Wednesday, May 16, 2018

To Those on the 5th Floor of the LU Library Last Wednesday Afternoon

Dear Everyone:

I am so sorry that our group of people talking disturbed you. Some of us didn’t know we were in a designated quiet space, and some of us knew but didn’t remember and were thoughtless.


None of which matters. All of us were rude and disrespectful. I’m so sorry for that.


I have no excuse. I wish I could un-do it, or make it up to you.


I wish I could restore to you the hours that you had hoped would be productive. I’m sure you didn’t get everything done that you’d planned to because we were noisy.

More than that, I wish I could give you back your inner peace—the positive resolve with which I imagine you approached your study session in the library.

I try to picture your day up to that point. You kissed your kids and slipped out into the morning, skipping breakfast. You wanted to be early to your work shift so you could leave on time and spend your afternoon with your project.

While you cleaned or filed or taught or washed dishes or researched or treated patients or served people, you ignored your fatigue and coaxed part of your brain to consider your project. To make connections. To create the exact phrase that expresses what you mean. Something specific and unique to your experience but building on or arguing with ideas and traditions from the past.

When your work shift was over, did you battle more than weariness to get to this study session? Did you combat imposter syndrome to even go onto campus?

On your way up the hill and through the library doors, did you have to remind yourself to breathe? Yes, you belong there. Yes, I belong here.

When you sat in that quiet space and opened your laptop, how did it feel to be surrounded by shelf after shelf full of volumes of established wisdom, which you’re challenging and subverting?

I don’t know you—or you or you, all the people sitting at all the tables. I know that each of you has a different story.

Most of all, I know that it cost you a lot of emotional energy to complain to the librarian when we weren’t respecting the quiet space.

It’s so wearing to have to claim space in the world all the damn time. Especially when you had picked a space that’s officially set aside for quiet work. And because our group behaved rudely, you had to claim that space again.

For what it’s worth, I’m so grateful you said something. You shouldn’t have had to.

I can’t give you back what I, though my lack of respect, took from you that afternoon. I will do my best to learn from the experience so I don’t make this same mistake in the future.

And now I will stop claiming your energy and attention—yet again—and re-apply myself to learning.

Sincerely,
Marion

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Things That Are Never Wrong

1. Buying more underpants.
2. Buying more socks.
3. Throwing in a load of laundry (water levels permitting).

Hmm, is there a relationship between those three?

4. Slowing down to look, REALLY LOOK, at something. Maybe taking a photo.
5. Being open to *hearing* input while staying thoughtful about *implementing* it.
6. Saying "What do you think?" and "That must have been difficult" or "How interesting."

I'm pretty good at #4 but need work on #6. And #5 is always a work in progress.

7. Keeping an extra loaf of bread in the freezer. Bonus points if it's raisin bread!
8. Making scones. Because scones are never wrong.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Good News!

I recently received word that my essay, "Let d Be the Distance Between Us," will appear in the June issue of The Grief Diaries. I very much appreciated their interest in providing feedback on an earlier version, and my piece is stronger for it.

Also, I'm eagerly anticipating the chance to get together with other Creative Nonfiction folks in Toronto at this weekend's annual conference of the Creative Nonfiction Collective. The Friday master classes are sold out and conference registration itself has closed, but there are still several events for which you can just buy a ticket and hear an awesome speaker or several. This year's conference program is here.

These "new beginning" events mean a  lot to me. This time of year is difficult. My mother's birthday is tomorrow--she would have been 101 this year--and her death anniversary is early next week. Of course, Mother's Day is also looming. Although I think of my mother every day, even 18 years after her death, these anniversaries are extra poignant. I enjoy the chance to be with others, both in person and in online publications, who are making sense of their lives through art.

Tra-la, it's May!
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Depths and Shallows

I've been thinking about writing as water. Or swimming. Or something.

In this mental picture, the surface is where writing interfaces with the world--maybe publication, maybe beta readers, maybe a trusted editor. Someone other than the writer.

Deep water is where ideas lurk and grow. It's where the writer opens herself to recording what is actually happening, as opposed to what she might wish were happening. Where she makes connections among disparate currents, where she finds what she's afraid of and works it into the drafts. Over time, drafts edge closer to the surface.

For the past couple of years, I've been working nearer the surface, with words I first wrote 20 years ago. How do they still make sense to me, if they do--or do they make sense in a different way? How do they resonate emotionally today? What feelings have I managed to relinquish through the years, and what have I come to understand that lets me feel these events differently?

To make these connections, I do find it helpful to hang around in slightly deeper water--but the goal is always to bring these words to the surface to interact with other words there. Sometimes the words from the deeper layers fill in gaps that didn't exist back then; sometimes they are clearer labels for the confused tangled mess of my notes.

And of course I hurry the process more than I should. Nearly always I imagine a first (or fourth) draft to be "ready" and I drag it to the surface. Sometimes those drafts really are publishable, but often they don't answer the "so what?"-type questions thoroughly. Giving a draft more time, or dropping underwater to play for a while, lets me make the work more rich and satisfying.

In both fiction and nonfiction--the novel on its umpteenth draft, the essay collection that's finally ready for prime time--I've been revising, revising, revising and then polishing before going back for another revision. For years.

It's been a long time since I let myself sink into deep water with no purpose other than to watch the play of light and shadow. My recent vacation gave me that chance. And yes, interesting things bubble and flow down there.

Meanwhile, I have more work to do near the surface, which is also rewarding. Especially knowing that the water is still deep, with fascinations that nurture me. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Home

Yesterday was the first Wednesday in a couple of years, I think, in which I didn't post something. I was traveling and enjoying being (mostly) offline.

As you know, I've been on a vacation in which I've actually been...vacating. It's been great! I've thoroughly enjoyed visiting my sister, seeing her world (the sun! so many degrees on the thermometer!) and her part of the country, and experiencing a change in routine.

But I love living here. So one of the highlights of the whole trip: crossing the border yesterday and hearing the agent say, "Welcome home."

And it really is, pale sunlight, muddy driveway, filthy floors, dripping eaves, and everything else that goes with spring in the North (which yeah is south of most of the continent).

Of course, all that is easier to greet with open arms since I missed the most recent dump of snow and mega windstorm, which my husband delights in describing in great detail as he pounds on the walls. "Every door was snapping, loud bangs, like this loud!"

I've got a quick weekend trip coming in a couple of weeks but otherwise, I'm home for the foreseeable. It's a good time to get stuff done, especially with a vacation-refreshed spirit.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Vacation (Inspiration)

Here's what I've been looking at and doing recently. I don't believe in "inspiration" much, but I am a fan of "renewal," and that's what I've been fortunate enough to experience this vacation.



Next week, I'll be back in the land of "yes the sun is shining but it's not WARM," and I'll love being there, too--because it's home.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Drawing Lines on Paper

One way I relax (okay, about the only way, and often it should be written "relax") is to draw lines on paper.

Like so (which you would have seen on Instagram if you follow me there):



I don't mean it to be art. It's something to do when I try to unwind. I like lines and I like colo(u)rs and I like to do things with my hands.

I've written about this before, apparently. It's kind of shocking to click that link and see that I also didn't like to do much beyond writing and reading back in 2011. However.

I bring this up because I wondered last week how I know I'm a writer and not a visual artist. Perhaps, I devil's-advocated myself, writing is comfortable--not a calling, nothing more than an old, broken-in shoe of an activity. When I was a kid, art seemed to require tools we didn't have, like easels and paints and wheels and kilns. Also, art required getting messy, which was sort of problematic in the house I grew up in (it made more work for adults). In contrast, writing required... a (sharpened) pencil and paper.

The topic came up mostly because I have been drawing lines on paper for some time, and I'm working in a slightly larger sketchbook than I have in the past, and I'm going on vacation (I'm vacating as you read this), and I need to decide what I'm going to bring art-wise on vacation. Although to be fair, bringing art supplies to my sister's home is like coals/Newcastle.

What I've learned is this: although I enjoy drawing lines and learning various techniques, I generally don't know what to art. Like, okay, so I can draw vaguely photorealistic scenes from photographs. Yay? What is the point of that--to me, even?

The answer: the point is to do it. The point is not the product--I don't have to make something meaningful or beautiful or sell-able from visual art/drawing/colo(u)rs.

In my life, writing is also about the process--and the product. Both. I do want to create something that a reader can be affected by, preferably in a positive way. I want (most of) my writing to be read. But my drawings are mostly for me, or to serve as an Instagram subject when I'm tired of taking pictures of snow when the calendar clearly indicates that Spring has sprung.

In the interests of broadening my horizons beyond writing and reading--and even drawing lines on paper--I'm not writing while I'm on vacation. I brought no projects. I have no expectations. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I hope to be hungry for words when I return.