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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Working through winter on the farm

Winter months are a great time to get indoor projects completed. This includes the book I have been working on for years. In winter I am not distracted by my garden that needs weeding, a beckoning swimming pool and an inner voice that screams “why are you sitting at a computer on a beautiful day like today?? You should be outside!!”
I put another log on the fire, pour a cup of tea and settle in for an hours-long writing session. Here’s why this particular project is taking so long to complete. I lived in Taiwan from 2003 to 2006 and wrote a number of articles for The Kemptville Advance during that time. Topics ranged from the Taiwanese President’s attempted assassination, to prawn fishing, to culture shock, to the tsunami.  I have some great stories to include in my book from those columns. But it’s going to be a sight more difficult than I first imagined.
When I returned from Asia, I got busy repatriating to Canada, restoring my status as a Canadian citizen and finding work. A few years passed before I decided to try and put my stories together into a book. Like five years. By then, I discovered that I no longer had access to the email account I used in Asia to send the stories home. No problem, I thought. I will just go to the newspaper office and get the stories there. The newspaper didn’t have the emails anymore either. And the floppy discs they had used to store my articles on were by then obsolete. I had no way of opening them to read the files inside. I resigned myself to collecting old copies of the newspapers from that time and transcribing all the articles by hand into my computer at home. That took the better part of a year.
I got busy working for the local radio station then, and writing news every day. When you use your brain to write all day, the last thing you feel like doing is writing when you get home. So the project got put aside again. For another almost five years. I’m sure it’s beginning to feel neglected.
Now that I have taken a closer look at the 50,000 words that I have as a foundation for this book, I realize we have a new problem. The articles that I wrote as a Canadian expat in Taiwan, in the throes of culture shock, actually come across as culturally insensitive and a bit prejudiced. In truth, I had fallen into the “us vs. them” syndrome. I thought I was very open-minded and accepting of the Chinese culture but when I read these ten-year-old articles again, they come across as mildly inappropriate.
Of course I didn’t mean all Taiwanese when I said they don’t treat women with respect or they have very little hope of a getting married after the age of thirty…I was simply referring to a few key individuals with whom I had had conversations on the subjects. But I didn’t make that clear in the articles and so now I will have to go back and edit them all. It will basically mean rewriting most of them.
The other aspect of the project that is holding me back is the idea that I need to secure my subjects’ privacy by allowing them to retain their anonymity in my book. I mean, they didn’t ask to have a book written about them, even if they are extremely interesting people: a drag queen, a drug dealer, a nudist and an escapee from the Mormons, among them. There are good stories there. I’m just not sure how to go about telling them without ticking anyone off.
And so, I rewrite sections of the book, I add new sections and I delete parts that I never liked in the first place. The project continues. It is giving me something to do during the long winter months while waiting for calves to be born. On that front we have two down and ten to go. So far we have two healthy little heifer calves: Holly and Annie.
Note to a reader who took the time to send me a handwritten letter: thank you Eileen for the advice about the cats. I didn’t realize they each need their own litter box. I have two set up but will get a couple more. I hope they appreciate this special dispensation.


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