Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Such Excellent Company

Today, The New Quarterly announced the longlist for the 2017 Edna Staebler Personal Essay contest, and I have an essay on it! At the link, you'll see the other writers in whose company I am thrilled to have work. (She said roundaboutly.)

The folder holding drafts of "Atomic Tangerine" is several inches thick. No kidding. It's been, as they say, a journey, one I'm still on.

I've had really insightful and substantive feedback from writers whose opinions I value very highly. So it's lovely that the essay is recognized at this level.

And now, back to work on three other pieces that are still forming and swirling and shedding dead weight, where I hope to apply what I learned from all those drafts of "Atomic Tangerine."

Many many thanks to The New Quarterly for administering this contest--they're a lot of (often rewarding) work, and I appreciate the opportunity to participate as an entrant.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Something Else She Was Right About

"She" being my mother. Of course.

What she was right about: talking about something only to vent, without aiming at a solution, isn't particularly helpful.

Yes, sometimes people "think aloud," and sometimes people just need to express frustration.

But not every issue requires--or benefits from--my input. The world doesn't need another horrified person expressing anger or horror or sadness.

Besides, if too many people are talking, who's left to listen?

I don't mean to imply I'm not writing (revising/editing/dreaming)--I am. I'm doing my own work, even when I'm not sure of its originality or cosmic value. I'm doing the work that is mine to do.

And in the rest of the time, I try to keep my mouth shut and listen--for new voices, new ideas, new resolve.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Grounding

June brings longer days, shorter nights, and chores--ongoing, unrelenting, neverending chores. Both continuous and continual.

Still, there's always time to read. I recently finished Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese. So much to ponder. Two things stand out immediately: how the characters stand so firmly on the land, and how physical work is described.

Picking up the book at random, here's a short sample of a chore (from page 186):
The ground was stony beyond the scrim of topsoil. It was gravel, mixed with sand and rocks the size of bread loaves. He bashed away at it and had to get a pick from the trailer and he swung it hard, the clink and the clip of its bite echoing dully off the trees. He'd broken a sweat by the time the hole was cleared enough to get the post-hole digger at it.
I've never done work that hard, but I've broken a sweat like that, felt daunted by the first post-hole-equivalent in that way, and been glad of a water jug, just as this character was.

I wrote about some of that type of work in the essay that appeared in Compose last month, though much of my work that afternoon was mental, not physical.

As this summer wears on, I'll read other books. But when I work, I'll remember this one. I'm so glad Richard Wagamese wrote it and it was published so I could read it.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Seasons Change

I love May. My surroundings change so much--from mud and dirty and lingering snow to green, out-of-control grass and budding birches.

I also hate May. I get really grouchy. It's hayfever season--merely annoying to me but seriously annoying to my husband until all the trees quit dropping pollen everywhere.

Mostly, it's just that May brings change. Between-ness is uncomfortable to me. Even though I'm celebrating the fact that I finished a lot of work (and some recent visible publications! bonus!) this winter, I still didn't do everything I wanted.

So I've been struggling a bit--trying to get out from under layers, like the ones below that kept me company yesterday as evening fell.



Summer is just...different.

For one thing, we're outdoors more of the time--but never, it seems, enough.

Most important, my energy for writing and revising is different, so it's time to change projects. New writing is stirring--I can almost feel it in my palms. It's exciting.

So I put away the remnants of the projects from the winter and spring I didn't quite get to and try to focus on what I did finish.

And I'm (still, always) listening--to new voices, to long-ignored voices, to new-to-me-voices, to inner voices, to the voices of this beautiful, beautiful world.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May is "Marion Overshares" Month

Just kidding, sorta.

"Sorta" because both essays that went "live" this month shine a spotlight on elements of my life that may not be social media-worthy. Though I did write them, and I did submit them for publication, and they're out there. So any second thoughts are a couple of years/decades too late.

August heat and obsessive love at Gravel Magazine in "Through the Hearts of Space": 
You drive through the August night. The swampy heat climbs the back of your neck to twine in your hair, where it clings like kudzu. 

The aftermath of illness at Compose in "Bypass Instructions": 
On a sunny early-August morning, I load my new chainsaw, the squeeze bottle of cherry-coloured oil, and the small pair of loppers into the red wheelbarrow. 

But I said "just kidding" because I've been very lucky. By circumstances of birth, I have a lot of choice about what to share and what not to.

Others, as I continue to learn by listening (my word and my work for 2017) live in a different reality. One in which their voices often remain unheard. I have a responsibility to listen to them.

So here's a list, from the fabulous resource The 49th Shelf, of Books by First Nations and Inuit Women. These titles are just a few of those I hope to immerse myself in this summer.

And while I'm at it, The 49th Shelf has tons of lists, organized by various subjects. (Including, speaking of immersion, books about swimming.) Very helpful for broadening your reading horizons!


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New at Compose!

I'm thrilled that my essay, "Bypass Instructions," is up now in the Spring 2017 issue of Compose!

In it, I humblebrag (or maybe just brag) about chainsaws and cutting trees. But all of that is in service to more serious subjects--love, of course; and recovery from illness (yours and/or someone else's).

Also in this issue: five other nonfiction pieces (family histories and cooking! beating the illness odds! river philosophy! school pictures and family relationships! caring for people and dogs!) that are excellent reading--good companions to mull over while you work outdoors. And fiction, poetry, and featured interviews, of course. Plus artwork!

Thank you to the Compose editorial team and publisher!
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Canadian Shorts: Proceeds to Refugees

Canada Post (a term I use to refer also to various courier services) has brought me some very nice things lately. Including this!


Sponsored by Mischievous Books, the Canadian Shorts anthology contains "Canadian-themed short stories featuring top entries of the 2017 Canadian Shorts writing contest."

Best of all, proceeds from anthology sales will go to the Canadian Council for Refugees, a nonprofit organization committed to refugee and immigrant rights.

And the anthology includes my short story, "A Map of the Moon," which placed third in the contest. It's about maps, tardigrades, motorcycles, dreams, and trying again. And family. Of course.

The anthology is available at a link on this page. With 15 short stories, it's the perfect summer read for lazy, rainy afternoons. While you're at the Mischievous Books site, check out some of their other titles for adults and young adults.

It's such an honour to have work included in this anthology! Especially when it supports such a great cause. Thank you, Brenda Fisk (managing editor of Mischievous Books) and the contest jury.

It's been quite a month, with an essay now live at Gravel and another forthcoming in Compose (new link next week!). I'm grateful.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Her Voice in My Ear

My mother was born in a home in Port Arthur, Ontario, 100 years ago today. She died nearly seventeen years ago but had disappeared gradually for several years before that, so she's been gone about twenty years.

Yesterday I stood in line at the bank because there are still some things you have to see a human about. I try not to go when I have a specific appointment after, because I'm more patient if I'm not in a particular hurry, but there are some times when you can't effect that, either.

So standing there trying to ignore the minutes ticking by, I watched a woman of maybe seventy years help her ninety-plus-year-old father with his banking. I wondered how that would feel, to still have parents today, never mind ten or fifteen years from now.

I was my parents' "late in life" baby. I started what I hope is the second half of my life without my mother. With any luck, I'll live longer without Mom's presence on the planet than I did with her here.

It feels strange to call that "luck," but I'm in no hurry to die. There's too much to write about first. Much of what I'm writing is about her and my father. It's about the place my grandfather built north of Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), in what is incorporated as Shuniah, where I now live. My work is about family and roots. I recently received support from the Ontario Arts Council to complete a collection of essays and I'm grateful for it.

There in the bank, I realized I held a magical device in my hand--one with which I could alert my lunch date that I might be late and let her know why. So I did. And wished, for just a moment, for a way to text my mother, to receive a text in return.
Monday, May 1, 2017

Now Live at Gravel!

...is my essay, "Through the Hearts of Space," about
* driving through Little Rock on sweltering summer nights,
* listening to New Age music, and
* (of course) wallowing in obsessive love.

Thanks to the folks at Gravel, a journal published by the folks in the MFA program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Lots of fun reading in the summer issue!
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Showing Up

While I'm on vacation/holiday/family visit, I went to a Rally for Science. (The days are warm in Tucson, so we rallied instead of marching.) And it was great!

I haven't attended rallies or other events at home in Canada, for various reasons. For one thing, although I'm a U.S. citizen with family in the country and I and vote, I do intend to live in Canada for-you-know-ever. For another, we live in the country, so rallying with others (or even attending evening functions) is a commitment--planning, leaving early, weather, the usual.

(So maybe they weren't so much reasons as excuses.)

In any case: I went to this. I'm on vacation, so I have no "opportunity cost" calculations (if I spend all morning at THIS event, I can't be working on THAT project). The place was relatively convenient, since my sister was driving, we're mobile and could park far away without consequence, and we agreed that we could leave any time we became uncomfortable. (Sometimes I don't do well in hot weather.)

I hadn't thought I'd missed anything by eschewing protests and rallies. I had.

My big takeaway: showing up shows you that you're not alone. 

It was energizing to see a diverse group of people talking about projects that interest them. About a legacy they wish to leave to children or grandchildren. About solving problems that plague our planet. About contributing, sharing their gifts, working hard.

It was also a fabulous opportunity to listen to others who are more knowledgeable, who are curious, who are unsure of their way forward but remain determined to help others.

So I'm glad I showed up.

Does "showing up" work as well when you "show up" to the page? I suspect so. There, you're also not alone, though you may be the only person in the room. You have as company everything you've read, noticed, heard, felt, thought, perceived, talked through, received, ignored. You sit in infinite possibility--you can continue a project already begun or start something new.

But you have to show up.

And by "you," I mean me.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Words Mean Things

Consider the following labels for ways one can spend time:

Vacation.

Holiday.

Family visit.

Their meanings overlap but are not identical. 

I am currently experiencing at least one of them. By the time I get home, I will have cycled through all three, individually and all together, and no doubt all possible combinations of any two. 

While I'm away, I plan to do loads of nothing, though I am taking notebooks (of course) (yes, plural) and my sister has assured me she will share art supplies. Sort of an R&R Boot Camp. 

Once I go, I'll be happy about it. And also happy once I'm back home. 
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Yes! and No!

From time to time, I get great satisfaction from cooking up the carcass of the holiday turkey. Broth! Soup! Good smells! Competence! Thrift! Say YES to actions that expand your skill set!

Today, I'm throwing away something that I think was the carcass of a holiday turkey. It might be something else--I'm really not sure at this point. And at the moment, I just don't have what it takes to investigate, even if it means I'm missing out on all the things in the previous paragraph. Say NO to actions that don't bring you joy!

In light of that particular experience, I was amused to read this essay at Brevity this morning. By Shawna Kenney, the essay's entitled, "Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing." It's awesome.

My favourite excerpt: "Say this writing mantra every day: I am my own mantra." Your mileage may vary, and rightly so--the essay is full of fun.

Sometimes the right answer is "yes," sometimes it's "no," sometimes it's "both," sometimes it's "neither," sometimes it's "maybe," and sometimes it's "salted caramel mocha, no whip."
Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Tapestry of a Story

Over the weekend, I sampled the S-Town podcast while I was on the treadmill.

Aaaaaand THERE went the rest of the weekend.

Sure, I ate and drank and went outdoors and got the newspaper and did the Sunday crossword. But I also listened.

Here's some background.

A. It's produced by those who brought the Serial podcast to the world, which in turn was made by experienced folks from This American Life, and focuses on the life of a character in a small town in the southern U.S.

B. It's in a significantly different format (aside from being a story told by voices on the radio): all seven episodes were released at once. It thus lacks the "simultaneous reporting" feature of the two seasons of Serial and other true-crime or investigative journalism podcasts, when attention to the initial story brings forward information that can shed light on or solve the initial mystery.

The fact of A made me, frankly, a little leery. I liked Serial, but I've heard storytellers on This American Life cross the line from an "Oh really? That's interesting; I'm listening" question to a "I'll let you keep talking while I snicker at your ignorance" question. Especially when it comes to people and places in the southern U.S. (I'm not pointing fingers at anyone or any story in particular. Your mileage my vary. I've been told I'm over-sensitive and I may well be so.)

Still, I heard NONE of that in S-Town. Brian Reed, the host, is open about the times he's unfamiliar with cultural issues and the times he's in uncomfortable situations. He does a great job of asking for explanations, of allowing people to speak for themselves, of calling people on it when he thinks their story is self-serving, of running difficult truths past interview subjects--in short, of standing in for a reader. I felt no disrespect, either from him or from the editing process, for the people he talks to or the culture they came from.

Still, I think it's the B element that makes the podcast so compelling--and yes, controversial. Questions have come up regarding the ability for interview subjects to consent, the possibility of identifying people who might like to remain anonymous, the framing of some sexual practices and types of relationships, and other concerns that are discussed and illuminated in this article by Aja Romano on Vox.

But S-Town is worth listening to if only in relation to storytelling. It provides lots of food for thought and discussion:

* The difference between content being released serially (Dickens) vs. all at once (Eliot and most novels). What type of content works well for serial release and how are those individual epidodes structured? What type of content works better for "all at once" release, and how are those episodes structured differently? How do podcasts like Serial create themes that make it easy for a listener to follow, while also allowing room for new information and updates?

* The ability, with an "all at once" release, to craft the total content in a way a writer can't predict when you begin to write the story. In S-Town, themes--identity and belonging, intelligence vs. education, regrets and sacrifices, clockmaking and life directions--all wind and turn and support the individual episodes. Symbols recur: gardens, fertility, growing things that take on a life of their own; mazes, puzzles, the final unknowability of another person. Some of this might have been predictable from Reed's first visit to S-Town, but most couldn't have been.

Neither type of storytelling is superior to another.

Some stories benefit from close attention to each procedure. A needle pulls thread through canvas. One stitch leads to another, some stitches require skipping ahead and filling in backwards, a stitch goes in a slightly different direction, one leads to another. Meanwhile, across a swath of blank canvas, someone else is stitching, too.

Another type of storytelling benefits by being crafted before any of it is exposed. A tapestry can contain repeating elements--gold threads can appear in a sunrise, in the reflection of life from a glass in a bar, in a mirror. A shape (pear) can appear literally, in a fruit bowl, in rising smoke (inverted), in human figures. Et cetera.

It's Wednesday and I'm still scrambling to catch up from the time I spent listening to the podcast instead of finishing paperwork and paying attention to deadlines. But my time in S-Town was worth it. I highly recommend it.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

When Do You Think About "Where?"

The past few days have included several writer-full conversations touching on "where are you going to publish this?"

I've written a little recently (here, here, and here) (okay, maybe more than "a little"?) about matching written pieces to the needs and interests of particular publications.

Sharing finished pieces is an understandable need/desire/obsession/step in the process. Most of us tell stories FOR READERS--first for ourselves as readers, and then for other people.

One recent conversation held a new slant. A writer who's still in the early stages of a project has received suggestions from a person whose interest in the project is driven by business and publication. That's great--that's what the person providing input is supposed to do, it's her role. And there's nothing wrong with the suggestions, either--except that they may not work well with the story the writer WANTS to tell.

Which got me thinking about writing pieces for a publication (or publications) vs. writing pieces that find homes in publications. The first is what I did as work. It was a job. It was also really fun and personally rewarding (to say nothing of financially rewarding--it was a JOB).

But it wasn't driven from the same deep desire that I write from today. Which is also work, but a different kind of work.

I'm fortunate. For one thing, I'm older and so grateful to have experienced that thrill of contributing to magazines, writing and editing curricula, writing newsletters, summarizing and narrating research process and findings, and all the accompanying bits. The interviews with semi-famous people, passionate people, fascinating people. The research. The sense of being in a community and knowing little stories that others don't because you've spent time talking with this person about that thing they're doing over there. It was great.

I'm also fortunate in that I don't do that now. I still love working with experts in the limited ways I do (I edit a lot of proposals for motivated scientists and engineers doing really interesting research projects). But I don't HAVE to with the same urgency I had before, either for professional achievement or for financial reasons.

So in my writing, I CAN be driven by other questions: "What is the story I WANT to tell?" "What is the best way to tell it?" "Does this finished piece satisfy my urge to convey what I want it to?"

The question, "Where am I going to publish this?" comes later. Often, much later--years. Often, to be honest, the question sounds more like "Whyyyyyyyyy won't somebody just PUBLISH this??"

My situation may change. Though I am not (yet) a writer with an agent or a multi-book contract, if I were, I'd have to consider motivations other than just "me me me" and what I WANT to do. I would be in a business partnership, and I'd need to hono(u)r that commitment and their investment in my work.

Meanwhile, I have a stack of work that I've finished or that has come back. So: back to thinking about "Where?"
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

Superpower

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.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Finding a Home

I got some good news recently: one of my short stories has found a home!

"Demeter's Easter," which features a wonderful woman named Sylvia, won second place in the annual Ten Stories High contest, sponsored by the Canadian Authors Association-Niagara Branch. It will be published in the 17th volume of their Ten Stories High anthology.

Sylvia will be in good company. I haven't read this particular story by John Pringle, but I know him and his work (yay Northwestern Ontario writers!), and several other people whose work was chosen have placed stories in the past.

Each time something (someone) I write finds a home, I'm thrilled, especially when it's fiction. (Also with nonfiction, except that the thrill is slightly different.) When I send out a short story, I'm vulnerable, which is fine. I'm an adult, I can take it.

But submitting also makes my characters vulnerable. They're out there being evaluated, except that they live only through the way I express them.

Although I know that stories get rejected for lots of reasons, I also know that sometimes those reasons come down to craft. Sometimes, I haven't quite found the best way to express that character in the world. So I see what I'm getting wrong, and try again.

Even when I dislike someone I've written, I feel responsible for their happiness. Maybe even more so--when I'm digging deep into a part of life that's hateful or unpleasant, I feel a greater responsibility to do justice to their perspective. No matter how ugly.

Maybe someday I'll be blasé when my work is published--maybe it won't feel so personal. In looking over the "I'm stunned" label, with which I mark posts that report external recognition, I'm not sure that's ever gonna happen. Which is also OK.

In any case--good news in trying times. Thanks to all those at the CAA-Niagara Branch for managing a contest. I know from experience how hard it is, and I appreciate your time and effort!
Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Some Days, I Can

Some days, I just can’t.

I sit stunned while women I counted on to say “no” say “okay” to destructive people--even to someone who himself acknowledges he is not qualified--although all adults know that saying “no” early prevents all those uncomfortable contortions to justify your bad decision.

I am less stunned when people pass legislation to prevent women everywhere from having information to make the best decisions for themselves, never mind ensuring that they have adequate medical care, never mind ensuring support and encouragement so they can contribute their gifts to this planet, which so desperately needs all gifts.

I am even less stunned when women shout “jobs” while enabling antiquated visions of exploitation and pollution, instead of adhering to their best vision and principles to support innovation and conservation.

Some days, I can foresee disappointments.

Some days, I just can’t.

Fortunately, I also can’t predict acts of courage.

Yesterday, a lone woman (or possibly a man) sat forward in her office, defying a gag order to broadcast facts about how our reckless behaviour is killing our planet.

Yesterday, that woman (or possibly a man) reminded me that on some days, I can.

Some days, I can show up: to the page, for my clients, for writer-friends at meetings where we acknowledge that what we do won’t by itself ensure reproductive or voting rights, where our words alone won’t protect our planet from destruction, but what we do is still our work to do, it is still what is in front of us to be done, and we need to do it.

Some days, I can listen: to the women who spoke up last Saturday, to the women whose voices weren’t welcomed or heard last Saturday, to women whose wives and sisters and mothers and daughters are missing, threatened, incarcerated, entombed, to women who fight to contribute their ideas and skills in rooms where they are still surrounded by men.

Some days, I can applaud women who say “no.” 
Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sometimes...

Sometimes, I need to turn away--turn my back on destructive people and events, in spite of the sick fascination they can offer. I think that fascination is what lures people into things like "hate-watching" something. You don't want to but you somehow can't stop? Yeah, that. But that feels horrible. It separates me from my work. It prevents me from doing what I can, however small my work and my efforts feel at times.

So instead of turning away, I'm thinking about turning toward--looking for experiences and people that operate from respect. I'm focusing on people who can help me tinker and reconstruct, laugh and play, with respectful honesty. I welcome interaction with people who are curious enough to read and research. To listen (yes, I'm a broken record about that). To learn.

That's where I'm putting my energy this week. Because I must.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Word For...

My mother ran a household and raised five children, besides managing her career as a university teacher and researcher. She relied on rules, even or perhaps especially about the holidays.

Christmas decorations and music could begin appearing on American Thanksgiving (aka Thanksgiving), but no earlier.

The Christmas tree went up on December 21 (my father's birthday), probably because her classes were over and she'd turned in her grades.

The Christmas tree came down on January 1, not only because it had likely dropped needles and we were all exhausted by the holidays, but also so that she could get the house back to normal and go back to focusing on her real love: teaching.

As an adult, my life is less strict (and successful, by her standards). I recognize the value and meaning of her rules, but I also question how they apply to my life these days.

So lately I've been searching for the word for "that feeling of knowing a special time is over but not wanting it to be so." Also "finding ways to stretch out a pleasurable experience as long as possible to help soothe the grief of letting go."

(And no, neither of these have to do with the impending changes in political leadership south of the border. Or you know what, maybe they do.)

Mostly, I'm thinking of Christmas. And I'm interested in these words for emotions that we all might recognize but don't have a word for in English.

Yes: showing a person experiencing the emotion is usually more effective than naming it. So, I don't have scenes, but here are the events that prompted the search for emotion words.

I waited until January 8 to open the Christmas stocking and gifts my sister and I still exchange. The impetus wasn't especially about Christmas in particular--it was more to savor that feeling of "found time" when everyone else is on holiday and I can hunker down to finish special projects. I thoroughly enjoyed that time this year and found it difficult to release.

I kept drinking from holiday mugs (which I forgot about starting, since I don't celebrate American Thanksgiving, until December 1) through the 9th, but I recognized that the holidays weren't OFFICIALLY-officially done until I'd unloaded the dishwasher and put them away. Which was yesterday.

However you look at it, the holidays are now over, and the work continues. My mother was always pleased to start a new semester, conceive of a new proposal, start a new line of research. And although my projects aren't as well-defined as hers sometimes were, I too enjoy my life and my work.

Here are some important words around that: determined, committed, grateful.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Listen" Suggestions

It's a new year, and the recent US election seems like old news, except that it isn't--the ramifications grow bigger every day. 

One recent "end of the year" highlight for Canada's news outlets was that the night of the election, searches in the US for "how to move to Canada" apparently spiked. (Note that the site linked isn't the official Government of Canada site, which has updated instructions and laws.) 

So, Americans, here's something to know: Canadians love being the place where Americans move. Sorta. One thing don't love is that Americans assume it'll be easy.  

I heard it expressed best this past summer by Jeff McArthur, a host on one of the morning news shows. I can't find the exact quote, but this is close: "Canada isn't like Disneyland. You can't just show up and pay an admission fee and expect to get in."

Yeah. Maybe think a moment--what is it you have to offer Canada? Canadians are fluent in American culture. What do you know about Canada. Really KNOW? 

Beyond that, many of your neighbors and friends in the US have pointed out that "moving to Canada" is an expression of your privilege. How many of them could use allies? Are you really going to desert them? Maybe think about that, too.

And Canadians, here's food for your listening (reading) pleasure, because what I've noticed up here (sorry) is a bit of your tendency to smugness. (Again, sorry to offend, but you know it's true.)

Don't think it's only American culture that can regress overnight. Here's Sarah Boon, who expounds on that point (and others relating to science, women, mental health, nature) extremely well in this post. I keep trying to excerpt something but it's all so good, and she includes many links with further food for thought.

Basically, she says this: Don't think Canada has--or ever had--progressive society "all figured out." Regression to an even more exclusionary, discriminatory, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-science world can happen in Canada, too--and in some areas, more easily than in the US. 

While I'm at it, I recommend her blog, Watershed Moments: Thoughts from the Hydrosphere. She's a scientist (snow and ice hydrology), and a thoughtful one. And a good, interesting writer. 

Happy 2017. We have our work cut out for us, on both sides of the border.