Writing in an Art Show!

Posted by on 27 Mar 2024 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

The Toronto Heliconian Club’s April show, “A Portrait by Any Other Name,” displays not only visual arts but also writing. Included are two short pieces of mine, both based on extracts from my memoir-still-in-progress about my high school students. You can see a couple of sentences from one of my pieces to the left of the beautiful tulips in the show’s poster below. The show is free, and full of a variety of artwork. Please consider stopping by.

The Shimmer of Democracy

Posted by on 17 Mar 2023 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

This short essay is one of the two pieces I wrote that were recognized in the contest described below it. Written not much more than a year ago, my essay was in a sense outdated as I created it. My memories of a proud event in the history of democracy, a Ukrainian election that was internationally recognized as successful, became juxtaposed, as I formulated them, with their opposite, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Joy and pride have given way to misery and destruction, and challenges to democracy in Ukraine and elsewhere have grown more, not less, intense.

The Shimmer of Democracy

“Ya,” she said, unfolding a piece of paper, then “Ya,” again. Now and then she said “Yu,” but mostly she said “Ya.”

It was the evening of December 26, 2004. All of us from Canada had given up Christmas. More than five hundred of us were in Ukraine, where Orthodox Christmas was celebrated in January. We came as official election observers for the Orange Revolution’s second presidential election runoff, after the previous effort was declared fraudulent. The two candidates were Viktor Yanukovich and the nearly-assassinated Viktor Yushchenko. A handful of us were among those watching this woman standing at a table in a polling station as she unfolded ballots, one at a time. We knew our fellow observers were doing exactly what we were doing right then, all over Ukraine, seeing ballots being counted.

We had watched the tall, transparent ballot boxes sparkle as they caught the light when they were upended and the ballots inside them mounded onto the table in front of her. Those ballot boxes’ beauty delighted me. Their literal and figurative transparency was a beacon to the world.

As the woman read aloud the chosen candidate’s name on each of the first few ballots, a current of understanding went through all of us. It was already dark outside, and after each ballot was examined, they all had to be tallied, and then the totals reported in person to the district, then further, so all could be tallied nationally. When she suggested reciting just the first syllable of each candidate’s surname, we all nodded in full consensus. In English, both candidates’ surnames are usually written starting with “Y”. In Ukrainian, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet, “Yanukovich” starts with the character that looks like a reverse “R” but “Yushchenko” starts with the letter pronounced “iu.” Hearing and understanding the difference made my whole body quiver with pride.

We were in Crimea, the peninsula stretching into the Black Sea at the very south of Ukraine. Yushchenko was the national favourite, yet the other candidate, Yanukovich, was more popular in Crimea. Those of us from Canada had split into smaller groups for the day, each with a list of polling stations to visit. We were to report how election rules were followed. Both we and the Ukrainians knew the eyes of the world were on all of us.

At every stop we met both candidates’ representatives. The respect each showed to the others, and to us, impressed us. Individual polling stations had unique problems they solved in mutually agreed ways. For example, windows in one location made voter privacy challenging. Wooden frames had been hastily constructed and curtains hung.

Starting early that morning we’d visited a variety of polling stations at institutions, municipal offices, even a military base. Everyone we spoke with, mostly through interpreters, was forthcoming about telling and showing how they were meeting requirements. We observers agreed on the clear sense that the Ukrainians prioritized teamwork over support for a specific candidate. They were keen to further democracy, and to show the world exactly how they were doing so.

Years before, I’d volunteered in three or four Canadian election campaigns, and twice I’d sat in school gymnasiums watching ballots counted. A while later, I’d served as a volunteer English teacher in Ukraine, travelling around the country as much as I could. Never had I imagined combining these disparate experiences till they emboldened me to apply to serve as an election observer. Nor had I realized the extent of election observation around the world.

In Ukraine, members of our Canadian group met a few people, heard of others, who’d come as individuals to observe the election. Official observers like us must be invited by the host country. Unlike me, many members of our group had family ties to Ukraine. One member of our group had none, but had volunteered as an official observer in other countries and looked forward to volunteering elsewhere in the future.

I’d never before served as an election observer abroad, nor have I been lucky enough to serve again. A volunteer English teaching colleague, not from Canada, didn’t observe the Orange Revolution rerun. When she told me she’d been an official election observer in Ukraine years later, my first question was, “Did they still use those shimmering ballot boxes?” They did.

The whole procedure she described evoked the details of my experience. Waking up early on election day, visiting numerous polling stations, watching the count in one, following those bringing its results to a central location, observing how the information was transmitted further were not all the steps. Next her team assembled to discuss and compile its report, as did ours in 2004. Only when we had communicated our findings to our own leaders were we done.

The crunch against my back teeth as I bit into a cabbage-stuffed pastry, the sticky fizzy pleasure of swallowing red Crimean champagne are two of my many memories of delicious Ukrainian food and drink. On election day I must have eaten breakfast, no doubt found lunch, and someone likely shared snacks around the table as we worded our report, but my recall of consuming anything that day is nil. Before closing my hotel room curtains and collapsing under the bedcovers, I remember observing moonlight dapple over the Black Sea. A December dawn was due in several short hours. Every election observation, I realized, includes an almost twenty-four-hour non-stop stretch.

I had offered my presence, wishing to support democracy in Ukraine. Standing with my fellow Canadians as we watched ballots being unfolded, standing in the moonlight hours later suffused with both exhaustion and satisfaction, brought home to me how election observation furthers democracy worldwide. Canadians, I hope, will invite international election observers here and send our own elsewhere more often. Now, in 2022, Ukraine is fraught with bloody conflict. Some day, international election observers will be able to return. We will all be better for it.

Two Honourable Mentions

Posted by on 13 Oct 2022 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

The Royal Canadian Legion in Coldwater, Ontario holds an annual writing contest, the District E Seniors Literary Competition. Categories this year included essay, memoir, poetry, and short story. Both my short story entry and my essay entry won honourable mention. Besides pride, I also feel gratitude to those who manage the contest. Their information was clear, efficient, and always offered graciously. The next contest opens February 14, deadline April 30, 2023. If you’re in Ontario and 55 or older, consider entering. And if I learn that winning entries were published, I will post here again.


Posted by on 29 Apr 2022 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

My tale from Musings (details below) has been added to the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto website.

Update: you were able to read “Geode” there, but no longer. Good news: many of the club’s arts postings change frequently, so do have a look.

So Proud

Posted by on 07 Feb 2022 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

of Musings, the first-ever Toronto Heliconian Club anthology. The book is named for Greek mythology’s Mount Helicon muses. All contributions were juried, and because art pieces alternate with poetry and prose, it’s a beautiful book. My tale is about an E.S.L. student who chose a very unusual English name, “Geode.” The book had a very small press run and only a few copies are available. Interested? Please click here.

Long COVID and Celebration: How Do They Connect?

Posted by on 22 Oct 2021 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

One of the stalwarts in Sharon Crawford’s East End Writers group is authoring a book about his niece’s experiences with Long COVID. Due to the pandemic, East End Writers celebrated our 20th anniversary virtually. Blue Denim Press publisher Shane Joseph videoed our celebration. You can see and hear a number of members sharing their work. As well, four group members, in a panel, discuss paths to publishing. Early in the video is an interview with the Long COVID book’s author, Jake Hogeterp. I was lucky enough to be Jake’s interviewer. He provides unique insights into the process of using words to convey the intimacy of someone else’s experiences and emotions. As well, he describes details of his niece’s situation and how her slow yet clear progress toward recovery has begun. Here’s the video. 


Link to Order TWC Anthology Copies

Posted by on 20 Oct 2020 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Click here to order all 3 Toronto Writers Collective anthologies, including the latest, pictured in the post under this one.

New Anthology On The Way

Posted by on 09 Jul 2020 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Front Lines: Bent Not Broken - 3d in the Toronto Writers Collective anthology series

“Tick-Tick” is my piece in this anthology. It’s the third in the Front Lines series the Toronto Writers Collective has published. The pandemic has postponed its launch, now being planned in conjunction with Harbourfront’s Toronto International Festival of Authors; again, the pandemic will determine details. Meanwhile, authors received our copies of the book, and purchase info (both paperback and e-book) will be posted on the TWC website soon.

I’ve blogged here before about writing my memoir, based on my high school teaching years. As well, I’ve posted when selections from it have reached the world, for example, as public readings. This is the second time something’s been included in a book for sale – so proud!

The tale is about an event one of my classes and I experienced. Here’s a bit from it.

“As the scene [of the D-Day invasion, from Saving Private Ryan] is ending…Sounds are coming from elsewhere, too. The school’s public address system is failing to overmaster Steven Spielberg. I press Stop. ‘Lockdown, lockdown,’ we hear…”

Professional Writers Association of Canada amalgamation update

Posted by on 01 Apr 2020 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

The Canadian Freelance Guild has launched. Professional Writers Association of Canada members have received our emails, inviting us to join. A PWAC member for more than three decades, I’ve found deciding whether or not to continue my commitment through this transition to the CFG extremely challenging. I submitted my resignation from PWAC’s board of directors, effective today, April 1. And I’ve decided not to become a CFG member. Members of PWAC and of our board have all been extremely understanding and respectful of my perspective. After I ceased active freelance writing, I maintained my PWAC membership because I wanted to support Canada’s freelance community. The new CFG is part of a labour union. When I was a high school teacher, I was active in the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, representing my school at our local branch in various capacities over the years. That activity makes my support for organized labour clear. I don’t feel right joining the CFG, though, simply because labour unions get their members’ dues from their members’ earnings, and I have not earned any significant sums from freelance writing for a very long time. My trying to show my support for the freelance community by becoming a CFG member would be counterproductive, I believe. The CFG needs members who are active freelancers, and I know, as I keyboard, active freelancers are clicking through to join. Here’s the link. I wish the CFG every success.

PWAC/CMG-Freelance Transition Committee, February 6, 2020: from left (back) Scott Edmonds, George Butters, David Petrie, Paul Verhaegh, Ellen Michelson, Don Genova, Carmel Smyth, Gerry Whelan; (front) Anna Bianca Roach, Trudy Kelly Forsythe, Christine Peets, Kathe Lieber, Doreen Pendgracs, Lisa Caroglanian Dorazio

Consider reading your work in public.

Posted by on 08 Feb 2020 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

The Toronto Public Library’s Annette Street branch (145 Annette, west of Keele) features open mic evenings. Each highlights an author whose work is part of the library system’s holdings, other invited writers, and successful applicants. At the Annette Street’s Tuesday, February 25 Open Mic (6-8p.m.), I’ll be reading a scene from the short play I’m working on now. The scene’s other character, I’m happy to say, will be read by librarian-author Bernadette Gabay Dyer. Click here for more info on the event and how you can apply to read.

Annette Street Public Library

Professional Writers Association of Canada’s future

Posted by on 25 Jan 2020 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

We voted on PWAC’s future on January 14, 2020, at an online special general meeting. We’re going to dissolve PWAC and amalgamate with the Canadian Media Guild Freelance Branch to form a new organization, the Canadian Freelance Guild.

This change is huge. PWAC has been a national arts service organization (NASO). CMG-F is associated with the Communication Workers of America-Canada, a labour union. Our bigger numbers will be an advantage in today’s freelancing world, but our legal and organizational adjustments will be considerable.

The history of centuries of guilds grounds our new organization and builds confidence, I think.

Our combined boards had our first online meeting two days ago, on January 23. We’re getting together in person for two days early in February. Our tasks include, for example, combining membership criteria and dues payment systems from both organizations. Our first AGM will likely be in October.

Ontario RD

Posted by on 30 Aug 2019 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Professional Writers Association of Canada logo

Doreen Pendgracs, recently elected president of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, emailed me a week or so ago, asking if I’d fill a vacancy on the board.

(Yummy aside here: most PWAC members have specialties. Doreen’s is chocolate! https://chocolatour.net/ )

Back to PWAC: although I’ve been a member for more than thirty years, I was awed and terrified by Doreen’s request. Support from my predecessor, details from our past president … emails reassured me, useful docs attached enlightened me. My appointment as regional director for Ontario became official during our board meeting yesterday evening, a virtual meeting because our organization stretches across the country. I’m honoured to be able to give back to the association that gave me so much throughout my active days as a freelance writer. Adventure awaits.


Posted by on 02 Apr 2019 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Certainly, a new play by Ellen Michelson - Jane Carnwath, director; Damon Lum, coordinator
A high school teacher loves her students. About to retire, she receives her toughest assignment ever. A renowned historical figure provides support via a young colleague, and a school caretaker takes an interest. Catastrophe averted?

A talkback will follow the staged reading of this short play. Come, laugh, groan, sigh, and share your views.

info on location, etc.: email ellen (at) ellenmichelson.ca

City of Fredericton Writing Award

Posted by on 24 Dec 2018 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Surprise – a certificate! The city of Fredericton created a contest in connection with the Professional Writers Association of Canada’s 2017 meeting there. The blogpost cited several posts below (with the riverside photo) was my entry. My goal wasn’t to win. I hoped to share some of our conference with those who didn’t attend, and show appreciation to our host city. At our 2018 PWAC meeting, I received the certificate, and learned a gift package was to follow. The mug, by a Fredericton crafter, brings me happy thoughts of strolling across the river on the bridge as the shallow concavity in its handle nestles against my thumb.

Fellow PWACer Doreen Pendgracs won the same award, also with a blogpost. Hers is less about PWAC, more about Fredericton. Click here to explore it. If you’ve been there, you’ll recognize what you enjoyed; if you’ve not, you’ll learn about the city.

New Year’s Resolution

Posted by on 31 Dec 2017 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Revelation: format affects self-feedback. Editing on my screen brought – I hope – improvement. Reading my book draft on my tablet yielded different insights. Notes made brought – I hope – further improvement. Next: careful study of the manuscript in hard copy. What will be revealed?

Open Mic Night, Parliament Street Library, Nov. 28, 2017, 6:30-8pm

Posted by on 27 Nov 2017 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

All welcome – no charge. The featured reader is Olive Senior, poet and author of fiction and non-fiction. Others will be reading, too; some are members of the writing group that meets Monday evenings at the Toronto Public Library branch on the south side of Gerrard Street just west of Parliament. I’ll be reading a bit about one of my students from my memoir-in-progress.

Olive Senior (image: Caroline Forbes)

Olive Senior (image: Caroline Forbes)

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