Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Swirling Leaves

A quintessential October image: coloured leaves. Lighting a tree. Swirling through the air. Chasing other leaves down a rivulet. Lying on the ground in splendid repose.

After an intense and busy season--"season of life," not specifically this summer, though that too--all my focus, attention, intensity, whatever you call it, seems to be devoted to sleeping and goofing around.

I'm trying to listen to myself, which includes listening to my body. Because who knows, really, how long this turn will last--the turn toward fallow, toward rest, toward yin from yang. Yang in the weather will re-approach in the spring, with the sun, but other outward-facing projects might appear regardless of weather.

A couple of leaves I've been chasing around:

1. The unique satisfaction of a reading wonderful library book that turns out to be every bit as wonderful as was claimed.

I feel this especially keenly because the previous library book turned out to be a dud--though that's unfair, really. It was a dud because I was reading it with a friend, and I had to reserve it in July, and it just came last week, and it was the kind of book that, had I seen it somewhere in real life, I wouldn't have read. I tried to read it. I didn't like it. And I took it back instead of slogging through it (go me).

Which makes the more recent book all the more wonderful. It's Ann Patchett's This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which is a lot about writing and life and love in all its forms and only a little about marriage.

2. The dawning realization that it might be time to cull the fleece. We're just coming into the Season of Cold, so maybe now isn't the best time to cull all those sweatshirts/hoodies/jackets/layers-that-aren't-sweaters-but-aren't-coats.

The thing is, that clothing category in my closet comes with lots of rules for appropriate wear. For example, this one is OK only to get the mail and run into the convenience store an emergency grocery purchase. This one really can't leave the house except under a coat that will never be unzipped. This one can't leave even then. This one I could wear to coffee or for a work day in town but only with people I know well. Hey, here's one I actually work out in. Etc.

Also: that this is even a "thing" indicates that my life a. consists mostly of days working from home, b. in the north (though if you look at the whole continent, this isn't so north, but still).

Some leaves I catch on paper and toss into the bag behind my desk where I  keep random bits of things I might find interesting someday. Some leaves I allow to simply swirl away to find their repose and combine with others as they contribute to the next fertile season.

Are leaves swirling around in your head these days? It's a glorious season, inside and out.
Friday, October 5, 2018

Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada.


I'm grateful for women who speak up at great personal cost. I'm grateful for the opportunity to vote, even when it is the very definition of an exercise in futility. I'm grateful for people who wield their power to make life just a little easier for those around them.

Today, for example, I read a tweet from a teacher who talked openly with his students about navigating higher education. He told them that they were welcome to ask him for help with assignments, how to schedule an appointment to talk with him or other professors, that deadlines could be altered for some situations, that it's always better to be upfront about struggling than pretend you're on top of things or know what's happening.

He's using his power and position to help level the playing field for students who are the first in their families to access higher education. He's making explicit those norms and unwritten rules that those familiar with campuses already understand.

For what he is doing to allow students to create a better future for all of us. For her courage in speaking truth to power. For the system that allows me to show my elected officials how I wish they treated people.

I'm grateful.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Cracks

Words to describe North America: worried, tumultuous, fevered, agonized, enraged, weary. *

Some weeks are like that.

Last week. For example.

Probably this week, too.

* 0 *

Some weeks, you know you're fragile. Cracks appear.

Some weeks, you can hold it together.

Like this.



Some weeks, you can't. And that's OK, too.

* 0 *

*Are we in North America lucky? Or perhaps, "lucky"?
We're still here.
We have not yet been swept away in flash floods, mudslides, wars.
Our homes aren't flooded or crumbled.
I acknowledge our affluence.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

September Book

I don't remember why I was wandering the university library stacks that weekend. I'm not sure which day it was, or what year. Or, come to think of it, why I was in the library at all, except that I was in graduate school, and the library was not my apartment. It was somewhere else to go, with different chairs to sit in while I did the required readings and kept up a response journal. (Do writing programs still require those?)

On a break, I wandered through shelf after shelf of novels. I took one down and flipped through it. As I recall, on the very first page a seventeen-year-old girl wakes up to a fresh autumn morning full of golden leaves and sunshine and declares herself to be the future famous and beloved actress, Marjorie Morningstar. She even writes her name in an affected script. She's adorable.

Also at a crossroads in my life (though different in important ways), I recognized that feeling of expansiveness. Anything seems possible! I can go anywhere! The whole world lies ahead! I was as hooked on Marjorie as she was on Noel. I checked the book out of the library and finished it in one or two more gulps.

In a used bookstore, I found my own copy of Marjorie Morningstar. Every September for fifteen or more years, I read it again.

I'd heard of the author, Herman Wouk, but as the writer of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, which had been made into a couple of miniseries. (I didn't have a TV at the time, but I wouldn't have watched a World War II story.) I didn't realize Wouk had written other books, or that I'd find them approachable. His novel The Caine Mutiny received much acclaim. I also enjoyed another of his non-war novels, Youngblood Hawke, but at 800 pages, it's not so easy to add to a re-read pile when the to-be-read pile grows so tall.

In September, fourteen years ago, I began the process of moving to Canada. Since then, I've fallen out of the habit of my September date with the growing-to-adulthood Marjorie. Last week, as we reached the part of September that properly belongs to Autumn, I pulled the book off the shelf again.

Imagine my surprise to see that it takes Wouk four pages to get to the script-written Marjorie Morningstar. And that the book opens in May. Not September at all! May!

But those are mere distractions. It continues to surprise me, pleasantly, how central Marjorie is to the book. The choices she makes drive the story. I might wish she chose differently and felt she had different options open to her. But the questions she asks herself are important and real.

And yes, that September feeling remains.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Ahh, September

September, a time of new beginnings. Back to school. Vacation's over. New shoes, new winter coat, new pens/pencils/notebooks. New routines. Starting again.

September, a time of letting go. Summer's heat wisps away, a little at a time. You hardly notice. Then the furnace kicks on. You look up and around and see things like this and this.




September holds nothing back. It teases you with a little summer yet hints at winter. "Look up, look around, look at me," it urges. And so we do.

It's a transition time--as I have said a few times, from "yang time" to "yin time," from publishing and submitting and revising and writing about writing to a more inward-focused time, when (if you're lucky) you can do the actual writing itself. What's coming is time for research, and dreaming, and the delightful frustration of new drafts.

Ahh. Welcome, September.
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Solving Problems

I forgot about a load of laundry--left it in the washing machine (ostensibly clean) overnight. Mid-morning, when I remembered it, the load stank in that sour way of wet things in an enclosed space.

A problem to solve. Which I have. So far. (When I wear the t-shirts that were part of that load, I'll have a better idea of how effective my solution was.)

In other news, one of my characters threatens to disappear into the ether of digital manuscript pages. He needs to be a little more charismatic. Even if only to himself.

A problem to solve. Not something to despair over, no matter how real this person is (to me) and how thoroughly he lacks charisma.

Taking a break for much of August, as much as I was able to, has turned out to be a good choice, especially after ten days in Saskatchewan working in-depth on this novel.

Perspective, I believe it's called.

I may wander away from social media even more as summer wanes and autumn arrives, the better to keep solving problems that inevitably arise.
Wednesday, September 5, 2018

On Liking Things

I don't like my pen. It blotches. The ink gets all over my fingers, even after I've given it time to dry. It's a pain in the neck to use. I don't like my pen.

I really wanted to like this pen. It came in a cool package with pens of various colours. I like using coloured pens--green, red, or this purple--during the day. I had high hopes for this pen. I wondered if my hopes for this pen were too high. Was I seduced by hype around this pen? I tried to like it, really I did.


See? SEE? It blotches. I'm even using a pen-wiper. Yes, using a pen-wiper makes me feel a little like Jo March, but that's not enough to offset the problematic aspects of requiring a separate place to wipe your pen's nib periodically.

But I don't have to justify not liking the pen. I don't like it. I don't have to like it. I (gasp) don't even have to use it up. (Those whose parents also never got over their Depression-era childhoods will understand the radical nature of this statement.) So I might channel my inner rebel-child and not keep using it

I appreciate that someone made this pen. I am grateful to live in a world that includes ballpoint pens, and people who make them, and an economy in which I am able to buy ballpoint pens and paper, and a life in which I get to use pens and paper regularly.

And yet. I don't like this pen. I don't have to force myself to try to like it. I don't have to find value in it. I can just sit here not liking this pen. And that's OK. We don't have to like the same things. I will buy a different kind of pen next time. You can continue to love this brand of pen, if you wish.

Note: "Not liking" can also apply to other things, like books, essays, short stories, poems, or artwork.