determined to hand down your favourite genes, as it were. You want a baby, it’s gonna take nine months, cost you a fair bit of work time and it doesn’t do you any favours on your career path. I would bet that the percentages regarding who gives up work when the baby arrives still show women are most often left…er…holding the baby. But what makes me mad are articles like this one:

http://uk.lifestyle.yahoo.com/family-parenting/why-men-can-shirk-housework-blog-3-the-telegraph.html

I’m going to come right out and say I didn’t read it. Never followed the link. So why did I include it? Because the headline was used on the frontpage of my internet home page. I saw it when I first logged on this morning and it serves only one purpose – to aggravate people. Whatever the actual substance of this article, however genuine the scientific study at it’s heart, this piece has been written and published to make women angry, some men hurt and the few remaining lager-swilling, armchair-hogging wife-beating monosyllabic footie-snorting morons cheer drunkenly.

Men can be good at domestic tasks. We really can be. We need to get organised about it, and it doesn’t help if the routine changes unexpectedly. I can run the washing machine, the dishwasher and the dryer. I can hoover the whole house. I can even clean floors and toilets. I need a timetable to make sure I get ’em all done (or a sarcastic comment about the state of the floors) but I can do them. I don’t plead exhaustion after a hard day’s greeting at The World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailers to get out of doing the ironing. So, could the media stop perpetuating this myth that there are women’s jobs in the home and men get to read the papers? Could you folks out there stop believing them? Can people accept that “Househusband” does not mean a man in a pinny, for crying out loud? And can we agree that arguing about whether childcare or office work is harder only matters if you’re doing both?

Another summer, but no rant this year.

Dog in a bag. The Ultimate accessory.

The Man I was Last Summer. Note the worry paunch...

Last year, I was a man suffering from stress. The weasels had hardly been at school two months, and they were on their holidays. In fact, only the two Elder Weasels had even been to school, and now they were going to be on holiday for the best part of three months. By the time the holidays were over, they would have been on holiday longer than they had been at school. That didn’t make any sense any way I sliced it, and I was feeling put upon.

At first, of course, I had Mrs Dim on hand to help out, and it was glorious. We’d not had a full Summer Holiday together for a long time, since Mrs Dim’s various jobs didn’t give her a lot of leave. But now she was footloose and fancy free, if a little cranky about the enforced unemployment. Then within a couple of weeks of the holidays beginning we got a new dog and she got a job. As well as wrangling the regular weasels, I had kids from the complex coming round to play. On top of all this, I still wanted to convince myself I was a writer, so I was trying to get plays finished, write reviews and sell myself to anyone who might want stuff written down.

That was then. This year is different. For one thing, we’re not in that complex anymore, which means the kids don’t have the same handy supply of friends. Bad news for them. Mrs Dim is at work for most of the holiday season. Bad news for me. I’m at work for a  lot of the holiday season. Bad news for customers of the Largest Home Improvement Retail Store in the World. But we’ve thought a lot about this holiday. The weasels are booked into various camps and entertainments. They’re going to spend some time down in the US with their cousin. We’ve had two weeks with Mrs Dim’s parents visiting, and now my parents are on their way out here (and they’ll be babysitting for at least a couple of days, but they don’t know that yet.)

The biggest sign that this year is different is the lack of the Dreams Poster. It usually looks something like this:

Blue-sky thinking about blue-sky holiday plans

We haven’t made a dreams poster this year because all the things we want to do are sewn up. We’ll be taking parents to visit the places we love to go (The Aquarium, Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain) and the camps are full of the adventurous things the weasels enjoy (archery, canoing, eating stuff…)

So although this year I am running back and forth between Domestic God and Man of Work, and Mrs Dim only have a chance to talk while one of us is dozing in front of the tv and the other one is ironing, it’s not so bad. I don’t feel the desperation I did last year, staring at the beginning of ten weeks of holiday. In fact, we’re done with the first week already and I barely noticed. The sun has come out after a fortnight of grey cloud and drizzle, and we’re heading off to our local spray park as soon as I finish fiddling with the computer and make up some sandwiches. I may take a pen and pad and write some more of my brilliant play. Or print out my friend Lucy’s notes on my latest screenplay and frown over them through my sunglasses.

It’s Summer, it’s Canada, it’s BRILLIANT!

More milestones

Sometimes it feels like we’ve been living in Canada for decades, and other times I’m surprised to find an anniversary arriving. This week it’s Canada Day that has crept up. To be fair, it’s hard to miss the fact that it’s Canada Day, especially since The World’s Largest Home Improvement Retail Store is having a huge sale, but I only really thought about it recently in terms of last year.

Last year we were still living in the rental house in Birch Grove. We had a bundle of friends around us and the weather was so hot the kids had been sleeping in the basement because it was cooler down there. This year we’re out on our own in our crumbly new house, and we’ve had to buy a heater for the basement because it can get chilly. Oh, and ours is the only house for miles around with any Canadian flags hanging out. We’re hoping the sun will come out in a little while so we can go and visit our Birch Grove friends and share a little Canada Day cheer.

On the home front, it’s nice to have some progress to report. The IN-Laws have been working their socks off on our behalf, putting up archetrave around the doors, using baseboard (skirting board to you UK types) to cover the dreadful mess Mrs Dim and I made of the lino laying and rehanging doors downstairs to make it look nicer. Look: This is what is was like when we moved in…

What a mess....

And then we repainted and set to work tidying, and got this far:

Looking better already.

And then we got the lino and tiles done and it’s a useful playroom and laundry at last:

You're welcome to come and visit...

And with such improvements downstairs, we’ve been inspired to work on the rest of the house, putting up pictures, pinboards, shaving doors to make them close. All good stuff.

That, in turn, has inspired me to put a bit more effort into the other work. I picked up the Sinbad script again and bashed out another page and a half, and actually enjoyed it. I turned out a three-minute screenplay for a competition I’m entering as part of TLC (Because it’s a UK based writers competition, and Canada is just outside the UK these days…) I’m hoping to have enough of my old “Tribute to Myself” screenplay complete by the deadline for the Red Planet prize, and of course, I got the e-book finished. Tomorrow I’m going to the local printers to get a real print copy of the e-book to show around my writery friends over here, try and build up some interest.

The biggest surprise of all is that the Summer Holidays have begun and there’s been no panic. We haven’t even done the traditional “Summer Wish List” poster to help keep us on track because this year the Weasels are all off to various camps, entertainments and being babysat by grandparents while Mrs Dim and I go off to work. More than any other, this year will be the blueprint for the ones to come, so I’m hoping it will go well. I doubt we’ll ever again have the volume of visitors that we’re having this year, so we’ll be certain to make the most of it.

Still juggling after all these years

Juggling responsibilities....

Keep it all in the air, and don't worry about what happens when you stop...

So I’m still fighting the battle of three fronts, but it feels like the domestic reno fight is being won. We have a beautiful guest bedroom now, with a luxurious carpet, bed, wardrobe and new armchair. Yesterday I took my life in my hands and wired in the new light fitting. I don’t do electrical or plumbing normally. Plumbing has the nasty habit of flooding the house in the time it takes to get the plumber to answer the emergency hotline, and electricity gets you dead before you have time to think “Did I switch off the BZZZZT!” However this was a special case – if we kept the old fitting, people would bang their heads on the shade as they crossed the room, and I wasn’t going to call the electrician out AGAIN…They’ve done brilliantly with the various assigned tasks, but we’ve paid generously for the privilege and the reno fund is dribbling away fast enough already. Anyway, despite spending twenty minutes stood on a chair with my arms above my head, I managed to complete the job and reset the breaker. Then I flipped the light switch and nothing happened. I had time to mutter the rudest word I know, then the light came on. Of course, energy saving bulbs! Ha ha!

The next challenge is going to be the roofing and guttering. A nice man from the local company came out to check over the roof and admitted that it could last another couple of years, but he wouldn’t swear to it. Sadly, the fascias and soffits (my favourite word of the week! Say it three times to yourself and try not to smile…) are almost all rotting and need replacing. Some of these we could *gulp* try to sort ourselves. So, today’s question to consider – should we purchase two very long ladders and twenty metres of soffits and fascias, write off a couple of free days and spend them cursing and swearing because the one sodding screwdriver I need is back on the ground AGAIN and I’m at the top of the ladder holding fifteen screws and a length of soffit….Or should we pay most of the remaining reno fund to the nice man and his company, get the roof and soffits done professionally and admit that the deck was just a lovely dream? Answers on the back of a twenty dollar bill please….

On the work front, I have three whole weekdays off. One I squandered yesterday in catching up on reviewing and buying the new armchair, but since the sun was shining I also walked Moose and got a haircut (I only get haircuts in the sunshine. It’s like not buying a car in the rain.) Today (Day Two) I’m returning stuff to Ikea, doing more reviewing and maybe some writing. I have a screenplay I have resurrected in order to enter it for the wonderful Red Planet Prize (http://www.redplanetpictures.co.uk/prize.php ), since it was co-founded by the brilliant Danny Stack ( http://dannystack.blogspot.com/ ) who I met during our time in Bournemouth. As a Canadian, I’m outside the entry requirements, but once I’ve got the first draft into shape, it’ll go through TLC Creative, who are officially based in the UK and we’ll enter it when we all like it. This is a pet project that I’ve already had rejected by the BBC – it was a proposal for an hour-long comedy drama, then it became a stage musical, now it’s back to the standalone tv piece again. It’s one of the few things I’ve written that has a complete outline for me to work from, but it keeps wriggling and changing while I’m typing, so it may emerge from the process as something different to the piece I originally imagined. As long as it makes me laugh, I’ll be happy. Although a big fat paycheck would be welcome too, obviously.

Speaking of which, the e-book is creeping closer to production. This week I received a full draft version – if we were printing it on paper, this would have been the Galley copy. There are very few typos, and only a few points that need changing. Since it’s coming out as a pdf file, we can include fun stuff like hyperlinks to the plays online so people can read about the play, then follow the link to read the play itself. And since it’s a pdf, you don’t need a dedicated e-book reader to read it. David and Steve have done a brilliant job, adding a series of great comedy pictures and captions to the text, breaking it up and rasing the laugh level considerably. Now we have to sort out the various ways we’re going to sell it : through Lazy bee Scripts (www.lazybeescripts.co.uk ) obviously, but we may host some of the sales direct from the TLC site too (www.tlc-creative.co.uk ).

In more local news, I heard that there was a sale of one of my short plays to a group in Burnaby, just down the road from where I live. I got in touch with them and hope to receive tickets for the show fairly soon. They’re called “Third degree Theatre” (http://bradtones.webs.com/shows.htm ) and their current show is a really good one. I’m jealous! With luck, I should be able to join the group and get them to work with me on some of my more recalcitrant plays, like the wretched Holocaust piece that won’t BEHAVE ITSELF AND STICK TO THE PAGE!

Mrs Dim was suggesting that I revisit the idea of being a playwriting guru, running classes at the local Adult Ed centre, something I’ve always shied away from. I’ve written a lot of plays, most of which have sold and been performed, but do I really have anything to teach? Well, the e-book was part of that experiment. I wrote a book about playwriting, so I must know something about it. Maybe the next stage is setting up a teaching programme.