Title: STICKS and STONES: Ten Canadian Short Stories
Author: Margaret Lindsay Holton - aka – ML Holton
Genre: adult fiction, contemporary fiction, Canadian fiction, short stories
Compiled during the pandemic, ML Holton offers ten divergent and timely Canadian stories intended to comfort and console those adrift in the ‘new normal’.
Short stories have long been a succinct bridge between the gymnastic extremes of poetry and the required drudgery of long-form prose. The brevity of short stories demands an elegant efficiency bound with the ever-present challenge to convey meaning. For a writer, this is the ultimate short story goal: to convey meaning, elegantly and efficiently.
Over the past 40-odd years, I have written innumerable first drafts of short prose pieces. An idea or observation will seize me and I’ve just got to get it down. In those first drafts, I will backtrack to that AHA moment when some new insight or truth was revealed. After the initial eruption, I usually put the drafts aside into my writing box with the intent of returning to them when time allows.
The pandemic of 2020/2021 allowed such a time. The subsequent global lockdowns forced us to be with ourselves. As time dragged on through 2020 into 2021, many in isolation, particularly in pampered industrialized nations, turned to their ubiquitous screens for imperfect conversations with others. Zoom took off. Twitter exploded. Others just upped their screen consumption with Facebook, YouTube or Netflix in order to mind-meld with ‘like-minded’.
Those in under-developed countries, without the luxury of big screen, computer access or hand-held devices had, seemingly, a rougher time of it. Generations of families were locked in domiciles where they invariably infected - and cared for - each other.
In the plugged-in nations, after the novelty of screen interaction wore off, many isolated writers, such as myself, dove into unfinished writing projects. It seemed a perfect (near captive) opportunity to reach out to new readers. In doing so, I had to travel back to dusty stories that had erupted decades ago and re-examine their poignancy. I discovered some tales, originally written with self-righteous urgency, were juvenile, while others, (like P.O.V I.P.O. in this collection), continue to radiate an uncanny foresight of what we may yet become.
Overall, I chose these particular stories to offer readers the simple pleasure of reading. I chose them to share, willingly and willfully, with those at the beginning of their life-long love affair with thought and language. It is my hope that these tales will stimulate greater interest in the reader’s own reading and thinking. I am also sharing them to those in the middle of their love affair with thought and language, in the hope that the stories will nurture their own developing thought processes and evolving perceptions. And finally, I am sharing these stories to those who are already well-tuned to multiple short story styles and points of view. If these stories do reverberate with insights they know to be true, then, good. Affirmation is, to a great extent, confirmation.
I am offering these stories to a wide range of readers because sharing well-chosen words expands our minds. New synaptic connections are made. We learn. We become more than we are. And, in these challenging times of reflection and crisis, reading really is a supportive and reassuring gift that we can offer each other …
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So, why then, the title – STICKS and STONES?
A brave childhood response to a perceived verbal insult goes like this, ‘Stick and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.’ Meaning, words, even when delivered with intent to harm, will not actually hurt you. (Whereas, obviously, the hurling of physical sticks and stones can and might.)
There is a lot going on in the world right now that is forcing many to adopt defensive and combat-ready positions of ideological certainty. Tribes are developing along racial, religious and political lines. Many stand-on-guard protecting an assortment of sacred cows. Yet, beneath this posturing is an acute awareness that, for a myriad of reasons not discussed here, broader human perception is, indeed, changing.
The question is: do we fight for our past to protect our future, or, do we succumb to the whims and winds of change and hope for the best? This collection stands as a gentle invitation to, yes, come along for the ride - not in surrender - but in alliance. Put aside those ever-present sticks and stones, and pick up the words willingly, and then, journey on, aware that, yes, new ideas can and will challenge you.
Since the beginning of time, new thoughts have demanded our attention. In reaction, we reject, resist, denounce or challenge them. Many may even commit to combat. Yet, we all know that words really CANNOT HURT US. Clashes of ideas, while heated, can, if we remain level-headed, forge new insights, deepen compassion for others and also strengthen our own resolve to protect essential Survival Truths inherited from our forebearers.
Consider this: thousands of species on our home planet have come and gone since time began. Of the approximate 8.7 million known genera on Earth today, Homo sapiens, our species, have endured a mere 300,000 years. It is a spit in the bucket compared to the long-surviving, intercontinental arthropods, the Trilobita. Those sea-faring critters endured an astounding 270,000,000 years - before going extinct.
If we, on Earth, allow ourselves to unthinkingly surrender to the impulsive violence of ‘sticks & stones’, we will not only destroy the ever-growing seeds of human civilization, we will lose our long-term survival advantage. Why? Because of all of the unique capabilities that we do have as mammals, it is our ability to share words - to communicate through the act and art of language – that elevates and encourages us to BUILD together.
Remember, ‘stick and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.’
If even one of my chosen stories does succeed to resonate within you, that is, for me, a hopeful and hope-filled outcome. For, surely, humanity’s evolving consciousness is at its very best and very brightest when we do connect through linguistic empathy. It is through this highly-attuned sensibility that we gain much deeper understanding of our own species’ unique and remarkable place within a much larger and most magnificent cosmos.
Buy Links (including Goodreads):
Amazon link: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/177724983X/
Non-Amazon link: https://books2read.com/u/b5ow5k
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Well-chosen words must be used to connect - not separate – us. Acts of listening and hearing, and speaking calmly and carefully with one another, can and will bridge the upsetting thoughts that erupt between us. The ability to speak and write well is a hallmark of our species. Ill-spoken words enflame passions. Carefully chosen words can be a great unifying gift. It is up to each of us to gift this great joy of language, as graciously and generously as we can.
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Margaret Lindsay Holton is an award-winning senior artist from Southern Ontario, Canada. Long involved with local activism, Lindsay lends her voice to champion individual freedom within the collective of humanity.
Social Media Links:
Facebook (public artist page) https://facebook.com/MargaretLindsayHoltonArtist
Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/Margaret-Lindsay-Holton/e/B0071LO2H8%3Fref
Goodreads Author’s Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15075009.Margaret_Lindsay_Holton
Artist website: https://canadadaphotography.blogspot.ca