Category Archives: Uncategorized

February 8th


When someone Trouble loves reappears after a significant absence, there is an immediate love-in, usually just inside the front door. Trouble’s greeting is rapturous, beginning with a tail wagging that involves the full body, followed by a slow sideways slide to the floor, and a paw-waving rollover that clearly indicates that the favoured visitor is permitted to provide a belly rub.


The rapture is contagious, as, for instance, when Daughter comes home after farflung travels. Not everyone is so privileged or so loved.

One Friend, however, receives the same welcome — Daughter’s Friend, who from time to time looks after Trouble when her People go away. Daughter’s Friend is beloved of the whole household, in fact, to the extent that we have coined a new category of relationship in her honour. You’ve heard of daughters-in-law: Daughter’s Friend is also our Daughter-in-Paw.

And, since February 8th is her birthday, we offer her our congratulations and our best wishes for much happiness and our love. One of us is also offering a belly rub, but that has to be claimed in person.


Training: Facilities

The Armories in Toronto, surrounded by recruiting tents, were so busy from the time war had been declared that the only logical thing to do, to provide for all the units recruited from the city, was to turn the Exhibition Grounds into a military camp.

CNE military_camp_WWIThe Grounds were the lakeshore site of the Canadian National Exhibition, which had been founded in 1879 as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, with its own Crystal Palace to display industrial and agricultural progress and accomplishments. Renamed in 1912 to reflect national aspirations, it covered 350 acres (142 hectares), and provided space in its various buildings for military purposes, and room for tents as well. The Exhibition continued to be held each autumn, with many of the soldiers vacating the camp to make way for visitors, but many remaining to provide demonstrations of up-to-the minute military techniques and activities.(1)

One of the exhibits in the Industrial Hall during the 1916 CNE was that of W.H. Banfield and Sons, who were engaged in manufacturing shrapnel shells for the 18-pounder artillery guns that Percy would learn to fire during the summer of 1916.

CNE Machinery_Hall_1916_sm CNE

“We’re both needed,” says the banner: “Fill up the ranks! Pile up the munitions!” In 1915 shells had been rationed at the front: in March of that year, “the rate of expenditure [being] seventeen times as great as the rate of production,” the attack on Neuve Chapelle was halted. “Cessation of the forward movement is necessitated today by the fatigue of the troops and above all, by the want of ammunition,” Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, told Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War.(2)

Fortunate, production — as well as demand — would increase dramatically.

(1) The CNE and the Great War
(2) A. Fortescue Duguid, Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914-1919. Vol. 1  From the Outbreak of War to the Formation of the Canadian Corps August 1914-September 1915. 1938. 194

The images come from the CNE’s heritage site.

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”

The Cone of Shame

Trouble fiFed up cropnds the yellow-splashed plastic cone that frames her head very tiresome. Almost as tiresome is the inevitable greeting from passers-by – “oh,” they say, “the cone of shame.” Sympathy quickly follows (“What’s the matter with her?”) but the first reaction always refers to shame.

Trouble’s trouble is an indolent ulcer of the cornea. She scratched her eye, somehow, somewhere, at the end of April, and now (past the middle of June) it’s an indolent ulcer – one that can’t be bothered to heal itself. Certainly it resists treatment, including but not limited to pain meds systemic and topical, antibiotic drops, lubricating gel, and even her own blood serum, spun out of a blood sample and instilled drop by refrigerated drop into the eye. Right now, it’s four kinds of drops, four times a day, with five to ten minute intervals between them. Human has a wall chart to check them off, which she does faithfully though not without grumbling.

You grumble, thinks Trouble, squinting upward and sliding her third eyelid toward the ulcer; you aren’t getting the sting and blur sixteen times a day, with only the tiniest of liver treats to compensate.

Three local vets have consulted, prescribed and debrided without making much impact on the ulcer’s indolence. Earlier this week Trouble was examined by the veterinary ophthalmologist – a round trip of 525 kms – and will make that trip again next week for a keratectomy. Human is not so secretly hoping that the pre-op examination will reveal the ulcer finally starting to heal. Time will tell.

Beach bonnet

Not the park, but pretty good!

Meanwhile, Trouble is not permitted to run free in the park, for fear of brambles. She wears her collar almost all the time: it only takes a moment to scratch or rub the painful eye, and make things worse.

And Human wishes she had a collar to prevent her from worrying her own injury. The letter has finally come from Publisher N – “Thank you for submitting your proposal, but no, we will not publish your book.” Her pride and confidence are severely damaged, despite stern self-talk.

“All published writers suffer rejection from multiple publishers. This is only the second attempt and second rejection for this proposal. You’ve got a few more to go to match Stephen King.”

“The publishers said they thought long and hard about it. It was worth consideration. In fact, they said outright it was publishable. Who are you to dispute it?”

Even the positive talk galls the injury, notice: “Who are you to dispute it?” Humans, Trouble knows, are apt to make life more complicated than it needs to be, and Writing Humans are worse. A manuscript rejection? That’s no poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Human is still intact. Her capacity to throw sticks and dish up kibble is unimpaired, and so is her capacity to rewrite the cover letter and address an envelope to another publisher.

Easter bonnet

Her good side. Photo credit: Eileen Donahoe

If she’d only stop scratching the sore spot. Someone give that Human a cone of shame, and a deadline to get the next proposal off.

What’s Next?

whats next 2In the end-of-term push, all but the essential duties sometimes get set aside. Writing time gives way to reading, and more reading. Students may dread the end-of-term deadlines for research papers and projects, but their faculty too are sometimes less than enthusiastic about tackling a briefcase full of papers or an inbox full of electronic essays. It’s hard to give each the attention it deserves, when its writer is waiting anxiously for evaluation, and the registrar sends polite reminders about deadlines to submit final grades.

underdesk 2 crop


Trouble doesn’t care. She is happy to curl up in Underdesk  for hours — as long as she still gets her walks.  And she does.  (See “essential duties” above.)



pussywillows 1

April 23rd

As the days lengthen and the temperatures rise (but slowly — it’s a late spring after a hard winter), snowbanks give way to mudholes in Point Pleasant Park, and the ground releases smells that intrigue a canine nose.

Silver grey pussywillows gradually turn to soft green plumes and then to miniatures of what Housman called the flambeaux of chestnut trees.

Meanwhile papers get read, grades are calculated and submitted, graduation day arrives … term is well and truly over, and with it, this experiment in blogging.

pussywillows 2

May 7th

What’s next? Trouble’s enthusiasm for swimming and retrieving is as predictable as the turn of winter to spring, but Troublewriting is going for the unpredictable.

There will, from time to time, be further instalments of this blog as Human continues to reflect on writing, Trouble, and Troublewriting.


There are draft entries on the “cone of shame,”  and on inukshuks. If your curiosity continues, click the follow button (look down the right hand side – it’s not obvious) and supply your email address. And comments are always welcome!

pussywillows 3

May 14th

Meanwhile, may your troubles be nothing that can’t be solved, or at least alleviated, by a walk in the park or a really good scratch.

Squeaky toys and generalizations

squeaky toy cropTrouble is an inductive thinker: she notices specifics and makes generalizations out of them.  The clinking of tags on a collar means it’s time for a walk. The clinking of tags together with car keys means a trip in the car, possibly to the park. Trouble’s observations about Human’s writing are just that, observations: the description leaves it up to readers to figure out what, if anything, it means beyond the moment of the experience. In other words, if readers want to get anything besides amusement from the Underdesk perspective, they’re going to have to figure out for themselves why Human prints out her rough draft and what she does with it. When Human wants to explain something, she spells it out, and then gives an example.  That’s backwards, Trouble thinks. Who wants generalizations?

Readers who want to learn something want generalizations: the main idea, nice and clear, followed by enough specifics to back it up and make it real. If you want to teach readers something, it’s a good idea not to make them work too hard.  Quintilian said “We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us.” It’s the writer who has to do most of the work.

Then what can we pull in the way of a general idea from what was left from last week’s efforts? It’s in the middle: “Human can’t just write something and be done.”  That sentence doesn’t, however, tell us Human does do, just what she doesn’t, so we’ll add “Instead, she writes a rough draft and then revises it.”  Everything else is a description of what that process looks like, mostly from Trouble’s perspective: Human scratches, sighs, throws out and begins again. Some of it is interpreted: Human prints because she wants “to see the whole thing – the whole shape of it.” For the readers’ sake, we’ll spell it all out.

revision spelling it outThat’s the result of revision – the yellow spells out the parts that then got deleted. Notice that when we’re revising we worry more about spelling it out than spelling it right. There’ll be time enough for getting it right later. You don’t paint your vase till it’s been fired in its final shape.

Trouble sighs audibly from Underdesk. All this revision is a bit like worrying a chew toy when its squeaker is dead – what’s the point? The With sighs too deep for wordspleasure’s gone out of it. And to Trouble’s way of thinking, a general idea is even less satisfactory than a real chew toy, even a soggy one with a defunct squeaker. Trouble, as we’ve noted before, is a contemplative canine. It’s the moment that matters.

She’ll never be an academic.

Point Pleasant Park Revisited

Snowy faceA series of cold bright days means more walks than usual in the Park. Sometimes Dixie comes too. She is rather less discriminating about Good Things than Trouble is – less fussy, she would probably say. She never met something dead that wasn’t good to roll in, and she’ll eat almost anything. She has no memory of indigestion.

And she’s a Brittany spaniel. Once loose in the park, she is on a mission.  Off she goes on her long legs, her ground-eating trot taking her far ahead before she decides to loop back and check on the whereabouts of her Human. Sometimes people ask, “Have you lost a brown and white dog? She’s down…” “at the squirrel feeder,” Human says. Dixie pointing cropShe’ll stay there, watching and being watched, till Human arrives. Dixie knows all the squirrel feeders in the park, and plots a route that will take her from one to the next. She’ll point squirrels, or she’ll flush them and chase them. She’s utterly impervious to insults spit at her from branches overhead.

Trouble is less focused. Though squirrels are a Good Thing, she’ll check out anything that looks as if it might be interesting, peanuts spilled from a feeder or crab shells, a stick, a lost ball or a dropped glove.  Her searches lead her off trail, into snowbanks and through brambles. Sometimes the brambles are impenetrable, and she has to beat a retreat.


Sometimes the brambles are impenetrable

She’s been known to chase crows, until they turn to chase her. Eventually she’ll catch up with Dixie, who’ll be standing motionless at the foot of pine tree, where a head-down squirrel is deciding just how saucy it can safely be.

Human tends to research the way Trouble scouts the park. She enters an archive or a library or an on-line database with a general idea and a hunger to find out everything there is to know about it. The result is boxes and gigabytes of research notes, and a book manuscript which has already reached 100,000 words, and it’s only chapter 3. Find out everything, get it all into shape, and then edit it to manageable size – that’s her preferred modus operandi. Hardly efficient, though it does turn up some fascinating tidbits. (Watch for her article on a one-legged Victorian doctor, coming soon in the Journal of Medical Biography. That was one of those unexpected discoveries, as delicious to Human as blackberries to Trouble.)

It would be better to imitate Dixie. A Dixie researcher is like a trained interviewer, who would never turn up for her appointment with an Important Personage without preparing a list of questions in advance. Where do squirrels like to hang out? Where is the next squirrel feeder? Where else might they be if the feeder is empty? Where else do people leave peanuts and breadcrumbs? Whereas Trouble can be easily – was that a rabbit? – distracted, Dixie ignores anything in the great park that isn’t squirrelsome, even, sometimes, her Human’s voice. A Dixie researcher combs what she finds looking for answers to her questions, disregarding the rest. Of course, she’s not entirely close-minded; if something turns up and proves even better than what she’d anticipated, she’ll shift her focus – but she’s still focused.

Even Dixie turns aside for a biscuit.Dixie headshot

Point Pleasant Park

The park is better than dinner, almost. Human says she has to clear her head — that it’s not procrastination, not at all, just part of the writing process. Trouble doesn’t care what Human says, as long as she has the car keys in one hand and the collar in the other.Trouble in the park

You might think that the park gets to be boring after a while, but Point Pleasant Park is 75 hectares of woods and walkways, mostly off-leash. At the very tip of a peninsula, its rocky shores are refreshed daily with flotsam and good smelly things. In the fall a clever dog can eat blackberries right off the brambles. There’s always something to notice, and even the most unpromising things deserve to be investigated in case they turn out to be Good Things in Trouble’s Life (GTTL). Whether ducks, squirrels, or recently vacated mussel shells, there’s something of interest almost everywhere. Everything connects with your passion somehow, says Trouble, if you keep sniffing.

The off-leash park is a very GTTL. There’s pleasure just in doing your business there. You can find just the right spot, whether you like leaves or bare ground. You can take all the time you want, and you can try to leave it behind for others to find. Human is hard to escape though: she has an eagle eye and will pursue Trouble right into the scrub, plastic bag in hand, to clean up after her.  It can even be amusing to watch Human scramble through the undergrowth with her plastic bag, gathering burrs and scattering expletives.

A city walk is much less fun, but a contemplative dog knows better than to compare the pleasure of any now moment with any remembered or anticipated one.  City walks tend to be more practical events, and business at the end of a leash is not as much fun. The choice of location is more limited: Trouble likes the top of a snowbank, especially if it’s a long way from the sidewalk. She also likes to turn around several times, presenting a challenge to the leash-holder. Humans need challenges, Trouble finds; otherwise they tend to be oblivious to the moment they’re in.

Trouble at the shoreRunning offleash is akin to what we call exploratory writing, or expressive writing, or even free-writing.  You can follow whatever trail you like, or stand nose-aquiver in the heather. There’s no purpose to it except to discover what you didn’t know you thought, or uncover something quite new to you.  It’s fun. Sometimes you produce something for someone else to discover, but that’s not why you do it. It’s not like writing for a reader. There are more constraints to that exercise. The secret, as Trouble has discovered, is to treat those constraints as challenges, and find the fun in them, too.  Just like pooping at the end of a leash.