Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What It Looks Like

Last week I wrote about finding a particular contest to enter. (The full post, at the blog for the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, is here.)

I'm just back from the launch of the anthology, made up of ten stories that were chosen from contest entries. Here's the cover by artist Becca Paxton, chosen by the contest committee after inviting submissions of artwork on the theme of "Rebirth."

Becca says she hadn't thought of a title and so was calling it "Untitled." Clever. To me, it looks like Ophelia. However, she's the artist, so it's her call.

The launch and celebration was a grand event. So much work goes into a contest, and it provides great opportunities to meet other writers, talk shop, and generally broaden one's horizons. The reception, featuring food mentioned in each of the ten stories, is a bonus.

Thank you to the members of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association. It is an honour to have a small part in your anthology series!
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How I Did It

I recently wrote a blog post for the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, of which I'm a proud member, about how I even knew to enter a contest in another region and generally how I decide where to submit my work.

The tl;dr version: research.

Along the way, I mention Compose and the Ten Stories High contest, sponsored by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association.

NOWW is also accepting entries for its contest--$10 (free to NOWW members) with excellent judges. Consider submitting!

For the full blog post, go here.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day: An Important Difference

On International Women's Day, I like to think about my mother and my grandmothers. Fiercely intelligent, curious, driven--and teachers, all of them. Doing the best they knew to do, though their actions might be viewed differently through today's social and moral lenses.

I think about my sister, whose companionship I treasure. I think of my nieces--competent adults with energy and gifts to share.

I think of women unrelated to me whose presence in the world has taken up space, and also, in some miraculous fashion, makes room for other women alive today and in the future.

Some years it's tough to feel optimistic about the role of women in the world. That would be this year. For me, anyway.

It's extremely difficult to accept that one particular woman--who had so much to give and gave it freely, who was upright (AND RIGHT), who never fit "properly" into a traditional "woman's place" role and paid for it over and over (AND NEVERTHELESS PERSISTED before that even became a thing)--has been deliberately cast aside.

I wonder what my grandmothers and my mother would think.

This year, I feel particularly grateful to live in Canada. Leadership on Canada's political landscape is also changing. It's partly in response to the turmoil in the U.S. and partly because time is passing, and party leadership needs to reflect the different needs and voices in the country.

And here's a difference about politics in Canada in 2016/2017: generally speaking, candidates for leadership who are women are wrong because their ideas are bad--racist, harmful, divisive--and not because they are women.

A small difference, but an important one. I cling to it. I also look to the growing strength of a new generation of political and social leadership in the U.S., in all its various forms of diversity, and hope to feel more optimistic next year.

Meanwhile, I remember my pride in the women who came before me, and yeah, I know what they'd tell me. Get back to work.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Three to Think About

Welcome, March! Here are three thinkers/writers/speakers whose virtual paths have crossed mine recently.

* Richard Conniff's strange behaviors blog, where he writes about animals and behavior and animal behavior. I've been reading and responding to this post in particular: Useless Creatures (and Why They Matter). Not everything in the world has to demonstrate its value by doing something for human beings.

* In the Sydney Review of Books, by James Bradley, this essay: "Writing on the Precipice." The idea with which I first engaged was his discussion of the power of story, one of my ongoing interests. He says, "There are moments though, when our stories fail us, moments when the world's complexities exceed their power." The rest of the essay also has much to ponder. He considers various ways people have recently written, both fiction and nonfiction, about science and nature. Reading and digesting it is taking time, in a good way.

* This talk, "Indigenization in the Time of Pipelines," by âpihtawikosisân (Chelsea Vowel), a Métis scholar and activist. I started listening to this while doing something else. So much to learn! Even her early pre-presentation thoughts about territory acknowledgments--where they're happening, where they're glossed over, where they're no longer causing discomfort--are enlightening. There's lots to engage with, all the way through. 

Here's how I'm starting March--and it feels like "a very good place to start,"* too.

* Yes, from the Sound of Music. Because I've also been thinking more about refugees, resistance, and patriotism lately.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Revising and the Ship of Theseus

The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment from the world of philosophy. A ship, lying on the shore, needs repairs—new decking, fresh timbers, a new mast or two. How much of the original ship can be replaced before it's no longer the same ship? 

I ran into this idea in a recent TV episode, and now, of course, I SEE IT EVERYWHERE.

During my Admin Boot Camp (which I still haven’t written about, in part because it’s still NOT OVER, see ~ below), one of my tasks was to get that rattle in the Corolla fixed. 

Almost two days and $$$$ later, I’m now driving the Corolla of Theseus. Not really, but I pondered at what point I’d be driving a different car vs. the same car with all new parts.

AND the Ship of Theseus relates to revising. How much of a draft can you change before it becomes something new—not something that’s necessarily better or definitely worse than the original, but something decidedly different?

I’ve worked on pieces—usually essays, but short fiction, too—where I think I know what I want to write about but I’m mistaken. Really knowing what I want to say usually requires several drafts (sigh, see ** below).

Sometimes I even have to let go of my original idea. Turns out, that idea (an image, a character’s statement, my Grand Plan) was just a starting point—my open door. However, the door has become less important than what’s inside the room, and it’s the room (not the door) I want to show to the reader.

At that point, am I still writing the same thing? Maybe. Maybe not. I think the answer is different for everyone.

Say you set out to write a lyric essay about squirrels, and four months later, you have written a sonnet about the science of flying. Did you fulfill your purpose?

On the surface, the answer is NO. The form and content are both different. A lyric essay isn’t the same thing as a sonnet, and “squirrels” aren’t “the science of flying.”

But maybe the answer is YES. Maybe the process of revision during which Draft A of a lyric essay about squirrels became Finished Product B, a sonnet about the science of flying, was exactly what you wanted it to be. Nobody can tell you otherwise.

Whatever the answer, you get to decide. It’s your ship.

~ Admin Boot Camp is somehow related to Parkinson’s Law (work fills to take up the time available), but the exact parameters are still under investigation.

** I know in my head that multiple drafts aren’t “wasted work” or a “time sink” but I don't always know it in my heart.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


I'm in the middle of an Admin Boot Camp, more about which later, though I'm not sure what there is to say beyond "I'm spending at least one week, maybe two, doing administrative things I've put off too long, and I named it 'Boot Camp' to make it sound like more fun."

The point is that I'm doing spreadsheets and stacks of paper. I'm closing loops, meeting deadlines, filing, and deleting. And catching up on reading.

Over at Dead Darlings--which contains much useful information and inspiration--here's a great post, "Choose Your Super Power," by Julie Carrick Dalton. In it, she revisits those childhood fantasy debates about the merits of x-ray vision vs. invisibility vs. imperviousness to bullets vs. speed. Her final choice, after the events of last November is (drumroll) the power of story. A superpower after my own heart.

Go there and read it! All the way to the end!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Twitter Fasts

The TL;DR version: A Twitter Fast creates a space for me to get stuff done.

For the past two weekends, I've gone on a 60-hour Twitter Fast. From 9 PM Friday to 9 AM Monday, I stay off Twitter.

Why 60 hours? Because the first time I tried it, I recognized Sunday evening that waiting till 9 AM Monday would give me an extra 12 hours, and that 60 hours sounds a lot longer and far more impressive than 48.

Also, as the end of the 48 hours approached, I recognized that I didn't NEED to see tweets. In fact, NOT logging on would probably help me sleep better. That's turned out to be mostly true.

Overall, detaching was easier than I expected. The first weekend, I had client work to do. The second weekend I also focused on a long-term project, this time for me. Both projects had looming deadlines.

Besides big chunks of time, I found suddenly that I had smaller bits. I used them to do small things, like walk the long way around to pick up the newspaper, play the piano, and deal with a few of the stacks of paper that take over my office.

I don't know that I'll keep doing weekend fasts, but I might. I like the quiet space. I'm also wondering how a weekday Twitter Fast might work for me.

It's impossible to escape political nonsense--to say nothing of the consequences of political nonsense--but it is completely possible to escape the hysteria. And my commitment to listening doesn't mean I have to be available to hear everything.

A Twitter Fast gives me space and time to complete things that I KNOW IN MY HEAD are important to me and possibly the world, even when they don't FEEL important. The distinction helps, and the time helps, and doing the things helps. A win-win-win.