A Good Home, Artists, Arts, Canadian Art, Spirit of the Hills - Arts Group, Writers

Felicity Sidnell Reid — Arts Multi-tasker

I don’t go out much. But I recently got ‘volun-told’ to help my artists’ group.  You can blame Felicity Sidnell Reid.  I joke that she twisted my arm — most graciously.

Blog Photo - Felicity and granddaughter
Felicity and her grandaughter

An author and radio interviewer, Felicity is always involved in the arts.

She and her husband John moved from big-city Toronto to Northumberland County 20 years ago.

SOTH - Patricia Calder Farm Country

“I love the country,” she says. “And I love the atmosphere of a small village. I feel more relaxed here.”

Felicity lives in “a small house on a large lot with a stream that runs year-round.”

Blog Photo - Felicity garden

Blog photo - Felicity pet

Blog Photo - Felicity Creek

Blog Photo - Felicity Book Cover

Her book, Alone: A Winter in the Woods was published in 2015 by Hidden Brook Press. Skilfully written and illustrated, it’s a survival story about a teenager left alone to look after his family’s cabin and livestock in 1797 while his father fetches the other family members from abroad.

Felicity also chairs the 50-member writers’ group within Spirit of the Hills arts association (SOTH).  That’s how I met her.

Blog Photo - Felicity Sidnell Reid

Welcoming and kind, she took my sometimes-strange speech and always-strange walk in stride, and made me feel at home at my first meeting. 

The monthly breakfast-meeting is supportive, fun and opinionated. As chair, Felicity sets the tone.

“I love chairing the writers’ group,” Felicity says. “Although one might want to shut oneself up in an attic sometimes — to escape from all the email and phone calls – it’s a great bunch of people. And a lot of fun.”

Blog Photo - Felicity and authors-at-book-reading-spirit-of-the-hills

“Doesn’t it sometimes feel like you’re herding cats?” I ask. “How can you be so unflappable and gracious with us all the time?”

Felicity laughs.

“I taught high school for years,” she says. “You have to be unflappable. I’m not sure how gracious I am, but I’ve noticed that if you are, people tend to be gracious back.”

Blog Photo - Felicity and Gwynn

The writers’ group is productive. It initiated a literary radio show – hosted by Felicity and author Gwynn Scheltema – and a Festival of the Arts, being held November 3 and 4.  All of SOTH is involved.

SOTH’s membership includes writers, artisans, musicians, performers and a variety of painters and other visual artists. They come from as far away as Toronto to the west and Kingston to the east.

SOTH - Patricia Calder Red Barn

But most, like Felicity, live in Northumberland County, an area of outstanding natural beauty.

SOTH - Patricia Calder-View of Rice Lake

“Driving through the countryside is always exciting because the hills themselves are so lovely,” Felicity notes. “There’s invariably another incredible view, maybe of a small lake or of Lake Ontario, or the next pretty town, or more hills covered with forest or farms, fields and animals.”

SOTH - Patricia Calder Horse Photo - 2 paints

The Festival will be held in lakeside Cobourg, one of Canada’s most beautiful  towns.

SOTH - Marie-Lynne College St Photo
Credit: M-L Hammond
Blog Photo - SOTH Reva Nelson Marina shot
Credit: R. Nelson

“We wanted to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday but, more importantly, the creativity and diversity of the arts in this region.”

Felicity and SOTH president Susan Statham are co-chairing the Festival.  It includes arts competitions, a musical play, a concert and book launch, a book fair and art show, a panel discussion and exciting workshops.

Blog Photo - Felicity and Authors - photo credit Northumberland News
Credit: Northumberlandnews.com

“What do you hope it’ll do for Northumberland?” I ask her.

“Northumberland, like most places in Canada, is always changing,” Felicity replies. “It becomes more diverse and interesting because of change. We all profit from this. And the influx of artists in the last 30 years has led to increased vibrancy and innovation in the artistic community.

Blog Photo - SOTH Mandy Bing Painting1
Painting by Mandy Bing

“I hope our programme will engage people from our many communities. We want to appeal to young and old, those who have lived all their lives in this area as well as newcomers.”

SOTH - Rene Schmidt The Beacon drop in centre
Credit: Rene Schmidt

Although some Northumberland arts organizations recently folded, SOTH remains strong.

“An Ontario Arts Council study (June 2017) encouraged us. It reported that 90% of those surveyed agree that an active local arts scene helps make a community a better place to live and 97% agree that engaging children in the arts is important to their overall development.” 

As for my involvement? A year ago, Felicity invited me to join the Festival committee.  Committee members feel privileged to help, as does she.

“I love working with others and building a team, so conceiving and planning the festival have been exciting and very fulfilling.”

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Special thanks to Patricia Calder for photos 2, 10, 11 and 12.

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A Good Home, An Honest House, Beauty, Book lovers, Book Readers, Canadian Authors, Canadian Books, Coping, Gratitude, Inspiration, Writers

The Private Responses of My Readers

People who read my books tell me the darndest things. 

Perhaps instinctively knowing that I’ll never let them down — or simply because I’ve written a lot of personal stuff in my books — some readers write very personal responses in their letters and cards.

I feel privileged to read them. Every one.

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Some weeks ago, one particular letter arrived. It accompanied a card, and was totally unexpected.

You see, it came from a prominent person, and the fact that he took the time to read my book — and write to me — was a huge surprise.

~~

As you may know, I live with a strange thing called post traumatic stress disorder — one of the outcomes of a car accident of years ago.  Only very recently have I written about it.  When I did, I deliberately crafted my book, An Honest House, to provide a balance between the beauty, love and support that surrounds me in our old farmhouse, and the uncontrollable terror that always hovers, just out of sight.

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I wanted book lovers to read my book, and I particularly wanted people who struggle with PTSD to read it.  I wanted them to see, in an ‘up-close and personal’ way, how someone else lives — with and, in spite of, PTSD.

But here’s the problem: if you have it, reading about PTSD can be a death-defying thing — or so it feels. It wasn’t until after writing An Honest House that I finally read an article about PTSD – written by my own therapist, for the back of my own book! Even then, I only read it because I had to.

~~

Shortly after my book went to print, I saw a news story about a prominent person who lives with PTSD. I wrote to commend him on revealing it in public, and also mentioned my upcoming book. He replied warmly — then warned that he’d most likely not read my book. 

Imagine my surprise and pleasure, then, when I recently received a letter and card from him — just like that, out of the blue!

The letter was warm and revealing.

A beloved relative, he wrote, had recently died, and in his grief, he decided to read An Honest House. He found himself immersed in it. 

I alternated between smiling and feeling choked up as I read. How moving to learn that he actually read the book and that it gave him comfort in a challenging time! And how gratifying to know that An Honest House will have a place of honour on his bookshelf. 

As with the vast majority of my readers, I’ve never met this man in person, never even talked to him on the phone. I likely never will.  Yet, in a way, we know each other. 

~~

Dedicated to everyone who writes to an author whose book they’ve enjoyed.

A Good Home, Blessings, Memoir-Writing, Writers, Writing, Writing workshops

MIXED BLESSINGS

It’s November, the month when many writers write.

Not me.

I’m not working on the next book, not writing my blog, not even journal-ing every day.

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In typical Cynthia fashion, I had a good stretch of days some weeks ago and was so thankful for it, I tried to do too much.

Ignored the warning signs. Committed other rampant acts of mindless-ness.

The bad pain came, then the flu. And throughout it all, the bloody nightmares whenever I slept long enough.

But pushing myself, as my therapist and journals remind me, is how I’ve come this far.

And I’m pushing again.

~~

Twice a week now, I lead very small groups of individuals who are writing their memoirs.

None is a professional or even an experienced writer. But they are bright, interesting, mature people.

Some of their stories are painful to write, I know. But what a joy for me to help them develop as writers.

They’re changing in front of my eyes — and theirs. Blooming.  

~~

At first, I wondered how they’d see me.

It’s obvious I have difficulty walking – sometimes it’s very bad. But I decided to reveal — on the very first day — some of the stuff others don’t immediately see. That I sometimes stutter or speak strangely. That I might struggle to cross-reference or absorb new information and that if voices/sounds come at me from more than one source, it affects me.

Just as well I did.

I’ve come up against my limits repeatedly – and so markedly, twice, that I later went to the washroom and cried.

Then there’s the tiny paycheque.  I earned more money in my early 20’s!

So why am I smiling?

This activity has given me a purpose outside the home. I spend 2 hours, twice a week, with a group of individuals whom I like, respect and marvel at. I can see their progress each week and it delights me. The stories they tell — even the painful ones –are a balm to my soul. 

~~

Blessed am I to have such students.

And blessed am I to have readers who notice when my blogging patterns are ‘off’, and ask why.

Thank you.

 

A Good Home, Words, Writers, Writing

“Just Write,” she said

A women’s group once asked me to read excerpts from my personal stories. They asked why and how I wrote them. And they asked for advice about writing their own memoirs.

Paraphrased below, is what I said.

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Write.

Write about memorable experiences, even the tiny ones.

Write about yourself;  things you did or saw happen; the people you met. Write about what they said, and how that affected you; what you learned from them.

But above all, just get into the habit of jotting things down. In a journal, a notebook. On your cell phone. Pieces of paper. The phone bill.

Write. Jot it down.

A word you love. A quote from someone else. The way the light shone through your window and lit up the polished wood floors. The way that made you feel.

Blog Photo - Salle a manger

~~

Over time, you may have enough material for one story, or dozens. You don’t try to get them published. Too personal, you think. And – – what if no-one even likes them?

Then, by a twist of fate, you have an accident and find yourself unable to move from your bed on many days.  When you talk, you stutter. And when you walk, you may even fall.

You will not be able to write a story for years.

But you will have those old stories to remind you of the kinds of people you met, experiences you had, insights you learned – in short, the life you lived.  You may discover that you’d been blessed with a very good life. And that you had been given a wonderful gift in the form of those stories.

Then, along comes a  prestigious magazine that wants to publish your stories, and a publisher who wants to launch your first book. Turns out that in those dozens of stories, written over 25 years, you had, unknowingly, recorded the elements of your memoir.

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Then thousands of people read your book, A Good Home, and take comfort — even joy — from it.

And that, taken singly or together, is both a surprise and a huge serving of grace.

Just write.

Top photo by J. Van Burek.