Two in progress; one under consideration

My residency is winding down, the Walls book is simmering in the proverbial bottom-drawer, and I am devoting most of my writing time to magazine projects.

I have two pieces in progress now. I will be writing s feature about becoming a first-time father last Fall. The month before my son was was born, I found out that my brother was buried in St. Mary’s cemetery and that his name was Sandro. I always knew my mother suffered two miscarriages before she had me. And I knew both were boys. They would have been my only brothers and my son’s only uncles. But until last year I didn’t know that they were given names, and I didn’t know that the eldest, Sandro, had been buried in a plot overlooking MacLeod Trail and the Stampede Grounds. By the time my son, Amedeo, was born Sandro would’ve been forty years-old. Amedeo would’ve been his only nephew.

I am using my discovery of Sandro as an entry into a story of Amedeo’s birth and the discoveries inherent in first-time fatherhood. I will write about the prenatal classes that, for all their information, make men feel like buffoons. I will write about my writer’s fascination with the vocabulary of birth: Ripening. Crowning. Linea negra. Fontanelle. I will write about the dash from the wrestling room to the delivery room – I was at practice when I got ‘the call’ – and our nurse’s soothing Nigerian accent that reminded me of my time in Africa. I will write about my grandfather’s disbelief and pride when he discovers we are naming Amedeo after him.

I’ve never written ‘straight’ memoir before. My travel writing is more about the places I visit and the people I meet than they are about me. I am both excited and nervous to write this story. It will appear in an issue of Alberta Views this Fall and I will spend my upcoming week at the Banff Centre finishing it off.

First, though, I am polishing a draft about Algeria for a travel magazine called Afar. I’ve been wanting to crack into Afar ever since the magazine was launched last year and have been pestering the editors with ideas. Eventually they bit.

I am writing a short essay on my time in the M’zab, a valley in Algeria on the Sahara Desert’s northern edge. My visit to the M’zab coincided both with the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad and with Catholic Easter (and, as it turned out, with my own birthday). I eavesdropped on Algerian Muslims as they celebrated Mohammad’s birthday with sung prayers and firecrackers. A few days later, I attended Easter Mass with the Catholic “White Fathers” in their hermitage. My story for Afar is about the joys of engaging in ritual even – or, perhaps, especially – as a nonbeliever.

Finally, I have something under consideration. A story I wrote for Geist, called “Wall of Shame,” has been nominated for a National Magazine Award in the ‘Travel’ category. This is only my second NMA nomination – most of my writer friends seem to collect them by the half-dozen – and I am a happy guy.

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