Tuesday, 25 October 2011

When the Truth is Stranger than Fiction

I've started writing a few short stories based on my experiences in the Middle East, and the people I met there. One is based on fact, others are fictionalised. But the more I read about what's happening in 'our' town over there that's got swept up in the so-called Arab Spring, the more I realise that fact usually wins hands-down. I couldn't have imagined this even twelve months ago.

There's a struggle going on between armed government forces and a mixture of students, tribal militias and ordinary people in the street. The government thugs had holed themselves up in a school, trying to cling to control. Protestors had gathered outside and were demanding that they leave. Kids were watching from a balcony in the school. One of the soldiers must have let his anger get the better of him, feeling cornered and frustrated, who knows, and he picked up one of the children and threw him down to the ground below. In the ensuing wave of public fury and outrage the crowd finally managed to oust the soldiers from the building. The child is being treated in hospital.

Seeing how ordinary people are taking things into their own hands is stirring. Supposedly the Occupy Wall Street people took some inspiration and learned a few lessons from the people in Cairo.

This week I started looking into a very different 'direct-action' kind of thing in the Canadian town where we live. No, I won't be lobbing stones through the windows of any stores, laying down in front of tanks or even rescuing mice from laboratories. It began when the small local church we belong to agreed to start a sort of 'random acts of kindness' project in the neighbourhood. Three of us were going to stand outside a supermarket and give out free cups of coffee or help the more frail shoppers with their shopping trolleys (shopping carts, if you're from this side of the Atlantic).

So this morning I found the supermarket's manager and explained, but he decided this little project of ours was too much of a risk for him. He didn't want his customers feeling they were having some sort of religious message thrust upon them. That wasn't the point of the project, of course. Coffee and a helping hand aren't a religious message, are they? Naturally, if people had asked us why we were doing this, we'd say it was to show God's love in a practical way. A very few might want to talk more. But there's no way we were going out to push a message on unwilling people. A friend from our church says he's got the same sort of negative response from all sorts of stores. Business comes first.

Instead of this slightly quixotic project, then, my wife and I have decided to go and find the 'Occupy...' people in the town and see where they'll be occupying that morning. I expect they'd appreciate some free coffee. There must be someone around to whom we can show a little kindness!

  • Are you involved in any random-acts-of-kindness thing? Or the "occupy" movement? What's happening in your town and neighbourhood? I'd like to hear about it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Wandering Scribbler for Hire

So I've finally caught up with the 21st Century. Just as I was signing up to Google for this blog space, I get an email from the freelance writing agency I've got myself into. There are hundreds of jobs posted - 'Write My Webpage!' 'Rewrite these product reviews by Saturday!' - and I have written proposals for five of them. As a newbie in the agency, not many clients will give me a chance. It's like I'm a chipmunk amongst a crowd of bears, all of us calling "Pick me! Pick me!" to whoever's hiring.

But finally I get this email, to rewrite ten articles by Saturday, and it's my big chance to get a foot in the door and improve my agency rating from zero to some small but significant figure. So that's cool. And I was just in the process of signing up to this my first blog. But just then my wristwatch beeps, reminding me to go down the street to pick up my children from school. It's my turn today, since my wife is out at the university today. So my professional destiny hangs in the balance while I wander down the road, through the trees, wave to the crossing guards and find my boys.

I think that a few months ago I may have shrunk from the very idea of becoming a writer-for-hire like this. Writing is an art, a craft, a calling. For me, it's about passing on whatever light and life has fallen into my lap, telling the stories of people I've met, spinning yarns that might cause a reader somewhere to smile, or look at life differently.

But for now, it's nose to the grindstone. Maybe the young Rembrandt had to paint fences some days to earn his keep.