The Boy Who Couldn't Smile

The Boy Who Couldn't Smile
memoir by Dr. Brian Spare

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Memoir By Brian Spare

The Boy Who Couldn't Smile
by Brian Spare
Author’s Note 
  The Boy Who Couldn’t Smile is a journal of how changes shaped my life. I began writing my memoir to simply pen the events of my life that I had told many times for years without much cause for emotion. I quickly found that expressing them on paper was a very different experience. As I wrote about my life, feelings stirred inside me that tugged at my heart, made me search my soul and reflect on my life as never before. I realized that I had a story to tell and I wanted to share it. As much as I wrote this book to recount my past, I wanted to share how I overcame adversity and convey my dreams for the future. If my story inspires even one person to meet the challenges they face, my mission in writing this book will have succeeded.

I relied mainly on my memory to write my memoir. Where it was sketchy I turned to Catharine, my Aunts and long time friends. There are no composite characters, places or events. I used the actual names of people and I gave names only to persons whose names I didn’t know.

I glanced into Mom's bedroom from the hallway as the afternoon sun streamed through the window. The light beckoned me to go in
 “Mom has been dead three months,” I said to myself. “It’s time. I have to do this.”
I took a deep breath to summon my courage and entered her room. All that remained in Mom’s bedroom was the furniture. I had been through her closets filled with neatly hung dresses. They reminded me of so many celebrations and family occasions. I had emptied her bedside table and dresser drawers. Only one thing remained - Mom’s jewelry box atop her dresser. Mom kept anything personal to herself in her jewelry box. I had avoided looking in it when I sorted through her belongings for that reason. I felt I would have intruded on her privacy.
Mom’s jewelry box was now covered with a sifting of dust. In the back of my mind I was apologizing to her for the intrusion as I lifted the hinged lid to reveal two trays of jewelry. I found her favourite pearls, the diamond earrings Dad gave her for their 25th wedding anniversary and the flower broach Catharine and I gave her for Mothers Day.
I pulled open the bottom drawer. In it was a bulging envelope which contained a letter Mom had written. It was dated six months before her death. As I unfolded the letter I sat down on the side of her bed to read it.
 Dear Fr. Matthew
I was so pleased to read in the November Catholic Register of your healing prayers and those who have benefitted from them. I regret not hearing of you before or I would have attended your healing service.
Father, may I impose on you to pray for me and my son. I have been suffering from anxiety and depression for eighteen years. It is really wearing me down. Like the woman who said to Jesus I feel if I could touch the hem of your garment, I could be cured. Father, will you please pray for me for deliverance from this debilitating disorder.
My son Brian, who is now 39, had a brain tumour when he was a child, but not diagnosed until he had surgery six years later. It left him with bi-facial paralysis and medication prevented him from growing.
He is extremely bright. Because of his eye problems he was unable to go to school. My husband and I taught him at home. He made it part time through university right to his PhD. I read most of his material to him. He has had about 16 surgeries, some as long as 6-8 hours. Unfortunately, nobody will hire him because of his facial paralysis. We started him in business, but the “big guy” undersold him. My husband died on Sept. 1/98. I don’t have the money to keep him. Would you please pray that God will intervene and somebody will hire him.
I feel really sorry about your illness. I know the patience you need to have dialysis on top of your cardiac problems. I pray for you. I hope they are heard. Father, please intervene for me.
May God bless you.
                           Yours respectfully
                           Kitty Spare
When she was young Mom had a broad smile that lit up her face. She had a hearty laugh and her eyes sparkled. As the years passed her brilliance faded as depression took hold of her. I didn’t fully realize how deep it was until I read this letter.
“Could I have done more for her?”
Mom, as well as Dad, took pride in my achievements and championed all my ambitions. I was fortunate to have such dedicated, loving parents who were always there for me. A deep forlornness welled up within me as I fathomed, all at once, the events over 40 years. My face could not express the grief in my heart, but a voice in my soul cried out for the life that had come to a screeching halt. Mom was gone and Dad had passed away just nine months before. My life as I knew it was about to change in a very big way.
My parents told me the story of my birth many times. I was conceived after five miscarriages and they saw my birth as a miracle. There were so many girls in both families Mom and Dad were sure I’d be a girl.
Dad asked, “How’s Cathy today?” They chose the name Cathy for their baby girl. When the day arrived – surprise!
 “We have a beautiful baby boy,” Mom excitedly said to Dad, “He’s perfect. What should we name him?”
My parents couldn’t name me Cathy so they settled on Brian after one of Mom’s uncles. They happily counted my fingers and toes.
I entered the world 9:15 AM June 3, 1959 at the Memorial Hospital in Sudbury, Ontario, weighing in at 7 lbs 1 ounce. When they brought me home from the hospital Dad carried me in from the car very slowly and carefully as if I was a very fragile glass treasure. Dad was a proud father. He sat me on his shoulders to walk places while I grabbed a tuft of his hair in each hand like reigns on a horse. Mom finally had to tell him, “Brian has to walk too.” Dad said the first few years after I was born were some of the happiest of his life.
Read the rest of this memoir on brian's blog at

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Reading

1.     Summer reading should be light, some say. The listers recommend flimsy stuff but I believe summer reading should be engrossing, so when, every once in a while, you look up and see the beach or the camp or the lake or the rainy windows on an inside day, you can breathe in the wonder of the northern Ontario summer, sigh with pleasure and drift back into the book.

Here are my picks for engrossing enjoyable summer reads. Some are old and some are not.

1.     This One Summer by brilliant Canadian graphic novelists Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, the creators of Skim, another fine book. A young girl meets up with her friend at the cottage community but the two discover a secret. A coming of age, beautifully drawn, tenderly written.

2.     Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She walked the Pacific Trail and then wrote about it. This book charmed me.  I admired Strayed’s guts, her winning fight against fear, her ability to endure pain and her attitude to her poverty. I also liked her candour when she spoke about her sexual desires and her sexual life. She had little money to use on the trail and mailed forward boxes with a 20$ bill in them, all she could afford.  I missed her once the book was done.

3.     A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. I saw the movie many years ago but the book took my heart. It’s 1912, and young Lucy Honeychurch teeters between dull respectability and authentic living. She is drawn to conventionality but then, in Italy, she meets George Emerson and his iconoclastic father. The characters of her fiancé, Cecil Vyse (deadly dull) and Aunt Charlotte Bartlett (ditto) are marvelous comic inventions. I found so much humour in the writing, almost Jane Austen like, that was omitted from the movie, proving once again that the book is always better.  

4.     Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. In the small Colorado prairie town of Holt, an elderly widow visits her neighbour, also elderly, also alone, and suggests he come over sometimes so they can sleep together. A simple book of love and caring carries you along by the clear and simple language, the descriptions of the natural world, the depth of the characters. Anything by Haruf is worth reading. This was his last novel. He died of cancer soon after it was published.

5.     The King’s Curse by Phillipa Gregory.  For the lover of historicals who will not spurn another visit to the court of Henry VIII. Gregory, an historical master, introduces Margaret Pole, a woman with unfortunate family connections. Henry wants to divorce Queen Katherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Margaret Pole is a friend of the queen. The king is portrayed as childish, spoiled, conceited, arrogant and above all lazy, a slacker king who loves to play and party. He would have done well in the 21st century.

6.     Euphoria by Lily King. In the steamy New Guinea jungle, anthropologists Nell Stone (based on Margaret Mead) and her unpleasant husband meet a fellow anthropologist, a lonely and depressed young man (based on Gregory Bateson). It is 1933 and things get steamier as Nell’s brilliant mind and her passionate concern for the local people add up to a multi-layered story of intellectual and physical desire.

7.     Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. A Japanese classic. Written in haiku-like language the story describes a rich, married, and rather feckless man who, from time to time, travels to the mountains to meet the geisha who works at a mountain spa in the snow country. From the start, both the reader and the two lovers know their romance can go nowhere, a fact that gives the book its strange, delicate feeling of sadness.

8.     A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. George’s long time partner has died and George, a professor in LA, is bereft. Over the course of a single day, we meet his neighbours, his students, including the teasing Kenny, a strange young man attracted to George but whether sexually or just as a needy student is not entirely clear, a woman friend in a hospital, a drunken very needy woman friend (based on the poet Iris Tree) who he treats with patient kindness and then a chance meeting with Kenny in a bar which leads to the great swimming scene when he and Kenny go swimming in the ocean. During the single day, Isherwood tracks George’s mood fluctuations, his hatred of the homophobia around him and the difficulties of living in a society saturated with it. George is an alienated man, lonely and lost, but still retains a kindly stance towards the people he encounters.  I have never read Isherwood before but now I am drawn to him.

9.     Rust is a Form of Fire by Joe Fiorito. Standing on the corner, watching all the world go by. That was Joe Fiorito who spend many hours on a busy Toronto street corner observing—just observing. His collection of short observations hypnotized me. You might have to search around for this book which was published this year. Try on line. You won’t regret it.

10.  The Fixer by Joseph Finder. In the summer, many people turn to mystery novels. Joseph Finder is always a good choice. After Rick Hoffman lost both his high paying job and his fiancé, he is reduced to living in the abandoned and dilapidated house belonging to his father who is left speechless after a stroke and who is confined to a nursing home. But why are there three million bucks hidden in the walls of the old place? And why did the father, a lawyer, consort with seedy characters linked to municipal corruption? And what about this gang of thugs who follows him around with murderous intent?

Friday, June 26, 2015

"The Poets Hang On" - Margaret Atwood

The poets hang on.
It’s hard to get rid of them,
though lord knows it’s been tried.
We pass them on the road
standing there with their begging bowls,
an ancient custom.
Nothing in those now
but dried flies and bad pennies.
They stare straight ahead.
Are they dead, or what?
Yet they have the irritating look
of those who know more than we do.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The "Modern Girl" creates quite the discussion

Jane Nicholas reads from her book: The Modern Girl: Feminine Modernities, the Body, and Commodities, in the 1920's. Maybe our grandmothers and great grand mothers were standing by to hear how they changed society by getting jobs, moving to the cities and asserting their independence. They ran into opposition from conservative feminists, the churches, society at large not to mention horrified parents. As author historian Jane Nickolas put it: "with her short skirt, her bobbed hair, her penchant for smoking, drinking, dancing and jazz, the "modern girl" was a fixture of the 1920's consumer culture. She appeared in art, film, fashion and advertising as well as on the streets of the towns from coast to coast."  Nicholas argues that this feminine image was central to the creation of what it meant to be modern and female in Canada.

A lively Q&A followed the reading, with many in the audience at the Northern Womanb's Bookstore recalling stories of their foremothers.  We toasted her in tea, coffee and goodies, before heading out with the book.

Margaret Phillips of the Norther Woman's Bookstore with historian Jane Nicholas.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Amy Jones Novel Picked Up by M&S

Thunder Bay resident Amy Jones' novel, We're All in This Together, will be published at McClelland & Stewart. Amy is a dynamite short story writer and her book of short fiction, What Boys Like, is a great read. Recently Amy has also served as the e-writer in residence in Thunder Bay. Congratulations Amy.

CBC Literary Award winner Amy Jones’s debut novel, We’re All in This Together, has been acquired by Anita Chong at McClelland & Stewart. The two-book deal was arranged by Chris Bucci. The novel is pitched as being in the tradition of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang, and Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, about a dysfunctional family forced to start acting like a real one when their matriarch survives plummeting over a waterfall in a barrel, a feat captured on a video that goes viral.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tia Lunn, poet, and winner of Young Adult Writing Competition at the Pride Literary Evening

You and Us and Them

Award winning poem by Tia Lunn. Tia is a grade 11 student at Westgate High School.

You speak like April's wind promises July's.
With your unpredictable hair and star-glazed eyes
I've never met anyone more honest in their idealizations
You've got me believing more unbelievable stories each minute.
Your heart is so big that sometimes I get lost in it
And I hope you don't mind that I've stayed,
Even if sometimes I get cut with the scalpel blade when
They start to dissect you into different parts.
Easier syllables they can swallow through hollow teeth,
Shape your name to fit better in their nervous hearts
Call you "phase" call you "experiment" call you anything but you what you are,
Hoping to sear a scar for when we're older but
I cannot stand anyone trying to melt you into any other mold
No other shape could do justice to your gold.
We're beyond anything that they ever could have thought,
And sweetheart you are so much more than anything you're not.
You are more than sugar and spice and everything nice,
You are crop tops and skirts and button down shirts,
Black boots and eyeliner that matches the colour of my smile
When I tell my friends you can play any instrument,
And you're quick to shout out that's not true,
And it could be I'm wrong
But I swear that you do,
From the sound of the song that you orchestrate in my chest
On the days when I feel like an empty theatre,
You are a million piece band,
The baseline in my pulse moving through me when you take my hand,
And I know you're and artist so I hope you understand,
When I paint my red lips across your face
Let them see the stain, know I'm saving my place.

Amber Dawn at Literary Pride

it's Pride Week in Thunder Bay. Literary Evening tonight and Amber Dawn read us poetry and a selection from her powerful memoir, How Poetry Saved My Life.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Death of a Great Writer

Kent Haruf has died. I believe he was one of the greatest writers or our time.  Haruf wrote about a small town in Colorado called Holt and gave his townspeople such sharp, realistic lives they cannot easily be forgotten. He surrounded his townspeople with the great turns of the seasons, detailing the vast western plains that were central to their inner lives.

It took him twenty years of writing before he was published.

 “If I had learned anything over those years of work and persistence, it was that you had to believe in yourself even when no one else did. And later I often said something like that to my graduate students. You have to believe in yourself despite the evidence. I felt as though I had a little flame of talent, not a big talent, but a little pilot-light-sized flame of talent, and I had to tend to it regularly, religiously, with care and discipline, like a kind of monk or acolyte, and not to ever let the little flame go out,” he wrote.

His final novel, Our Souls at Night, written when he knew he was dying, explores the theme of happiness.  One comment on the Guardian obituary gives good advice to readers just coming to Haruf. Start with the novel Plainsong, and carry on from there. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Making of the Raven's Wing. Kim Erickson talks about creating a CD.

Kim Erickson .

On Saturday, June 13th at 7:30pm in the Unitarian Hall, I will be unveiling my newest cd release, 'The Raven's Wing'.  There will be an opportunity to listen to the project, hear a few words about the songs and the album, and buy a copy to take home. And while you are there, you can support two worthy causes if you like - Stoves for Humla, Nepal and The Underground Gym.  Admission to the event is free and all are welcome. 

This will be my first launch activity for the project, and the first Canadian launch event.  'The Raven's Wing' was already released in the EU on May 11th by my record label for this album, Route 61 Music, who are based in Rome, Italy.  Route 61 will work with me and for me to distribute the cd worldwide.  The project has its wings. 

'The Raven's Wing' is a previously unpublished collection of my own songs - with the exception of Pete Seeger's setting of Ariel's Song from The Tempest, "Full Fathom Five".  A couple of the songs are traditional folk lyrics that I gave fresh musical settings to.  There is a decidedly cohesive flavour to the songs and their treatment in the studio.  And the songs take the listener on a journey of "10,000 Miles", across oceans and landscapes, and into the deep interior of the human heart.  The album is a nod to my mother's North Sea Scottish roots, and is a taking stock and a looking forward to "the time the will come to be."  And that brings me to one of my greatest joys, which is the addition of a backing vocal on one song by my daughters Roisin and Lesya Roberts.

Atwood contributes book to be published in 100 years.

LONDON — The author Margaret Atwood — perhaps best known for her dystopian-future-set novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” — made a further contribution to the fictional future today, handing over a secret manuscript to Oslo’s public library to be published in 2114.
The handoff is the first phase of the Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s “Future Library” project. For the next century one author a year will contribute a new written work to the project. They will be sealed in secrecy by the library until being published 100 years from now on paper made from trees planted in a local forest.
The day’s events began with a public walk from a local train station to the wood near the northern edges of Oslo whose trees were planted for the project. There, Ms. Atwood gave a reading (not from her new work). She handed the secret manuscript to Ms. Paterson who then gave it to a representative of the library. A similar ritual is to take place every year for the next 99 years.
Ms. Atwood announced that her manuscript is named “Scribbler Moon,” but revealed no other details. “She won’t tell anything at all,” Anne Beate Hovind, a project manager for the Future Library project, said in a phone interview. “She’s very, very strict on this. She won’t even talk about the process of writing. No content, no process, no nothing. Nada.”
Ms. Paterson will announce the name of the author who is to contribute next year on Wednesday.