Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When It Snows, It...Blizzards?

Lots of fun opportunities have come my way recently! And, as is often the case, several have appeared at once.

Last night, I read from a new-ish short story. The reading series, sponsored by NOWW (Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop), is supported by the Ontario Arts Council, which also supported the work I was reading. The night was cold (minus a million in F and C) and the attendance somewhat more sparse than usual, but the listeners who did turn out were warm in their appreciation. So thanks, NOWW and OAC and all those who came out!

Speaking of NOWW, it publishes a magazine several times a year that includes writing, member news--and this month, the annual contest rules  (deadline March 15; entry fee $10) with information about the awesome judges: Ania Szado (fiction), Robert J. Sawyer (speculative fiction), JJ Lee (creative nonfiction), and Roger Nash (poetry).

The upcoming issue of NOWW Magazine also features one of my essays, and some wintry photos my husband and I have taken. I appreciate the opportunity to get my work in front of the NOWW membership!

And seriously, the NOWW contest--what if one of these stellar writers had the opportunity to read YOUR work? Wouldn't that be amazing? You should enter!
Friday, January 17, 2014

Because I Need Another Project

But this time, I really do, and I was kinda doing it anyway.

The full title of this new project is "Books: Where do they come from, where do they go, and why do we have so many?"

Part 1. One activity for this project is tracking the books I read. I've been doing this since 1996, just writing them down on paper I keep in my Filofax. Actually, I started before 1996 but my Filofax was stolen in 1996 and I started over again. From this exercise I have discovered that I generally read (mostly for pleasure) 25 to 30 books in a year. For what that's worth. I recognize that this activity doesn't correspond exactly to "where do they come from," but it is a measure of reality--whatever I plan when I buy a book, this list shows what I actually read.

Part 2. The second part of this project is tracking where books go when they leave this house. I've been slowly but surely culling the bookshelves--selecting from the books I moved here from Colorado nearly 10 years ago, the books I brought from my parents' house in 2007 after my father's death (blessedly few of those), and those that I/we get here--and donating them to the public library.

Through years of practice, culling has become easier, though it's still difficult. I did a huge cull back in Colorado when I ditched lots of the lit I bought for my undergraduate and graduate degrees (Dickens, Faulker [which hurt, so I kept some], Twain, random Gilded Age novels, the Brontes, seventeenth-century British Lit, modern British Lit, and other anthologies) with the justification that so much of that is available at the public library (and now online). I'm glad I did, but I still kept books that I don't need to own now.*

And most of the time, I haven't missed a single one of the books that has left our home. However, recently I ordered two books from a specific publisher by way of research. I kept one. I think the other went to the Friends of the Library, but I'm not sure--and now someone I know has expressed interest in reading it. Of course. But that's the first time anything like that has happened.

The new element of this part is inspired by Vicki Ziegler, aka @bookgaga. She has outlined a "book tracking" project here, in which she will monitor the flow of books into and out of her home. I don't want to take pictures because it's too depressing, but trust me, we too are DROWNING in books, though I have donated hundreds this past year (at least 1 bag of about 10 books, about every month). She uses a whiteboard and is including digital books.

My plan is to track what goes to the public library's book sale (which is the only place I donate books), and to use a spreadsheet because I am slowly learning to set up spreadsheets (I already use a few but they were designed for me). I have a few digital books but generally read only library books on my Kobo. And I am not tracking my husband's purchases because if buying a mass market paperback gives him pleasure, more power to him. (However, I'll track when that sucker leaves the house.)

Part 3. The final part of this project, for me, will help ensure that the flow of books out will be greater than the flow of books in, because (drumroll) I'm going to read the books we already own before I buy new books. And if I say "I'm not going to read this" about a book, then I get to get rid of it (if it's mine). Books for the in-person book club my husband and I belong to are exempt from this--I already try to find those books at the public library. I also meet a friend via Skype to talk books, and we already focus things available from the library or those we already have.

Still, this commitment was a big deal. I'm not sure why it generated so much anxiety. I do know that some people get a thrill from new shoes, a new recipe, a new (to them) movie or TV series--and maybe that's what I get from a new-to-me book. In any case, we have a LOT of exciting books, and I'll read them. And then I will buy more, because this project isn't about virtuous self-denial of pleasurable activities; it's about NOT DROWNING.

January is more than half-gone and writing deadlines approach, so my tiny little goal for the rest of this month is to set up the spreadsheet while I maintain the other elements of this project. I'll go back perhaps a month (new Christmas books) but basically start with what I'm reading now, and report back periodically.

* Incidentally, clearing out your parents' home is a really good way to face the fact that you, too, will never be able to read all the books. Also that collecting books you want to read is an exercise in hope. My father was nothing if not hopeful. Although his historian's tendency to save EVERYTHING made me a little nuts, it still warms my heart to remember both the variety and the constancy of his interests, as shown in the new books he owned and, presumably, hoped to read some day. 
Wednesday, January 8, 2014


In 2013, I knew I wanted more music in my life, but I wasn't sure how. So I tried a few small things.

In the car (when I remember), I've been listening to music radio stations (for example, CBC Radio 2 vs. Radio 1) more often. And on occasion, I've driven in silence! But that's another post.

This fall, on an evening trip home from somewhere, I caught part of Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap program. (Yes, THAT Randy Bachman.) He was talking about (and playing) one-hit wonders, and hearing a bunch from the 1970s and 1980s took me right back. It was extremely conducive to reflecting on who I was back then and (most important) why on earth did I believe that what happened at the time was so important?

Since then, I've tried to be a little more intentional about listening to Bachman's Vinyl Tap. I enjoy the themes: songwriters, for example, or sax solos. It's engaging to *listen* to instead of simply experiencing it as background noise. I highly recommend the show, which plays at many scheduled times, and the site has some archived programs. So does this site.

But background music has its place, too. Over the years, I've uploaded a lot of stuff into iTunes, and recently I've made new playlists and have had them on while working. It's amazing how I can feel a surge in positive energy when something upbeat comes on.

Even these small steps have made a big difference in my enjoyment of whatever it is I'm doing--and, wonder of wonders, adding in some music occasionally hasn't required a HUGE RESOLUTION or DISCIPLINE or anything else that smacks of BIG PROJECT. Something I tend to forget about, in relation to many things!

Oops, gotta go sing along with Etta James on "At Last."
Thursday, January 2, 2014

Backward, Forward

Although the beginning of the school year FEELS more like a new year, I can't argue with the calendar. Today is the second day of a new year. So it's time for resolutions and all that.

Last year had lots of fun times and some times that weren't so fun. But one of the best things I did all year was this "great moments" jar. Except I didn't use a jar, I used a coffee can because we create an empty coffee can every week. (Yes, coffee in a can; that's a discussion for another day.)

So. This is what my "great moments" jar looked like last year:

I was not an art major, y'all

And I have a similar one for this year.

The idea is you write down great moments on a slip of paper and put it in the jar. Of course, I didn't put in a slip of paper every day; I often went months without even thinking of it. (Another example of transcending my upbringing--when I realized I hadn't done it in awhile, I didn't castigate myself or stop doing it. I just put in some events I remembered and went on with my life.)

In short, I did it consistently enough that reading through the slips from 2013, on New Year's Eve, was an interesting and quick review of the year. Very worthwhile.

So far in my "great moments" jar for this year, I have a slip that says "lynx," because we saw one cross the road earlier today. And holy cow now I can add another one, because a young lynx (or perhaps a female; anyway, a smaller one) just came up to the house to see if there are any morsels of dog left in that old doghouse near my office door. I love living here.

But yes, writing and Real Life. I've also got calendars and goals and hopes and wishes and dreams and disciplines for the coming year. And I'm ready to move forward, in part because of looking back at the "great moments."