Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Gratitude: It's Never Wrong

In the Autumn of 2017, I learned that the editors of Compose magazine nominated my essay "Bypass Instructions" for a Pushcart Prize. Such excitement! I really appreciated learning that those editors felt my work stood out in their magazine that year.

At some point, I searched online for Pushcart Prizes, looking to see when I might reasonably quit wondering about it. I saw an article by a journal editor that said (a paraphrase), "Being nominated for a Pushcart is nothing to brag about--don't even mention it unless you win one." People in the comments took issue with that approach, and others piled on to support the original poster's online eyeroll.

That post confused me--I was partly horrified at my earlier excitement (had I been bragging?) and partly annoyed at this random person I neither know nor cared about raining on my parade. Regardless, I slunk away to delete "Pushcart Nominee" from my online profile.

In the autumn of 2018, I saw tweet after tweet from writers whose work had been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Their excitement reminded me of my own. It was contagious--I was thrilled for them, and re-excited about writing again in general. People are reading! They're connecting!

Most of all, I regretted allowing someone else's opinion to rob me of a bit of joy about an accomplishment.

A few years back, I heard someone who has more status in the writing community (it's a big pool, containing, like, everyone) disdain writers who "brag" about getting grants. It's not done--it's just "not cool."  S/he said this. In spite of the fact that granting agencies, today more than ever, could use the visible support of the artists whose work they fund. And in spite of the direct instruction, as a condition of receiving this agency's support, to include the fact of that support in all marketing and public-facing materials.

I have been relatively closemouthed about receiving support ever since. But yesterday, in a discussion with other writers, I recognized a couple of things.

For one thing, it's valuable to own my own excitement at the success of my work in the world. It's always nice to hear that your work has touched someone, and I want to celebrate that.

And for another, it doesn't matter if it's not "cool" to seem appreciative or grateful. "Being cool" is tiresome when you're no longer in high school. (It's tiresome in high school, too, but that's another YA novel.) A healthy sense of gratitude helps me maintain my own emotional stability, YMMV.

I'm not advocating that people adopt Wayne-and-Garth's "We're not worthy!" manner, either. It's not true. If you've done the work and unlocked the door, you belong in the room, and now that you're there, shut up and learn as much as you can. (And for heaven's sake, no gloating. Bragging really IS bad form. You do too know the difference.)

Besides, it's not about YOU. None of this is about YOU, and by YOU I mean ME. It's about the work, and a host of other factors, including timing, when lunch was served, who ate the last Nanaimo bar, and the reading habits and opinions of the few (four, three, five) people in the room.

With that, here's some news about me.

The editors of Prairie Fire thought highly enough of my essay, "Hours of Daylight," to nominate it for a National Magazine Award. Finalists will be announced in May or so, but I don't anticipate it receiving any further recognition. I was pleased to write it, happy that it was recognized and published as part of their contest, and extremely grateful that the editors liked it well enough to nominate it. So thank you, Prairie Fire!

This week, I also learned that my (most recent, much-beloved and extremely frustrating) novel received a Creator Grant from the Ontario Arts Council. This support makes it financially feasible* for me to complete my novel, and I am incredibly grateful. So grateful. Immeasurably, inexpressibly grateful.

So there. Tell someone who supports you how grateful you are. Gratitude is never wrong.

* Let's not prorate the grant amount by the numbers of years I've been working on the novel (totally my fault), and heaven forfend we total the hours I've spent on this work, or the investment I've made in honing my skills (going back to what John Irving labeled "gradual" school), or WORST OF ALL, the number of words written AND THEN DELETED. I'm just grateful for the support.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Gift Books and Holiday Books

I've posted previously (September, October, November), about books that I associate with specific months. (And about difficulties in old favourites.)

Folks have talked lately about "Yule Book Flood," the Icelandic tradition of sharing books and reading on Christmas Eve. What a fabulous custom!

Books have always been a part of our family Christmas celebrations. This year, too, at our "Christmas in January" celebration, I got a book as a gift--Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. It's charming and winsome, and for the first few pages I thought, "Oh this is fun."

But it quickly became more than "just" fun, important though fun is, and more than "just" funny, which ditto. I felt the ambition of the story and began seriously pulling for Arthur Less. I really wanted him to be okay--more than okay, even. Arthur became a person to me, someone I enjoyed spending time with. Greer, with a gentle touch and giant doses of humor, made me care.

As an adult, I have been known to buy a book for myself to have at the holiday season. These books, though I suppose they're gifts for myself, aren't "gift books." I think of them as "holiday books." This year, my holiday book was Louise Penny's Kingdom of the Blind. I also enjoyed it thoroughly, as I expected I would. And then I re-read the whole of her backlist, which I also enjoyed.

Gift books can be risky. They're chosen for you by someone else, who may or may not have read the book they're offering. Gift books can also feel like relationship tests: how well does this person know you? They can be perfect books for January, when your resolutions may include opening yourself to new ideas or reading something you might not have chosen yourself.

Holiday books--well, if you're buying yourself something, you should buy something you like. They're the perfect purchase for a December treat. This year I was fortunate that my holiday companion stayed with me into January.

The Icelandic tradition is a fine one to observe, wherever you live. With luck, you'll find your way out of a book doldrum, into a place where reading is fun again.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Time and Distance

I'm revising. As I have mentioned.

And partly because it's the new year, and partly just because time is passing, I'm also starting a couple of other creative projects that have been swirling in my head.

Thanks to my sister, I have quite the stash of monoprints (specifically, prints from gelli plates, products of Gelli Arts).  We had a ton of fun this past summer playing. 

The experience was full of lessons about play, about fun, about experiments, about YouTube--many facets of creation.

And now, in this project, I have another opportunity to revise. 

Among others in the hundreds of pieces of paper I have in an accordion folder, I found the two prints above.

I quite like them. (It's okay if you don't.)

And I remember making them. They were experiments in directing paint on the plate, in braying, and in color combinations, as well as stencils. 

At the time, I didn't find them to be particularly "successful," however I defined it at that moment. Something happened that I didn't anticipate and couldn't control. I could probably go back and recreate what I was trying to do in this series, to see just where I went wrong and learn how to do it differently for future printing sessions. 

But six months later, I don't want to. What I set out to do is gone. Now I work with what exists in front of me. 

Time has given me a great gift: a certain intellectual and emotional distance from my original intent. Prints that I remember with vague disappointment now please my eye. 

And, this almost-Valentine's day, my heart. 

As I continue revising my writing, I'm applying what I learned from making monoprints: let go of what I thought I might be doing, and work with what I have in front of me. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Snow Falls

'Tis the season in which my spam folder fills with UNBELIEVABLE OFFERS!!!! and my inbox is receiving a higher-than-average share of rejections.

These missives swirl through cyberspace much as the snow, this February, swirls through, uh, "regular" space.

Meanwhile, I'm mid-revision--a deep one, the kind in which I do my prescribed daily work and carry that universe with me to a dentist's chair (to have a filling replaced) and to a screen, where I ostensibly focus on our income tax spreadsheets.

There's a lot going on. Some of what's happening is just "typical February," and some of it's preparation for Spring. All of it is valuable, if I allow it to be so.

Happy February, however you celebrate it.