Category Archives: spirit

The biology of story: Pick up, listen, restore

I spent the weekend in Toronto, Canada at the Canadian Writers’ Summit. Hundreds of writers from across the country gathered at the Harbourfront Centre to share ideas, learn from each other and evolve as writers.

Are you surprised I chose to attend a session entitled “The Biology of Story”? 

At the session, Amnon Buchbinder, associate professor of screenwriting at York University, talked about the “interactive documentary” he created to explore the idea of stories as living things.

Buchbinder’s documentary, found at, outlines three principles.

1. A story is a living thing

“A story will choose to be with you, but you have to choose to pick up the story.” —Nigaan James Sinclair

If you want to drive a writer crazy, ask them, “Where do you get your ideas?” You might hear something like “Out of the clear blue sky.” Perhaps it’s a matter of writers choosing to pick up the stories—those living beings—that come to them.

Watch: Stories are living beings. Period

2. Living is a story thing.

“Listen and you will see your own story will speak to you.” —Jean Pierre Makosso

Do you drift aimlessly from one event to another in your life? Are you listening for what your story—living being that it is—has to tell you?

Watch: Listen and your story will speak to you.

3. Not all narratives are stories.

“A real story is the possibility of restoring the world.” —Deena Metzger

Buchbinder writes: “We live in a world crowded with narratives. Many of them lack key properties of story. This accounts for the lifeless and/or destructive forms that some narratives take.”

Watch: Stories are about wholeness

Buchbinder’s documentary encourages us to pick up the stories that come to us, to listen for what our own stories have to say, and to work with those stories to restore the world.

I just sent you a story. Pick it up, listen, restore. 

Groundhog Day: Life themes that need repeating

Groundhog Day is one of my favourite movies. Clever writing and perfectly timed edits build a humorous, poignant, and challenging story that unrolls three of my favourite themes:

Photo © 2004 by April King

Photo © 2004 by April King

1. Long-lasting happiness doesn’t come through material things or self-indulgence; it comes from making a valuable contribution to society.

2. Life-long learning enriches the self and society.

3. People have to true to themselves, and they can’t control other people’s actions or emotions.

At the beginning of the movie, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a self-centered, cynical jerk. Through an unexplained circumstance he finds himself reliving February 2—Groundhog Day—over and over and over. Every day after his clock radio clicks over to 6:00 a.m. and he hears the same Sonny and Cher song, he meets the same people and re-lives the same events, trying to figure out what he has to do to escape the repetitive loop. Goofing off on the job doesn’t do it. Eating every creamy dessert in sight doesn’t help. Suicide attempts don’t work. When he falls in love with Rita (Andie MacDowell) he tries to make her fall in love with him. He pretends to be something he isn’t. He plays tricks, and he pushes too fast, too soon.

1. Eventually he begins to notice people he can help: women in a car with a flat tire on Main Street, a choking victim in the restaurant or a homeless man in the alley.

2. Eventually he decides to learn new things: he becomes an excellent piano player, a master ice sculptor and learns to speak French.

3. Eventually, he evolves into a compassionate, interested person who allows others to be who they are.

That is, of course, when the cycle breaks.

If I were to mention the three themes above in casual conversation, most people would nod in agreement. True, long-lasting happiness doesn’t come from a store. True, learning new things just makes life so darned interesting. True, we can’t control or other people’s actions or emotions.

But those commonly accepted rules aren’t so easy to live.

1. No matter how much we know that material things or self-indulgence won’t bring us long-term happiness, we still pine for a new car, Häagen-Dazs Dark Chocolate ice cream, a designer bag, a 52-inch flat screen, the latest electronic gadget . . .

2. We come up with excuses to avoid new challenges. We’re too tired, too old, too young, or we have no time, no money, no proper equipment . . .

3. We pretend to be something we’re not just to try to impress others. We try to shape other people according to our expectations. We push them to quit smoking, get fit, wear different clothes, change their hair, get higher grades, quit drinking . . .

If you never watched Groundhog Day, or if you dismissed it as a mindless lark, I invite you to visit it, or revisit it, over and over and over.

It seems the themes need repeating.


Be kind to clerks and servers this Christmas and holiday season

My daughter worked on Black Friday at a mall near our home. She came home at the end of the shift shaking her head.

“People didn’t have to be there,” she said. “They chose to go on a day when they knew it would be crowded and there would be line-ups. Why are they snapping at me when things take a little longer?

I could write an entire post about “How is Black Friday even a thing in Canada?” but I’ll save that for another rant someday. For today my topic is “Be kind to clerks and servers.”

They don’t make much money. They don’t get paid more on busy holiday shopping days, even though the stress is far greater. While people are out “enjoying themselves” they work longer hours than usual to accommodate the increased numbers.

For goodness sake—and I mean that literally—be kind. And patient.

That’s what these holidays—Holy Days—are really all about, isn’t it?



Faith, whether we claim it or not

More food for thought from Bishop Steve Charleston


“We do not know what is around the next corner.

We do not even know what will pass in our lives between sunrise and sunset. Therefore, whether we claim it or not, we live each day in faith.

We believe. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our family. We believe in others who are close to us.

Some of us believe beyond that, to name a loving power that guides us, to walk with others who pray with us. But we all believe, in some way, in our own fashion.

Let that thin thread, that simple affirmation, bind us in a shared respect. We are not strangers in shadows, but believers searching for the light.”

—Bishop Steve Charleston


Blue Moon contemplations

“You have to understand that it is your attempt to get special experiences from life that makes you miss the actual experiences of life. Life is not something you get; it’s something you experience. Life exists with or without you.”

—Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself 

good-and-evilToday we have a second full moon in one month: a blue moon.

Those with an astrological bent would say it’s a full moon in Aquarius, opposed by a Leo Sun, with Venus in retrograde. Those without astrological interest would say hogwash to all that.

I’m not sure about astrology, but I give the moon its due. It moves our massive oceans, so it’s not difficult to believe that a force that mighty at work all around me could have an effect on me too. It find it easy to believe that the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun creates some ebb and flow in me too.

At the very least, a second full moon in a single month makes me turn aside—take a break from my usual busy-ness and preoccupations—and pay attention. It makes me take a break from trying to make special experiences happen so I can appreciate life’s actual experiences.

The blue moon is not something I create. It exists with or without me. I get to experience it—the beauty of it, the gravitational pull of it, the brief and rare glory of it.

I don’t intend to miss it.

“What has you by the heart these days?”

My excellent friend, Willow-Marie, wrote a blog last week about this question: What has you by the heart these days?

When a friend posed the question to her, Willow-Marie focused her attention on it during a visit to Ottawa’s Byward Market. Not surprisingly, a child became part of the answer. Isn’t it often so?

“It was one of those moments when you can actually feel delight moving through space. You catch it from another person and it becomes yours too.” —Willow-Marie

The question prompts us to notice things that might otherwise pass us by. 

I encourage you to read her post and then focus your attention. What delight moves through space to become yours?

By the Heart On the Byward Market —Willow-Marie.real


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