Doing it my way Paul*

October 19, 2015

*Paul Anka wrote the song “My Way” made famous by Frank Sinatra

“How soon do you want to get this started?” I said with great eagerness.

“Start what?” Sylvie responded with veiled skepticism.

“Rent the house and sell the yurt or rent the yurt and sell the house,” I said.

She waffled. I gasped.

“Er, uh.”

“What do you mean er uh? You were just as excited about travelling again as I was,” I said. “The Benders have pointed the way. They’ve shown us how to do it,” I said.

“Three things: 1) I am eager to travel again but my food allergies have me feeling a little paranoid.

2) We’re still dealing with trying to put our lives back together after our last big move. You remember that one don’t you? Something about a yurt. Starting over again. It hasn’t been easy and I don’t want to turn my life upside down again right away.

3) And this is the most important. Erin has a degree in marketing. Josh had a web design business. You are only getting your writing career off the ground. My point is they can always do what they were trained to do in any part of the world. That is the Bender’s path. That isn’t our path. They might have figured out what works for them, but we have to figure out what works for us.

“So you have been thinking about it!” I exclaimed.

“I have. And I don’t know if I’m ever going to be the carefree traveler I once was,” Sylvie said and shrugged.

I was stunned. I could have sworn she was more excited than I was about hosting the Benders and rekindling our own love of travelling.

“Jase, I love your enthusiasm. I love how you want to jump right back into traveling. But I don’t always like how you never have a plan. Or a budget for how this is going to happen,” she continued.

“Well uh I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I only wanted to know if you liked the IDEA of travelling again,” I defended.

“I do, but I’m not ready to chuck everything aside and hit the road,” she said softly to cushion the blow. I could feel a sulk and a curled lip of disappointment creep into my face.

“But I have an idea. How about baby steps. How about finding ways to travel for free around here. Maybe we should start with that,” Sylvie said.

I let the idea roll around in my head for a moment until the Eureka moment hit.

“I’ve got it!” I exclaimed.

“Got what?” she asked.

“My next book.”

“Hold on. Which next book? The Prince of Acadia and the River of Fire?”

“The one after that.”

“Oh gawd, what now?”

“New Brunswick: Frontier of the Canadian Dream”

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The Traveller’s Way

October 16, 2015

“You guys know Dave and Deb?!!” Sylvie blurted.

“It isn’t THAT they know them, it’s HOW do they know them,” I said.

“We met them at a travel blogging conference.”

“Unreal. I can’t believe it. This isn’t the first time this has happened,” I said.

“Do tell,” Erin answered.

“Actually, sorry to disappoint you but if you want to read about it you’ll have to buy the book,” I said.

“Book?”

“Yup, it’s called “Finding Asia”. It’s about our trip to VietNam and Thailand. We got Dave and Deb to advise us on where to go and what to see. They really helped put Sylvie at ease. She was petrified before going. She thought we’d be walking into a war zone,” I giggled.

“And. And. We were in this little town called Hoi An. Lots of people go there to get tailor-made clothes. We got hauled into this huge building that had about a hundred different tailors. Both of us were skeptical. We didn’t know what we wanted. Jase was going through their catalogue and their testimonial book and sure enough he sees Dave and Deb in one of the pictures. Crazy!” Sylvie said.

“They are legends in the travel blogging business. We have about sixty-thousand followers and they’ve got over a million,” Erin said.

“Cut yourself some slack. It took them about six years to get where they are now. They knew what they wanted and went for it. My hats off to them,” I said.

“We should send them a message,” Erin suggested.

“Right now?”

“Sure, we’ve all got them of Facebook don’t we?”

We were a few beers and a few glasses of wine into the evening (everyone but our responsible driver Josh). The glint in our eyes was noticeable. The mischief measurable. We mugged for the camera.

Dave’s reaction when we posted the message:

“Now that’s a whole lot of trouble!”

Little did he know. The spark was lit. The idea rekindled. The Benders waltzed into our life and blew the dust off of an old idea. If you have the courage to live the life you want anything is possible. They held up all of our fears and exposed them for the feeble personal limitations that they were.

“School? Ha, your kid only gets six hours of actual learning instruction per week. You can make a trip to the money exchange a lesson in math, economics and culture,” Erin said.

Our mouths dropped.

“Languages. Capital cities. My kids are learning more by travelling then they are staying in school,” she continued.

“What about having a place to come home to. A house, y’know,” I offered.

“We rent out the one’s we have and stay at other’s that need looking after while the owner is gone,” Erin countered. She was getting warmed up. Crap, it almost seemed too easy.

“Ah ha! I’ve got one,” Sylvie said finally, “then how do you make money?”

“We’re spending less money travelling then when we were home. But, admittedly, that’s the challenge when you first get started,” Erin confessed slightly,

“We could spend an entire week talking about that.”

But there was no point waiting to put some ideas into practice. I saw my chance and went for it.

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said, “I’ll sign and give you copies of both of my books: “Life, the Yurt and Everything” and “Finding Asia”.”

“What’s the catch?” Josh perked up.

“No catch, just a review.”

“No problem. I will warn you guys though, I am brutally honest,” Erin interjected.

“After what Jase said about me in the first book, your honest review is the least of my worries,” Syvlie responded.

The Planet D Connection (part 2)

October 13, 2015

When the Benders walked into our house it wasn’t long before the wine was flowing and we discovered, rather quickly what one another was about. It’s been said that like attracts like. If that was the case, then as far as personalities were concerned, Josh and Erin Bender were our Australian mirrors.

Erin was never at a loss for an answer to one of my questions.

She reminded me of Sylvie: the content of the answer she was providing didn’t matter, because she always believed what she was saying was correct. It’s an incredible talent to have that much conviction in what you say. There have been times when Sylvie could convince me the earth was flat and I’d have trouble disputing her claim based on the confidence she had in what she said. I’ve been with Sylvie almost fifteen years and I still catch myself questioning some of the things she says with actual facts. As she liked to say, with utmost confidence: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance baffle them with bullshit.”

Erin was no less confident. My problem was the breadth of her knowledge about travel and marketing and writing was so extensive I couldn’t have written it all down even if I was sober.

What made her so refreshing was admitting it was a process to get her to believe a life spent travelling was possible to achieve.

“It took a lot of convincing on Josh’s part that we could do this. We both had careers. We were successful. We had a house. Two nice cars and all that. We were only supposed to try it for six months,” Erin said.

“Yup, that sounds right, doesn’t it Jase. You were after me for quite awhile to try a trip.”

“Yes, eventually I just gave up and called in the experts,” I said.

“That’s the best way to do it. There’s no sense in trying to figure it all out on your own when chances are someone else has done it before and can show you the way,” Erin responded.

“They were a HUGE help. They helped us plan our first backpacking trip to VietNam and Thailand. They were friends of ours that used to work in the film industry. She was a make-up artist. He was a Rigging Gaffer. She’s the writer. He’s the photographer,” Sylvie said.

“Wait a minute, I know someone like that,” Erin said, “you don’t mean Dave and Deb do you?”

“You know Dave and Deb? The Planet D they call themselves.”

Now, dear reader, ask yourselves this: what are the odds that a random couple from Australia, visiting New Brunswick, should find the ONE dental office where the front office receptionist has a mutual friend.

If you could have seen the looks on our faces.

The Planet D Connection

October 7, 2015

When the Benders walked into our house it wasn’t long before the wine was flowing and we discovered, rather quickly what one another was about. It’s been said that like attracts like. If that was the case, then as far as personalities were concerned, Josh and Erin Bender were our Australian mirrors.

Erin was never at a loss for an answer to one of my questions.

She reminded me of Sylvie: the content of the answer she was providing didn’t matter, because she always believed what she was saying was correct. It’s an incredible talent to have that much conviction in what you say. There have been times when Sylvie could convince me the earth was flat and I’d have trouble disputing her claim based on the confidence she had in what she said. I’ve been with Sylvie almost fifteen years and I still catch myself questioning some of the things she says with actual facts. As she liked to say, with utmost confidence: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance baffle them with bullshit.”

Erin was no less confident. My problem was the breadth of her knowledge about travel and marketing and writing was so extensive I couldn’t have written it all down even if I was sober.

What made her so refreshing was admitting it was a process to get her to believe a life spent travelling was possible to achieve.

“It took a lot of convincing on Josh’s part that we could do this. We both had careers. We were successful. We had a house. Two nice cars and all that. We were only supposed to try it for six months,” Erin said.

“Yup, that sounds right, doesn’t it Jase. You were after me for quite awhile to try a trip.”

“Yes, eventually I just gave up and called in the experts,” I said.

“That’s the best way to do it. There’s no sense in trying to figure it all out on your own when chances are someone else has done it before and can show you the way,” Erin responded.

“They were a HUGE help. They helped us plan our first backpacking trip to VietNam and Thailand. They were friends of ours that used to work in the film industry. She was a make-up artist. He was a Rigging Gaffer. She’s the writer. He’s the photographer,” Sylvie said.

“Wait a minute, I know someone like that,” Erin said, “you don’t mean Dave and Deb do you?”

“You know Dave and Deb? The Planet D they call themselves.”

Now, dear reader, ask yourselves this: what are the odds that a random couple from Australia, visiting New Brunswick, should find the ONE dental office where the front office receptionist has a mutual friend.

If you could have seen the looks on our faces.

How do the Benders do it?

October 5, 2015

Sylvie couldn’t contain herself. I got the first text at work.

“We have company Thursday night.”

Great, who doesn’t love company.

“They’re from Australia.”

I waited a few minutes before responding. Sylvie works at Champlain Dental in Dieppe, how in the hell did she meet anybody from Australia.

Then the true gravity settled further. “What the hell are Australians doing in Dieppe? Most Canadians barely know we’re on the map.”

But the limiting aspect of the text message is its inability to convey a larger picture. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we have more ways than ever to communicate with one another but I don’t know how well those messages are delivered or received.

Call me old-fashioned, or respectful of time, I didn’t have the patience for back and forth two sentence thumb talk. I dialed Champlain Dental directly to get a two-hour text dialogue whittled into a five-minute conversation.

And lucky for me, Sylvie isn’t interested in long drawn out affairs. I think she’s even starting to speak like a text message: bullet points with impactful messaging.

-They’re from Australia

-They’re travelling the world

-Been on the road for two years

-They have two kids

And then, without even saying a word, we both knew what the other was thinking: How in the hell did they do it? How are they managing to travel with two kids under the age of seven?

That’s what we’re going to find out – Sylvie.

Great, we need to know. What do they do with the kids all day? – Jason

Home school – Sylvie

There’s got to be more to it than that – Jason

And that’s why they’re coming over to dinner – Sylvie

For two days I rehearsed my questions like a lawyer preparing for litigation. We took a little bit of time to research their story online, but there was very little nitty-gritty about what they had to do to get where they are. How was it possible to travel with children? Sylvie and I could make claims that we were interested in stability of career to provide a safe place to raise our son. We could. With a straight face even. But as someone once pointed out, how can you convince your children to chase their dreams if you aren’t chasing yours.

The Benders were living proof you could travel with children. In so doing they were throwing a heaping dash of cold water on our idea that such a concept was too difficult to manage.

Those Damn Benders (of Travel with Benders)

October 1, 2015

Josh Bender casts a long shadow as he ducks down through the door frame. At 6’10” he’s impossible to forget. He sits down with his wife and two children at the Champlain Dental Clinic at Champlain Mall in Dieppe.

Sylvie Mazerolle, former make-up artist extraordinaire, now front office reception, greets Erin Bender with her customary cheer.

The Australian accent is impossible to miss. While Josh may command more initial attention, Erin has a magnetic personality. Confident. Self-assured. Chatty.

Only if we could slow down the orbit of the earth could both of these women share the public dialogue equally. Sylvie, our plucky Acadian heroine, is no slouch in a conversation. And yet, despite the strong personalities of both women, they get along famously. They have one commonality that goes beyond the normal business/client chit chat: a love of travel.

“We’re house sitting for a few weeks. We’re originally from Australia,” Erin opens up.

“Originally? Well, where are you from now?” Sylvie answers.

“Uh, well, nowhere really. We gave up our citizenship when we decided to travel the world,” Erin confesses.

Sylvie gulps.

“Travel the world!” she blurts.

“Yup. We’ve been on the road for two years straight.”

“With two kids!”

“Uh, yup.”

“That’s it, you’re coming over to our house for dinner.”

And the date was set for that Thursday. If only if it was just as simple as a dinner.

The Crossroads

September 28, 2015

The first criteria I had for the quality of my craftsmanship as a writer was that of the copies I had sold, none had been heaved back in my face. No one told me I suck. The second criteria was to stand and deliver my words in front of others and not perish or spontaneously combust on stage. So far, I survived both steps along my journey with, dare I say, a measure of composure. If the signs coming back would persist, I might actually start to think I’m pretty good.

But in my encounters there are (and always will be) writers a lot more talented than I who continue to toil in obscurity.

Every creative type encounters this dilemma:

Continue in obscurity or grow to become the artist you aspire to be.

(I say artist with a great deal of reluctance. To quote Perry Farrell, lead singer of rock band Jane’s Addiction: “I’ve met so many pretentious assholes who are artists that I don’t want to join the club.”)

Me, I haven’t completely retreated. After we returned home from Toronto, Sylvie’s seasonal allergies mutated into Oral Pollen Food Syndrome. We’ve been challenged to find a way to cope with those new circumstances.

I went back to my day job: Apprentice Electrician. Before Christmas I was called in to complete another block of training and wasn’t re-hired by the company I was working for. There was no animosity. Work was getting slow, and since I was off work anyway, it just made sense to leave me on the dole.

Initially I didn’t mind. A few years back I pitched a travel book called “Finding Asia”. Wanting to add to my portfolio of work, I used my time off to finish that book. Call it finishing one thing before starting another.

I expected that as the winter gave way to spring that I would be back to work, completing my back-up plan. As spring gave way to summer and no work came my way, I forgot all about my sputtering writing career to concentrate on full-time employment. That search and long drought had the effect to leave me appreciating that which I had. Better to just continue on as we were.

After all, even if my writing career took off, with Dustin in school full-time, we didn’t really expect to be mobile and travel again did we?

That’s what we thought until the Benders came along.

How to Survive a Bomb*

September 24, 2015

How to Recover from a Bomb* Blast

*Bomb – noun 4 N. Amer informal – a bad failure (her latest play is a real bomb) from Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

My first book reading wasn’t a sell out. There were no autograph hounds or paparazzi mobs chasing me down the street. I had a grand total of four people arrive at my first book reading (not including my wife). I shipped 70 books to Toronto to take around to various film sets and sell to my friends and colleague’s. About 30 remain unsold.

It wasn’t what I’d hoped, but it wasn’t a total disaster (except the reading.)

It’s not like I was Jerry Seinfeld: I wasn’t a mega-success out risking my professional reputation on new material. And yet, despite my modest sales goal, I still fell short of my objective. I put in time and effort and still it wasn’t as successful as I’d envisioned. How do you recover from a bomb blast?

  • Absorb the moment. Three people are in the room. Minutes are ticking away while you hope more arrive. Yet, instinctively all of you know that won’t happen. You want to a) scream b) break something c) break (blame) somebody else or d) bolt. Answer: f) stand and take it. Stay put. You’re still breathing.
  • Follow Through: Okay, it’s hard to get an audience of three to sound interested in your words. But guess what, it’s actually a great way to test material and delivery. If you can entertain a small audience, a larger one will (generally) be much easier.
  • Appreciate the Audience: They know it’s a bomb, you know it’s a bomb. But guess what, you all showed up anyway. They might expect you to bolt, but you’ll gain far more respect from them if you make the best of what you have. Remember, as creative types, we are nothing without the people who support us.
  • Analyze without being overly critical. This is harder than it sounds. With perspective, laying a bomb is a healthy part of the maturation process. You learn more from failing (and trust me, I have A LOT of experience) than easy success.

Four days after we arrived, we were back on a plane and headed home to New Brunswick. My first whirlwind book tour was quickly at an end with invaluable learning and still greater challenges.

The Square Advantage

September 21, 2015

The Square Advantage

Okay, I admit it, I’m not the first one to jump on the new technology bandwagon. I don’t wait for the new IPhone version s10 whatever with baited breath to fulfill my value as a human being. Like anyone one else who bought a 1080p HDTV for $1500 one year only to see one twice as big for half as much the next, I meet each new tech announcement with measured indifference. I’m behind in the times and I’m okay with that. Because the challenge is determining what is essential, what is practical and what is vanity. Most of those lines are fuzzy.

We were at Café La Louche on St. George St. in Moncton two summers ago when we approached to pay our bill. La Louche is a cozy little French-style restaurant that didn’t seem to have enough room to house a formal servers area. The area that generally contains the cash register and Interac machine.

We looked around, expressing our desire to pay and continue our day when the owner produced her smart phone and informed us she didn’t take debit. Only credit. She plugged the tiny, white Square into her phone and swiped our credit card. Seconds later the screen changed and we wrote our signatures.

You should have seen the look on our faces.

But at the time I never considered the possibilities for running a small enterprise. Or the advantages for selling books.

There I was on the backlot of the tv series “12 Monkeys” in Toronto, trying to get Kirk Acevedo interested in making a purchase of my book (I’d worked with him on the pilot of “Fringe” but I don’t think he remembered me). He was nice, accommodating but the man had no cash! And here I thought he’d be swimming in per diem. Money falling out of his pockets. But the only way he could make a transaction was by plastic. He wasn’t the only one. Most of my film colleague’s, who didn’t know I was coming, hardly had cash either.

In hindsight I’m pretty damn lucky I sold as many copies as I did.

But the lesson I learned was invaluable: make it easy for your customers to purchase your goods!

Lesson learned: I will not go to a book signing and be without my Square again!!!quare

Book Marketing Lesson #2 (Part 1)

May 8, 2015

The help, the encouragement and the support I received about my first reading was amazing. Friends started making suggestions about contacts and venues and all sorts of possibilities for making it happen. As it was our first vacation, with a finite amount of time, I didn’t have the luxury of scouring the city for the best possible location. It would also be my first foray outside of my small Toastmasters group into the grand speaking world beyond.
I also knew one of my fatal flaws was to hum and haw and change my mind. I went with a small pub on Bloor St near Jane. Knowing the language in the book is a tad ‘blue’ and a few pints can loosen up the crowd, it made sense to me to host my first book reading in a licensed establishment.
But even after I made contact and settled on a date, the suggestions kept coming.
In particular, the wife of Mat Pierce (my best friend from high school) made overtures about accommodating my request for a host venue. Catherine Moran works in the Toronto Public Library and she had ample resources to support my event.
I’d already made up my mind and didn’t wish to change. Not because the offer wasn’t a great opportunity. It was. In fact, in the back of my mind I knew it was probably going to be better exposure than the basement of a pub at Bloor and Jane.
And yet, I stayed the course.
With everything nailed down I concentrated on the one thing I now felt responsible for: speaking well. I left my interaction on social media to dissipate as I rehearsed the passages I was going to speak from the book.
I’d created the event on Facebook, hoping that it would generate a word of mouth response and drum up a modest crowd. I’d also criss-crossed the city selling books to my film colleague’s and mentioned my upcoming event.
Would it be enough? More importantly, how was I going to judge the success of the event?
What was the worst that could happen? What if nobody showed up? Would I be okay with that?
That was the one question I had to answer and had to become comfortable with.