A Heartfelt Thank You: Note from the Author

For three years I was the writer in residence with the Toronto District School Board. I worked on many projects, one of which involved having hundreds and hundreds of students become active readers in the writing of a book called Catboy. Each week they were given twenty pages of the book on which they provided me with feedback—what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they wanted changed—and I looked at this feedback to shape the next section. This went on for ten weeks.

One of those students providing feedback was a young fifth-grade reluctant reader named Jaime. In fact, through my process of changing things, Jaime actually became a character in the book. Both Jaime and her mother said that her involvement in this project inspired her to become not only a reader but also more involved in school. Music to the ears of any writer—and former teacher!

As well as looking for feedback from readers, I also regularly seek out experts. It’s so important to get the facts right when writing fiction. This expert could be a historian, scientist, animal expert, engineer, pilot, a person related to my character, or even a survivalist. 90 Days of Different is about a teenage girl who becomes actively involved in social media as she undertakes new adventures. I knew I would be looking for an expert who could provide feedback—but instead that expert came looking for me.

Jaime contacted me by email, saying she wanted to know if there was potential for her to get involved in the process of crafting a book. She wondered if there was anything I was working on that would fit. I discussed the potential—and uniqueness—of this book with her and her mother. Jaime responded by crafting a five-page project proposal that was nothing short of spectacular. This was something that was student driven, personalized and would allow her to be part of this project while fulfilling a secondary school Interdisciplinary Studies Program. She proposed not just providing feedback for the story but also becoming an active part of the whole social media component of this book.

You need to know a little bit about Jaime. She is bright, confident and slightly stubborn. Confident was important. To make this project work, she was going to become part of a team at Orca led by Kennedy Cullen. Jaime needed to be confident enough to ask questions, take direction, pursue independent actions and speak out when she thought things needed to be changed. I certainly didn’t need to worry about any of these—especially the speaking-out and independent-action parts! From the first meeting with Orca staff, Jaime was able to take on the roles she was assigned.

Jaime provided feedback for the story itself—suggesting “differents,” providing a critical eye and offering her insights. But her role became much, much more. Under the leadership of Kennedy, Jaime took on the primary task of finding the online material for the adventures of Sophie. She crafted a course-required Project Charter and then applied it to creatively capture and communicate the adventures of Sophie. In fact, many of the pictures—none of which show Sophie’s face—are actually of Jaime doing the differents. In addition, she wrote many of the tweets, Instagram captions and blog posts “written” by Sophie. Anytime you notice a small JPXD at the bottom of an entry, it was written by Jaime.

Every book is the product of more than just the author who is listed on the cover. It is a partnership between writer and editor. This book involved more than a partnership. It was a team, and one of the most important members of this team was Jaime.

Jaime, thanks for thinking differently.

—Eric Walters, author of 90 Days of Different

For more about Jaime’s work on the social media component of 90 Days of Different, you can read Trevor MacKenzie’s interview with Jaime on his blog: https://trevmackenzie.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/interview-with-an-amazing-teenager/

And finally, on behalf of Orca Book Publishers, I would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Jaime for the work she has done with this project. Having never taken on a marketing campaign quite like it, this was a learning experience for everyone on the team and Jaime’s contribution made it truly special. We would not have been able to accomplish what we have without Jaime’s excitement and determination. It has been a wonderful experience to work with a young woman who is so passionate and ambitious, and we are looking forward to seeing what her bright future holds.



Demolished Day Eighty-Eight!

Anybody who’s ever driven with me knows that I’m very careful. I can just hear Ella snickering when she reads this. She jokes that I’m the only person who every makes a three-point turn into a seven-point turn. The only person who almost gets passed by parked cars. The only person who checks all three mirrors when she’s not moving. Okay, guilty as charged. I may be overly cautious but it sure does pay to be safe. I’ve never gotten a traffic ticket—or a parking ticket—never been in an accident, or had a scratch on the side of my father’s car. Which made tonight’s different, just so different. And it’s probably what made it impossible for me to go to sleep tonight. The adrenaline is still coursing through my veins and the sound of crashing and scrapping metal is still ringing in my ears. I thought that writing about it might let me sleep.

Today I was in a demolition derby. For those not familiar with it—and I admit that really, I wasn’t—it involves a bunch of cars riding around and deliberately smashing into each other! Of course, I wasn’t driving. That was my new friend Wayland. He got permission for me to be a passenger which usually didn’t happen. Wayland is a tobacco chewing, mustache wearing, demolition derby champion. He’s wrecked a lot of cars in his time. Some that he was driving and some that he drove into.

He supplied the fire-proof suit. Yes, fire-proof! It had a lot in common with my Edgewalk and indoor parachuting suits except mercifully this one was blue. The color was nice. The fact it had to be fire-proof was not as nice. Wayland tried to reassure me by saying: “I haven’t ever had my car catch fire.” That reassuring statement was quickly erased when he told me that he’d seen vehicles go up like ‘a roman candle’.

I’ll try to explain the basic rules of demolition derby as Wayland explained them to me. Rule One: Everyone gets in their car and drives around. Rule Two: You drive around and try to hit them and they try to hit you until only one car is left rolling. Rule Three: You try to avoid hitting the driver’s door—and in this case the passenger door because I was sitting there. Rule Four: You could also be eliminated for “sandbagging.” That meant going around trying avoid contact for too long. Wayland explained to me that sandbagging was worse than losing and he’d never do that.

All of the cars had the windows removed and replaced with plexi-glass and cargo nets. They were all brightly painted, dented and had a number. We had—in my honor—the number 90 crudely spray painted on the doors. Oh, by the way, the doors didn’t open because they’d all be welded shut. To get in, we had to slide in through the windows. Then, inside, I put on my helmet, and was strapped into special harnesses. Deja vu because I’d spent a lot of time in harnesses, helmets and ugly jumpsuits. The helmet protected my head and the harnesses were important to hold me in place in case we got flipped onto our roof. Wayland, always reassuring, had told me that only happened once before.

Us along with the other six cars in our race chugged into the arena—thick mud surrounded by concrete barriers to protect the people in the grandstand. The horn sounded and we rocketed away—going backwards! I guess I didn’t realize that most of the driving was backwards. It was better to ram a car with your trunk than your engine!

Somehow this different was so different that it didn’t seem real which somehow made it feel a bit less scary. Less scary until you have a car barreling down on you. Less scary until you ram into somebody and you’re jarred so strongly that you feel your teeth rattle and hear that screeching sound of metal on metal. Then it was just terrifying.

Car after car, hit after hit, we survived as first one and then another car stopped rolling. Then, more shocking than anything, Wayland yelled at me “Take the wheel!” Still in the passenger seat, I aimed us around and then straight at another car—smashing into its trunk. I’d hit it so hard it was gone! I’d taken out a car!

In the end, there was only one car left. That was ours! We’d won. And the trophy—the biggest trophy I’ve ever seen—now sat on my dresser because Wayland insisted that I take it.


BONUS! Exclusive extra chapter from 90 Days of Different by Eric Walters

Day 88

“Do the zipper all the way up,” Wayland said.

“It’s stuck. It doesn’t want to go up any higher.”

“No point in wearing a fire resistant suit if you don’t do it up all the way.”

He grabbed the zipper and gave it a big tug and it zipped right up to my chin. It was a thick, orange material with lots of patches advertising motor oil and car parts.

“Is it really necessary to wear a fire suit?” I asked.

“I haven’t ever had my car catch fire,” he said.

“That’s reassuring.”

“But I’ve seen other people’s vehicles just burst into flames like a roman candle. Quite the show for the people in the seats.”

Not quite as reassuring.

“Wouldn’t you rather have the fire suit on just in case?” Wayland asked.

“I guess you have a point. I should be glad to have a suit that can save me from fire.”

“Oh, it won’t save you, just give you enough time to get out of the car, that is, assuming you’re not trapped. After all it’s not fire proof, just fire resistant.” He gave me a crazed look. “You sure you want to do this?”

“I’m pretty sure I don’t want to do this,” I said. “But I’m going to do it.”

“That a girl.”

A big gush of tobacco juice shot out of Wayland’s mouth and into a can sitting by his side.

“You got nothing to worry about. I’ve never lost a passenger before.”

“I thought there usually weren’t passengers,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right. That might explain why I’ve never lost one.” He shot out another spray of juice and then laughed. I was glad that one of us was finding this amusing.

Wayland had gotten special permission from the owners of the track, along with the agreement of the other drivers in the race to allow me to come along. And, of course, I had to sign a bunch of waiver papers freeing them from responsibility if something happened to me – ‘just legalities’ the track owner kept saying.

“Let’s go over the rules one more time,” he said. “Do you remember them?”

“We try to hit them and they try to hit us. Last car still rolling is the winner.”

“And where aren’t we allowed to hit?”

“Usually not direct hits at the driver’s door, but because you have a passenger nobody is going to hit the passenger door of any car too aggressively either,” I said. That was a small source of comfort to me.

“But we can’t really count on that one too much. People aim for the back door and hit the front door. It’s not like we’re a sitting target. Tell me about sandbagging?”

“If it looks like you’re trying to avoid hitting anybody for too long your car is disqualified.”

“There’s nothing worse than a sandbagger. No danger of us doing that. We’re going to be full metal banging but between the suit, the helmet and the special features built into the car you’re going to be safe as in your mother’s arms.”

I felt a little twinge when he said that. Of course he didn’t mean anything because he didn’t know anything about me, but, even if he’d known me for a long time that didn’t mean he’d have known about my mother. It wasn’t something that I readily shared. It was a long time ago and it wasn’t like it just came up in conversation – ‘yeah I’m pleased to meet you and did you know my mother died when I was eleven?’

I was uncomfortable telling people, but I’d found that when they did learn it often only made them feel uncomfortable or they started to treat me differently. I guess the truth was that it made me uncomfortable and maybe I started to act differently.

There was something on some deep level where I even felt ashamed – like it was my fault or that I wasn’t good enough to have a mother. It was so hard to understand the mishmash of emotions that I felt back then. Even harder sometimes to understand how I still felt.

Wayland pulled out a little tin of chewing tobacco, opened the lid, took some and stuffed it into his cheek. “Where are my manners, do you want a pinch?”

“Of course not!”

“Have you tried chewing tobacco before?”


“Aren’t you into trying new things?”

“I’m doing different things, not stupid things.”

He gave me a hard, cold look. Had I just offended the man who was not only doing me a favor but would have my life in his hands? He started to smile.

“Now you’re sounding like my wife and daughters. They all think this is a disgusting, stupid habit.   They’re always on me to quit.”

“Maybe you should. It is bad for your health, you know, long-term.”

“Somehow it seems a little strange to worry about the long term when we’re getting ready to do what we’re doing.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s time.”

* * * * * *

All the windows and windshield of the car had been removed and replaced by a couple of sheets of Plexiglas and cargo nets.   The car itself, like all of the others, was a collection of dents, although ours wasn’t nearly as bashed up as some of the others. They were all colourfully painted and each had a number on the side. We had 90 crudely spray painted on the doors. Wayland had chosen that number to honor my 90 days of different.

I pushed aside the netting, grabbed the top edge of the door and swung myself in through the passenger window. That was the only way in because the doors had been welded closed to increase the strength of the sides of the car. The windows were the only way in – or out. Wayland had climbed in the other side which must have been harder because of the steering wheel and because he wasn’t what you’d call a little man.

“Do up your harness.”

There were two straps hanging down from the top, a regular sort of lap belt and another piece dangled down from between my legs.

“Um, I’m not really sure how to do it up.”

“All five pieces plug into that central lock. I’ll show you.”

I watched what he did and copied.

“Make sure your belt is really tight,” Wayland said.

I then tugged anxiously at first one shoulder belt and then the other, making them just a little bit tighter.

“That button in the center is also the release. One push and the whole thing releases.”

I reached down and put my hand against the release button.

“But you don’t release it unless I tell you and you stay inside the car even if you’re hanging upside down.”

“That could happen?” I asked.

“Anything could happen, but it’s not likely.”

“That’s good to know.”

“It’s been years since my car was rolled over.”

“You’ve flipped a car?” I gasped.

“I was rammed so hard that it rolled over, but that was the only time and the good news was the other guy was disqualified. But remember don’t release your harness until I tell you and you definitely don’t get outside the car until a red flag is waved and the other cars stop moving.”

“I won’t. Promise.”

“Good. Get on your helmet.”

Wayland slipped on his helmet and I did the same. He turned the key and the engine started. It was loud and the whole car shook. Wayland revved the engine even harder and the noise and shaking increased even more. He put the car into gear and we rumbled along. There was another roar and I looked over to see that we were being joined by three other cars. They were different combinations of wild colours and had different numbers but they were identical to our car with lots of dents and reinforced front and back bumpers to handle impacts and give out punishment.

I looked around for the remaining cars – there were seven in our event – and saw another two trailing behind us.

The grandstand came into view. Thousands of people under bright lights filled the bleachers. As we arrived there was a big tanker truck in the middle of the track. A man stood on top using a fire hose to water down the dirt, turning it into mud. Wayland had explained they did that not only to keep down the dust but to slow down the cars. Too much speed was dangerous and mud slowed things down. Mud was good. The more mud the better as far as I was concerned. The outside of the track, the walls, were a series of large cement barriers which kept us in and the crowd safe.

As the water truck moved off the course we moved on through a gap in the concrete barriers. Each driver manoeuvred his car so they were parked in such a way that they were almost touching door to door, with each car alternately facing forward and backwards. We had a position right in the middle with three cars on each side of us. I looked to the right and the driver gave me thumbs up. I could almost sense him smiling through the helmet. Apparently all the guys who did this knew each other. Most got along and were almost friendly.

Wayland reached over and tapped on the side of my helmet to get my attention.

“You ready?” he yelled.

“Do I have a choice?”

He shook his head.

The horn sounded and we raced away – backwards! My head jerked forward as the two cars right beside us went wheeling away, also shooting backwards, throwing mud up into the air as they curved away. We were in open space and then there was a gigantic crash and I was thrown sideways! We’d been hit by another car!

“Yahoo!” Wayland screamed. His voice was louder than the roar of the engines as he accelerated and we slid off the side of the car that had rammed into us.

Still racing backwards another car sliced by our front, arriving a split second after we’d been in that space. I looked over my shoulder, trying to see where we were heading and another car appeared and we were going to hit it! I braced myself for the collision as we bashed into it! We came to a grinding stop, our only motion upwards as our car climbed up onto the other vehicle. Wayland slammed it into gear and the engine raced but we didn’t move – the rear wheels were off the ground!

I looked to the right and there was another car, racing backwards, bearing down on us, aiming for my side of the car! I screamed and leaned away from the door as the car hit us and it felt like it jarred my teeth, throwing my head sideways but at the same time the impact bounced us off the other vehicle. Our wheels hit dirt and we jumped forward, the sound of metal against metal as we scraped against both cars but got away.

Now free, we were going fast and forward, just as the other cars – most of them moving backwards – circled and readied themselves for giving or getting a hit. One of the cars wasn’t moving. It had a big bash on the driver’s side and the front wheel on that side was on a strange angle.

“One down!” Wayland yelled. “And five to go!”

He angled us toward where one car had pinned a second against the wall. The second car saw us coming and raced away just in time to avoid us as we collided with the first and I was rocketed forward, held in place by the harness and my hands braced against the dashboard.

There was a sudden silence. The car we had hit wasn’t making a sound – and neither were we. What had happened to our engine? Was the race over for us? I turned to Wayland and he was turning the key trying to get the engine started again. It was cranking but not catching. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved that it was over and I hadn’t been hurt or upset that we hadn’t won. My desire to win somehow seemed stronger.

“Can’t you get it going?” I yelled.

“I’m trying, Come on, come on,” he pleaded with the engine.

I looked past him and saw another car, moving backwards, bearing down on us. He didn’t know our engine wasn’t working, or maybe he didn’t care. It just made us a better target, easier to hit.

“Look out!” I screamed to Wayland.

The engine caught, he put it in gear and we slipped away as the car just brushed by our front bumper and crashed into the other car. I felt such a sense of relief – and then we were hit by another car and I was thrown sideways, grateful for the harness holding my body in place and for the missing glass in my window where my head would have hit!

The wheels kept turning as we slid off the side, the awful sound of metal on metal, its bumper and the side of our car grinding together as we slipped by, being spun slightly to the side as we continued to move backwards until we were clear of it. Our right front fender ripped off and dropped onto the track.

“Take the wheel!” Wayland yelled.


“Take the wheel!” He pulled his hands from it.

He had to be joking.   There was no way I was going to –

“We’re going to crash into the wall if you don’t steer us. Just do it!” he yelled.

I reached over and put both hands on the wheel.

“Crank it, crank the wheel hard or we’re going to hit!” he screamed.

I pulled, hand over hand, and we started to circle, still racing along backwards. I looked over my shoulder. Another car was cutting across us and all I had to do was steer just to the right. I adjusted the wheel, aiming us toward its path and we smashed right into it!

There was a strange sense of satisfaction in causing it. Wayland shifted gears and we moved away – taking with us the whole trunk lid of the other car!

“Another one bites the dust!” he screamed. He took the wheel back and we circled around the motionless hulks of three cars sitting in the middle. I tried to do a quick count – was that five or six cars that weren’t moving?

“Have we won?” I yelled. “Have we won?”

Before he could answer, I saw the answer – there was another car still moving on the other side of the motionless vehicles. It was us and one other car. He was stalking us. I could see that the hood of the other car was bent up and there was steam or smoke rising from the engine. It wasn’t in good shape, but then again, neither were we. Our right front fender was missing and the tire that was now visible looked like it was wobbling – it felt like we were wobbling.

Suddenly Wayland slammed on the brakes, and threw us into reverse. I turned around, straining to see the other car and there it was! It came around the corner and we hit him, our rear bumper against the side his car! The impact pushed me against the seat, my head snapping to the side. Our car’s engine roared as Wayland gave it more gas and then the other car started to rise up, our car wedging underneath of it, pushing farther and father, that car rising higher and higher and then it rolled over!

“We’ve won! We’ve won!” I screamed.

“We sure enough did!” Wayland yelled back.

* * * * * *

I’d watched the Youtube clip a dozen times. I still couldn’t believe it was me in that car. It seemed scarier now than it did then. My father and brother had been in the audience with Ella and they told me they were all terrified. I’d posted the last of the pictures on Instagram and Twitter. It was me and Wayland standing on the roof of his beaten and battered car holding the trophy. I couldn’t help but smile.

The trophy was now sitting on my dresser. It was enormous. I’d won trophies before – for soccer and piano competitions and even for a spelling bee – but none had ever been that big. Or that special. Wayland had insisted that I take it and even though I argued that he should have it, to be honest, I didn’t argue that much.

He invited me back to join him again, anytime I wanted. He even said that the next time he’d let me drive and he’d be in the passenger seat. I knew I was going to go back to watch. I thought I might even go back some day to be in the car with him but it would have to wait until next summer.   School was on the horizon.


Living on the Edge: Day Eighty-Four

Ella knows I don’t like heights. Okay, saying don’t like is understating it. I HATE heights. And that’s why she keeps doing arranging them for me. My different today was the EdgeWalk on the CN tower. There I’d been strapped into a harness, wearing an almost identical orange jumpsuit from the indoor parachuting place, 116 storeys above the ground. Just typing that made my legs shake and my stomach flip.

Please don’t get me wrong. They prepared us really well. Nobody had gotten hurt—or died—doing this. Still, I wish I’d grabbed a parachute when we drove into the parking lot of the Niagara Skydiving Centre. Wait . . . didn’t people jump from things like this wearing parachutes? Funny, I didn’t get a parachute from there but it seemed like I was wearing the same ugly orange jumpsuit.

Ella had always seemed so fearless in taking part in the differents. Today even she seemed nervous. She was trying to put on a brave face, but when Ella stops talking you know there’s something going on. Our group included two kids who had to be at least thirteen—because you had to be that old to do it—and a woman celebrating her 81st birthday who had been given it by her family. My goodness, did her family not like her? Did they want to give her a heart attack? Of course, she didn’t seem worried at all. She was the most relaxed person in our group.

After going through the process of signing up, we were escorted to an area where we were all asked to change into those ugly jumpsuits and take off all our jewelry and anything that could fall off or get caught on something. Then the EdgeWalk staff reviewed the procedures and showed us a short video to ensure we had all the information required to be safe. One guy asked multiple questions about each step of each procedure, wanting to know more details about how it all worked. He was obviously uneasy about the whole experience. We even completed a breathalyzer to make sure none of us were under the influence of alcohol. I got the need for everybody to be sober. I also understood why somebody would want to drink before doing this. We were about to walk 116 stories above the ground!

I’d like to tell you that when my turn came that I bravely walked out. Instead I was led—almost numb—up an elevator and through a narrow corridor. I was then hitched by a series of intricate belts and clamps to the harness safety mechanism that follows you around as you walk on the 5 feet-wide ledge encircling the outside of the top of the CN Tower. Five feet wide—who couldn’t balance themselves on a 5 feet-wide surface I kept saying in my head? I said it over and over, trying to convince myself.

As I took my first tentative step out onto the platform 1168 feet in the air, I thought that I was going to pass out, held in place by my harness but unconscious. I took the next step and the next, trying not to look up or down or over—but those were my only choices unless I closed my eyes and that certainly wasn’t going to make this safer!

Okay, I’d like to tell you that I overcame my fears, rose above it and started to enjoy every single second of it. I try not to lie. I did it. Forty minutes long and I did start to look out—not down, but out—and I saw the city spreading out before me. There was the lake, the islands in the distance, the Billy Bishop Airport looking like a model with tiny planes landing. OMG—there were planes flying by that were lower than me! I was higher than airplanes!

At one point there was a roar and I startled before realizing that down below me there were 50,000 Lego-sized fans cheering because the Blue Jays had just scored a run. Go Jays Go, but please no more runs until I get off the Edge.

Then, at the end, knowing I only had a few more feet to go I allowed myself to enjoy the moment. I looked out over Lake Ontario. It was breathtaking how the sun reflected and sparked off the water. It was beautiful. I was seeing the world from an angle I’d never had experienced. And I was seeing it through eyes that had always been too afraid to look at some things. I took the last few steps and climbed back in through the corridor. I had done it. I was safe. And then my legs just started to shake so badly that I almost couldn’t walk.


Shout Hurray! Day Seventy-Six

When is a streetcar ride not just a streetcar ride? When Ella arranges it. The ride started okay, block-by-block nothing except watching out the window and wondering what Ella had in mind. I figured the ride was the way to get to the different. Instead it was where the different was going to take place. Ella leaned over the back of the seat in front of me, looked me in the eyes and asked: “Are you happy?” I mumbled something like ‘sure’ and then she asked, much, much louder. “Well, are you happy?” she repeated impatiently.

I thought about it for a moment, thinking this was a serious question. It had really been a pretty amazing summer, so I answered: “Yeah. Yeah, I am. I’m happy”. Then, she said, “Then you really ought to show it.”

My brain suddenly connected the dots. My heart jumped into my throat. OMG! Memories of my childhood came flooding back. Singing songs in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and 2, birthdays with clowns and party games and sitting around the campfire with Mom and Dad singing songs into the night.

That’s when Ella told me the different. I was to break into song on a streetcar filled with strangers, in the middle of the summer with the windows wide open. Ella reminded me that I’d already sung in public at the karaoke club and then she dared me.

I looked sheepishly around the streetcar. We were about half way downtown, less than two minutes until we got to the end of the line. It was now or never. I started singing—not too loud but loud enough for the people right around me to hear. People looked around, wondering where the singing was coming from. Ella and I clapped our hands the right spot. As I kept singing, repeating the verse, the man across the aisle and his daughter—who was about 5—clapped with us. Then she started singing along. Ella joined in. Two children and their mother starting singing and then there was a deep baritone voice as I realized that the driver had joined in and was singing through his microphone.

One by one more voices joined until it seemed like everybody had joined in. People who had looked bored, or angry, suddenly seemed happy. All around us there were cameras being pulled out and pictures taken. Finally, the streetcar came to a stop and everybody cheered. What a wonderful different. And really, I was happy.

Two blocks remained until our stop. There was no quitting now. As the bus carried us through the next two intersections, people on the street stopped to stare as a bus full of strangers sang out loud and laughed together…

“If you’re happy and you know it, shout hurray”.

As the streetcar pulled up to our stop and strangers yelled “Hurray”, Ella and I jumped out into the oppressive heat of the summer and started our day, with smiles etched in our faces.


Day Seventy-Two: Crickets…

Why is 6 so afraid of 7?
Because 7 8 9!

Some months have 30 days. Some have 31 days. How many have 28 days?
They all do!

A vulture boards a plane carrying two dead raccoons. The flight attendant says “I’m sorry but we only allow each passenger two carrions.”

Today’s different was Amateur Comedy Night and it was a 100% total disaster. Nobody, absolutely nobody, found my jokes funny. The room was simply dead silent. Not a chuckle. Not a smile. Not even an eye roll. As I squirmed on the stage, knees knocking and dying inside, all I could think about was magically disappearing through a hole in the floor.

Yep, it was painful. Root canal painful. But what made it worse was this different was not a surprise. Ella understood my discomfort for new things, so she told me that morning what we’d be doing that night. I had time to prepare. Time to research and write jokes. Time to practice my stage presence and delivery. Yet even with the ten hours she gave me to get it together, this different was an epic fail.

After my brutal performance, Ella gave me an A for preparation, effort and resilience. But no A for sense of humour. More “needs improvement” or a D. I felt horrible. Like any best friend, Ella comforted me. She told me she thought I was funny. She told me my dad and brother thought so too. And deep in my heart, I knew that I was. I had cracked up a whole room in the past. Just not tonight. Not for this different. I moped around for a bit but then stopped. I was not letting one bad experience define me. I was better than that. I got an A for resilience! I just needed to let go and move on.

Which reminded me of something Mom always told me. If plan A fails, don’t forget there are 25 letters left. So I’m going to try this again. New audience, new jokes. Here you go blog readers, here’s a couple exclusives for you:

H.O.M.E.W.O.R.K = Half Of My Energy Wasted On Random Knowledge

Knock! Knock!
Who’s there?
Ho-Ho Who?
You know, your Santa impression could use a little work.

What do you call someone that doesn’t fart in public?
A private tutor.

Ha! Ha! LOL! Bet you laughed this time!


Ye Olde Different Sixty-Seven

I’ve thrown all sorts of balls—most recently jugging balls into the air. I once threw a tomato at a teacher for charity—I had to pay $5.00 and missed him by a mile. I’ve thrown a temper tantrum or two. And I’ve thrown a couple of dirty looks in my time. I’ve never thrown an axe—until today. The words axe and throwing don’t normally fit into the same sentence. But there I was at ‘Ye Olde Axe Throwing’ facility being instructed on the art of tossing axes.
I joked with Ella—yesterday paintball and today axe throwing so what weapon should I expect for tomorrow. She told me there was no weapon but we could expect shooting. I tried to get her to tell me what that meant. But she wouldn’t. Ella was consistent in keeping these things from me. Tomorrow I’d find out. Today I had to focus on the axe in my hand.
They weren’t your typical chopping wood type of axes. These were smaller, thinner and specifically especially designed for throwing. Okay, who would think that anybody would be designing axes to be thrown? They were black, all metal, thin and surprisingly light. Not surprisingly they were sharp to the touch.
Our instructor was a big, burly man with a thick beard and was dressed in a red flannel shirt. He was, basically, a lumberjack. Hello Paul Bunyan! That was reassuring because if anybody would know about throwing axes, it should be a lumberjack.
On the back wall were the targets—which were cross-section cuts of logs. That seemed as fitting as the instructor being a lumberjack. He showed us how it was done by tossing three axes. Each went into the target with a solid thump. He made it seem easy. It wasn’t.
My first three tosses didn’t work. The first one didn’t even come close to hitting the target but smashed against the wall. The next two wobbled and hit it sideways. Instead of a thump there was a thud followed by a clank as they hit the floor. Ella wasn’t any better with her throws. We got a few more instructions—“throw it, don’t aim it”—we were ready again.
I’d like to tell you that the next three all went straight into the target—dead centre. But I’d be lying. It wasn’t until eight shots later that I got one to stick. It was the side of the target—with the back of the axe—which was also sharp…but it stayed.
I have to admit that it did look pretty cool. And I did like the fact that there was minimal risk, no heights, no snakes, and no crowd to witness it all. I wasn’t good at it but axe throwing was actually fun.
I only have one question: what did Ella mean that tomorrow would have shooting but no weapons? Please if anybody is reading this and has any idea could you message or tweet!

Dating, on Speed

Speed dating? Really? I thought the plan was to not date anybody this summer and now I’m making up for it all at once. Although this wasn’t really dating. I was with Luke for two years ‘til he dumped me and with that now behind me, I’ve been single for less than a month. But I promised to do everything Ella had organized so, as freaked out as I felt, there was no turning back.

The bus ride downtown did not calm my nerves. Neither did the bright sign on the door of the café. “Welcome to Teen Speed Dating!” Did I mention not interested? Not looking? Happy solo? Ella was right about that. Being on my own is almost restful.

Ella and I checked in with the organizer. Macey was a cheery 20-something lady, and the only laid-back person in the café. I scanned the room. These were my potential “dates.” Everyone looked nervous. Uncertain. Even petrified, like I’m sure I did. Macey asked if anyone had speed dated before and we all looked down at our shoes or were suddenly fascinated by the pictures hanging on the wall. I instantly felt better because I was not alone in being new to this thing. Macey smiled warmly and explained how it worked. Ladies sat at tables in a row like an assembly line. Gentlemen travelled. A bell rang every five minutes. You had those five minutes to get to know the person in front of you and to see if there was chemistry. Guys rotated tables. Six “dates” in a half hour. Ella and I grabbed tables next to each other. For comfort? For safety? Probably more so that we could overhear each other. I felt like rolling my eyes and laughing, but I didn’t. I was determined to survive dating boot camp if it killed me.

Macey rang the bell and the “dating” began.

8:00pm My first date sat totally silent. Looked at the walls. Gazed at the table. Stared at his hands in his lap. Hello? He tried uttering a few words but none of them were comprehensible enough to hear or understand. It was the longest five minutes of my life. DING!

8:05pm My second date seemed less nervous. After introductions we made small talk. But it felt forced and unnatural. He was trying too hard and maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. Awkward! DING!

8:10pm My third date was totally different. Nathan inundated me with millions of questions. Name? High school? Best subject? Favourite food? Summer plans? Life goals? The questions kept coming and coming, and my mouth went dry as a desert. It felt like some type of job interview or maybe a police interrogation! I wasn’t sure if I was going to be hired, arrested or asked out. DING!

8:15pm My fourth date was Suresh. We chatted easily about school, family pets and summer holidays. Just as we got into a good conversation about movies, we were sadly interrupted with a DING! I could have actually dated him.

8:20pm While I was still thinking about Suresh, Jerome slid into the seat. My fifth date complimented my hair, my top and my smile. Said I was beautiful. Said I was smart. He didn’t even know me. Creep vibes. DING!

8:25pm My last date was a sports nut still in love with his ex. Mitchell took her to baseball games. Basketball games. Hockey games. Concerts. He described all the good times that they had. I told him it sounded fun and I was sure she enjoyed it? What else could I say? Baggage. DING!

It was 8:30pm and I had survived speed dating! I was relieved and intrigued with this fascinating new experience. I’d never do it again, but it opened my eyes to seeing the different ways people do some of the most basic things in life. I looked over at Ella but she didn’t see me. She was still talking with date number six. Ella was like that. Connecting came easy; she could let her whole self out there any time. It was one of the reasons I loved her. Eventually we linked arms and walked out to the bus stop. As we laughed and shared stories of our dates, our conversation flowed freely. Easily. So naturally. Happily single BFFs.


Opening My Eyes

The last few differents Ella has given me have been way out of my comfort zone. I’ve felt scared, exhilarated, unsure and giddy. Yet today’s different was a whole new experience. It totally. Slowed. Me. Down. And not just physically. It actually changed the way I processed things mentally. It made me come to a dead stop and think.

Today I was blindfolded for the day. I couldn’t see anything, and had to adjust the way I did regular things. The morning started off pretty well. Brushing my teeth was easy; the challenge was getting the toothpaste on the toothbrush. I didn’t worry about what my hair looked like because I just threw it in a ponytail. Getting dressed was manageable because it was just like getting dressed in the dark. So what if pouring the milk on my cereal wasn’t totally successful… when I say not successful, I mean it was a disaster. The milk, it was everywhere.

But when Ella took me downtown, my whole perspective changed. As I walked down my street to the bus stop, I kicked over three garbage cans. When we crossed the street, I tripped on the curb and skinned my knee. When the bus pulled up, Ella had to guide me up the steps to get on and she had to help me to pay my fare. Downtown people rushed by, jostling me around left and right like a ball in a pinball machine. I felt frustrated, impatient, and dependent all day.

There are many people in the world who are visually impaired. Were these some of the things they experienced each day? What would it be like to live in their shoes?
Travelling on the bus or a plane would be difficult. Handling money would be hard. Do workplaces provide special tools for employees? Are social innovators trying to invent wearable technologies that help visually impaired people to see? How did my life become so insulated that this was all new to me? I was embarrassed I’d never considered this before. Hadn’t been more aware. Hadn’t listened more carefully. Maybe even hadn’t been more helpful when asked.

This different made me think in ways I should have been thinking before. How could I be part of creating change? What action could I take to make society more inclusive? As teenagers, we sometimes feel insignificant. Invisible. But we actually have serious power. For example, we know how to get messages out. Email. Tweeting. Blogs. We could write a politician. Start a petition. Volunteer. Join a local advocacy group. Walk in a protest march. There’s so many ways we can raise our voices and step up to make the world a more inclusive and empathetic place. We aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow. We can actually be leaders today!


Circus School: Juggling 101

Before I tried it, I told Ella that today’s different was totally lame. I had basically been juggling my whole life. In fact, I’d always had tons of balls in the air. School assignments. Essays. Babysitting opportunities. Tests. School sports. Studying for exams. Oliver’s cranky requests for help. Jobs around the house. So while this was a whole new type of juggling, how hard could it really be?
Juggle Ellen Page
The sign at the door of the school said “We promise with an hour of your time, three balls and our instruction, you will learn to juggle”. I rolled my eyes. Please. 15 minutes max was all that was needed for this different.
Was I ever wrong.
When the class started, the instructor explained that juggling was a fantastic way to improve reflexes, relieve stress and get exercise. Not sure standing in one place juggling was exercise but I wasn’t going to argue his point. He handed out beanbags to the class. BEANBAGS!! LOL! I hadn’t seen a beanbag since I was in Grade 3. Come on. Where were the knives? The firesticks? Bring on the real danger!
After a quick demonstration, we were taught the “cascading pattern” and sent off to practice. Right hand to left. Switch. Right hand to left. Switch. After 10 minutes, the only things cascading were my beanbags all over the floor. After 20 minutes, I started to get it. The “less thinking and more feeling” thing really worked. Maybe that customer satisfaction guarantee was true.
Harry Styles Juggling
The balls and pins came out next. They were definitely way bigger and heavier than the beanbags. I picked up the pins and took a deep breath. One. Two. Three. Pins flew everywhere! “Less thinking, more feeling” was no longer applicable. This needed a whole new level of hand-eye coordination. I gathered the pins from the floor and tried again. Another epic fail.
juggle fail
It was good to know gravity still worked and at least I didn’t hit someone this time! The third time was the charm. Only one pin fell to the floor and I had two pins left in my hands! Progress!
The hour flew by. There’s no way I would ever be signing up for a full time job in the circus. But if someone called in sick, I’d be open to a guest appearance if requested.


The Trick to Flying Is Falling First

Okay, I had to hand it to Ella. Not just for arranging this different but setting it up in a way that made it better— worse— at once. Our day started with a long drive and a jarring shock. As she pulled into the parking lot of the Niagara Skydive Centre my head exploded like the gravel under the tires. This had to be a joke. Skydiving? Why did she think I would even consider this? Really? Absolutely no way. Not in a million years.

I turned to look at her and she had this big goofy grin off her face and started laughing hysterically. Then she explained. How was I supposed to known this was a total set up? Her uncontrollable laughter was so annoying, but at that point, with my whole body shaking like a leaf, I had to admit it was also a relief. Phew! My best friend didn’t really want to give me a heart attack and throw me out of a plane. We drove off toward the real different but she still wouldn’t tell me what it was.

We drove another twenty minutes and then pulled into the Indoor Skydiving Centre in Niagara Falls— real different. She had done this on purpose to make the different less scary— it worked. I was nervous but not terrified.

We went inside. There was somebody flying. She was wearing a helmet and this incredibly ugly orange safety. What kind of fashion statement was that? It looked like some type of retro jumpsuit from the ‘80s. OMG. And then when I finally got one on, well, the smell. Who had been wearing that thing?

I’d like to tell you that I bravely stepped straight into the wind tunnel, but I was still nervous, bundled into the smelly safety suit. I could do this. Could I do this? Could I?!

Yes. Yes, I could.

The instructor called it free-fall but the fall was really only three feet up. What if I fell? The worst I could have done was sprain an ankle, or bruise my pride, which was way less damage than free-falling out of a plane at ten thousand feet!

I stood on the pad. I heard the click of the air stream coming on. My mouth went dry, cold air started to flow beneath me, and I felt a surge of adrenaline course through my body. I leaned forward. My hair was instantly blown back and the skin of my face started flapping in the wind. Not a nice image. For anyone.

I remember thinking to myself “Come on, Sophie. Lean forward, lean forward.” I moved forward and as I did, I felt myself being thrown sideways. I landed hard on my butt. Darn it. I shut my eyes and psyched myself up, “Get up, Soph… on. Get up. You’ve got this.”

I took a deep breath and leaned into the wind again. With a little help from the instructor to keep my balance, my feet eventually lifted off the ground and I was flying. I was flying! I was doing this! I WAS FLYING!!!!