I rented a room in downtown, Toronto, near Maple Leaf Gardens. The rent was reasonable since it was in the house of friends, Dorothy and Tony Hammond, both of whom I’d met in The County. The farmhouse in Lavender was based on the Hammond family farmhouse, which is just down the road from the Frizzell family farmhouse.
In Toronto I slept on an air mattress and had yet to purchase a computer. Lavender was written on my mom’s computer and the rewrites were being done in libraries and the computer lab at Ryerson, which I snuck into. I can’t recall how I got access to the computers there. I took a poetry class at the University before I left for Ireland, so perhaps that had something to do with it.
I joined the Film Reference Library. I also joined LIFT (The Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto) and took some of their workshops. I finished high school. Seriously. I was one credit short.
When I enrolled in Radio Broadcast, at Loyalist, it was as an adult student, after I took a year off and worked in carpentry for British tradesperson, Roger McCarthy. The carpentry skills I learned have come in handy throughout my life. To quote Red Green, “If the woman don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” Some of the things I learned about renovation also made it into, Just J.
But beyond knowing my way around a hammer and saw, Roger taught me many things about pride in workmanship and attention to detail, which were transferable to writing, or, perhaps more importantly, rewriting.
Roger passed in February, 2013. Even though he was bedridden for some time before going, he kept working, renovating the home he was in to turn it into a guesthouse, with the help of a childhood friend of mine, Steven Powers. Steven would do the work, take photos, and bring the photos to Roger. Roger would look them over and then tell Steven what he wanted done next. It was admirable behavior on both sides. There are many stories that came out of my friendship with Roger, and Steven, but this isn’t the time.
Despite having already graduated from college, not having finished high school had always bothered me. I signed up for a night class in OAC English, around the corner, at Jarvis Collegiate. It was a free course, whereas University courses weren’t, so that was great, too. For my final essay, I did a paper on turning a novel into a screenplay. I choose John Irvings’, The Cider House Rules a film I’d seen at the Toronto International Film Festival. I enjoyed both the film and novel, as well as, My Movie Business, the book John Irving wrote on the process and the experience.
I also went to see John Irving, as well as David Cronenberg, speak on turning a books into films, at University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall. It was a great night. One of the main things I took from it was something which David Cronenberg said, that when turning a novel into a feature film you have to stay true to the spirit of the book. I found a great deal of truth in that statement in regards to the page to screen adaptions that I enjoyed. Just offering the viewer an abridged version isn’t enough. The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life—as it were.
I finished OAC English with top marks. I admit it, I still felt I had something to prove—to myself, if no one else. For the final exam, on King Lear, I managed to memorize 15 quotes from the play. At the time I thought that was a pretty amazing feat. I also manage to forget all of them the moment the exam was finished, which, in its own way, is also pretty amazing. I later got to see Christopher Plummer preform King Lear at the Stratford Festival. His brilliant performance aside, and it was brilliant, I found the fact that he was able to remember all those lines, night after night, while in his 70’s, to be awe inspiring.
As for Lavender, it was time to move onto the next step. A read-through with a cast. I went looking for volunteers.
Roy Thomson Hall had a great many musicians, writers, artists and actors working there. One of the original readers, Anthony Lemke, went on to amass a very impressive resume acting in film and television. Another actor friend, Jason Leighfield, who was in my Radio Broadcasting course, drove up from Tillsonburg (he’s still heavily involved in the film and theatre community, there) just for it. There was an aspiring actress from Roy Thomson Hall who cam out, a great person who’s face I can clearly see, who hosted a wonderful Chinese New Year party at her apartment, the only Chinese New Year party I’ve had the privileged to attend, and who’s name, for the life of me, I shamefully, can’t recall. Now you see why I’m so in awe of Christopher Plummer.
Also, other non-actor friends, Martin Sneath, and my girlfriend at the time, Jordy, came out for the fun of it and to lend their voice, and encouragement. I hope I didn’t forget anyone.
The scripts were printed (no memorization required), the chairs were set up around the dining room table, the snacks were in place, and I was appropriately nervous. It was time for the reading to commence.