Finally, I’ve written a book


IT’S DONE!!!!

The first draft of my journalism memoir was completed last Thursday and has been with my editors since. I know it’s going to sound as though I am tooting my own horn, but I am incredibly proud of this accomplishment. I have been talking about writing a book for over 10 years now. Now I can say I have finally put one out there.

So, what happens now?

Well, it is important to remember that it is still a first draft, so the project is not quite complete yet. It is currently undergoing a first round of editing, and once that process is completed, it will come back to me for re-writing. The editing process will be repeated a couple of more times before a final product will be ready for publication.

So for those of you eager to read it (and I am pleased to know that there are those of you out there) you’re just going to have to be a little more patient. The largest part of the process, the actual writing of it, is behind us. Everything that happens now is to make sure I put forward the best possible product for those of you who wish to read it.

No one is more excited for this to be done than I am. Updates will be made available as this progresses. Shouldn’t be much longer now.


Completing the first draft of my book


An update, as promised

Nine whole days after I provided the latest update, I am pleased to report on the more recent developments regarding the progress of my book.

Twenty chapters have been completed, and this weekend will be a marathon writing session to ensure that I have the first draft of the completed manuscript completed by the end of the month. I am much closer to the ending than I am to the beginning, and that light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter and brighter with each word I write.

I am also pleased to announce that the book will go to editing in early September. It will be edited by two amazing writers and editors, and I have every confidence that my story will be infinitely enhanced by their input. I very much look forward to their input and counsel.

I have been struggling with a title as well, and while I have some time to really narrow it down, I have come to a working title that I seem to like:

“The Other President: My life in journalism, my election as CUP president and the subversion of democracy that sparked a mid-life crisis.”

Granted the title needs work. For instance, at age 30, I am at least ten years from the classic definition of a mid-life crisis, but many of the issues surrounding a traditional mid-life crisis are consistent with what has been happening with me in recent months. Although featured prominently in the title, the story does not include much information about my life after severing ties with the Canadian University Press.

It would also be unreasonable for people to think that this is somehow a “revenge-driven” book. It is simply my story, and frankly, much of the story reveals more about my personal pitfalls than it does about anything or anyone else.

In short, it is a memoir about a 12-month period of my life, from July, 2013 to July, 2014–a life which had been focused on becoming a more established writer. The next few days will see me realize that dream I’d originally set as a New Years’ resolution in 2013. The completion of a manuscript will be a remarkable experience–made only more interesting because it examines one of the happiest, and saddest moments, of my life.


Write now!!


I know this is going to sound like a broken record, but I am well aware of the fact that I have not updated my blog in a while. In fact, people have been telling me I am not on Facebook either as much as I used to be. Well, I’m sorry about that, but I promise to anyone who is interested in anything I have to say, that I will be making it up to you very soon.

As many of you know, I have been hard at work writing a book about my short-lived presidency (well, non-existent, in fact) at the Canadian University Press. Much of the stuff that had been written; however, was written before the scandalous developments of a few months ago.

After having had some time to think about everything, I have decided to make some major changes to the book’s focus. Originally, it was intended to be a business autobiography of how my experiences and my decisions would affect the future of the Canadian University Press moving forward. This book is no longer possible for me to write, given that I am not a CUP employee.

So much of the content that had been written (which for the most part was the story of my life and how I came to be elected CUP president) needed major changes if I was going to change the entire focus of the book.

The book will touch on many of the major themes the original was intended to do, but is now revised and expanded to include, in essence, my entire journalism career. Although brief, one cannot argue that I had one hell of a ride, going from a contributor to CUP president-elect in a matter of five months.

The project; however, has been on the backburner for much of the summer. A lot’s been going on–I returned from Ontario to British Columbia; went back to Ontario for a week to attend my grandfather’s funeral; tried to put my life back together in Vancouver and plan the future that I want for myself. None of this has been easy, and the weeks to come may not get any easier for me, but at least work has re-started on this book.

Over the weekend, I have spent approximately 14 hours sitting on the patio of a Christian coffee shop in North Burnaby working on the book. I am pleased to report that I am seven chapters deep in a book that might contain a couple of dozen chapters. I am committing to myself (and now to those who read this post) that I will have a first draft of the completed book sent to my editor before the end of August. I am pleased with the progress I am making and I sincerely believe the time frame is realistic.

The thing I think I am most pleased about in the writing I have done so far is that I leave everything in the book. Those who know me best know that, when it comes to my personal life, I tend to be a very private person. There are things I think my editor will be horrified to read once the book is sent to her for her input. It is designed to provide everyone with a candid account of not only my life at CUP, but of my entire journey to that fateful January day in Edmonton. You’ll hear stories that, at least for me, are deeply personal: everything from the difficulties I had when on my first journalism assignment, to the darker stories of a deep depression and a near-death experience only two weeks before winning CUP’s top job.

In terms of publishing it, yes I want to. I don’t have the slightest idea as to how I am going to do that yet. I suppose that will be up to my editor, and I need to get the book finished before I could even think about that.

For now, I am just pleased with the progress I am making, and this time, I can’t put this off. The story itself is a pretty wild one, and while writing it would be a huge accomplishment for me, I think there is a therapeutic value here in letting people into a side of my life only very few have seen. Its contents will shock people, because I know it will even shock my family.

I will be posting regular updates on my progress as we approach the end of the month.


“There’s a trick to it.”


Below is the full transcript of the eulogy given at the funeral service for my grandfather, Roger Royer, on 30 July, 2014. 

Good morning, 

On behalf of my entire family, I’d like to express how thankful we are for the show of sympathy we have experienced in these last few days. We are all here to say goodbye to someone special, and we’d like you all to know just how much your hellos mean to us during these trying times.

Roger Royer. That name has a different but equally special significance for each of us.

Dad. Brother. Husband. Friend. Grandfather. Great grandfather. Businessman. Dog lover. Scout leader. Musician. Outdoorsman. Snowbird. Devoted Catholic.

To me, he is and will forever be simply “grandpapa”.

Either by association or by the role he played in society, he was something special to all of us.

So it comes as no surprise that gatherings like these come with a conflict of overwhelming emotion. In these last few days, I’ve struggled with how to honour my grandfather in the very words I speak to you now.

On the one hand, our hearts are heavy, our eyes teary, and our minds ever so mindful of the memories we have of, and with, Roger. Our hearts tell us that today is a day of sadness.

On the other hand, our Christian faith, a belief to which my grandfather was ever so steadfast, tells us to rejoice, for his suffering and his pain have come to an end.

My grandfather was the undisputed king of our clan; the master of our household. He was there when someone needed him, never turning them away and always eager to share his wisdom and counsel. He provided for his family—as the breadwinner as well as a moral compass.

He was a very private person and the family was always foremost on his mind. I never once heard him complain about anything, not even as his health was failing. He didn’t want to trouble anyone; he didn’t want us to worry about him. In his mind, that was his job.

Men like my grandfather came from a different time and were cut from a different cloth. It’s what my generation would call “old-fashioned”.

For example, my grandfather struggled with expressing any form of affection. My mother, my aunts and uncle have always used the words “I love you” in family conversation, but my grandfather rarely ever did. After a while, I don’t think it mattered whether he said the words or not—he bypassed words and went straight to just loving us in his own way. Besides, my grandmother was a saintly woman who showed and expressed love for her family more than enough times to compensate.

As I think about this, there is an emerging pattern which, at least in my opinion, characterizes the predominant theme of Roger Royer’s life: duty.

Duty to his parents. Duty to his own family. Duty to his community. Duty to his clients. Duty to God.

My grandfather was a human success story in that he was a good-hearted, hard-working and dutiful person. He took over his father’s business and passed it on to his daughter. He gave back to his community, first as a Boy Scout and then as a Scout leader. He taught his children right from wrong and instilled in them his family values. He was a devoted Catholic. He was faithfully married for 50 years.

In honouring his commitments, in fulfilling his duty, he naturally treated himself to some of life’s pleasures. He enjoyed an early retirement and exercised his passions, music in particular. He spent the winter months in Florida. He bought motorcycles and motorhomes and loved his dogs with a child-like heart.

Moments spent with my grandfather were evermore precious for me, since I’ve spent the last 11 years living in Vancouver. I was fortunate to have a chance to see him a few months ago.

This past May, I spoke with my grandfather for what would be the last time. I admit that it was difficult for me, because since his mental health deteriorated, I didn’t really know what to talk about with him. It was difficult for me to watch him like that. I never visited him without having another family member close by, out of an abundance of caution. For me, there was no way of knowing whether or not he knew who I was, which was my chief concern in going to see him alone.

On that day in May, I went to visit with my mom, who that day had planned to talk with some of the staff at the Lodge. She saw who she had been targeting, told me to stay with my grandfather, and before I could utter a protest of self-doubt, she was gone.

It took a minute for me to come up with something to say. I, like my grandfather, can be reserved as well. Finally, I just turned to him and I said:

I’m going to try learning to play the harmonica.”

His eyes fixated on me and he smiled, as if he forgot all about his failing health. He looked so proud that I had carried with me for all these years the same passion for playing music he so generously shared with me when I was a child. I had an ear for music—he took the time to help me develop it.

There’s a trick to it.”, was his response. Unfortunately for me, his mind blanked and he never shared the secret to the harmonica.

My mom and my aunt reminded me last night of a time where both my grandfather and I, during a trip to Florida, jammed together on our own accordions. I regret to say I can’t remember it, but since I heard about this, I keep imagining how happy he would have been on that day, and how sorry I am we didn’t get to jam together in these last few years.

My grandfather fought to stay with us, and if I may be so bold, I don’t think he’d want us to be sad. I think he’d comfort us by reciting this biblical passage, from the Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy:

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8)

Many lessons can be learned from the life of such a good-hearted, dutiful person. The lessons we draw from his life, and whether we choose to learn them or not, will define my grandfather’s ultimate earthly legacy. This is the work that Roger leaves to us. This is as much my duty as it is yours. It is our collective duty as a family; it is the collective duty of all those whose lives were made better by my grandfather’s life.

I’d like to conclude this tribute by reciting this old Irish poem:

God saw you getting tired and a cure was not to be.
So He put His arms around you and whispered “come to me.”

With tearful eyes we watched you, and saw you pass away.
Although we loved you dearly, we could not make you stay.

A golden heart stopped beating, hard working hands at rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us, He only takes the best.

God looked around His garden, and found an empty place.
He then looked down upon the earth, and saw your tired face.

So, today we see you from this world with a love that reaches you in the next. We remain to remember you, our patriarch, and love you as you did us, forever thankful that for these past 80 years, you were ours.

And when the day arrives for us to meet again, be assured of this: I will discover that trick; I will bring that harmonica… and we will jam once more to the song of saints and an audience of angels.

 


‘The Tao of Pooh’ a true eye-opener


Exploring Eastern teachings through the lens of Western popular literature

I do not post book reviews all that often, and that’s generally because, despite my vast library, I don’t usually do all that much book reading. That is something that has begun to change, as I commit to discovering new writing styles to add to my own.

And although “The Tao of Pooh” is the first book review I publish on my blog in a few years, it was actually the second book I had completed this week. The book was loaned to me by a friend who said that its contents had taught him to cope with the unfortunate realities of his workplace.

Skimming through the book before sitting down to read it, I thought that it was a bit of an awkward read. “The Tao of Pooh” incorporates dialogue between the characters immortalized in the works of A. A. Milne, while giving real examples of how Taoism can be used to keep one at peace with the world around them.

The book’s foreword sums it all up, in a made-up dialogue between Pooh and the author:

“What’s it about?” asked Pooh, leaning forward and smearing another word.
“It’s about how to stay happy and calm under all circumstances!” I yelled.

In fact, I was convinced into reading the book when, in the foreword, the book’s author, Benjamin Hoff, was debating about the origins of the “Great Masters of Wisdom”, arguing against the notion that they all came from the Orient. He illustrates his point by reading a passage from Winnie the Pooh, where Pooh demonstrates his simplistic thinking and relays it back to a more eloquent version of what Piglet says.

Going into the book, I knew very little of Taoism. What I did know was only the items I could remember from my Grade 11 course on world religions. My knowledge of the philosophy/religion was limited. As I got deeper and deeper into the book, I became more interested in how Hoff takes situations from the original Pooh books and outlines how natural and simplistic they are. I detached myself from Tao concepts like “Uncarved Block”, which in the heat of reading the book, confused me a little, and began relating to the lessons being extracted from the Pooh examples.

When I would put the book down, I would ask myself questions about A. A. Milne’s intent. Was Winnie the Pooh written to be a Taoist master? Is it purely accidental? Coincidental? Regardless, it taught me a few lessons about wisdom. While I knew wisdom was not synonymous with intelligence, I had believed for a very long time that wisdom could not be reasonably achieved without attaining a certain level of knowledge. Pooh; however, does not display a great deal of intelligence. In fact, the books portray Pooh as having the intelligence level of a child, yet his simplicity allows him to go with the flow of things. Keeping with the flow of the natural world is a central tenet to individual happiness, so says Taoist teaching.

One of the chapters I found particularly enlightening was the one which encourages the reader to appreciate the world around them, and to make time to just relax. Hoff uses countless examples of people he calls “Bisy Backsons”; people too consumed with things to do that they forget what is truly important in life. He illustrates that the quest to save time is a Western social construction that is both flawed and dangerous.

As an example, Hoff contrasts tea houses in China and the hamburger stand in the West. Whereas the tea house was a place for people to socialize with each other and engage in conversations that could, at times, last several hours, fast food chains in the West promote a quick meal for the person on the go. Socialization (and tea) can be more enlightening (not to mention healthier) than a Big Mac and the dash to the next “important” thing to check off your list.

To enshrine this thought, Hoff uses the very words of Chuang-tse (or Zhuang Zhou), who is credited with writing one of the founding texts of Taoism in the 4th century B.C.

There was a man who disliked seeing his footprints and his shadow. He decided to escape from them, and began to run. But as he ran along, more footprints appeared, while his shadow easily kept up with him. Thinking he must be going too slowly, he ran faster and faster without stopping, until he finally collapsed from exhaustion and died.

If he had stood still, there would have been no footprints. If he had rested in the shade, his shadow would have disappeared.   (Chuang-tse, 4th century BC)

The book is a journey that leads you to what Hoff calls the “great secret of Taoism”: nothing. Yes, NOTHING.

As Hoff outlines, Taoists are firm in their belief that “nothing is something”. Sometimes, the most important thing for one to do is to just sit and do nothing, let the world pass you by. I do this often, and while some may call it procrastination (and they might have a case), I think it’s an integral part of my life.

For me personally, it was an awkward read, complicated somewhat by my limited knowledge of Taoism and the fact that I was not very familiar with the Winnie the Pooh stories used as examples in the book. That being said, there are life lessons to be drawn from the book that can be incorporated into your life almost immediately. I thought it was a fascinating look at my daily life through the lens of a complex philosophical paradigm made simpler by Pooh’s childlike simplicity.

 


Food for thought


Five unique, cost-effective foods to grill this summer

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Contributor

Formerly published in The Other Press. July, 2014

It’s time to refill those propane tanks and begin a legendary new barbecue season. Just because your life as a student has made you develop an affinity for pinching pennies doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on summer grilling season. The Other Press has teamed up with local chef Neil Moncrieff to give you five unique things you absolutely must try on your grill.

Corn_BaconAsparagus

Moncrieff, who is an executive chef and recently has consulted on menus and restaurant operations for establishments all across the Lower Mainland, says that students who enjoy cooking should experiment with ingredients outside of their comfort zone. Here are his easy and budget-friendly suggestions!

1) Corn on the cob. Budget: approximately $0.67 per cob

Directions: Peel corn. Grill until golden brown.

In a world where so many people boil their food, it is important to remind ourselves that while boiling has its place, it is not appropriate for everything. Grilling your corn on the cob will allow the corn to keep all of its nutrients, and will taste sweeter than if boiled. No added butter or salt needed for this one. “Grilling the corn allows for it to keep all of its natural flavours and nutrients,” says Moncrieff.

2) Bacon-wrapped asparagus. Budget: approximately $10

Directions: Wrap one strip of bacon around an asparagus spear. Grill until bacon is golden brown.

No one has ever gone wrong with bacon, and this recipe will allow you to tell your mother that you are indeed getting your greens. The fats from the bacon strips will allow for the bacon to cook on the outside and give the asparagus a golden crisp on the inside. “Don’t overcook it,” warns Moncrieff, who particularly enjoys the crunch of fresh asparagus wrapped in bacon.

3) BBQ hashbrowns. Budget: approximately $5–$15, depending on spices used

Directions: Cut potato into cubes. Place in tin foil with butter and your choice of spices. Wrap foil in a ball. Grill for 10–15 minutes on medium to high heat.

Potatoes are a great item for your grill and perhaps the healthiest method of cooking them. Instead of baked potatoes, which are a common staple of BBQ lovers, change it up with cubed potatoes cooking in your chosen blend of herbs, spices, and butter. “It’s an alternative, healthier way to make hash browns,” says Moncrieff. He also adds that this is a decent meal for someone in a hurry or for someone looking for a snack while sipping on beers this summer.

4) Grilled marinated vegetables. Budget: approximately $7

Directions: Marinate assorted vegetables in your choice of sauce and let sit for a few hours. You can place the vegetables on skewers or right on the barbecue. Grill for five minutes, brushing the vegetables with the marinade.

For those seeking a vegetarian option this summer, there’s nothing like grilled vegetables. Whether you intend to serve these veggies on a bed of rice or as a stand-alone, this is a quick and incredibly healthy meal. It also makes for a delicious appetizer to serve at parties (go with the skewers for that), and is very cost-effective. “It’s healthy and it’s on the barbecue,” says Moncrieff. “What more do you want?” He reminds us that vegetables are good with almost anything.

5) Burgers. Budget: approximately $10–$20 with condiments

“Burgers may seem traditional, but it’s all in the way you make it,” says Moncrieff. You can use ground beef or other ground meats; ground chicken, turkey, and pork are easily available at a major supermarket. Not only can you play around with the meat, but you can add ingredients in the burger meat. Try incorporating some feta cheese and herbs in your meat as you prepare the burgers for the grill. This is one meal you can do some experimenting with.

Armed with Moncrieff’s tips, the Other Press hopes you try out these dishes either at home or at an outdoor party with friends—we guarantee people will like them so much, you’ll be stuck in front of the grill all day. Ah, summer!