Stories of Starting Episode 11: Sharon Boddy, Writer, Forager

Stories of Starting podcast, Sharon Boddy, Ottawa writer, forager, environmental activist

Stories of Starting Episode 11: Sharon Boddy, Writer, Forager

Today I welcome my dear friend Sharon Boddy. Sharon is a writer, forager, and environmental activist in Ottawa, Canada. We became BFF’s in grade 7 and have been friends ever since.

Sharon has specialized in writing, editing and researching environmental issues for more than 20 years. Her work has run the gamut of topics from renewable energy, energy efficiency and green buildings, to sustainable transportation, waste management and water conservation.

She’s also a pretty darned good maker of soup and a gardener. She’s become an avid forager in the last couple years and you’ll often find her out along hydro cuts, in nearby parks or down along one of our city’s rivers harvesting garlic mustard, violets, dandelions, sumac and all manner of edible greenery. Her motto: Why buy food when nature will just give it to you for free?

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Podcast Transcripts:

Intro: Welcome to the stories of starting podcast. I’m Heather Boyd as a self-employed artist for the last 30 years. I’m fascinated with people’s passions and creative projects. In this series we discover how people like you have started new projects by thinking outside the box, going with the flow and tapping into their childhood imagination.

Heather: Hey guys today I am with my longest ever friend Miss Sharon Boddy. So Sharon introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do.

Sharon: My name is Sharon Boddy and I’m a professional writer. I freelance for a lot of mainly government contracts and I specialize in environmental issues. I’ve done that for about a little over 20 years as a professional and 30 years as an amateur as well.

Heather: That is so cool. So Sharon I always start these podcasts by doing a little backtrack to how we met. The irony today is we are in front of our old school which has been torn down. This is Broadview Public School. They’ve kept the old section, but the rest was torn down to build a newer school. Today I’m going to my 35th anniversary of my high school graduation. Sharon did not go to my high school, but I basically spent all my time with Sharon in high school. I didn’t really hang out with anyone else except in the art room that was about it. So I’m dragging her to my reunions.

Sharon: Of course. Well, I know most of them too. I crashed their parties before.

Heather: Oh yes, exactly. So Sharon we met in great seven. You were sort of my Saving Grace and we had a good ride.

Selfie before they were a thing circa 1978

Sharon: An immediate friendship. Mainly because I was told not to talk to you.

Heather: Yes

Sharon: By the mean girls. So don’t listen to the mean girls.

Heather: Exactly

Sharon: Because the interesting ones are the ones they don’t want you talking to.

Heather: And we never looked back. We kept in touch over the years. I’ve lived in other cities.

Sharon: You’ve never lived in Ottawa again, since you were 18 years old and here we are 42 years later.

Heather: Yeah, pretty crazy. I’ve written a few notes. I mean there’s too much to remember. There were a couple of trips we had after High School. I remember one we took to Boston.

Sharon: Oh, yeah, that was great fun.

Heather: That was fun. We had this game where we would speak French. There was that trip and then remember the one we had to Quebec City.

Sharon: Yes, because she was there too technically (pointing to Mimi).

Heather: That’s when I was pregnant with Mimi. We laugh about it to this day because Sharon got sick that day because of the heat. I always joke with her that she had my morning sickness. So that was pretty awesome.

Sharon: I don’t mind. If that’s the only thing I had to do for parenthood, what the hey!

Heather: I’d like talk a little bit about your journey. I know you didn’t go to university right after high school. The two jobs I do remember you worked for the Indian agency and you worked for the trademark company.

Sharon: Law Firm.

Heather: Yes, the law firm. I remember you helped me to organize getting my first trademark for my first business which was called Filament at the time. I don’t use that name anymore. Tell us a little bit about after high school until you started school.

Sharon: Well, I was always one, even if I’d had the money I probably wouldn’t have gone to University because I didn’t really know what I wanted to use University for. I always knew I wanted to be a writer but it’s just like you have to be older for that or that was the stereotype at the time. So off I go into an office because I was a very very good typist.

Heather: Oh, yes. I remember that.

Sharon: Ended up I started in the patent department and one of the partners his secretary left. My boss didn’t really know what to do with me because I was going through work too fast. So she basically gave me to him. I’m kind of glad that she did because for a writer to learn about copyright was an absolute godsend for me. Also lawyers, I don’t know if all of them are like this, mine certainly was, he was so well organized. I learned so much just from an organizational point from him. How to organize your thoughts. Lawyers should be organized, right? The Indian High commission was right out of high school. I only worked there for less than a year. Unfortunately the way I left, the day before I left, I got a bomb scare. I was the receptionist.

Heather: Oh, yes. I remember. Was that the plane that went down?

Sharon: Yes, it was the same year that the Air India bombing had happened, or shortly thereafter, and I had taken calls for that as well. Then literally the day before I left I got a call saying there’s a bomb inside the building. I was like excuse me? So that was fun! And so being a writer is a little less stressful.

Heather: Yes, exactly. And so after that you went to University. Where were you and what did you study?

Sharon: I went to Carleton for English and I went specifically because I wanted to be a writer at that point so it’s like okay what degree is going to make me write a lot and read a lot. So it’s like English. So did three years of that and basically as soon as I got out, I got a couple of really good breaks. I was working part-time in an office and starting up my own business and that’s when I first got my contract with Newswest.

Heather: Oh, yes, of course,

Sharon: I took over maternity leave for my community paper. And again the editor whose maternity leave I took over is a very old friend of mine. I’ve known her since 1996-97. She gave me my first sort of writing break. That’s where I really learned a lot about the community and issues and all the rest of it. And again more organization and writing.

Sharon Boddy writer, forager and environmentalistHeather: And I remember at one point you were working for PERC. The Peace and Environment Resource Centre.

Sharon: Yes. I was a volunteer for 15 years

Heather: I remember they had a fundraiser and I went in and I was selling my jewelry to raise money for this for this association. I remember they started this whole thing called Donate a Day of Pay.

Sharon: Oh, yes. Donate-a-Day

Heather: Because I donated all my proceeds that day. So is that organization still running?

Sharon: It’s still running actually. I haven’t been volunteering there for a long time, but they actually did publish an article that I’d written about saving our public parks earlier this year in the June issue. It is online as well if print issue is still not kicking about. It’s definitely online for pretty much ever.

Heather: I’m going to link up all of your articles and things below as well.

Sharon: Oh jeez!

Heather:  Well not all of them, but some of the highlights.

Sharon: I don’t know where they all are.

Heather: Tell us about some of your current projects. I know you write a lot about environmental issues and you’re very involved with a lot of organizations in Ottawa.

Sharon: Well, let me split it up between paid and volunteer. For paid right now I’m doing eight case studies all about Energy Efficiency and housing. It really ranges from Northern Communities where they may not even have proper insulation in their floors all the way up to retrofitting or building a new net zero house, which is you’re using the same amount of energy as you produce. So through solar or micro turbine or geothermal, all sorts of different ways to do that. Those are the types of case studies I’m working on right now. So that’ll take me to about Christmas. The two big volunteer projects which are probably more right where my heart is, they’re in public parks. So raising awareness of the importance of public parks particularly in a time of climate change. The kind of ecological services these things give us. They’re not just nice to have they really are necessary to have. So those are the things. I get to do a lot of photography and writing as well for that. So I do articles about them, even just social media tweets to be engaging. I do walks. I’m practicing the teaching aspect. I do teach a few classes as well. I keep my fingers in a lot of pies.

Heather: Yes, it’s very creative. I love your little clips you put on YouTube. The different things that you see in the park. Of course I remember that one you did a few years ago of this Dust Bunny that was growing. That’s probably still on YouTube.

Sharon: Yes, it’s still on. It’s an entire series. The life and death of the Dust Bunny.

Heather: Isn’t YouTube great for doing personal projects and stuff.

Sharon: Well the Dust Bunny one I also have a poem about it. “If there was money in dust bunnies I’d be a billionaire. I’d grow fat on the prophets that grow from the locks of my hair.”

Heather: I like it.

Sharon: I write a lot of stupid songs too!

Greeting card Sharon Boddy poetry

Greeting card I made for sharing featuring her poems and her logo

Heather: When we were growing up you used to write a lot. I remember every year at Christmas time you’d give either short stories or a collections of poems. I think still have I all of them if not most of them. You do a lot of creative writing.

Sharon: And you’ve combined with me as well. You’ve made me playing cards with all of my poetry. You made a little logo for Boddy Language when I was still using that as my company name. It’s nice that we’ve been able to do that back and forth.

Heather: Yeah, and I know you’ve written a couple fiction books as well. So any any thoughts on publishing?

Sharon:  I self published my novel Defective on Smashwords which was incredibly easy. For the longest time I didn’t want to do anything like that because it really did sort of smack of a vanity project. Once I figured out that I’m not really going to promote this anyway, it was mainly for me to get it done and to get it out there. It’s just kind of passive. If people happen to stumble across it great. I was happy because it’s the first novel I was able to actually complete from start to finish. It gave me the confidence to do the smaller one, which was the novella. You learn from each one you do because novels are different from short stories. In a short story I can keep everything in my head. I can work everything out and then put it down on paper. With a novel I’m finding that difficult to do. With the one I’m writing now, which is more of a magical type which also involves a park and a little creature. I’m drawing the creature. I’m drawing things that I see that might happen in the story or even just settings within the story. Just to get me outside the usual way I write.

Heather: And what a great way to introduce people to ideas and issues as well, to do it in a fiction form. I love that you’re doing the illustrations too.

Sharon: Yes, I am visual so I should just not fight it.

Heather: Last year I did a workshop with you about foraging and I just loved it. I thought it was so cool and so in keeping with what you’re doing. Tell us a little bit about your foraging exploits.

Foraging with Sharon BoddySharon: Foraging has been about 10 years I’ve been sort of studying it. It’s again a natural progression of me hanging out in trees and growing food and whatnot. It stemmed from one day in my garden it was too hot to weed so I took some photographs of something that ended up being garlic mustard. It is incredibly yummy and you can make pesto out of it. It’s actually good to pick because it’s invasive. I was just gobsmacked that here I was picking stuff out of my garden that literally was more nutritious for me than the stuff I was putting in. So I went ‘whole hog’. I got everything I could possibly get my hands on. I was reading every blog, every website, going to the library all the time and just going outside and looking and taking photographs and learning. I just think it’s a great thing for everybody to know because even 50, 60, 70 years ago we all knew this stuff. Indigenous communities knew this stuff. We shouldn’t have hungry people in this country, right? We’re sitting on this lawn and we’re surrounded by clovers and the wood sorrel and dandelion. It’s not just grass. Food is literally all around us. I’m very passionate about being self-sufficient in that if the worst happens , could you do this? It’s kind of a challenge.

Heather: Yes, it’s definitely a challenge and it’s a lot of fun. I know you’ve brought me around a few times. I remember that I used to live across the street from McKellar Park. We used to go over and pick chamomile and eat them. God knows if a dog had peed on it, but it was delicious.

Sharon: That’s called pineapple weed. Actually McKellar Park is the temporary location of the Westboro Farmers Market right now in Ottawa as they redo a few things along Byron.

Heather: That’s cool. It’s funny also that you’re doing those walks in Hampton Park. When we were in like grade 7 you lived near there and I remember walking through that park with you and your dogs.

Sharon: Yes, all the time. Some of our friends who went to Broadview used to do homages to Monty Python in there. We had the Super 8 cameras right? Nothing this nothing this fancy (points to camera). Some of the guys had these cameras. We used to do a couple of things in the woods as well.

Grade 8 class photo Broadview Public SchoolHeather: I remember that. I remember it was Michael that did a film of them climbing Sparks Street.

Sharon: That was a Monty Python sketch climbing High Street. It’s all done on an angle so it looks like they’re hiking up the sidewalk. I think I was one of the few girls at Broadview who actually got all of these references. Because I was raised on Monty Python. I remember having to actually translate the accent for some people

Heather: Oh interesting. I certainly remember watching Monty Python. Something I remember about you is you had this incredible memory for all the lyrics of the songs. Maybe it’s one of your talents or just something you’ve practiced.

Sharon: I think I’ve always had a pretty good memory for certain things. I think everybody has a good memory for what they relate to. I’ve got a friend of mine who I’ve known since high school who says ‘Oh, I’ve got such a bad memory’. But this woman can rhyme off like me almost every lyric. It’s like if you start relating things to lyrics. That’s sometimes why I write songs is to make me remember things. It’s a mnemonic. It’s something that can help you remember. Probably the most famous one I remember is Happy Days. Potsie is taking a medical course and he does a song to make him remember all of the systems of the body called Pump up Your Blood. (sings song)

Heather: That sounds familiar. I remember that. I didn’t know it was Happy Days though.

Sharon: A demonstration of my memory.

Heather: I remember at this school when I was in grade 4. This was before Sharon came to Broadview. Mrs. Hayes was my teacher and I remember she taught us our seven times tables with this song: “7, 14, 21…” (sings song). To this day I have that song stuck in my head. Now there’s all kinds of people that create whole albums with songs for multiplication or whatever. It’s such a great way to process.

Sharon: Well, and why not? If you’re walking and there’s a beat to your walking. If you just start nattering to yourself occasionally, you can just come up with a song on your own and you’ll remember it more when it’s yours.

Heather: I remember we used to hang out on the weekend all the time. I think Sharon slept at my house every single weekend pretty much. We used to stay up and watch TV. Of course in those days I had like two channels or something. But remember we used to watch Make Me Laugh.

Hanging out in my parents’ basement in high school

Sharon: Oh God. ‘What is it about being in a car alone? That makes you want to pick your nose.’

Heather: That’s the classic one. In fact, I don’t think I found that one but you can find episodes on of Make Me Laugh on YouTube.

Sharon: I would love to find that one again because I have a cartoon that I drew of that one.

Heather: I did a comic about that one. Now I’m totally obsessed with stand-up comedy.

Sharon: I wonder if some of the older comics would have shown up, that we didn’t even recognize that the time. That’s a reason for me to go back. It’s like hey, you’re big now!

Heather: I know Howie Mandel was on it. I don’t know if we saw that one, probably. He’s certainly changed his style since then. In those days he was wearing diapers.

Sharon: Yes and putting the big surgical glove on his head and talking in a baby voice like this (imitates him).

Heather: So Sharon, is there anything else you’d like to tell the viewers. Anything about your projects or anything you’d like to share.

Sharon: I don’t know. What would I like to share? I wish people would really think about where they are a little bit more. Mindfulness, right? I’m not into meditation. I don’t like oogy googy stuff. I don’t take classes. I don’t like yoga instructors who tell me to breathe through my eyelids, which I actually had one do that to me. Well sorry, I’m disciplined enough to do that at home. But I just wish a little less cluelessness in the in the world and a little more kindness. Everybody was a baby once.

Heather: Yeah, it’s true.

Sharon: Even your worst enemy.

Heather: Yeah. Imagine. It’s true. Actually, it’s funny you say that because I have a picture of Marc on the wall when he’s three years old. Maybe not even three like a year and a half. He looks so sweet and innocent. Whenever he’s in a crappy mood (I look at it) and it’s like “Oh, isn’t he cute”.

Sharon: Isn’t he adorable. He was somebody’s lovely little boy once.

Heather: Exactly. The other thing I forgot to mention is that you do not have your driver’s license.

Sharon: No, I have never ever had a driver’s license. I have driven a car exactly twice, I think.

Heather: Oh, really?

Sharon: Yeah, my sister’s car and my brother’s truck which I promptly drove onto the sidewalk and freaked out my sister-in-law. When I was 16, I was going to get my license. Everybody else is going to Driver’s Ed blah blah blah. My stepfather said, nope, you’re never going to be second driver on my car. So I said, you know, what? What’s the point? All my friends live in the neighbourhood. What’s the point. I go to work and I work downtown and I lived in this neighbourhood. I’ve always lived in this neighbourhood. Now with graduated licensing I’d be 60 years old before I have my flipping driver’s license. Then I’d had to start taking my test every two years. So no, I think I’ll just stick to the bike.

Heather: The beautiful thing is it’s so in keeping with your mentality and your lifestyle. It’s just being self sufficient. Not using the car for no reason and not really needing it. You guys don’t have a car. When you need one John will rent one and you can get to where you have to go.

Sharon: I think people have a lot more control over their lives and they think they do. I think people abdicate a lot of control. Oh, I need a car because of this. If you made those decisions to live a certain place that was far away, just own your decisions. Don’t freaking defend it. One thing I do want to add, it has been on my mind of late, and that’s basically your family is incredibly responsible for my environmentalism and especially your mother. Your mother was a very first person I ever knew who had a compost heap. She recycled before we had a blue box program. To this day I still have those milk bags that you slit open because they’re great freezer bags. I once fell off my bike when I wasn’t wearing my helmet and I ended up with stitches in my head. A guy on the street brought me to the hospital because I did end up with a little bit of concussion. He actually had the ice in one of those milk bags and I remember being at the hospital. He had gone and I remember taking it and being like ‘hey, somebody else does this too’.

Heather:  That is funny.

Sharon: Your family was very liberal minded. Mine was not or not overly then. I was exposed to a lot of that. So your family saved me too!

Heather: That’s wonderful. You saved me and my family saved you, so it’s all good.

Sharon: It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Heather: That’s it. My mom’s getting a lot of shout outs in these podcasts because it’s incredible what she’s done. She learned a lot from her mom because I remember my grandma used to pay us to stack up newspapers, tie them in string and they would go to the recycle place. She paid us 10 cents a stack.

Sharon: Yes, well she lived through, she didn’t live through the real horrors of the war, but she lived through the war here. They had rationing and they had Victory Gardens and all the rest of it.

Heather: Sharon that tell us where we can find you online if anybody wants to get in touch with you.

Sharon: I have a WordPress site. Literally if you Google my name, I’m pretty easy to find on Twitter. I’m @Dasbod In German it’s the bod.

Heather: I didn’t know that.

Sharon: Well a takeoff of Das Bot. I guess that’s about it. I’m not on Instagram. I do not do Facebook, but I’m pretty easy to find.

Heather: You’re on Facebook now! 

Sharon: I do have a YouTube channel but it’s kind of odd. There’s a banana thing on there the moment.

Heather: That sounds interesting.

Sharon: It’s me having fun with a banana. It sounds dirty, but it isn’t.

Heather: Clickbait. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming <<hug>> and let’s go to that reunion.

Sharon: All right. Let’s get drunk.

Heather: I don’t drink!

Click here Sharon’s website for environment and foraging

Click here for other random stuff

Outro: Thanks so much for tuning into Stories of Starting. If you would like to inspire others with your story, big or small be sure to reach out via StoriesOfStarting.com Until next time always remember your story matters.

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