Thursday, April 9, 2020

Your barista may have Covid-19. Why isn’t she wearing a mask?

April 7 McDonalds in Toronto closes after employee tests positive for Covid-19 

Canada’s health authorities have done another U-turn. Since the start of the pandemic Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has insisted that, unless you’re a health care worker, wearing a mask is a bad idea. Now, Dr. Tam has noticed that a mask might prevent people from spreading the virus. 

This shouldn’t be a startling revelation. In Taiwan, for example, where they’ve had far more success controlling the virus, masks are standard wear for everybody. It’s not rocket science: wash your hands and avoid touching your face to protect yourself; wear a mask to protect others.  

And still, the health authorities haven’t gone far enough. Across Canada, there are thousands of coffee shops, with thousands upon thousands of people working in them who each interact with hundreds of customers every day. Some of those people making your coffee – in Tims, Country Style, Starbucks – some of them have the corona virus. It’s a statistical certainty.

It takes five days to show symptoms, and 25%  50% of people with the virus never do get symptoms or symptoms so mild they may not realize they have Covid-19, yet throughout the weeks they have the virus, they’re still contagious. And every single person they come in contact with – hundreds of customers a day – are in danger of catching the virus from them. The same goes for all the take-out restaurants. Pizza Pizza, anyone?

Wearing masks would not provide 100% protection – nothing does. But a simple mask does reduce the odds of any virus-laden droplet spraying from their mouth or nose to your coffee cup.

Masks should be mandatory for anyone whose work brings them into contact with many  people. The real question is, why aren’t they? Why have our health authorities been so slow on the uptake?

They have their rationales. The U-turn reflects "emerging information" Dr. Tam says; it's now apparent that people without symptoms can transmit the disease. Hmm. This "emerging information" has been apparent since mid-March {see here} and has been suspected for months.

Surgical masks need to be reserved for health care workers, they say. True. But a homemade cloth mask is better than nothing.

The main argument has been that cloth masks don’t protect you from infection; they might even make you touch your face more, increasing your chance of catching the virus. Maybe, though cloth masks might provide some protection. They don’t have to be good enough to screen out the virus; just the droplets the virus is carried on. But really the argument is beside the point. The purpose of a mask is to protect others, not yourself.

How well do masks do this? No one really knows. And in truth, this seems to be the main sticking point for health authorities. Their guiding principle seems to be: Until we know for sure, do nothing. Which would be fine, except with a pandemic, a time-lag can kill people. 

The last enormous U-turn was Canada closing its borders to international travel. Until basically the day before this happened our federal health minister Patty Hajdu was claiming that closing the borders would do more harm than good.

Her argument seemed to be that we had only two choices: a wide-open border or a completely sealed border, and that a sealed border would be a disaster

There was never any such dichotomy. 

Even today "closing the border" means leaving it open to trade, to Canadians returning from abroad, and to essential personnel such as health care works. Moreover, between the mostly closed border we have today and the wide-open border we had until March 17, there were many intermediary steps Canada could have taken and didn’t.

We could have instituted strong screening on international travellers – including travellers crossing from the U.S. We could have taken temperatures – checked for fevers. True, as our health authorities continue to point out, temperature checks aren’t full proof, but so what? Better to catch some people who haven’t reported symptoms than to let all of them in.

Even today, we still don't screen travellers effectively. According to the Globe and Mail, since March 13, 158 flights have come into Canada with confirmed cases of Covid-19 on board {here}.

We could have issued more travel advisories – and stronger advisories. For example, we knew there was uncontrolled community spread of the virus in the U.S. but did nothing for weeks. Yes, some people would have ignored advisories against visiting the U.S. But some would have paid attention. Quebec has the largest number of Covid-19 cases in Canada. Why? Because their spring break came before the U-turn, before the federal government finally started telling Canadians to stay home.

From a distance, it’s hard to guess what ails our senior health authorities. 

Perhaps on the question of borders, they've been too wedded to the image of Canada as a team player, that we must follow the advice of the World Health Organization. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization seems more interested in pandering to China than in  protecting world health. And China was strongly against the world closing its borders, particularly to flights from China because that would have hurt the Chinese economy. Of course, now that China has its outbreak under control, it's reversed its stance and has closed itself off to flights from stricken countries. {Read more in the G&M here}.

Or perhaps our health authorities are too used to reacting when what’s needed is for them to figure out how to get out in front of the virus. Perhaps it’s a certain lack of imagination, a certain rigidity to their thinking, an unwillingness to consider that something might be less than 100% effective and 100% proven and still make a real contribution.

Or maybe we need more action from the ground up. Perhaps it's up to us to put on masks, to suggest to our local coffee shop {super-nicely!} that people preparing and serving food be masked, and to get on the phone to our MPP and suggest they make it a rule. They may need a nudge; after all, they're pretty busy.

P.S. Ontario's Minister of Health, Christine Elliott – who I’ve met and is a real nice lady – can be reached at:

Brian Henry is an editor, writer, creative writing instructor and the publisher of the Quick Brown Fox blog.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Post-pandemic writing workshop schedule taking shape

Southampton, Ontario, lighthouse

Due to the pandemic, I’ve rescheduled all the Saturday writing workshops that were set to go in April and May. The new schedule is beginning to come together. Here’s what it looks like from July on:

London: How to Write Great Characters, Saturday, July 18. Details here.
Southampton Art School: Join me in this lovely beach town on Lake Huron for two workshops:
How to Build Your Story, Saturday, July 25. Details here.
and How to Write Great Characters, Sunday, July 26. Details here.

Downtown Collingwood, Ontario
Oakville: "You can write great dialogue," Saturday, Aug 8. Details here.  
Collingwood: "You can write great dialogue,"  Saturday, Aug 15.  Details here.
St. Catharines: How to Make Yourself Write,"  Saturday, Aug 22.  Details here.


Toronto: How to Get Published with Evan Brown of Transatlantic Literary Agency, Saturday, Oct 3. Details here.
Guelph: How to Get Published with literary agent Paige Sisley of CookeMcDermid, Saturday, Oct 24. Details here.

See Brian’s complete current schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Monday, April 6, 2020

“No one likes getting a mammogram, but this one provided me with an unexpected lesson” by Barbara Wackerle Baker

Her warm fingers lift my right breast. She cups it in her hand, squeezes and stretches it onto the cold steel plate. I clench my lips. Her other hand pushes my shoulder back then turns my chin to face my shoulder. The muscles in my neck tighten, I feel a stretch run down across my shoulder and into my tricep. I debate practising this pose in my next yoga class.

“Stay still,” she says.

The visual of me going anywhere makes me grin.

“We don’t want to get a blurry image.”

I roll my eyes at the wall. Of course, no one would want a blurry image of my flattened, 60-year-old boob. Since I’m naked from the waist up, posed like a nude model and have nowhere else to go, I do as she says and remain still.

The technician’s runners squeak on the tiles as she walks behind a glass partition.

“Don’t move,” she says.

The thought of an unexpected fire drill makes me wonder if I could retrieve my boob on my own.


She comes back, kneads my breast into another pose, and presses it onto the platform again. This time, she lowers the compression paddle on top. The sensation feels similar to a door closing on my thumb … ever so slowly.

“I’m going to bring it down two more times.” She pats my back. “But I’ll stop after each one. If it’s too painful, you let me know. Okay? It’s best to get both images.”

She lifts her finger above a lever. "Are you ready?”

Do I have a choice? I nod.

It’s painful but I smile at her. If my boob could smile, it wouldn’t. She pushes the lever again.

“Good job.” She walks away.

“Hey,” I call out. “Do you ever have nightmares about boobs?”

“Nightmares about boobs, no. Never.” She steps behind the glass again.


“But nightmares about feet,” she comes back, “let me tell you.” Her hand covers her mouth as she laughs as though she just told me a big secret.

"Feet?” I say. “Why feet?”

She moves me into another position. I have to admit, I’m very impressed with the stretchiness of my boob. Could this actually be an advantage to small breasts? Or is it the age factor and loss of elasticity? Similar effect as what has happened to my once-firm cheeks … on my face, as they slip down to meet my jaw.

“Feet disgust me. So much.” She scrunches up her face. “Breasts are a breeze. It’s not often you find a dirty breast.” She giggles like a high school girl. “But feet, feet are so gross.”


She lifts my right arm over my head. “When’s the last time you soaped down your chest?”

“This morning,” I stare at the ceiling, “in the shower. But I didn’t use any lotion or deodorant just like the instructions said.”


“Uh-huh. How about your feet?” She turns me and flattens my other boob on the tray. “Did you give them a good scrub?”

“Ah, no. No, I didn’t.” I feel ashamed. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. No one does. After you stop shaving your legs you quit. And guys, well … we all know where they quit with the soap.”


“Besides, if feet are dirty to start with, a shower won't help; you’re standing on them. You need to get down there,” she bends over to demonstrate. “And scrub with a stiff bristle brush and soap, lots of soap.”

I wiggle my toes inside my fuzzy socks. The big toes cross over the next toes.

“The things that grow on and out of feet... .” She drops the compression paddle once. “You okay?”

I nod. But my boob would wince, if it could.

“Are so repulsive! Can you stand tall, please? Arch your back. And summertime is worse than winter but not much. People in sandals. So gross. You’d think they know to scrub them even harder."



"I never would have guessed."

“Toe jam, toe nails you could use for fish hooks, dirt-filled calluses, monkey hair.” She lifts my left arm over my head and pushes it until it presses against my ear. “I could go on for hours about the feet I’ve seen. Breasts, maybe a few minutes.”

"I'm a writer.” I give her a huge smile. “I can't wait to get this down."

"You're a writer? And you'd write about feet?"

"I’d write about this conversation. Right after I go home and scrub my feet with a brush and lots of soap."

"We're done. If you need more foot material, come back anytime." She winks as she hands me my gown.

Once inside the changing room, I sit on the bench, grab my right foot, yank the sock off, tip my head to see through the bifocal section of my glasses and pull my sole as close to my face as possible; definitely another yoga pose that needs work. No dirt-filled calluses. I spread my toes. No monkey hair. Toe nails trim and clean. Like a really good dream. I don’t have gross, nightmare feet. Thank goodness.

I pull my socks back on and wriggle my toes.

Barbara Wackerle Baker grew up in Banff, Alberta and spends her free time racing up and down the Rockies trying to keep up with an active family of outdoor enthusiasts. Her passions include writing, photography, exploring landscapes and time with her grandchildren (the most beautiful grandchildren ever). 
Three of her stories have found homes in Chicken Soup publications, a dozen others are in Our Canada, short story contest anthologies, and one of her stories won the 2016 John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award. She’s had several First Person pieces published in the Globe and Mail, including “No one likes getting a mammogram” and “Life Support,” made into a short film which was featured at the Toronto International Film Festival. Watch it here.  

For information on submitting a personal essay to the Globe and Mail (and to 21 other places), see here. For information on submitting to Our Canada, see here. For information about submitting to Chicken Soup and six other paying markets, see here.

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops, weekly online writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Online Welcome to Creative Writing offered Friday afternoons April 10 – June 19, and Thursday evenings April 16 – June 25

Welcome to Creative Writing
10 weeks of discovering your creative side
Offered at two times:
Friday afternoons, 1:15 – 3:15
April 10 – June 19 (No class June 5)
This course was going to be in Toronto, but will now be online and accessible everywhere. 
Thursday evenings,  9 p.m.
{not 6:30 – 8:30 as previously posted}
April 16 – June 25, 2020 (No class June 4)
This course was going to be in Oakville, but will now be online and accessible everywhere. 
Also on offer this spring: Writing Kid Lit: Picture Books to Young Adult Novels, The Next Step in Creative Writing, and Intensive Creative Writing. Details here.

This is your chance to take up writing in a warm, supportive environment. This course will open the door to writing short stories and writing dialogue, writing in first person and writing in third person, writing just for fun and writing all kinds of things. You’ll get a shot of inspiration every week and an assignment to keep you going till the next class. Best of all, this class will provide a zero-pressure, totally safe setting, where your words will grow and flower.
The course will focus on writing prose, but for one class, we will have a distinguished poet for our guest speaker:
Elizabeth Crocket is an author and poet. Her Japanese short form poetry has been published internationally and in most of the leading journals. She had two chapbooks published with Red Moon Press. One of them, Not Like Fred and Ginger, was shortlisted for the prestigious American Haiku Foundation Touchstone Distinguished Book Award.
She currently has two poetry books, Wondering What's Next and How Soon the Colour Fades, published with It was just announced that her first children's picture book, Happy Haiku, published with Crimson Cloak Publishing, has also been shortlisted for the American Haiku Foundation Touchstone Distinguished Book Award.
Visit Liz online here
Fee:  $176.11 plus 13% hst = $199
To reserve your spot, email:

Instructor Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada's most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Saint John. Brian is the author of a children’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Tribute Publishing). But his proudest boast is that he’s has helped many of his students get published. 
Read reviews of Brian's various courses and workshops here (and scroll down).

See Brian’s complete schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

"Writing Your Story" by Sandra White

Every good story, so I’m told, has a beginning and an end.  And, in between, an arc, that explores one’s transformation along the way. 

When I registered for a course in Writing Personal Stories, it was a gift to myself to celebrate my 70th year. 

I had always written in journals and adventure logs and also tons of poetry.  Like a cat with 9 lives I’ve been blessed with a diverse and purposeful life.  I had a longing to explore its meaning.

Missing the first class and arriving late for the second, I already felt like an incompetent student.  I noticed judgement and awkwardness in myself. Also I was bursting to write.  Actually, it became a necessity – a passion.  I was curious – what would emerge? 

I was humbled that fellow students were so honest about their lives.  There was such intimacy and integrity in their pieces.  I felt they were kindred spirits who loved and valued the written word.  I felt honoured to know these individuals more closely than others, I’d known for years.

We were guided with compassion and helpful editing by the teacher who made us feel safe and eager to share.  I marvelled at the way he supported and corrected.

I grew during these weeks.  A major revelation for me was that the fear of abandonment, that I had lugged around for many decades, never showed-up, in my writing about early years.  I found a delightful, intelligent, resourceful and sometimes naughty child.  It was such a treat to hang-out with this sensitive, creative girl. Annie Oakley with her braids, leather skirt and double holstered guns was a strong child. She had spirit.  She suffered.  She broke. She healed.

This has been such a gift to myself.  As the cocoon cracks and the self emerges, I look forward to what is ahead with gratitude and wonder.

Sandra White says that what informs her writing is a long-term meditation practice, a varied lifestyle, and the privilege of being deeply present with others as a psychotherapist. Sandra has farmed on Prince Edward Island and lived in Halifax and St. Johns. After 16 years in the Maritimes, she returned home to Oakville to raise her two children and is now thrilled to be a grandmother of four. In later years she spent five winters on an old trimaran, sailing the Caribbean. Reading and writing have been a passion of hers for decades. She now hopes to hone her skills and to write her memoirs.

See creative writing classes starting soon here.

See Brian’s full schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly online writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.