Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Perspective

As I mentioned last week, some months are years long, and January has been so for me this year.

Mostly in good ways.

I've eased back into routines of writing that I'd set aside for a bit, while I worked on life projects. I've been pleased to be able to add writing and still make progress on these other necessary (if dull) bits of life.

Which is not to say that January has been "a fabulous writing month" in any way other than the fact that I've been doing it.

And maybe that's all that's required.

Consider: "[W]riting, like fire, was a gift from the gods. Letters were sacred. Inscribed randomly on a shard of pottery, even without being arranged into a name or a coherent thought, they could be presented as an offering at the temple of Zeus."













From "To the Letter," by Mary Norris, in the January 14, 2019 issue of The New Yorker.

That's reassuring, isn't it? Incoherence is OK. All you have to do is inscribe some letters. Just try.
Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Un-Statistics?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about numbers and meaning. It's January, a traditional time to consider the past and look to the future.

Last week, I shared some statistics about Alzheimer Disease for Alzheimer Awareness Month. The week before, I talked about numbers and (briefly) their limitations.

Here are some more thoughts about measurements.

* A number: your salary. Not a number: the happiness (a meal at your favourite restaurant, a book of your own, a warm coat for your fourth-grader) that your income makes possible for you.

* A number: a grant amount. Not a number: the learning and freedom a grant brings--whether it enables a research trip or lets you rent a studio space with adequate ventilation to protect your respiratory and neurological health (as opposed to, say, painting on a table near a window in a stuffy basement apartment).

* A number: subscribers to and purchasers of (and/or eyeballs on) a publication. A different number: readers of your work. Not a number: how your work touched those who read it (and even those who started but stopped--because maybe they were touched and appreciated it but *couldn't* finish, speaking of Alzheimer stories).

*** A side note: your work, once published, is OUT there. Even if the publication folds, your work exists in the world. Someone a decade or century from now could theoretically find it and read it and be touched by it. Cool, eh.

* A number: a "relevance" or "influence" metric as demonstrated through hashtags or some external designation. Not numbers: how your work engages with what's happening today, whether it's set in the past or present or some never time. Whether your work affirms or challenges the status quo. Whether your work meaningfully challenges or even disrupts your own complacency.

*** Another side note: the thoughts posed above, relating to relevance or influence, don't have right or wrong answers, necessarily.

*** There isn't any greater virtue to writing about "today's events" (though there's the argument that we always do, whether we mean to or not).

*** It's not always "better" to challenge the status quo (depends on the status quo where you are, for one thing).

*** Nothing anywhere requires you to write something (or do your own artistic work) that challenges your own complacency. People like to read/experience art that's like the art they've experienced before. (Hence books in a series.) People also like to create as a way to exercise competence--to be really good at something, and do that.

* A number: 31, the days in January. Not a number: how long this month FEELS. Holy cats.

At the moment, I'm looking at contexts in which I challenge myself (writing long-form fiction and creative nonfiction) and contexts in which I am content, for now, to exercise competence in rewarding ways (doing income tax spreadsheets according to the system I've developed over the past ten years or so).

I'm also examining how I gauge success, though others might find it underwhelming (just FINISHING things feels HUGE to me), or undetectable (doing the spreadsheets early, before looming deadlines freak me out).

But I gotta say, challenging my assumptions as part of my creative process has been a great way to re-energize January. Which needs it, amirite?
Wednesday, January 16, 2019

More Statistics--Alzheimer Awareness Month

January is Alzheimer Awareness Month.

As anyone who's read my work knows, my brilliant, vibrant mother developed dementia. I wrote about its effects on our family, in part because writing is how I make sense of the world but also because, 20 years ago, I couldn't find similar stories elsewhere. I didn't know what to expect--how it felt to see or experience this condition.

Fortunately, two decades and a lot of hard work by organizations and individuals have changed that. Now, people with dementia are recognized as the experts in the disease and are encouraged to speak.

It's incumbent on all of us to listen.

The Alzheimer Society's campaign, "I Live with Dementia. Let Me Help You Understand" features the voices of people whose lives are affected by dementia. Some, like me, don't have the disease but love or care for someone who does. But many have dementia--and their voices are compelling.

Read them here: https://ilivewithdementia.ca/life-with-dementia/

The Alzheimer Society site includes a quiz: How Do You Perceive Dementia? Go take it. The results may surprise you--they did me.

Here's a statistic that shocked me the most: Only 5% of Canadians admitted they would take time to learn more about the disease if someone close to them were diagnosed. Someone they loved. No wonder isolation and stigma are among the fears of those diagnosed (and those who refuse to seek diagnosis).

Don't be among the other 95%. The site has a wealth of information about communication, safety, behaviour, and how people live with dementia. Take five or ten minutes.

Because chances are good that someone you love--maybe even you--will be among those whose lives are touched by dementia.
Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Statistics

Last year, I read 61 books.

This number does count re-reading titles: sometimes but not always. For example, a few times this year I finished a book and started it again immediately. That counts as one "read." But in at least one instance, I read a book in, say, July, and then read it again in October. That's two "reads."

Also, the total doesn't take into account individual articles, journals, or magazines. I subscribe to The New Yorker, thanks to my brother, and although I'm still behind, I've been working my way through my backlog. I also subscribe to a few literary journals, and I try to read those before they get too old. None of that is in this number.

So, lots of rules and explanations. Does any of that matter?

Not really.

Mostly I'm happy that reading has again become a delight. Early in the year, I slogged through books. I sorta kinda enjoyed them, mostly, or at least I was glad to have had the experience of reading them. But picking up books didn't make my heart glad.

(To be fair, I read some things that were not a good match for my interests or tastes, and I read some things that I expected to like more, but I had to read them while exhausted. Which is to say, any problems were more likely my fault than the book's.)

Since adjusting some priorities in October, my sense of wonder, curiosity, and pleasure has increased. I am again happy to read.

Therefore, I invite you to consider this: not everything that is EASY to measure is MEANINGFUL to measure.

For another example: the number of short stories you've published is a number, and it's easy to count and keep track of, and I guess it's good when the number grows.

However, publishing MORE short stories doesn't necessarily indicate that you're publishing GOOD short stories, where GOOD = a piece that represents growth or some (real or invented) person in a situation that means something important to you.

Therefore, the fact of reading 61 books is, undeniably, a fact. That number is easily countable and comparable to totals in previous and future years.

However, it is not as meaningful to me as the learning (because part of my writing work is learning) and pleasure (because pleasure is an important part of life) that those books brought me.

The difficult-to-quantify, the learning and the pleasure: that's why I read, and why I'm grateful to writers and publishers for making it possible.
Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Shout-Outs (Shouts-Out?)

Happy 2019, everyone! I hope so, at any rate.

I'm partly "back to work" today, but I'm partly still on holiday, and it occurs to me that folks other than myself might be struggling to set a direction (or goals, or intentions) for the coming year.

As "everyone" who's anyone in the Goal-Setting Guru space says, the first step is to look back.

So here's a gigantic THANK YOU to publications, and their teams, who shared my work with the world in 2018.

"Hours of Daylight," third place in creative nonfiction, Prairie Fire 2017 contest, Prairie Fire 39.2 (Summer 2018)
"Entanglement," Atticus Review, 21 June 2018. Previously shortlisted for EVENT's Non-Fiction Contest, 2017. 
"Let d Be the Distance Between Us," The Grief Diaries, Issue 4 Volume 1, The Anniversary Issue, June, 2018. 
"Atomic Tangerine," Honourable Mention in The New Quarterly's Edna Staebler Personal Essay award, Summer 2017; published in Issue #146, Spring 2018

More information about my creative work is available here.

Also, lately I've found two interesting new-to-me podcasts about creativity and creation. Perhaps they will prove useful to you.

The Uncurated Life, by Cindy Guentert-Baldo. Last week, I talked about Cindy's skill in reviewing. Pens, at it happens, but there are lessons there for all of us. Turns out, Cindy is also skilled in interviewing. Bonus: if you're unfamiliar with the world of YouTube Creators, planners, and Etsy shops, Cindy talks to a bunch of people that live and work in that space. It's fascinating. 
Art and Cocktails, by Ekaterina Popova, visual artist and publisher of Create! magazine. In another informal interview-style show, Ekaterina talks with people (and shares her own thoughts) about navigating failure, handling the fragmented attention span of many artistic interests, and setting goals and intentions. She's also got some how-to stuff. 

I say that I hope 2019 is a "better year," I don't really know what that  means. But I see "hope" as a passive word.

So how about, as we move into the new year, we plan to do what we can to make 2019 a "better year" for all of us.

Perhaps especially when that requires us to stand up and say ENOUGH--and when that requires us to sit and listen.