Memoir Writing Reflections #2: A Thousand Words A Day

Word counts and number of pages heavily influence my approach in writing. From Grade 4 onwards, in multiple classes from Language (English) class and Filipino class, we were required to fill pages upon pages of lined paper with paragraphs on certain topics. Some of them were comically dull, such as “what I did last summer” since for me, 70% of the time I was watching the store. I can cover that in just one paragraph. Since these essay worksheets have a defined number of pages and we students have learned that being suspiciously short lowers your grade, we learned to stretch and beat around the bush. Adding flowery words, extra couple of sentences, and extending simple statements with independent and dependent clauses are skills I’ve mastered well.

The page limit means just that – that there will be a point when I won’t be able to write any further. In my earlier years before I had access to a computer on a regular basis, this can be an agonizing experience. When I feel that I’m gaining momentum with the middle paragraphs of backstory and supporting points and then all of a sudden, I have less than half a page left, needing to hastily switch and make a concluding paragraph. It feels like walking into a hallway and getting smacked in the face with a glass door. It’s painfully abrupt. So, I’ve learned to “budget” the paper space ahead of time. As a university student here in Canada over a decade ago, I’m immensely grateful for Google Docs and Microsoft Word for this very reason. If I went overboard, I could trim the excess before submitting the final version.

For this memoir project, dealing with word counts and spitting out words is a whole new challenge. These days I rarely have limits on how long my write-ups should be, unless I have to submit them externally. As a volunteer columnist for the Alberta Filipino Journal for the past six years my word limit is simple, 650 – 700 words. Pretty easy to follow. When I wrote the historical essays for Edmonton Heritage Council’s historical initiative called Edmonton City As Museum Project, they had a maximum word limit, but writers get paid by the word. I tried my best to ensure I don’t unnecessarily inflate the piece while giving myself the flexibility to expand if needed. In both articles I had about 50 – 100 words left. With the CBC articles, where is also a word limit but the payment is a flat rate. It helped the editor with expanding a little bit more because they want to keep a well-written statement. Only the second piece went over the 600 word count.

Now that I had 40+ chapters to write about. I did some research on the average word count of a chapter for full-length books such as novels. I agonized on how many words I need to pump out in a day. With personal blogs such as the ones over here, there were many moments when I finished a post in a single sitting – usually about 1000 words. For some time, I wondered whether that’s a fluke or normal. This process of writing a lot – a whole lot more than usual – is an experiment on how many sentences I can spit out that are somehow coherent.

One of my husband’s creative people is J. Michael Straczynski, a filmaker who released their memoir/how-to book, Becoming Superman. What a remarkable and heartbreaking story of hardship in his younger years! It was also amazing to see how his artistic career blossomed. His is the first book where I read practical tips on advancing one’s journey as a writer. “Writer all the crap out and write all the time, and make sure that you submit before the deadline, because it’s amazing how many assholes don’t” is the essence of his friendly and utilitarian advice. I like it. It resonated with me and boosted my confidence. I’ve always completed my written work on time, sometimes early, so that the editor can have the time and breathing room to look it over before getting bombarded by everyone else’s on-time or almost late submissions.

This time around, I am the rule-maker. And the rules, the constraints, are actually helpful in getting focused. So with each chapter I gave myself a semi-flexible limit: minimum 1000 words that clearly narrate at least three scenes, threads of thought, ideally both. This resulted into chapters that are between two to five pages. When I see a chapter going beyond that, I find a natural spot to split the narrative, which prevented me from feeling guilty that one area looked too long. Instead, by giving myself permission to split the chapters, I managed to add a couple more paragraphs to help make that mini story feel complete.

My author mentor lent me a stack of books to help me learn various techniques about writing. She enthusiastically said over and over that numerous principles used in writing fiction are just as useful in writing creative nonfiction. This was especially useful and motivational for me since I am narrating a story – the story of my childhood as my younger self experienced it. One of the books is On Writing, by novelist Stephen King. Similar to Becoming Superman, it’s a memoir/how-to combination which I liked. Him sharing his schedule with numbers is the most striking piece of advice for me. He said he would write a thousand words a day in the morning, stay consistent, and complete a first draft of a novel in three months as a result. Well, guess who completed a memoir draft in three months – this lady! I was overjoyed when I read this. Will my works be as brilliant as his, who knows? It also didn’t matter too much – he had a lot of freedom and flexibility since he wrote fiction. I know I shouldn’t trap myself into stringent formulas, but a roadmap helps prevent the feeling of spiraling out of control. I also don’t write a thousand words every single day. But if a thousand words in 50 days in under three months is a workable formula for me, I’ll take it!

Memoir Writing Reflections #1: The Brain is a Marvel

by: Giselle General

This year, on top of everything else my husband and I drastically changed, I added one more to the list. I finally started working of my first memoir, my first full-length written work. The initial plan was to publish something right around my 30th birthday last year. That got derailed by two major things: COVID and running for public office during a pandemic.

This is to account my initial reflections on this journey and observing my mind, both how it works when it comes to motivation and getting organized, and from a mental health standpoint as far as memories and triggers.

I had to check my email history and digital calendar to confirm the timeline. When you don’t have a full time job, the pace of time feels so strangely elastic and oddly compact, depending on the time of day. In early September, I took a chance and applied for the Horizon’s Writing Circle, a writer mentorship program. I recall being so nervous outlining my bio as an artist, feeling like a fraud. I suppose I had a few essays and got paid for it. I’ve been blogging for a decade and been an ethnic paper columnist for five years. But will it be enough to deserve undivided attention from someone who actually published multiple books?

I applied for the program in early September and in early October I got the confirmation that I got in the program. How exciting! I arranged a meeting with the author mentor in mid-October. Just like the other mentorship programs I participated in, I had a very clear goal in mind and I needed their advice to make it successful. When I outlined my goal, the summary of the memoir and the tangible deliverable, my mentor was excited. But it didn’t hit home for me until I hear her utter the words “Yes, I’m very positive that by the end of our mentorship period, you will have a first manuscript.” That felt so real, so tangible. It’s remarkable.

This is a precious time and opportunity, I have to everything I can to make the most of it.

This sparked a flurry of motivation in my mind and my heart. I made an outline of all the different chapters and themes of my life using blank MS Word documents. In a few minutes I had 40 blank chapters. Whenever inspiration strikes as the cliche goes, I would open a file and either type the entire story right there, or write short phrases of the smaller stories to write about. As of right now, I’ve been doing this for just two months, and I’m halfway through, over 20 chapters that looked decent enough to be scrutinized. Done is better than perfect, I tell myself over and over. It frankly didn’t feel like much, but when I say to people out loud, their reactions remind me that 20 chapters in less than 60 days is noteworthy.

Some days when I write, my brain somehow forgets to tell my body to breathe. After the keyboard clatters for a few minutes as I tell a heartbreaking experience, I’d suddenly gasp for air. Only then do I clearly look at the words on the screen, and tears would roll down my face. I thought that being triggered would be more melodramatic and fiery than this. I guess I was wrong.

In early December I had a dream that I wasn’t happy about. In my dream, somehow my father became alive in my current life as an adult for just one day. I was frantically giving him a tour around my home and around Edmonton, filling him in on what he missed for the past 23 years. The day doesn’t end, I don’t know what rudely woke me up into reality. I laid in bed, my eyes angrily boring holes in the ceiling as the tears silently fell. I know that this is from my consciously digging up memories and putting them on paper, or in this case, the computer screen.

Damn it, brain! Why do you have to do this to me? This wore me out mentally more than the other times I got emotional while writing. I spent the next week not writing anything new, just updating the grammar of the earlier chapters I wrote.

While dedicating time and energy to write, I had to juggle other priorities as well. There’s truth to the saying looking for a job is a full-time job. Taking the time to diligently search for opportunities that fit my experience level and salary range and writing a thoughtful application, that takes effort and a mental toll. I try to switch it up during weekdays, a few hours on job searching, an hour or two on writing, then some time for chores and volunteering.

This is how I remind myself that being unemployed doesn’t mean I’m useless. That I’m still improving my skills, using the ones I have, and making a positive impact around me in different ways. Sometimes it looks like the homecooked meal I made and a clean kitchen sink. It can look like being present at a board meeting and being efficient in all the items we discussed. It can look like a piece of artwork I finished for the home and two memoir chapters done in a single day.

Activities not related to writing or career help me stay grounded and balanced. My husband actively finds video games that a very beginner-level person like me can handle, and he is very kind and diligent when we do levels together where he had to do about 70% of the work. It’s pretty sweet of him. Whenever he plays video games that he streams to his audience online, I hear him talk about me and share fun updates about ‘the wife’. I sometimes chime in on conversations and his audience seem to enjoy it. Our group of friends have organized a weekly movie night, just like what they did regularly a decade ago. My friend asked for my help with pet-sitting and it’s quite fun being a dog and cat auntie. It’s actually nice having a cat on your lap being cozy while reading one of the books my mentor author lent me about writing techniques.

My suicidal ideation has never left my mind, but I am able to keep it at bay for the most part. It’s not by feeling more optimistic about the world – there’s too much obvious evidence that people and systems are harmful and selfish and problematic. It’s by keeping a little bit of hope that what I do matters to a small extent and it affects people positively, whether it’s just myself, my immediate love ones, or those who gets affected by any of my community service work. And that’s enough for now.

The Female Duet that Changed my Preconceived Views

Closeup of two women singing a duet and holding a mic together

By: Giselle General

Earlier this month, a high school student volunteer and I were doing some community service work for my neighborhood. It’s a requirement for her Grade 12 Religion Class. She is a Filipino teenager who is relatively new to Canada and Edmonton, being here for just a few years with her experiences limited by having to attend school remotely.

She also volunteered for my neighborhood community league last July and August for her Grade 11 Religion Class during summer school. So we’ve spent some time with each other and have gotten comfortable chatting about various things. It’s been pretty fun!

During her most recent volunteer shift, she was helping me pick up litter along the public sidewalks in my neighborhood. It was tricky as snow has fallen over the past two days, hiding the pieces of trash I know were still stuck there for the past few weeks. We’d kick and shove the freshly fallen snow, pick up pieces of cardboard, plastic and the occasional pencil with our pickup stick and shove it into the trash bag I have open.

Feeling good about being outdoors in the cold for two hours and filling a large bag of trash, we went back into our community hall to clean up and warm up. By this time we’ve talked about many things that teens are likely to talk to an older cousin or cool aunt about – school, friends, crushes, Canadian culture and etiquette and my experiences with these as a Filipino newcomer teenager 15 years ago.

We switched to the topic of music and got into the conversation of beautiful duets we enjoyed listening to. That’s when I shared to her the very first time I heard a duet sang by two women (female voices) and how it changed my outlook on music. Until then, in my childhood years, I’d always thought of duets as something sang by a man and a woman as their vocal ranges are so different from each other. Until I was proven wrong.

It was in the early 2000’s and I was a second year high school student in a mining village in the Philippines. It was time for Intramural competition, and in my school, the performing arts and athletic competitions are equally intense. On the performing arts competitions there are solo singing, duet, individual and group dances.

The duet singing competition started. I remember being curious when two female students went on stage. They performed the song “Tell Him”. I got goosebumps hearing them both sing the chorus!

Tell him
Tell him that the sun and moon
Rise in his eyes
Reach out to him
And whisper
Tender words so soft and sweet
I’ll hold him close to feel his heart beat
Love will be the gift you give yourself

Their voices were both clearly feminine but were distinct from each other. On top of that, they were not acting like a couple singing those words to each other, which made them stand out even more than the other contestants. I remember the screams of amazement, the cheers and the standing ovation we gave as the audience right after the song. They were the clear winners for the category even before the official announcement happened a few days later in the award ceremony.

It wasn’t until years later when I thought of this performance again. I search the song online and watched the original performance by Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand. And as I listened to it, my awe and appreciation just all came back.

As I was telling this story to the student volunteer, I pull out my cellphone to show her the YouTube video of the original music video. She seemed just as astonished as I was 18 years ago that two women can sing together in such a contrasting and harmonizing way. I sang the first two lines of the chorus, both with the soprano and alto lines to show how different they sound individually, encouraging her to imagine how they sound when combined.

This song continues to be one of my absolute favourites because of how my schoolmates performed it, in the underground gymnasium of our high school. I don’t even remember the names of the students who performed, but I know that the community if people who lived in the village of Philex Mines is quite vast all over the world. If this post somehow reaches them I hope that it becomes an opportunity for lovely nostalgia of their high school years.

Two Small and Impactful Gestures of Two (Former) City Councillors

This time around I am going to publicly name two politicians for what they have done! What a timely post shortly after one year since the most recent municipal elections here in Edmonton.

Cue scary noises!

Actually, I’m just joking, really!

I think it helps that they are both former former city councilors, but either way, I am actually actually not naming them and shaming them. I’m naming them because yes, I think they probably won’t even remember doing these two things at all. These seem to be very small gestures but had really impacted the way I look at things here in the city where I live, and had shifted my life in a very noticeable way. It is a positive impact – no shaming will be happening here.

First is former City Councillor Scott McKeen, who represented Ward 6, downtown Edmonton. He was pretty active in his social media accounts, and I followed his Twitter account to stay up to date with city politics. One day, he re-tweeted about a Repair-a-thon event a few days before it was about to happen. I like sewing, fixing things up and making them usable again. This event is an opportunity for people to get everyday items and clothing repaired, and people can volunteer their skills to help get these stuff fixed up. Because of a scheduling conflict and the fact I just found out about it a few days before the weekend, I cannot make it and I was pretty upset. I could have helped patch up clothes, sew back buttons and fix hems on shirts and bottoms. At the time, I already figured that Home Economics is not a a typical part of the curriculum for children here, so many don’t have the skills to do simple repairs with clothing, household objects or electronics.

From seeing this event being promoted, I also discovered a Twitter account called Boomerang Bags Edmonton. It is very much related to sewing and upcycling. The goals is to get volunteers to sew fabric shopping bags that can be re-used as opposed to single-use plastic bags, and donate them to local stores so they can encourage customers to use them instead of buying bags. It’s a win-win and I loved the concept. So I got involved, signed up to volunteer and made a lot of bags. If I tally them up it probably will go up to the hundreds at this point.

It’s interesting because the preferred terminology that is gender-neutral is “sewist”. But it’s difficult to use since as someone who is ESL, whenever I hear the term I think of someone who is doing something related to plumbing, like sewage. Because of this I still use seamstress especially when talking to people who might not be as familiar with the community.

Anyways, because of being a volunteer seamstress with Boomerang Bags, working with fabric become a larger part of my hobby time. I’ve already been quilting for years and I’ve made enough quilts, throw blankets, pilllowcases for my home. And during the pandemic, our community’s talents had an opportunity to shine in a major way. Hundreds of crafters, seamstresses (or sewists), quilters worked together for months to help with two major fabric-related goals: to make fabric masks for those who cannot afford them, and to make fabric laundry bags for healthcare workers to store their contaminated scrubs after work that they can just toss into the laundry.

A dining chair with a dozen fabric bags draped by the backrest.
These were the first batch of bags I’ve sewn in March 2020, as part of the province-wide effort to make fabric bags for healthcare workers who need a place to store their dirty uniforms. Just a year beforehand, I discovered Boomerang Bags Edmonton through social media posts of a city councilor.

I wonder if the former councillor realized that from this very small act, it opened me to Edmonton and Alberta’s community of creatives sewing.

Second is former City Councillor John Dziadyk, who represented Ward 3 on the north side. He caught my attention during his election campaign in 2017 because his marketing strategy was frequent, consistent, and his viewpoints were phrased in a way that resonated with a lot of people frustrated with how things are done in city government. After he got elected, his social media, particularly Facebook, continue to be very active in sharing information about community matters.

He published a short video during spring time 2018, encouraging people to help with the snow melting and puddles in drains by chipping off the ice of a blocked drain when they see one. It’s clear that the video was a simple one, likely just him and another person holding his phone. He used an ice chipper, a common tool used in the winter, tried to strike a puddle a few times and then the muddy water started to drain. He said, doing this helps prevent flooding and from stagnant ice water to collect. This can be dangerous if the puddle freezes again which tends to happen in March and April.

It blew my mind that it is something that an everyday person can do. I definitely have seen these slushy puddles on sidewalks and intersections all the time. As someone who frequently walks, I’ve been splashed by them a few times. I thought there’s nothing anyone can do other than hope for warmer weather so all the water evaporates.

As a result, I started to observe sidewalk drains whenever I walk around. While I don’t always have the time or I forget sometimes, whenever I could, I would also remove pieces of garbage or leaves that would block the drain. That way, when it rains or there’s a large amount of snow and ice melting, all the water have somewhere to go. It’s one of those seemingly invisible things that if someone looks at proactively, it can save people from inconvenience, potential accidents, and soggy footwear.

A sidewalk in the spring time, with snow and slush piled up.

What’s most interesting about these two experiences is that these actions are not even closely related to their actual roles, which is advocating and addressing political issues under the municipal government. A few times, I’ve heard people say that being a politician for a city or municipality, is the toughest one compared to being a provincial or federal politician. Either way, I’m thankful that something as simple as browsing social media platforms and finding these information from their posts had made a positive impact on me. A re-tweet, and a simple video, who would have thought! Well, I hope these two former politicians are doing well these days after moving on from political life.

Like Father, Like Daughter: We Both Have Metal Dentures!

As an attempt to convince his kids to take dental health seriously, I remembered my father, when I was a kid, basically telling us “don’t be like me!” He had metal dentures for the top of his teeth, and he during one of these conversations, he would take them out of his mouth and show them for us to have a closer look. I don’t recall any other details about what happened to his teeth that he ended up losing a few of his adult teeth and him needing to have dentures. He was too focused driving down his stern advice: don’t eat too much sweets and brush your teeth every night, or else you’ll lose your permanent teeth and that would be bad.

I knew he meant well, but back then there’s an issue as far as people’s perception of dental care in the Philippines. Since dental care is something you pay out of pocket, when you don’t have the means, so-called preventative care and checkups are out of the question. You would go only when there’s a toothache that is so unbearable pain or only to pull out rotting teeth.

In 1999, shortly before my family got into the fatal vehicle accident, I vaguely remember my sister telling me that she went to the community dentist on her own for the first time. That she was nervous and also proud that she went. At the time, both she and I are starting to see many of our adult teeth forming.

And when the accident happened, well, medical check-ups of any kind went out the window. Asking for permission, and for money, for medical and health related reasons was tough. My grandma would mock me and scornfully ask “did your father’s side relatives make you ask? If they want so badly to do things like dentist checkups form you, maybe you and your brother should move and live with them instead!”

2007 was a chaotic year for many reasons but January was pretty rough. After coming back from New Year’s vacation from the father’s side relatives, I asked the mother’s side relatives, who I live with, if some of the suvivor’s pension money can go towards a dental checkup. This infuriated my uncle and grandmother and my brother and I got punished severely. That’s all I have to say about that for now.

It was soon very obvious that two of my froth teeth were really rotting. Since dental care is cheaper in the Philippines, they were extracted and I got my new dentures less than a month before my flight to Canada on August 2007.

During university I managed to get a few check ups and fillings done for my teeth because I managed to stack my benefits. I learned that my benefits from working retail at Future Shop which covered 50% of basic procedures, plus the 50% covered from being a university student, completely took care of the cost. Perfect for a broke university student!

When I visited the Philippines in 2013 with my then-boyfriend, since I knew dental work is still cheaper and I was unemployed, I got a replacement for my dentures. I was sold to the fact that the one with a metal plating will be more sturdy than the plastic one. I was pretty irritable for a good chunk of the trip for other reasons so it was a stressful experience. The metal base had to be adjusted a few times so it stops cutting through my gums, but it was all good ever since.

After I got used to my metal plated dentures, that’s when I remembered that my father had a metal plated one as well! I whispered a little prayer then, apologizing that unfortunately I didn’t manage to keep all my adult teeth. From then on, my dental care routine has improved dramatically. I told myself, I’m the adult now and I can take the reins moving forward and take care of the teeth I have left.

When we moved to the neighbourhood my husband grew up in, he convinced me to go to his dental clinic so that we have the same dentist. Remarkably, my husband only had one dentist for his entire life, since he was a child! When Dr. Chin retires, I bet it will be quite an adjustment for him. Maybe my husband can reach 40 years old first before that happens?

The first major dental surgery I had was 2015, when I had ALL my four wisdow teeth pulled out at the same time. The bottom two are impacted, meaning they are not coming out properly and are kinda stuck, causing pain, risk of mis-aligning the rest of my teeth, and potential infection from hard to reach areas that I’m not able to clean properly. Again, huge thanks for work benefits covering the cost of all that.

These days, I go to the dentist at least once a year for a full checkup and cleaning. Even after we moved from my husband’s neighbourhood to a different location, we continue to go to the clinic of his childhood dentist. It’s funny that I seem to be more diligent with booking my appointment that he was. When I sit on the patient’s chair and the dental hygenist gets started with their work, I have to remind myself to ask “oh! I have dentures, should I take them out now?”. Then they would put it away neatly wrapped in tissue and inside a paper cup.

Every appointment I would ask my dentist to check on my dentures. At this point, I would have this metal one for almost a decade now. Whenever I ask, how are they looking? Are they falling apart? Should I get them changed? So far, the dentist keeps saying that the dentures are still in good shape and for as long as they are comfortable I can keep using them.

Maybe in the future, when I am in a position to have a positive impression on a child, let’s say being an aunt or grandma, maybe I can do the same technique as my father did. Maybe I can pull out the dentures, grin widely to show the missing teeth, and say “this is what happens when you don’t take care of your teeth. Do you best to care for them and brush them always!” While I wasn’t able to fully follow my father’s advice, those were due to childhood circumstances outside of my control. Maybe when I give the strict cautionary tale, with the support of the adults in their lives, the kids these days will be able to follow through.

Love Language Reflections: My ‘Unusual’ Public Displays of Affection

A mural on a public wall of a man and a woman holding hands in the forest with a quote "Did you know, you're my love, C & G. Giselle G."

By: Giselle General

In some ways we are unconventional and I love it! My husband likes to tease me about the ways I have showed ‘public affection’, more specifically, broadcasting about our relationship and marriage.

I’d usually respond, “Well, what do you expect when you are married to someone so amazing?

Public Art

Around summer 2017, because it was the 150th year anniversary of Canada being founded, there were numerous projects and community activities to participate in. In our former neighbourhood, we applied for grant funding to achieve two goals in one – a community building exercise and a combination of public art with prevention of unwanted graffiti. Over a few weekends, residents had a chance to sign up for a spot, plan their artistic idea, and go to the public sound barrier walls to paint their masterpiece.

During that weekend in June I multitasked, supporting everyone painting by making sure they have enough paint and snacks, while painting my own mural as well. As a result, I made a simple, cutesy painting of him and me, with the phrase “Did You Know You’re My Love”. It was fun and five years later, while some of the paint is fading a bit, it is still in good shape. The best part, even after we moved to a different neighbourhood here on the west end, we can still visit the location by walking. And it’s so much fun dropping by to see our mural, and the dozens of other ones painted during that summer.

Public Speeches

While I’m not as frequent and intense as Ned from the Try Guys that I mention my spouse every single moment of every single day, I’d like to think I make up for it in quality. Back in 2019, I was nervous when I applied as a speaker for Edmonton’s Next Gen speaking event called Pecha Kucha Night. My topic can be described as bit too personal and perhaps uncomfortable for a public audience. It’s titled “Dating a Sexual Assault Survivor”. But I felt in my heart, that my husband and everything he did was amazing, particularly when it comes to caring for someone with a lot of traumatic baggage, and there is a lot.

I was so relieved that I got accepted as a speaker. A bonus is that the event took place a month after our wedding, which was in front of the mural I painted a few years back. It was the perfect way to end the speech. When I got to the part where I said “so a few months ago, I proposed to him and he said yes!” and the large screen showed a wedding photo, cheers erupted from the audience. With all that said, the most valuable part for me is sharing my experience and potentially useful advice on how to love, care and be intimate with a sexual assault survivor. I hope that other couples were able to learn something from it.

Public Articles

While sure, we have our artwork in our house and our private diaries over the years, another way our relationship has been documented publicly is through articles, paid freelance articles, where my relationship with him is a major aspect of the topic.

There’s these two ones through CBC, a major broadcasting outlet in Canada:

And there’s this other one from a local project focused on preserving local heritage and stories:

Whenever I write something that will be published in a large platform like this, I strive to be mindful of the content and language. There are a some topics he is sensitive about so I don’t include it at all. The angle always focused on being informative, maybe a bit romantic but not necessarily explicitly sexual, wholesome and inspirational. So far, I am three for three in these articles. For my larger scale writing projects, this is something I will strive to maintain.

The husband accepts the fact that I’m a bit of a public figure in my own way, and I like to do projects and activities that reaches a wide audience sometimes. As a couple, we have embraced and enjoyed avoiding the trap of obligatory gift-giving for every single occasion, which has saved us a lot of stress and money. I’d say that these are more fun and something you cannot buy from a store!

The Last Birthday Gift I got from My Parents

Closeup of a child wearing pink pyjamas holding a yellow birthday gift box.

By: Giselle General

It was May 1999, and my family is planning for another set of birthday celebrations. As my brother and I are born on the same month, and less than two weeks apart, the family is not very keen on having two large-scale parties so close to each other. In our small village in Philex Mines in the Philippines, birthday parties usually consist of inviting dozens of neighbours and their entire families, the adults and the kids. So it is a big affair.

My sister is a year and a half older than me and a bit taller. Her love of sports made her pretty fit and athletic. Also being the oldest, I imagine that even then, my parents were already either asking her help for more mature things, or she started being privy to information that wasn’t passed on to me or my brother.

My parent’s closet in their bedroom has four shelves. The top shelf was too high that I cannot reach it. Even climbing on top of the first shelf to boost me up wasn’t enough. I’m unable to cling onto the edge of the top shelf, let alone stick my arm further to search for whatever is inside.

Like most siblings, my sister loves teasing me. Well, it’s more of a back and forth really. She loves to give me jump scares, hiding on a hallway or behind the door and as soon as I walk by, she would jump and startle me. I tease her about being afraid of the dark, that whenever the electricity shuts down and it’s pitch black, she’d shriek and grab my arm for dear life.

It looked like she knew ahead of time what our parents bought me for my birthday. She said that as a surprise, our parents tucked it at the very far back of the top shelf of their closet. I thought, darn it, they are smart!

Their bedroom is not always open so I knew I had to be swift if I wanted to find out what it was. Apparently it was already gift wrapped so it should be easy to spot. But try as I might, I still haven’t grown tall enough to climb up and reach.

Then a week before the birthday celebration, my sister said that she’s positive that I will like the gift they got for me. But apparently, our parents moved it to a different cabinet. Disappointed, I stopped searching around altogether. The birthday party is just a few days anyway.

Then it was the day of the party! It was pretty fun as always, with our neighbourhood friends – both kids and parents – enjoying the treats and the balloons and just getting together. It was my turn to blow the candle for my cake, a green and white pandan-flavoured cake like I requested. Then it was my brother’s turn. Since he is still pretty little as it is his fourth birthday, my mother held him as he tried to lean on the cake to blow his candle.

And then finally I got my gift! It was a skipping rope (back then we call them Jumping Rope) and I was indeed delighted! My sister sheepishly told me that actually, our parents didn’t move the gift away from the cabinet. She just thought saying that will make me stop snooping around and ruin my own surprise.

That skipping rope was well used and well loved over the next few months. In our house it is the only one we have that is factory made, with the fancy colorful rope and plastic handles. My sister, her best friend, and I would spend afternoons trying to beat each other’s records for the most amount of jumps in a row. Sometimes they would show off by skipping barefoot. That never appealed to me – I had to wear flip flops at least.

And then a few months later, the accident happened, the one that killed my sister and both of our parents. Since I had a fractured skull, I was prohibited from doing any physical activities. I never saw that skipping rope ever again. I was also stopped from returning to the community Martial Arts class our parents registered us for.

I thought about it for a while as an adult. For some reason I’ve felt reluctant to get myself another one. Perhaps in my mind, it seems like it’s something only for little children. Despite seeing ads and videos of people doing skip rope in professional gyms, it didn’t resonate with me.

Four skipping ropes and two small hand weights on a gym floor

But all that changed this summer, right after I resigned from my job. I finally bought myself one, one of those sleek, athletic looking ones from the gym equipment section of the store. To my relief and delight, the rope is adjustable. I have the height of a 10 year old child so I was a bit worried it would be too long and awkward for me.

The first time I tried it again it was awkward. Since about six years ago I started suffering from plantars fasciitis and I had to be more careful when my feet land! I had to make a dozen attempts to get the rhythm right as well. After a few days, skipping rope felt comfortable and delightful again! A goal for my summer being unemployed is to recapture how life was like when I was a kid, to have a leisurely summer again. With the other activities I did, plus the skipping rope, that goal was achieved!

Blueberry Pie: When Food Literally was part of my Therapy Routine

By: Giselle General

Content Warning: References to sexual assault, mental health treatment.

This story is from my experiences between February and September 2017, a transformative and healing time for me as far as my mental health and outlook in life.

February 2017 was when I had my first therapy appointment with the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, a free therapy service for those who survived sexual abuse. My boss at the time suggested this resource in November 2016, right after she noticed I was reeling from the election of Donald Trump. Let’s just say it was not great as a sexual abuse survivor to have a prominent politician still elected after it was revealed he made statements like “grab the women by the pussy.”

After I did the online application and got the screening phone call in November 2016, I was told I’m waitlisted. Then I got notified that I am in and can book my first appointment. It was about mid-February in 2017, at 4 PM.

I chose 4 PM because the clinic is open only during office hours, but at the same time, I’d like to be at work for as long as I could before taking off for the day. Making up the work hours is not an issue at all. I’d leave work at 3 PM to take the bus to the office for the appointments.

For something as emotionally tough and draining such as therapy, especially for something traumatic like sexual assault, I didn’t realize how starved I was right after the appointments. Luckily, there is a business plaza right across the street, with this shop named Fifendekel. Due to the bus schedule, I actually arrive in the area 20 minutes before the appointment.

For the first few appointments, I’d stop by there, get a sandwich and a drink and eat it right away before the appointment. I’d rotate between the egg salad, tuna salad, or chicken salad, no tomatoes but extra sprouts. But I learned that it throws off my appetite for dinner. Also as it turns out, feeling stuffed while talking about heavy topics was not comfortable – I mean physically. Emotional discomfort is already there since, well, it’s therapy.

One time I decided to get food after the appointments, but I learned the hard way that they close at 4:30. So I learned that whether I’ll eat it right away or later, my window of opportunity is before my appointment. And that’s what I did.

While waiting for my sandwich to be assembled, I always look at the desserts glass display, eyeing the small paper plates with single slices of pie. I love blueberry pie, so whenever it’s there I’d order a slice to eat at the store. When I started ordering my food to-go, I was worried whether it will travel well in the take-out box, but it did, thank goodness!

So for many of the appointments I had afterwards, a routine was set. I’d leave work, take the bus, walk a few blocks to get a yummy sandwich and pie, put it in my briefcase vertically and head on to the appointment. Afterwards, I’d take a cab to take me home and have my sandwich and pie by myself in our breakfast bar by the kitchen. I literally felt like I’m being re-fueled, from the delicious food and moments of peace and quiet I have before my husband goes home after having dinner at his parent’s place.

Then at bedtime, we would do what we call the “therapy after the therapy”. While cozy in our bed, my husband would ask “how did therapy go?” and would diligently listen to any new insights or techniques I learned from the appointment.

Of course during the appointments, it is unavoidable that I share to my therapist a story or two about my husband. Oftentimes, those were positive stories of love, support and care towards me. The approval and glee from my therapist is quite evident. I’d tell this to my husband. He would then ask “so, I am therapist-approved?’ And I’d say “yes, absolutely you are!”

The appointments went from weekly for a few months, and then became bi-weekly by the summer, and then in early fall, for August and September, they became once a month. Until such time that my therapist felt it was a good time to wrap up.

Over the years, whenever I had blueberry pie, whether at a restaurant or a meal with love ones, I would always think fondly to myself “oh, there’s my therapy pie!”

Book Review and Thank You Letter “The First Phone Call from Heaven” by Mitch Albom

By: Giselle General

It may sound silly but yes, I am writing a thank you letter to an object, which is the Little Free Library in a neighbourhood that was a 20 minute walk from my home. These are my thoughts after reading a book I got from it, “The First Phone Call From Heaven” by Mitch Albom.


August 15, 2022

Dear little Free Library. I think you’re pretty new, I haven’t seen you before the moment I saw this particular book that caught my attention. Overall, I’m a fan of this particular author, thinking back when I first saw a book written by him titles The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

I have also read another book by him titled Tuesdays with Morrie. So, I have an idea of what to expect in his books. There will be an overall theme of wholeheartedness and inspiration. There will be undertones of religion and spirituality. There will be themes about love and loss and death. And upon reading this book, I was not disappointed. That’s exactly what’s in it.

The premise of this book is about a pilot who is grieving the death of his wife, and missing opportunities to support his family since he was in prison due to criminal charges put forward from a plane crash. He returned to the small town where he grew up where a seemingly mysterious series of events started to occur. Several people in the small town started to receive what they claim were phone calls from dead loved ones claiming that they are from heaven. Alongside the struggles of this pilot, there was a journalist from out of town assigned to cover this story. As word of this seemingly miraculous and extraordinary event spread across the world, the town was whipped into a frenzy.

I will try not to give out too many spoilers, but all I can say is that answers were discovered behind how the phone calls were happening, and for many of the people affected, it resulted into profound effects that changed their outlook in life and family. It talks about how people’s lives are interconnected in numerous, often unexpected ways, and sometimes, people’s actions affect us in ways that we might never know, for better or worse.

For me personally, what affected me most about the book is not about the moral or the plot or the writing. I mean, it is pretty good, and I enjoyed reading it.

What I found moving and striking is an experience that is first for me, to have a character with my name in a fiction book. On top of that, for the character, Giselle, to be the dead wife that the protagonist is still grieving about! There’s no need to imagine or daydream this time in order to relate to a character – the book’s writing made it very direct, very explicit.

I am married to a man I love very much. I also struggle with suicidal ideation. While I haven’t actively done things to end my life in recent years, my heart continues to feel heavy with what is described as survivor’s guilt. Many a time I have daydreamed about what would happen when my life ends, if it ends soon. The fact that in just a few years, I’m reaching my mother’s age when she died, when she died saving me, is not helping matters.

But in this book, I was confronted with an experience I haven’t had before. Seeing the words of a grieving husband, who continued to say how much he loves and misses his wife, Giselle. The anger and pain of someone who missed her funeral because he was in prison, with undertones of helplessness and despair as he adjusts to the life of being a single parent for their little boy. This time around, there’s no need for me to wonder, ‘what would my own husband say or think, in the days, weeks or months just after my death?’ In many ways, words and thoughts could very much be his.

How has this affected my suicidal ideation? Words cannot express, but there is something that fundamentally shifted there.

After reading the book, I saw on the inside of the back cover, that there’s a sticker, one of those customized labels with people’s name and address so they can easily put it in outgoing mail. This book, at one point, was owned by a woman named Marilyn. The address is in Edmonton, but it is not in the Patricia Heights neighbourhood. Still on the west end, but a few neighbourhoods north.

Little Free Library by the end row of houses in the Patricia Heights neighbourhood: you have presented me with a unique experience and a profound gift. I’m still processing it, frankly speaking.

For now, all I can say is “thank you” and “wow”. The collection of Little Free Libraries for the neighbourhood is still growing, as well as all over the city. I wish that you continue to house and share books, knowledge and joy for years to come.

Transit Routes Made us Move! The Captive Transit User Series: Part 8

A snowy sidewalk with a sign saying "ETS Bus Stop" learning against a teelphone pole.

By: Giselle General

This is part of an ongoing series of posts discussion issues I personally encounter while taking public transit in Edmonton. Links to other posts will be added on an ongoing basis:

What is a Captive Transit User? I learned about the term for the first time from the City of Edmonton’s website. The easy definition is: someone who takes public transit because it’s the best (or only available) option for them to travel around. The part about feeling ‘captive’ comes from the restriction that sometimes comes up, perhaps because one is too poor to own and maintain a vehicle, one does not know how to drive, or for medical reasons, cannot operate a vehicle. In many ways, I relate to this a lot. Though I’m pretty fortunate to afford the occasional taxi ride, and with my husband having a car


It finally happened! Well, technically the decision was last December which is already half a hear ago. Putting up with the huge change in transit routes in my former neighbourhood, in addition to re-evaluating my life after losing in the the municipal elections, prompted me and my husband to sell our home.

This time around, I didn’t need to grab a paper map of all the city-wide bus routes. Google Maps is much more handy this time around. So it is much easier to assess the bus routes to and from downtown and other parts of the city, at various times of the day.

In addition to the very desirable financial aspect of being mortgage free, having access to bus routes similar to the former number 4 route, or better, is a key criteria. And that is absolutely what we achieved in the townhouse we bought near the Misericordia Hospital on the west end. We officially moved in Spring 2022.

I used to want roommates. Now I want affordable. And always, I need the bus…

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/first-person-henday-project-giselle-general-1.6441221

This time around, the routes I have access to is many times better than my former neighbourhood. In my former home, I was already happy with that one bus route since it is so frequent and available from early morning and late night. Now, since I am along the major road which is 87 avenue, I have access to two of these frequent bus routes, in addition to several 3-digit community routes and 2-digit cross-city routes. And many times, when I have to do errands, walking is a very feasible option. Walking under 20 minutes, I have access to many five business plazas, including West Edmonton Mall!

Living in a place with convenient transit and walking routes meant I haven’t had a taxi or rideshare trip since May, and as of writing this it is already July! In the past, when I am running a bit late going home from work, I’d take a taxi or rideshare. My monthly budget for this is about $150 a month. Looks like I will be way in the green at the end of the year.

Even the construction happening right next to me isn’t a bother at all. The construction company seems to diligently make efforts to provide proper signage for detours for cars and pedestrians, and adequate notification if construction needed to be a bit noisy at night. Sure it might be about a decade or so, but it would be even more remarkable when we have an LRT station just a stone’s throw away.

This is the ultimate goal, what I hope everyone can have – to have “transit so boring you don’t even check the schedule”. This is my experience now, and in my opinion, that is what it takes for people to trust and choose transit as a serious mode of transportation living in this city.