Monday, October 17, 2011

Surfeit and Link-O-Rama

I've written before about participating in a local writing community, but since I can't get the blog's search function to load, you'll have to take my word for it.

Writing communities, and their value, can inspire differences of opinion among writers. I can see both sides: communities can be useful, and they can also be distractions from doing the work. During the seven years I've been in the process of moving here, living here, and adjusting to life here, I've found it useful to keep company with other writers.

With some writers, at some times, for some purposes.

Sometimes I feel that I know more about writing than I have actually practiced, and so I don't seek out new insights, "how to" articles, workshops, or opportunities to learn about writing. Instead, I focus on taking apart writing (my own). Applying what I know. Trying things.

Sometimes I attend readings and workshops simply to be in the same room with many people who think writing is important -- important to read and important to do. Also, my physical presence in a room can be important to someone else. My support for her courage in sharing her work at a reading can help her confirm that she is (or not) on the right track. And I end up learning, in the same way that I learn from a close, analytical read of someone else's work. The Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW) hosts a reading and a workshop nearly every month, so I have plenty of opportunity to support others, and myself, in this way.

And sometimes I attend events ready to learn. (More links!)

This past Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, NOWW kicked off a special Electronic Writer-in-Residence program, featuring the lovely and talented Elizabeth Ruth. I learned a lot this past weekend, PLUS I'll have the chance, after I revise, to get her feedback on the revision!!

At the same time, the International Festival of Authors sponsored an event in Thunder Bay, in coordination with the Thunder Bay Public Library and the Northern Woman's Bookstore. Writers James Bartleman, Johanna Skibsrud, and Jane Urquhart read to an over-capacity crowd last night, and there's a follow-up workshop with Skibsrud at the university today.

Tomorrow night is one of NOWW's regular readings and features writing for children and young adults.

Wednesday night is a book launch at the local art gallery -- Tristan Hughes, who divides time between Atikokan, Ontario (just up the road from Thunder Bay) and Wales, has set his recent book, Eye Lake, in Atikokan. It would be worth going to the launch in any case, but a couple of people have raved about the book, so it should be an extra-fun event.

I just hope I'm not completely glassy-eyed by Wednesday evening. Because in addition to the events themselves, I've been meeting people -- people from this community who I can't believe I haven't met before.

Like Susan Payetta, who sometimes lives in the Caribbean, who created Sail Rock Publishing and brought out Edward Kent's memoir of Caribbean life, Up Before Dawn.

Like Graham Strong, whose name I now remember seeing around town in a professional writing capacity and who is now also working on a novel.

Like the people in Elizabeth Ruth's workshop on Saturday, many of whom I "knew" before -- but now I've heard them talk about their work and heard their ideas for moving forward in their writing.

Like Jane Urquhart, though "meeting" is probably too strong a word for "handing her a couple of books to sign," and "from this community" is likely an inaccurate way to represent her childhood in a small mining town near Beardmore. However. I will also "meet" Johanna Skibsrud by attending her workshop, and I will "meet" Tristan Hughes by attending his launch (and possibly handing HIM a book to sign, too).

There have been so many activities that I would use the word "surfeit," except that when I checked the dictionary definitions, many go beyond "borderline excess" to "TOO MUCH, so much you feel disgust." I am definitely not disgusted! I do feel a bit...overloaded? At a tipping point?

And perhaps a bit nostalgic, if it's possible to be so in advance.

Because this weekend, I'll be leaving this physical community for a couple of months. (Hi robbers! Our vicious attack dogs will hungrily greet you if you try anything!!) I've written here before about my brother and his need for a stem cell donor. His transplant got underway last week and is by all accounts going well. But his wife needs to tend to business back home, and I'll be her backup, off and on, through December.

Yes, I'm taking writing. Yes, the miracles of technology make it possible for me to stay in touch and participate remotely. (And yes, I'll still probably appear here.)

I'm enjoying this whirlwind of activity, even though it threatens at times to blow my head right off. The writers, the times, and the purposes for participating in the writing community have all been in alignment this month. And I will miss it!
Saturday, October 8, 2011

Literally: No Really, I Mean Literally

It's October and the leaves are turning. Friday I was driving to a morning meeting in town, enjoying the vistas in front of me: golden poplar and birches intertwined with dark green spruce, balsam, and pine. The moose maple and low-lying brush have gone orange and red this year. Beyond the trees lay the lake, glinting silver blue in the mid-morning sun, and beyond that, the Sibley peninsula, Isle Royale, and Pie Island in their various shades of purple.

I came to the top of a rise and gasped audibly. The view took my breath away. Literally: a breathtaking view.

Over the years, other images used figuratively have shown me their literal roots.

One summer Saturday, the our end of the bay developed huge rolling waves, coming from town. It had been a calm morning -- the kind of morning, in fact, that my grandfather and then my mother used to warn about. The kind of morning that encouraged people to go out fishing, perhaps too far from shore to be safe. Sure enough, one of the guys out fishing didn't head back toward town soon enough. His boat and motor were too small for him to navigate the surf. So he came ashore on our beach, even though we had no dock and the rocky bottom scraped at his hull. Our beach was protected and available, and..."any port in a storm," as they say.

My sister used to go sailing with a guy named Mac. One trip was a several-day cruise through the islands off the BC coast. One evening, Mac was frowning over a chart on the table. "I can't fathom it," he said. He didn't mean that he couldn't figure out how the chart worked, or how on earth the small crew had arrived wherever they were. He meant that he couldn't work out how many fathoms of water they were in -- how deep was it, how safe they were from running aground.

On thinking about it, I can imagine other times when I must have seen the figurative in its literal sense.

"That's the way the ball bounces" -- with all the sports I've watched, surely I have seen someone suffer disappointment from a wayward basketball. I know I have been personally disappointed at crumbled cookies. (Peanut butter cookies are particularly prone to inopportune crumbling, in my experience.)

Other expressions remain figurative. I haven't hoed in a long time, if ever, so I don't know firsthand the toughness of any particular row. I've never literally thrown good money after bad, though I do understand what it means, having invested in relationships that were (to others) obviously past their sell-by date.

And that's another metaphor I have experienced in its literal sense, though I wonder what the sell-by date on yogurt really means -- isn't it already growing stuff?

It's also fun to collect mixed or mis-used metaphors. During Thursday night's coverage of the provincial election, one of Global TV's pundits said "that's throwing a monkey at the wrench" -- TWICE. Okay, it was live TV. But still.

One error grammar gurus enjoy wailing about is the mis-use of "literal" to mean "figurative." I'm sure I've done it, though I do try not to. But I also know that experiencing metaphors in their literal sense helps make me more aware of them, and perhaps less likely to err in the future.

Meanwhile, it's just plain fun.
Monday, October 3, 2011

"All I Can Say": A Timeline

This entry got long and all self-reflect-y. There is important stuff at the top, and also about subscribing at the bottom. Feel free to skip the middle.

The new Room magazine, Issue 34.3, will be out soon, and my essay “All I Can Say” is in it! Here's the cover.

Here's a link to the editor's opening essay, which starts off with my own piece.

Nonwriters sometimes ask writers, “How long did it take you to write this story?” To illustrate the difficulty of answering that kind of question, I've created a timeline of events that are (mostly) relevant to this essay.

2000 (May): My mother dies, technically from pneumonia, but really from Alzheimer's Disease. She lived in Oklahoma; I live in Colorado. I had quit writing about my mother's illness during the last year of her life so that I could be more present in it. I take up writing again soon after her death.

2001 (September): I take my first class in American Sign Language (ASL), something from my List,* with a (hearing) interpreter. She (strongly) advises us to take class at the local community college from with Eric, a local Deaf teacher. So I do, in January 2002.

2002 (June 14): Eric's hearing dog Fancy is killed by a drunk driver, and Eric is injured in the accident. Fancy's funeral reminds me strongly of my mother's, though they are also very different. I write a brief piece about Fancy and Eric, in response to a question from Veronica Patterson, a poet and friend.

2003: I continue to study ASL, now in a formal program to prepare interpreters. I work on various essays. Mostly they're about my mother.** An early pre-version of “All I Can Say” shows up. I do other writing for money. I'm not sure what I'm looking for, either in writing or life.

2004 (August): I recognize that my life isn't working. I leave the interpreting program (the fact of leaving still gives me a pang, though I would not have been a good interpreter) and begin the process of moving to Canada.*** Writing (except for work) takes a back seat to filling out forms and, I guess, life.

2005 (November): I become a permanent resident of Canada and recognize that it's time to get serious about this creative writing thing. I'm not sure what that means, but I do produce words on virtual pages.

2006 (December): I send off a version of this essay; it's rejected. I don't remember doing it, but I trust my Excel spreadsheet. A couple of short nonfiction pieces, one about my mother, appear online in Tiny Lights (, the Ninth and Tenth flashes).

2007: A different, longer essay about my mother receives honourable mention in a contest from Riverwalk Journal (March, pub July/August). My father dies (April). I get married (August).

2008: Still writing. My new creative writing is mostly fiction, but "All I Can Say," about Fancy and my mother and Eric, won't leave me alone.

2009: I start submitting writing on a schedule: something, somewhere, every month. Turns out I don't have as much “finished” fiction as I thought I did, and there's this essay, so... I pull it out and revise it. The critique group gives me this title; a writing friend points out an important “show don't tell” toward the end. I send it off to the CBC Literary Awards (October), feeling good about the investment my entry fee represents.

2010: This essay is shortlisted (hooray!) but not a finalist (accurately so) in the CBC awards. I submit it a couple of places that “should” be interested in it, but I'm never sure it's a good fit, and the publications are all-too-sure it's not. I send it to Room (November), and I tell my husband, “I have a good feeling about this.”

2011: Room accepts it. Now you can read it!

So there's your timeline. As you can see, the answer to the "how long?" question often is "oh, a while." And if you also noticed that the "it takes a village" concept sometimes also applies to writing, well then--bonus points for you.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL! If you subscribe online, here, with the subscription code FRIENDS, you get the issue that “All I Can Say” appears in FREE! as a SPECIAL BONUS GIFT, along with your four issues, for the low, low price of $30 Canadian or $41 US! (Sorry. I do this kind of thing for a living.)

Seriously: It's a good publication, with good writing. Subscribe. Submit. (They also have a new FREE ENewsletter.)

I'm pretty happy – make that ecstatic – that this piece found its home in Room, a place where women can write about achievement and sports as well as relationships and feelings. My mother is right at home in its pages.

I'm also extremely pleased that this part of this journey has completed this loop of life's ongoing spiral. Many heartfelt thanks to all those who gave feedback along the way. Happy reading!

* This List is now known as a "Bucket List," though I don't really like that designation. I'd added ASL to my List in graduate school during my Intro to Linguistics course, not long after meeting a Deaf Master's swimmer in Arkansas.

** There's a long and as-yet-untold story about the drunk driver and various legal shenanigans. It may stay untold, but it ends with a harmonica.

*** This is not as "running away to join the circus" as it sounds. My mother was born and grew up here, so I had roots and connections here.