This week’s guest blogger is Toronto-based novelist Grace O’Connell, author of the recently published Magnified World.
Captain Ahab had his white whale. The Kings and Queens of Narnia had their white stag. And I, I have my white squirrel. Or I almost do.
Trinity Bellwoods is one of Toronto’s biggest and most popular parks. It has many distinctive features (those beautiful limestones gates, for instance), but the one that matters most to me is the white squirrel. She—the popular wisdom casts her as a lady squirrel—is a genetic offshoot, snowy white with red eyes. And more importantly: lucky. Seeing the white squirrel apparently imbues the viewer with that most precious and slippery of gifts, luck.
I love the idea of lucky charms (not the insulin-spiking cereal, though that’s pretty good too). I once carried a Jack of Hearts I found on the street in Kingston with me for over a year, convinced it brought me luck. It was a good year too. The day I accidentally put that card through the washing machine put the fear of God into my heart. So after my six years in Toronto and countless trips to Bellwoods, I felt it was my turn to reap the good luck supposedly associated with seeing Whitey McRedeyes (a reported nickname so prosaic, I think it comes full circle to being awesome).
But no dice. Not so much as a bushy white tail. So she was on my mind while I was writing my first novel, Magnified World, which is set in the Bellwoods neighbourhood and features several scenes in the park itself. My narrator, Maggie, searches in vain for the lucky squirrel (and poor Maggie could really use some luck).
Now that Magnified World is out and about, I’ve been giving readings and one of my favourite sections mentions Maggie’s longing to see the white squirrel. After one reading, a gentleman approached me and showed me photos of Whitey on his iPhone—not only had he seen her, but actually captured her in pixels! He told me to keep the faith.
But I have a confession to make. I’ve stopped looking for her. Do you know the scene in The Last Unicorn where Molly Grue curses the unicorn for showing up in her middle age rather than in her innocent youth? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But I’m hoping that the pat wisdom offered to single girls around the world will help me connect with my mythical furry friend: stop searching and you will find. Not Prince Charming in this case, but a four-legged local fable.
Plus I haven’t quite figured out what kind of luck she would bring. Good luck, undoubtedly. But is she more like a birthday candle or a shamrock? Do I get to make a single wish on her, or will I trail an invisible glitter of luck after me for an unspecified period of time, like Mario activating star power? Luck is a tricky thing, and you want to know what you’re getting yourself into. I used to harbour an irrational belief that I was protected by luck, even before I picked up my Jack of Hearts. It made me foolhardy on several occasions. Feeling lucky is a bit like being drunk—optimism is cranked up to full volume, and reason gets turned down dangerously low.
I’m past the age of feeling invincible now, squirrel or no squirrel. I know sometimes you’re blindsided by both the bad and the good. I know there’s a lot of luck involved in writing and publishing—it doesn’t take away from quality and hard work, but it’s part of the equation. But most of the time luck is just a word for the things we can’t control; other people’s actions, the snaky complications of human interaction.
Still, in the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be the girl sitting perfectly still in Bellwoods, trying to pick between wishes. Just in case.