Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Thinking and Re-Thinking

I don't really like the colour orange. As an athlete and fan, I wore orange t-shirts and accessories, mostly without thinking. They were accepted and expected parts of my life.

I don't mind coral, especially as Spring takes its own sweet time showing up and I'm tired of winter's browns, blues, and silvers. Peach, too. Back in the pre-pandemic days, coral toenail polish or a peachy scarf brightened April right up.

But I can look sallow in orange. And I have such mixed feelings about many sports (athletes and head injuries, mostly) that I've ditched all but one of my orange t-shirts. 

And then this time of year happens. Look!

Turns out, I like orange. I really do. I surprised myself!

I don't like it in all its versions. I'd still be careful about choosing to wear it. (Orange Shirt Day is September 30 this year; I'll wear mine then!)

It got me thinking: what else about myself (or the world--but let's start small) could I wonder about? I've said I don't like poetry--perhaps I could learn more about poetry so I can enjoy it more, and maybe even try writing some. 

A small example, indeed. But it's something I have control over. So much in the world now I can't affect, except through my own actions. So I wash my hands, stay physically distanced, and try to do the work in front of me to be done. And--gently--question my assumptions.

As I walk today, enjoying the oranges in the world, I'll look for other ways to challenge long-held beliefs about myself and others. Starting small. Enjoying orange.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Surprisingly Helpful: Prompts

What is it about writers, that they can be sooooo ooooooover the things that are good for them? 

Just me? Oh. 

Back in early August, I wrote about #1000wordsofsummer, which I found surprisingly helpful in getting words down for a couple of projects and thinking through problems therein. 

Today, let's talk prompts in a more general way.

Last June, at the conference for the Creative Nonfiction Collective (insert standard "back when conferences/travel/gatherings were things" poignant aside here), I took a workshop with S. Lesley Buxton.* She gave the room full of writers a couple of writing exercises to do, and I found them extremely helpful, even with the performance anxiety of "freewriting in a room with other people." I thought, "Yes, people should do these things." Then I thought, "Hey. I'm a person. I should do stuff like this more often."

Here's another example. In February, I wrote a Writer's Block column at All Lit Up, an organization supporting small Canadian publishers. In it, I described how I get out of a funk, and one of the other Surprisingly Helpful things I do: I make something art-adjacent, using prompts. 

Art-adjacent is key. I draw on an index card. I take no more than ten minutes (to guard against my superpower, over-complicating things). I use pretty markers to draw or pretty colours of paper to make a collage. 

Often, I use a prompt to help further reduce decisions. For several months, I've been using prompts supplied by Julie Paul, a Canadian writer, through her Instagram account, @dailywordprompts (read about them here). She posts on West Coast time, so I use a previous month's prompts, which work just as well.

No, this brief project isn't technically writing (except the prompt itself). And the word isn't necessarily (or often, even) connected to what I draw. It's just a word, and I think about it while I draw a pattern from a book of patterns, or I cut up bits of paper and put them together, or do something else. And then I put it into a box and celebrate FINISHING SOMETHING! And then go about the work of the day, whether that's revising a novel or scraping lichens off our siding or cleaning the schtuff off the fridge.

That sense of accomplishment follows me throughout the day, which is important when so much of regular life is temporary. Like laundry. Dishes. Meals themselves--in another few hours, people will want to eat all over again! Also, writing-wise, long projects (like novels) mean that I don't often have the chance to enjoy a sense of completion. 

These small moments--of finishing something, of using pretty-coloured markers, of thinking about a word, of using my hands to make marks on an index card--have felt even more satisfying and vital during the pandemic. It's hard to focus, and things are weird. Sitting down with markers and an index card has grounded me many days.

Bonus! I've used many of the pens that have hung around my creative space for many years. I'm finding great satisfaction in using the things I have. 

Soon, I'll take them to be recycled. Another small satisfaction, a project completed. Here's to completed projects, art-adjacency, and coloured pens.


* Lesley also interviewed me recently for the CNFC blog. It was fun. You can read it here

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

On Reverberations, Messes, and Running away to Join the Circus

An interview with me is live over at the blog for the Creative Nonfiction Collective, a Canadian organization supporting those writing creative nonfiction. 

In it, I talk about many things. For example,  

the whole enterprise of writing about Mom’s dementia felt like kind of a mess. I took manuscripts to a couple of workshops. Nobody knew what to say about the work, except that it wasn’t fun to read. It wasn’t much fun to live through, either.  

Writing. Living. Waiting. Coffee shops. The inexpressibly high value of mentors. The differences, for me, between writing fiction and nonfiction.

Many thanks to S. Lesley Buxton, an excellent writer and teacher, for her thoughtful and fun questions. And to the CNFC for supporting my growth as a writer. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Worth Doing, Worth Reading

Recently, during the probably-too-much time I spend on Instagram, I've been looking at the kinds of things people read. It's interesting. Sort of like lurking in the bookstore watching what people pick up off the shelf. 

Sometimes people post covers of books they just bought. Sometimes they're books they're just starting. Occasionally, they're books they've just read, and they Have Thoughts. Or they don't--they don't know what to make of the book.

One phrase I've seen often, not only on Instgram but on blogs and even Goodreads: "an easy read." Sometimes "a quick read." This is apparently a Good Thing. 

So I am of course going to talk about something else: the "read" that's "worth doing." 

For example, the two books below.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE, by Ijeoma Oluo, and THE OVERSTORY, by Richard Powers. Nonfiction and fiction.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE is more immediately useful, in that it helps me, an ahem-middle-aged White woman, walk through answers to specific questions about race. I strongly recommend it--and taking the time to sit with each chapter. I found her discussion strategies quite valuable. She excels at answering the objections she imagines her readers to be having. For example--however difficult and "unfair" it may feel to refrain from using language that is offensive, it's far more unfair that people, today, are labeled with those racist terms. People of colour hear those words daily. They shouldn't have to hear them. I can't control everyone, but it's easy (plus common courtesy and basic politeness) for me and everyone I know to not use them. 

THE OVERSTORY is different. It's fiction and thus has a narrative arc that spans time (and plays with a multiverse or two). Also, it's a rich and complicated book about a universe (multiverse) that we all live in and recognize. The "message," although the book isn't really a "message" book, is still a call to action--trees are important, and we have no idea what we're doing when we destroy old-growth forest--but in a different way than Oluo's book.

Of course these books weren't "quick reads," and they weren't "easy reads," either. Which is not to say that they're poorly written--both are lovely, in different ways. 

Oluo has written her book as a frank discussion. It as if someone who cares about you has said, "we need to talk," and is now telling you hard things. Richard Powers (a long-time favourite writer) captures so much about characters so quickly that I grew attached to his characters quickly. I followed their lives, however difficult, with interest, and with the compassion for them that he also obviously feels.

My point is that both books are solid and substantive. They require attention and care. I'm grateful that the writers shared their extensive knowledge with me. 

And oh, the rewards. Sometimes "hard" reads are really worth the effort. I understand that not everyone has the luxury of time and attention for books like these. I do NOT denigrate at ALL the value or allure of books that ARE easy or quick to read. I have read several of those myself since the pandemic started, once I was again able to read at all. 

But some books ARE worth the effort. Reading like this--challenging, illuminating, humbling, inspiring--is worth doing. These books are worth reading.