Where’s The Fire?

Last Saturday, I was doing a book signing at our local Chapters Indigo store. The weather was lousy, but at least it was just rain, not the freezing rain and snow that had been forecast. I was there for three hours, and I sold quite a few copies, but still three hours is a long time to just stand next to a giant sign featuring a post-apocalyptic Toronto skyline without any distractions. Then suddenly, a fire truck with its lights flashing pulled up outside the store. OOH! And I wasn’t the only person who raced to the window, and I’m also sure I wasn’t the only person who was more interested in seeing the firefighters than actually finding out why they were there. Ultimately, nothing happened—they didn’t even come into the store, much to the dismay of women, men, and small children alike. And it reminded me of the last fire drill we had at work:

I was in the elevator and two guys got on. “Don’t forget about the fire drill tomorrow,” one of them said to the other.

“Oh,” I said. “Is it in the morning or afternoon?”

“Afternoon,” he answered. “Stay close to your coat—it’s supposed to be chilly.”

So that was a great heads-up, except that I almost immediately forgot about it until the next afternoon, when suddenly, the fire alarm went off. Everyone looked around nonchalantly, but then an announcement came over the PA system: “A fire alarm has been activated on Parking Level 2. The fire department has been dispatched. Exit the building immediately.” Then people started to get a little panicky. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I heard two guys talking about a drill yesterday in the elevator. I’m sure the announcement is just a trick or something.” But that didn’t seem to make people feel better, and then everyone started walking quickly towards the exit. Notice that I said “exit” singular, and not “exits” plural. Because, even though my office is in an 18-story building, there’s only ONE way out. Down the stairs. Along with EVERYONE ELSE who works in the building. And after meandering slowly down numerous double flights of stairs in a huge crowd of people I didn’t know, I commented to my co-worker, “This is crazy. If there was a real fire, we’d all be in serious trouble.” She replied, “Why the hell didn’t I change out of these heels?” which was a completely legit question, since our secret agency meeting place was on a side street two city blocks away. I suppose that’s in an attempt to disguise our identities, you know, like we’re just a group of tourists who happened to stop for a chat behind the grocery store. Like, nothing to see here; just move along. Ignore the man carrying the encrypted laptop. But then things got a little worrisome. Not because of the fire—at this point it became very clear that it was, in fact, a drill—but because there was no sign of any firetrucks. A ripple of dissatisfaction ran through the crowd.

“Where are the firefighters? We were promised firefighters!”

“If I had to walk down 15 flights of stairs, there should at least be firefighters!”

“What’s going on? Does anyone hear sirens?”

“This is ridiculous! You can’t just lie about calling the fire department! It’s not fair!”

And this wasn’t just the women. Men like firetrucks too, you know. But after a little while, we were all distracted by a colleague in Human Resources, a very dapper guy who was now wearing not only his suit and tie, but a rather bold, red ballcap with the words, “Fire Marshall” on it. We flocked to him to have our names checked off (to ensure none of us had perished in the fake fire?) and also because he was the closest thing to a firefighter that we had, and then we sadly returned to our building. The elevators were back in service—4 elevators for an eighteen-story building. It took a little while, but we finally squeezed on at the ground floor, cheering and laughing. Then the elevator suddenly stopped at the sixth floor. We were all puzzled until the doors opened:

“Marcel!!” we cheered. There was Marcel, one of our French co-workers, with a huge grin on his face. “I t’ought ze best t’ing would be to go up ze stairs partway. And ‘ere you are!”  With that, we welcomed him aboard and went back to work.

This might seem inconsequential or anti-climactic, but I tell this story to illustrate a point. That, given the state of some parts of the world right now, I am always grateful when the worst DOESN’T happen, when it’s a drill and not a tragedy, when the door opens and it’s a friend on the other side, when I get to spend time with people who see the humour in things, and when “another day at the office” is a good day. Even if there weren’t any firefighters.

Notice the lack of firefighters…

My Flash Fiction in The Sirens Call

Just a quick mid-week post to share that I have a new piece of flash fiction in the latest  The Sirens Call anthology. It’s a spooky little story called “The Visit” and it’s on page 94—I can’t link straight to it but here’s the link to the anthology if you’d like to read it: The Sirens Call Issue 48. Happy New Year, everyone!

Gallery

On Writing Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Suzanne Craig-Whytock

I don’t normally post anything mid-week but I was interviewed by Paul Brookes about my writing and he did such a lovely job that I was compelled to post it!

The Wombwell Rainbow

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Suzanne Craig-Whytock

is a writer from Ontario, Canada. Her first two novels, Smile and The Dome are published by Bookland Press (www.booklandpress.com). Her short fiction has appeared in Slippage Lit and is upcoming in XRAY Literary Magazine. She also writes poetry, and funny/weird things on her website mydangblog (http://educationalmentorship.com).

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write?

I’ve been writing in a variety of genres for as long as I…

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My Week 246: Buttons and Bones

Every so often, my parents give me a tin of Quality Street chocolates. I’m not a particularly big chocolate eater, so I put it on the table in my office next to the little antique box I have full of chocolate squares, chocolate eggs, and Lindors. Why do I have so much chocolate if I don’t really eat it myself, you ask? Because a lot of other people REALLY like chocolate. It’s useful for so many things. For example, it ensures that people drop by and see me regularly just to “steal a chocolate” (although it’s not really stealing if I’m constantly saying “help yourself”), and I appreciate the company AND the momentary distraction. Also, after you’ve asked someone in the IT department to do you a favour and they’ve done it WITHOUT making you “log a ticket”, it’s really nice to offer them a chocolate reward in return for their help (and oh my god, I will never be able to say ‘log a ticket’ with a straight face ever because all I can think of is that it’s an awesome euphemism for using the bathroom, like “I just need to pop out of this meeting for a moment to log a ticket”). Finally, chocolate is fantastic for when someone is ticked off with you:

Colleague: Did you forget to review that very important document that I sent you?!
Me: Would you care for a Lindor? They’re filled with raspberry cream. Now what were you saying?
Colleague: I…mmm, they’re delicious.
Me: They are, aren’t they? Now, if you could just excuse me for a moment—I need to log a ticket.

Quality Street chocolates are very popular. In fact, on Thursday, someone from another floor ran past my door on his way to do something apparently important, but then he doubled back, darted into my office and grabbed a handful of Quality Streets. As he left, he waved the fistful of chocolates at me and said, “I love coming up here!” And it made me really happy. What didn’t make me happy though was that there were only a few chocolates left in the tin and when I transferred them into my other little chocolate box, I was left with—you guessed it—a large empty tin. What the f*ck do you do with an empty tin? It’s like Schrodinger’s Container—it’s simultaneously too useful to throw away AND too useless to keep. Which explains why every button in the world is kept in a tin. You all know I’m right. In fact, if you ever give anyone a tin of Quality Street chocolates, the first thing they say is, “Are there really chocolates in here or is this just a tin of buttons and sewing supplies?”

Nana’s buttons

The first tin I ever remember seeing was also a Quality Street tin. It did NOT contain chocolate. It contained the entirety of my great-grandmother’s button collection. Why did people collect buttons? I don’t know. But there were hundreds of buttons in that tin, and I spent many a pleasurable childhood hour sorting them by colour and size. I still have that tin in my cupboard. So when my Quality Street tin was empty, I took it to the kitchen at work with a note on it: “Free—great for buttons or sewing supplies”. So maybe, 50 years down the road, another woman will be saying “Why the f*ck did Nana have this many buttons?!”

Living Your Best Life

Which of these people is living their best life? Leave your vote in the comments below:

1) Me

This week, one of my colleagues had a birthday and another member of the team got her a life-size cardboard Jason Momoa which she put in her cubicle facing towards the door. I got to see him every day and he was VERY lifelike. Someone put a lei around his neck and we all pretended that he was saying “Aloha” to us every time we came into the office.

Aloha, ladies.

2) OR This Guy

A man was arrested this week for stripping naked and swimming in the shark tank at Ripley’s Aquarium. Right before that, he had started a fight at Medieval Times—I don’t know if he challenged one of the Knights to a joust but I wouldn’t be surprised. I was also surprised to learn that he was NOT from Florida—he was released on his own recognizance to go back to British Columbia.

So who’s living their best life? It’s a tough call since they both have an Aquaman theme, but you decide.

Addendum 1: This week was big junk day in our township, where everyone puts out cool stuff they don’t want anymore. I got Frank the stuffed fish at big junk day five years ago. So when Ken got home from work on Friday night, I made him drive me around to look at junk.

Me: Ooh, there’s a lovely pile of junk here, Ken!
Ken: Ergh.
Me: Turn right! I think I see a table top to go with the table base we just found.
Ken: Ergh.
Me: Look! There are two chairs—I can paint everything and make a set!
Ken: Ergh.

I love big junk day; Ken not so much, but he’s a good sport about it. Then when we got home, I started to unload the large, solid oak tabletop out of the back of the SUV and it slipped out of my fingers and onto my foot, which may or may not be broken now. But it was worth it. (Update–my foot is still swollen but it’s functioning as normal, so I don’t think I broke any bones.)

Addendum 2: I went on the Amazon website to order volumizing cream for my hair and discovered that, despite not being told ANYTHING by my publisher, my new novel, The Dome, is available on Amazon and Chapters Indigo for pre-order, the release date is October 15th and it’s currently ranked #543 in Dystopian Fiction. I was super-excited about breaking into the top 1000, but then I realized that the first chapter on both websites has the formatting wrong. The chapter heading “Chapter 1: Dee” runs right into the first sentence and there’s no paragraphing–it’s making me crazy and I want to yell out to the internet “IT’S NOT LIKE THAT IN THE BOOK!!!” Maybe they’ll change it if I give them some chocolate.

My Week 233: All The Weird Things

It’s been a strange time lately, a time when all the weird things are happening. If you read The Mystery of the Tip Sheet on the Table, I should tell you that was only the “Tip” of the iceberg, haha, and I apologize for the terrible pun, but I’ve certainly had some experiences in the last three weeks that have been completely outside my wheelhouse, and most of them have to do with the magical world of math. I call it “magical” because there are formulas, and also whenever I see someone solve an equation, I squeal excitedly and exclaim breathlessly with child-like wonder, “How did you do that?!” Here are the 5 strange things that have beset my life recently:

1) I applied for a job closer to home. I love my current job, but I have to live in the city during the week, and it’s getting pretty sketchy downtown. The job was kind of the same as what I do now, I thought, and to be honest, I didn’t really want to change jobs immediately, but at the bottom of the job posting it said that eligible candidates would be put in a pool for future positions, and that seemed like a great opportunity. So I applied, and lo and behold, I got an email about an interview. And at the bottom of the email was a description of the interview telling me that I would have to prepare a presentation for the interview panel. On MATH. My first reaction was, “Did they even LOOK at my resume?” Because I have a lot of qualifications and experience, none of which have anything at ALL to do with the numbers or adding or dividing or whatnot. The closest I’ve ever come to doing math professionally was teaching Life of Pi. And then it said at the bottom of the description that there would be a TEST at the end of the interview, and I was like, “What? A MATH TEST?!” because nowhere in the job description had it even mentioned math at all, and it seemed pretty obvious by then that they probably already had someone for the job, someone who was, perhaps, good at math. So when the place called me to confirm that I got the invite, I actually had to ask the woman, “So is the test at the end a math test?” because if it was, there was no point in going, but she said she didn’t think so, that it was probably a “scenario”. Which it was. And ironically, I totally ROCKED the math presentation, but I blew the “scenario” which was writing a letter in response to someone who was very angry. I responded the way I normally would—no, not by saying “Take a f*cking step back”—but in a professional way which is “Please provide more information to help me understand your anger.” It turns out though, that apparently I was supposed to direct them to a variety of different websites where they could explore their feelings themselves. Ultimately, it was not fun, but I DID get put into the pool for future positions, mostly on the merit of my math presentation, which is another one of life’s great mysteries.

Isn’t it magic-y?

2) I went to empty my blog spam folder, which usually contains about 30 comments about Nike shoes or Viagra, and there were 1, 167 spam comments in there. They were all for CBD oil (derived from marijuana). So I emptied the spam folder, and three days later, there were another 2, 000 messages, again for CBD oil, and all I could think was “Someone REALLY wants me to get high”. But then I did a little research and it turns out that CBD oil isn’t psychoactive, so I’m not sure what’s going on there, but the Viagra people need to step up their game.

3) I had to go by myself to do a presentation (this time on my actual work instead of magic-y math sh*t) to a group of around 60 people. I don’t enjoy standing up in front of people at any given moment—I don’t even say much in meetings when I’m sitting down—but someone had to do it, and I was that someone. I stayed in a hotel the night before because the weather was supposed to be lousy for travelling the next day. I decided to order some Swiss Chalet chicken, and then stay in for the night watching the Oscars. I called up Swiss Chalet and asked for delivery, but when the woman gave me the total, I realize I didn’t have any money so I said, “Oh, I don’t have any cash on me. Will the guy take Visa or is there something else I need to do?” and then I realized to my horror that it sounded like I was offering to instigate a porn scene where the lady doesn’t have money but offers to “take it out in trade” with the nubile young delivery man. Luckily, you can pay for Swiss Chalet over the phone,  and a very sturdy older lady came to my hotel room, so no worries there. But then, incredibly, the hotel TV had 54 channels and not one was showing the Oscars, so I ended up watching porn. No I didn’t. That was a joke. I ended up watching a Flip or Flop Nashville marathon.

The presentation the next day went OK, except for the snarky guy sitting right in front of the podium who kept muttering under his breath and rolling his eyes, which was very distracting. At one point, he raised his hand to angrily complain about how hard it was to use a particular report, and I felt like saying, “Well, toilet training is hard too, but I assume you’ve figured that one out.” Instead I just smiled and said, “Here are some websites you can use to explore your feelings about this issue.”

4) Then I got back to the office and was asked to start supervising, in addition to my own team, another team whose job revolves completely around MATH. My reaction again was “Have you even LOOKED at my resume?!” And now not only do I have to try and understand math in English, I also have to try and understand it in FRENCH, because we have two official languages, and math is hard in both of them. At least the people are nice and don’t roll their eyes at me.

5) On Tuesday, I raced to get dinner finished and get ready for bed so that I could be all cozy on the couch in my pajamas in time for my favourite new TV show The Launch (it’s Canadian). I made it with a minute to spare and yelled to my roommate, “Come on, it’s almost starting!” Then I went up and down the guide and couldn’t find it on anywhere. “I don’t understand” I said. “Are they on hiatus already” and my roommate said, “Isn’t The Launch on Wednesdays?” and I said “Yes,” and she said, “Today is Tuesday”, and this is what too much math does to you. So we resigned ourselves to watching The Voice and I was trying to figure out Instagram when I realized my young cousin was starting some ‘live’ video thing so I clicked on it. He and his friend were talking, then suddenly he said, “Hi Suzanne”, and I shrieked and threw the phone down and said to my roommate, “Oh my god, can he SEE me?!” She started laughing hysterically and explained how your name comes up at the bottom so that people know you’re watching, and it reminded me of the first time I tried to send a fax, and panicked when the paper went into the fax machine because there was a phone number on the back of the form that I needed. The secretary at the school also laughed hysterically just like my roommate and explained that the paper would come back out once it had been scanned. “Did you think the fax machine magically transported the actual paper to the person you’re sending it to?” she asked.  “Of course not—that would be ridiculous,” I said, but in my head I was like, “Yes. Yes, I totally f*cking did.” Because faxes are magical. Just like math.

(I just had a short story published in the inaugural issue of a terrific literary magazine called Slippage Lit. It’s called Perfect Food, and if you want to read it, click here: https://www.slippagelit.com/perfectfood)