Thursday, April 19, 2018

Home

Yesterday was the first Wednesday in a couple of years, I think, in which I didn't post something. I was traveling and enjoying being (mostly) offline.

As you know, I've been on a vacation in which I've actually been...vacating. It's been great! I've thoroughly enjoyed visiting my sister, seeing her world (the sun! so many degrees on the thermometer!) and her part of the country, and experiencing a change in routine.

But I love living here. So one of the highlights of the whole trip: crossing the border yesterday and hearing the agent say, "Welcome home."

And it really is, pale sunlight, muddy driveway, filthy floors, dripping eaves, and everything else that goes with spring in the North (which yeah is south of most of the continent).

Of course, all that is easier to greet with open arms since I missed the most recent dump of snow and mega windstorm, which my husband delights in describing in great detail as he pounds on the walls. "Every door was snapping, loud bangs, like this loud!"

I've got a quick weekend trip coming in a couple of weeks but otherwise, I'm home for the foreseeable. It's a good time to get stuff done, especially with a vacation-refreshed spirit.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Vacation (Inspiration)

Here's what I've been looking at and doing recently. I don't believe in "inspiration" much, but I am a fan of "renewal," and that's what I've been fortunate enough to experience this vacation.



Next week, I'll be back in the land of "yes the sun is shining but it's not WARM," and I'll love being there, too--because it's home.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Drawing Lines on Paper

One way I relax (okay, about the only way, and often it should be written "relax") is to draw lines on paper.

Like so (which you would have seen on Instagram if you follow me there):



I don't mean it to be art. It's something to do when I try to unwind. I like lines and I like colo(u)rs and I like to do things with my hands.

I've written about this before, apparently. It's kind of shocking to click that link and see that I also didn't like to do much beyond writing and reading back in 2011. However.

I bring this up because I wondered last week how I know I'm a writer and not a visual artist. Perhaps, I devil's-advocated myself, writing is comfortable--not a calling, nothing more than an old, broken-in shoe of an activity. When I was a kid, art seemed to require tools we didn't have, like easels and paints and wheels and kilns. Also, art required getting messy, which was sort of problematic in the house I grew up in (it made more work for adults). In contrast, writing required... a (sharpened) pencil and paper.

The topic came up mostly because I have been drawing lines on paper for some time, and I'm working in a slightly larger sketchbook than I have in the past, and I'm going on vacation (I'm vacating as you read this), and I need to decide what I'm going to bring art-wise on vacation. Although to be fair, bringing art supplies to my sister's home is like coals/Newcastle.

What I've learned is this: although I enjoy drawing lines and learning various techniques, I generally don't know what to art. Like, okay, so I can draw vaguely photorealistic scenes from photographs. Yay? What is the point of that--to me, even?

The answer: the point is to do it. The point is not the product--I don't have to make something meaningful or beautiful or sell-able from visual art/drawing/colo(u)rs.

In my life, writing is also about the process--and the product. Both. I do want to create something that a reader can be affected by, preferably in a positive way. I want (most of) my writing to be read. But my drawings are mostly for me, or to serve as an Instagram subject when I'm tired of taking pictures of snow when the calendar clearly indicates that Spring has sprung.

In the interests of broadening my horizons beyond writing and reading--and even drawing lines on paper--I'm not writing while I'm on vacation. I brought no projects. I have no expectations. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I hope to be hungry for words when I return.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Hope

It occurred to me yesterday that email, mail, and other courier services don't include a hope-meter.

That is, you can't tell by looking at the mailed item whether the person who sent it off was hopeful or discouraged.

All you can tell is that the sender got the required elements together and sent it, however that looked: she clicked Send, clicked Submit, paid for a stamp and shoved it into a mailbox, whatever.

It's probably a good thing, too. Because by the time the sent item arrives, the sender might well feel different--resigned, perhaps, or something even more neutral.

Regardless, the thing to do is get stuff sent. It doesn't matter how you (I) feel about it. Just, as they say, do it.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Random: Citizenship, Home, Belonging

Here are some random thoughts that have floated across my consciousness recently. They're mostly related to "belonging" and "home," which are, not coincidentally, themes of "Atomic Tangerine," soon to appear in The New Quarterly.

1. I picked up my Canadian passport. Now that I have the ability to leave and return to the country as I wish, I feel more comfortable about staying. There's probably something to examine there. Maybe it's just typical human nature. Maybe I'm part cat, wanting out from in and in from out.

2. Speaking of the Canadian citizenship ceremony, it was...interesting. Sweet, actually. Held at a local high school. One of the school's students was becoming a citizen. I managed to repeat the oath and sing the anthem. And I now have all the lapel pins a new citizen could ever want.

3. Still on the citizenship ceremony: I've always liked "Uptown Funk"--catchy hook, great video, what can I say, I like pop music--but now have an even stronger connection, given the high school jazz band's rendition of it during the ceremony. Including jazz solos! Not a musical number I'd have predicted for the day.

In fact, overall, the ceremony didn't go exactly the way I'd have imagined a citizenship ceremony. I would have anticipated something more solemn--somber, even, with talk about duties and responsibilities. Instead, mine was was celebratory and welcoming. It featured young people, themselves relatively new citizens.

To which I can only, in the words of the song, "hit a hallelujah (woo!)."
Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Postponing

The theme for March has been "postpone."

Because of illness, a friend postponed a get-together. For some mysterious physicians' reasons, a medical appointment has been delayed. Travel issues have caused a family visit to be postponed for months.

As a result, my schedule has room to breathe. And therefore, deadline that I had given up on meeting is now not only possible but reasonable.

Because of this room, I can not only "send something" just to be sending something, I can send something that's recently revised and re-considered. Perhaps even re-re-re-considered.

It's a good goal. So I will take advantage of fun (and appointments) deferred and meet it.

On the flip side, I'd planned to make a blueberry cobbler for the visitors. Even though they're not coming, it's still on my list for this evening. Because a cobbler is a sort of pie, and today's pi day, and my cobbler topping is scone dough, and (as we all know) scones are never wrong.

Some pleasures can be savored when they're postponed. But sometimes, making the cobbler is still the right choice. And new space in the calendar is a gift that I don't take lightly.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018

More Listening

The days are getting longer, but the ice remains on the roads, and therefore, my walks remain on the treadmill. Which means I listen to podcasts.

I was especially excited to see notice of the return of this podcast: Missing & Murdered. This season focuses on learning the story of Cleo, a young girl from the generation of the "Sixties Scoop."

As I said here, I learned so much from the first season of this podcast--among other issues, how and why some people might zero incentive to cooperate with authorities.

True-crime podcasts can feel squicky, in the way that reality TV shows can: exploiting tragic stories for sensationalism, fame, or ratings. I have wondered whether I'm "done" imbibing crime stories, whether those stories come in the form of books or podcasts or even longform journalism. I haven't decided.

But even if I declare a personal moratorium on similar podcasts, I will continue listening to Missing & Murdered. First, it doesn't feel exploitative. (To me, at least; your mileage may vary.) I also learn so much culture and history from the families and their willingness to share their experiences and stories. I said it before, and it's still true: I feel honoured to have the opportunity to listen.

And, as always, listening is important.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Calendar Page

At the end of a month, any month, every month, I take stock of what I've done and what's happened. Things that are inside and outside of my control.

In the past couple of months, I've spent a lot of time reading and sitting with other peoples' work, talking about writing and arts, talking about the writing process--talking in general. And the flip side, listening.

For the most part, it's been a really good experience. I've learned a lot. I hope other people I've interacted with know how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to hear their perspectives and share my own.

It's been a lot of reading, talking, and listening. Not so much writing.

Which I'm looking forward to changing, as I turn the calendar page.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Done?

At this time of year, I have to keep reminding myself that I don't always get to decide when something is done.

I may be sick to death of revising, but that doesn't mean the essay is "done."

Similarly, I may be sick to death of dressing in ninety-eleven layers and wearing boots, but that doesn't mean winter is "done."

On the other hand, *I* can be done with something--like *I* can be "done" revising an essay. For now.

*I* could even be "done" with winter. As it happens, I haven't yet scheduled a trip to visit my sister (who, conveniently for my attention span for winter, lives in Tucson), so I'm not quite "done" yet.

Later, I can revisit the essay. If it's still as "done" as I can make it, then I can send it out.

One reason I haven't yet scheduled my sun-seeking trip is that I want to be sure that the time away is worth the return to a landscape that hasn't actually let go of winter. Even if all the snow melted tomorrow and we got nothing new, the weather can remain cold well into late April and early May. (I keep fleece jackets on hand for summer visitors, who are usually sure they don't need them but usually do.) Once I'm sure I'm ready to come back, I can feel better about going.

So, I'll set aside that essay, until I have fresh eyes and can see if it reads well. I can wrap my shoulders in sweaters and my hands around a mug of coffee, until I'm warm enough to put on even more layers and go out to enjoy the returning sunshine.

And while I'm warming up, I can even consider whether shortening the second section of that essay--or better yet, dropping that thread altogether--would help that essay become more nearly "done."
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Questions, Questions, So Many Questions!

Next weekend (in ten days), as I've mentioned, I'll be participating in the "Ask an Author" event, sponsored by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop.

As part of the lead-in to that event, I contributed a post to the NOWW blog, sharing a little about my background and writing history, what I'm working on, and how I feel about peanut butter on toast.

I invite you to go there and read this, and be sure to scope out all the other participants in the event, as well. There are many ways to "be a writer"--far more than the six we represent!--but we are all happy to share the pitfalls and rewards of the path we've taken to get here. 
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Stories in Various Forms

I've mentioned before that one of my favourite podcasts is Scriptnotes. It is, as the subtitle says, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

John August, a screenwriter and the originator of the podcast, is launching a new middle-grade book series soon, featuring a character named Arlo Finch.

He's also launching a podcast--limited-episode, apparently; the "mini-series" equivalent of podcasting--in advance of his book's launch. The new podcast is called Launch, and it's presented by Wondery. In it, he talks about his book and what he's learned in the past two years as he's entered a new realm of storytelling. He even got to see his book being printed, which is pretty cool.

I've listened to several episodes, not all (yet). However, what I've heard so far is a great basic resource for answers to some of those questions. I recommend listening.

And if you're interested in lots of "how to" answers about screenwriting, storytelling, taking criticism, procrastinating, and the general creative process, dig around on the Scriptnotes site. It holds a lot of answers.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ask!

Here's a neat event: it's Ask an Author!

Similar to the Human Library, this event lets you sign up to ask writers about whatever you want to ask about.


It's an honour to appear with these writers--I'd like to sign up for 20-minute chats myself! So mark your calendars for February 24, in the afternoon. You can sign up in advance, but half of the slots will be held for people who appear at the door.

Thanks very much to NOWW and the Thunder Bay Public Library for organizing this event and for supporting writers in general.
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

That Was a Thing That Was

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was going to read at an event sponsored by NOWW, the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop.

And I did!

I always enjoy reading, once I'm there and standing up. (It really does help to practice ahead of time, so that I know what's coming when I turn the page.)

I also enjoy reading at events that occur anywhere from one to three months from now, when the event itself is in some comfortably far-off future, at which time I might finally be that confident person I dream of becoming. (And have the definitive confident-writer purse. For some reason, owning the perfect tote/purse/bag is elusive. Maybe I have a Mary Poppins complex.)

However. I don't always enjoy reading "tonight" or even "day after tomorrow."

As usual, the experience was really fun. I so appreciated the attention and respect of the people who showed up. And it was great to hear others share their work as well.

The event was note-worthy for me because I read for the first time from my first completed novel. "Completed" being a relative term, of course. I have a feeling that its major revisions are done. (I could be wrong, but it feels solid.)

In any case, introducing my novel to other people was nerve-wracking, but I'm glad I did it, and I appreciate all the encouragement and support.

So now, back to work--writing, revising, and even a little dreaming.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018

So Pleased

I had wonderful news recently: my essay, "Hours of Daylight," won third prize in the creative nonfiction division of the 2017 Prairie Fire writing contest. It will appear in their summer issue, along with all the other fabulous contest winners.

The judge was Betsy Warland, and I'm thrilled that she even read my work, to say nothing of choosing it as worthy of recognition. (A quiet squee: squee!)

Excerpts from winning entries in all three categories are available here. It's such an honour to appear in the company of these writers! I'm looking forward to reading this issue.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Aloud, in Front of Others

A week from tomorrow, I'm participating in a really fun event: a reading, sponsored by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop. (Details: 7 PM at the Mary J. L. Black Library.)

The theme is "Janus," naturally, it being January. And what better theme for someone who's spent the past year's granted time writing and revising creative nonfiction? (Sad to say, what better theme also for someone who also spent a significant part of this past year SERIOUSLY revising a novel manuscript that has, shall we say, aged. Which isn't a question.)

I haven't quite decided what I'll read yet, but I will soon, and then I'll start practicing. Because no matter how many times I read a piece aloud before I submit it somewhere (and that's a lot of times), reading in front of other people is a VERY different experience. And a fabulous one.

Audiences are so helpful to writers who are working to better understand how people read them. (And isn't that all of us?) Because my husband and I live in the country and getting to town of an evening can be difficult in winter, I don't get to every single event where it's possible to hear people reading or performing their work. But I love it when we're there.

The audience doesn't get to just sit there--you're part of the event, even if the event is formal (no finger-snapping, as at some spoken-word events). Your attention is a gift you give the person reading.

You're receiving gifts, too, of course. First, I get to hear someone tell me a story. And second, I have to find that listening space in myself to hear the story. It's a brief time period when I stop the natter in my head and allow someone else's words to penetrate. Being there, in that moment, with that reader, is hugely rewarding.

It's a nice time of community. I'm really grateful for the opportunity to read.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Keepers

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my best life-simplifier, indulgence, and challenge. Every time I use those iced-tea spoons, I am grateful I got them.

Last/this year, my best life-simplifier is combined with my best indulgence: I got an egg cooker.

Years ago, I received one from a cousin but somehow lost track of it in a move. So I bought a new one, and I even paid $5 extra to get it in teal. (Indulgence.) The colo(u)r makes me smile.

I've used it often. I eat eggs for breakfast almost every day, and having them cooked and waiting in the fridge makes mornings (not my best time) so much easier.

Two years ago, I mentioned saying NO to most things, so that I could say YES to others. I still try to do that.

Specifically in the writing world, I have said YES to things that scare me, and as a result, submitting work to publications is now easier.

This year, I'm in the position of submitting entire manuscripts for the consideration of strangers--a new level of scary--but I anticipate that THAT process will get easier, too.

I am also renewing my desire to say NO to news alerts. A resolution to express gratitude, every day, for my life helps keep my adrenaline even. (Well, more even.) My reasoning: in an apocalypse, I want to be aware of the gift of having lived in this beautiful, imperfect world.

The habit of staying out of social media except at prescribed times is, shall we say, still under development.

As for the third thing I mentioned 2+ years ago--ordering extra socks and underwear--it's about time to do that again. The cold snap came early this winter, and our well usually freezes up at some point in the early months of any year. Might as well be prepared.

These simplifiers, indulgences, and challenges will help me face those parts of 2018 I can't predict or anticipate. Or so I hope.