Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Random Thoughts

I was going to say, "How is October halfway over?" but I hate reading things that start that way, so I'll spare you. It's like reading an email or, back in the Days of Yore, a letter that's mostly excuses for not having written in so long. I get it: you've been busy. Let's move on. 


Here's a random photo from last summer. It's a puddle, made by rain, in our driveway.


driveway puddle, 2020

Perhaps this choice of photo isn't so random. I'm still thinking a LOT about rain, and how we have less this year than in recent years, and how that makes the well really slow. I'm still monitoring its output and the other info we're learning about it. And yet: I still feel mostly prepped for winter. 


Meanwhile, I'm also wondering when I'll feel that the "well revamp, September 2021" life episode is over. 


And mostly, I'm (still, always) thinking about when a pandemic is over. How will I know--beyond numbers and thresholds and vaccination rates and test/trace efforts and safety precautions--how will I KNOW, in the deepest sense of knowing?


Maybe never? 


My book, REVERBERATIONS: A DAUGHTER'S MEDITATIONS ON ALZHEIMER'S has been out two years this season. Does that mean it's "over"? 


That last question was a rhetorical device. The answer: no. This past weekend a writer I respect and have "met" via social media made the effort to send a message of appreciation that warmed my heart all over again. 


Even if, someday, my book goes out of print (which might be kind of difficult in today's print-on-demand supply chain, maybe?), it's got a presence out there. As people who have read it die (cheerful thought), that presence will fade with them, which is OK too.


In any case, I'm actively working on other writing projects. As they come to fruition, they'll serve as "after" markers. 


I'm currently taking time to ask questions like, "Who was I 'before'? What did I find entertaining, challenging, illuminating?"


A not-insignificant part of those questions is "before what?" Because the past five years have held, both gently and not-so-gently, a LOT. 


I want to retain a lot of what I've learned and done and seen and spoken of. And I want to let go of some of those things--habits of mind included. I don't need to hold them anymore. (I'm actually ignoring morning news--I once felt I needed to know what had "exploded" overnight so could get through the day without that sense of impending doom. Get it over with early. Like that.)


So it's a good time of year to be looking in puddles--what's real, what's reflection, where's your focus? 


I'm also looking at trees: the birches held their gloriously golden leaves, and then we had a huge windstorm over the Thanksgiving weekend, and the birches let go. I looked at "big picture" scenes--gold-and-evergreen vistas that made tears spring to my eyes. And now I'm looking at individual golden leaves, and small piles of them, as I scuff along our paths. Little pictures, little daily experiences.


Also metaphorically. What am I holding? What can I let go of? What can I pick up from "before," however I choose to define that? And what new things can I welcome into my life? 


They don't have to be huge things, either. For example, I recently renewed my subscription to Slightly Foxed, a UK-based magazine for readers. I'd known of its existence before the pandemic but subscribed as part of an effort to support what I enjoy. And it's really fun--an interesting quarterly and a free podcast, and very tempting books and notebooks. 


It may not be your type of thing at all, but it's well worth asking, what is?

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Bright Sides?

Not to be all "gratitude list" about it, because nothing is more annoying when you're wound up and in a funk at the same time to be told, "make a gratitude list," but. Okay, this is maybe a little gratitude-y. 


September has brought, shall we say, challenges, and in learning to meet them, I have been deliberately looking for bright sides. 


* The "active words on a page" part of writing my new novel had to take a back seat in September. In the rest of life, we had problems. They needed solutions. We also had situations--things that existed but over which we had no control and thus couldn't solve. Sorting it all out meant fractured sleep and focus and concentration. That meant few words. 


Bright side: the novel was still there. Occasionally I'd stop at my open notebook and write down something, and when I went back to look recently, all of the notes made sense. (!!!) Apparently I was continuing to work on my novel all that time. I'm sitting down regularly again, with renewed focus and some answers I didn't know before. Also new questions, but hey, that's writing. 


*  We have a mostly new system for getting water into the house. It has cost money, nervousness (mine), time, and it caused the fractured sleep etc. mentioned above. 


Bright side: Going into winter, we are ready to receive all the water the well can provide. That's the best possible place to be. Bonus: With low water in this region this year, I've considered many difficult possible future scenarios and have mapped out strategies. I feel as prepared as I can. 


Bright side, part deux: Taking responsibility for something and learning about it--that whole demystifying thing--actually relieved my anxiety. It [waves hands around] just is. This is reality; I'm dealing with it. Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal to you, but I have a long history of being really good at denial and positively excellent at inertia, so it is to me. 


Bright side, next generation: We are slowly assembling a team of workers who have been in this house and fixed things. I've had the chance to see them work. I love to see an expert figuring out what part of a system is on the blink. They're "just there to do a job" but when they enjoy what they do, they feel good about fixing the thing, and that's a nice vibe to have in this house. It raises a new question: how can I share that vibe "out there" in the rest of the world?


Bright side, a new hope: I have started writing things down, including who came, when, what they did, and how much water our well gives every day. These are not things I thought I'd care about, to say nothing of tracking them. (This is the type of tracking I used to laugh at my dear departed father, bless his heart, for: he kept daily logs about car mileage and fuel efficiency in different colours, after he was widowed and drove mostly to the post office, to the American Legion for steak dinners on Thursday, and to the church for meetings.) And these lists are so helpful. 


I guess that's it for now. More bright sides are lurking out there, somewhere--something about the nature of relationships, and how they're not transactional except when they are--but I haven't sorted them out yet. 


Meanwhile, thanks for your challenges, September. And hi there, October.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Waiting

Writing--for publication, anyway--involves a lot of waiting.* You wait for pitches and finished pieces to be accepted or rejected. You wait to hear from editors. You wait for your words to appear in print/online. 


Waiting for the sun to rise.


Regular life apparently involves a lot of waiting too--even when you can schedule appointments and aren't hanging around to hear by text or phone (or when you give out your cell number more frequently than we do). I have two appointments still looming this month (one fun, one not so much but worthy), and even though they aren't today's problems, I feel their weight.  


Of course, it's possible to do things while you wait. 


Yesterday, while waiting, I had a cavity filled and learned how to resize a graphic in Canva. Monday, I watched a knowledgeable expert fix the washing machine. For several previous weeks, I've produced and revised words. 


The past couple of weeks have been full of mechanical things. I've asked many other experts for help, and although some of them are prompt in returning my woe-filled 2 AM emails, others aren't. Nevertheless, we have, for a limited time, ability to put water into our storage tank, and we know a few things that are wrong with our water system. Because of waiting, and because of doing things while we wait.  


Things like finally figuring out how to recycle and/or responsibly dispose of expired medications (ask your pharmacist; it's not that hard!). Things like finally culling books from shelves that have been inconvenient to access, and getting rid of an entire bookshelf's worth! 


But we're still waiting on semi-permanent fixes for many of these mechanical things. I'm looking at some requested revisions, running numbers, finishing things up as autumn approaches. 


But yes: autumn is approaching! And I'm getting less patient with the waiting. 


However, I've learned that doing things while I wait is its own reward. Things get done. I'm going now to do more. While waiting.  

_________

* Also rejection, but this is about waiting.   

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

August’s Gusts Gone

Below are a few of the things I’ve been pondering this August.


 

New glasses do make a difference in how and what I see, and that changes my outlook. So many things that I think of as metaphors are also literal.

 

Related: in an article about brain function by Max G. Levy in Wired, I read this astonishing sentence: “Every thought that crosses your mind has, literally, crossed your mind, as millions of neurons in different parts of the brain chatter with one another. “


Literally.


Here's a link to the article: https://www.wired.com/story/this-is-your-brain-under-anesthesia/


 


It’s nice to be invited to participate in something professional.


Related: It’s interesting (to me) to do a retrospective of my work in a particular form over the past seven or so years. I could see where external events influenced decisions (and I’m glad I made the choices I did), and I could also see where I began to push myself to develop skills I hadn’t had before. 



 


Waiting two years between dental cleanings is not a great idea. However, waiting two years makes the subsequent cleaning into, roughly, the tooth equivalent of having GoCleanCo do your house. Or so I imagine.


Seriously: Follow GoCleanCo on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/gocleanco/) and prepare to be impressed by the hard work of cleaning houses. It’s reassuring to know that everybody has to scrub—crud doesn’t magically disappear for other people and not me.


And thinking of cleaning as “caring for your stuff” is thought-provoking. What stuff do I really want to keep clean? What stuff makes me wonder, “Why do I have this?” as I dust it? Good questions, especially as seasons change.


 


Also: I’ve been a fan of Ontario peaches for, ahem, decades. This year, I also found the nectarines. Holy Toledo, are they ever good. Almost makes up for missing out on wild blueberries, due to drought.



 

Speaking of changing seasons, it’s time for a few changes. I’ve enjoyed writing weekly here for several years. I’m scaling back—twice a month, plus I’ll pop in (as the influencers say) with news should any transpire. I am more active, for the present, on Instagram, so for more about my reading life, catch up with me there.


Meanwhile, thanks, August, for these ponderables. And welcome, September!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Things I Learned in July

I don’t like oat milk. I have tried. But I really don’t.


Fireweed is pretty, but I learned that some other July.


Straw hats! So much new-to-me info.

               You can find them to fit people who have big heads.


                They can feel “too hot” on a warm day.

                They do not have a convenient hole for a high ponytail (like Maggie’s
                #ponytailofjustice on FBI), so yours has to lie low,
                like a Founding Father’s.


Smoke (from forest fires) gets everywhere, not just in your eyes. Great song, though.


Oil cleansers, about which I’ve been skeptical due to their “flavour of the month,” gimmicky connotation, really do work to take off mineral-based sunscreen.


Consistently sitting down to meet a word goal can be a remarkably effective way to accrue words for your project(s).


Speaking of which, the review I posted last week, of Adam Pottle’s book, VOICE, came from some of those words. AND! When you enjoy something, it’s really nice to have the emotional wherewithal and time to say so in public.


Also, I have a very small social media following, but Sundays I share a #SundaySentence on Twitter (@shuniahwriter), and more quotes on Instagram, from a book I’ve especially enjoyed recently.


I love saying, “Here’s what I liked about this.” Selfishly, it’s good for me, and as someone with a book in the world, writers appreciate hearing from happy readers.


I liked taking a wee break from weekly posting here. I will continue the break in August—again, coming in if something specific seems to warrant it.


Be well, and take some time to look for fireweed and jewelweed.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

New Review: VOICE at River Street Writing

I read VOICE: Adam Pottle on Writing with Deafness several months ago.  



Recently, I finally put into words some of my thoughts about it, and those appear at River Street Writing. 


An excerpt (note that these are mostly my feelings): 


And wow, this book. It combines creative nonfiction, memoir, and sage writing advice. Searingly honest, it’s full of rage and beauty and a palpable, energetic love of the written word. It’s transparent and full of longing to be “heard.” It commands and rewards a reader’s reflection. 


I highly recommend the book, and I notice that Adam will be the writer-in-residence at Sheridan College soon. For the review (and other interesting topics on River Street Writing's website and blog), go here.  

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Later, Awhile: of Straw Hats and Visors

 OK who's thinking of alligators and crocodiles, as well as headgear?


Light blue golf visor, the kind held by a
sproingy cord around the back of the head,
with a pattern of birds; and a straw hat.

Settle in, I'm about to extend a metaphor.


I've always had a big head. Possibly also metaphorically, but I'm talking about physically. As in, it's hard to find hats to fit. 


Luckily, my sister has kept me well-stocked with adjustable golf visors, which are awesome. They keep the sun out of my face and let me stay cool--they don't retain the heat a baseball cap would. 


However, lately I've found that visors give me a headache if I wear them too long. Also, they don't protect the top of my scalp from biting bugs or the sun. (It's been a while since the part in my hair burned--THAT's not fun.). 


So I've "adopted" a straw hat from my husband, just to try it out, and I like it. I'm sampling other straw hats, just for grins. 


The point is, sometimes what was working fine doesn't work so well anymore. Maybe it will again, someday, and maybe it won't. The thing is, I want to be open to other options.


Which brings me to seeing you later, gator. 


I'm going to ease into summer by taking a step back here during July. I'll be around other places online (Twitter and Instagram) and I'm available by email.  


But in the spirit of my previous post about when a pandemic is "over," I'm honouring the many and varied changes that have happened in the past few years. 


For example. I'm down to one recurring work client, this year facilitated and supported by a grant, and I hope to continue that trend. I want to best support the novel I'm working on and the novel that's out getting some eyes, as well as my book. And Shuniah House Books. And I want to read things. And be outdoors, because my enjoyment of last summer was hampered, somewhat, because of healing wrists. 


I'm happy to keep up with some commitments, while I'm stepping back from others, and contemplating in general how I can contribute to a more just future.   


See you, perhaps only briefly, in August, unless something big happens. Because the world looks different--so it should be different. I'll start with me. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

When is a Pandemic Over?

Not yet. 


Not even later this afternoon, when all the people in this household will be fully vaccinated, or two weeks from today, when our immunity should be ramped up and ready to go. 



Not even when this country reaches some magical number of vaccinations or some magic percentage of the population vaccinated, which will in theory (or reality) mean that we humans can no longer transmit the virus in this country.


Or any of the above in any other country, either. 


Not before the world has access to vaccines. 


But not even then.


Increasingly, I'm understanding that the pandemic may never be over. Not for those "long-haulers" who continue to experience the effects of the disease. 


Certainly not for those, in my extended family and not, who lost loved ones and were prevented from the social rituals of mourning that we humans have developed to accompany us through those difficult times of life. 


But--ideally--it won't be over for all of us. When do we stop grieving a parent? When do we stop feeling proud at graduating, at finishing a project, at publishing a book, at winning a race? 


Never, I hope. I don't want to "go back." And so I don't want to stop being proud of those scientists who foresaw the need for new types of vaccines and were ready to tailor one to this particular virus. 


And maybe because I'm ghoulish, or because I write fiction and personal essays and thus always poke at my inner life to see where it hurts, I don't want to forget. I don't want to "get over" the losses.


I don't want to take things for granted, to stop feeling grateful on the day when it is safe (as opposed to "I feel safe," which is irrelevant) to be with people without masks.


So, when will it be over? Your mileage may vary, but I hope we all carry the experience of this pandemic with us. 


(I know, I write about this a lot. Sorry/notsorry. It's on my mind.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Open Gate

Yesterday I met online with some people about a future event. An online meeting? Be still my heart. 


Trust me, a meeting about the future is a big deal--a bigger deal than it might seem.


We can now plan, tentatively, for future in-person events. Thanks, science of vaccines! (Get vaccinated.)


For the past fifteen months, I haven't thought much about the past or future. I haven't often allowed myself to reminisce, no "gee, remember restaurants?" or "oh I can't wait to"s. 


On occasion, sure. Watching TV--"was this filmed before the pandemic or in the early days?" "nope, they HAVE masks but are taking them off, when was that?"


But mostly, it never felt like a useful way to spend too much time. 


That meeting, though, opened a mental gate. In the evening, I suddenly remembered the joy of having someone else bring me food that they'd cooked. The food didn't need to be gourmet or expensive or fancy. Just the act of being elsewhere, in a new environment with different surroundings, and food on the way. 


Since then, we've had more than one similar conversation in this household, ranging from wandering the aisles at a library or bookstore, to "stopping in" for coffee and a scone, to dawdling in Canadian Tire. (That last one wasn't mine, so much.)


I'm still not eligible for my second dose, though I anticipate an earlier appointment than originally scheduled. I'm still leery of living too much in the future or dwelling on the past too much. And I'm determined not to re-enter a world that's "back to normal." 


But it's nice to know I can still look forward to being part of the world again--a new world we can create.  

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Recent Books

 Last week I wrote about The Road, Cormac McCarthy's litmus test of hopefulness.


It occurred to me later that I post about books on Instagram quite a bit, and there I share sentences on Sunday (and on Twitter: #SundaySentence is a fun hashtag to browse). And I share other book thoughts some other days, too. 


Just to mix it up from photos like these. 






For example. Recently, I've posted about Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Twice


Also about The Woo Woo, Lindsay Wong's memoir about ice hockey, demons, and more. 


I'm still thinking about the stories in Jack Wang's collection, We Two Alone. And Ross Gay's appropriately named The Book of Delights


And Alexander Chee's How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. So good. I keep photos of some of his words on my camera roll, for the times when I wonder if it's all worth it.


One of the best parts of reading more widely in the past year is learning how much I enjoy it--and one of the most difficult parts is seeing how much I have missed when I didn't.  


Yes, re-reading has its place, but choosing books from outside the previous lines I'd drawn around my interests has pleasures of its own. I look forward to another year. And another after that. 



Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Thoughts on The Road

Recently, our book club* read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. It's still with me--I haven't been able to move our copy to a shelf, although I pick it up to try. Then I flip through it again and return it to the coffee table.  



Not gonna lie, I was nervous about reading it. Back in the days of All The Pretty Horses, my reader friends said of his work, "It's really good, but it's bleak." 


And then along came No Country for Old Men, which I didn't see or read for the same reason. 


So, 2021: Did we really need more bleak? In fact, the book club actually picked all our books in June of 2020, and I was pretty sure we wouldn't be wanting to read about bleakness. But thank goodness for vaccines.


And when the book club picks a difficult book to read together--well, isn't that the point of the book club in the first place?


So, if "enjoy" is the right word to use to describe this book, I enjoyed it. It's thought-provoking, and challenging, and illuminating. Here are some other random thoughts.


Writers hear "trust your reader" a lot, and this writer really does. Only on page 53 do we get the first hint of a flashback to explain what could have happened. And by then, it didn't matter to me--the world we were in with the man and the boy, walking down the road heading south, was enough. 


In fact, I was never quite sure whether it was worse when I thought there maybe weren't other people left alive, or when I knew there were. 


So many amazing quotes. 


"All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. When you've nothing else, construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them" (p. 74).


Also, did I mention, in terms of "trust the reader": this writer assumes some basic knowledge of the Western European canon--like the Christian Bible (though perhaps familiarity with only that part that Christians call the Old Testament would be enough). 


Here's a thought guaranteed to spark fear in the heart of a writer. 


"He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He'd not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light."


It's true--we do write because we think people "now," whenever "now" is (also a meditation in the book), might read it. And people in some future. But what if there isn't a future?


And this quote that sticks with me: "What you put in your head is there forever."


I think about this often, too--especially at the 100-year-mark of the Tulsa Greenwood Massacre and the recent discovery of children's graves in Canada at a former residential school. I won't look away. And at the same time, I always need to be mindful about voyeurism. I'm not a spectator to these histories. I'm not powerless. 


Even this man and boy, when they'd lost the world they'd known and even their trust in others, made a life for themselves. They insisted on being together, being a family, carrying the fire. 


The other quote that sticks: "Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again." 


Maybe we're that goodness. May we be that goodness.   

_______________
*Note: for some reason, "book club" is the acceptable and appropriate term in Canada; "book group" is preferred in the U.S. Using the wrong term on the wrong side of the border will get you some supercilious glances.   

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

A Moment of the Other Kind

 A month or so ago, I wrote about having a moment. A good kind. 


It occurred to me yesterday that I was having a different kind of moment--the other kind.


The kind of moment when things aren't going quite right.


When you're annoyed by the poor production quality of the book you're reading--inconsistent copy editing, real howlers of misused words, mysterious tense shifts. 



When your down-arrow key sticks. When you have intermittent inconvenient internet issues, when the prepaid postage form doesn't scan, when the postal clerk inquires whether you might mean an address in Alaska instead of the one in Oklahoma where your brother lives, when the people scheduling appointments both respond to emails at different points in the email thread, when it's deceptively cold outdoors regardless of what the thermometer says.  


When you drive the forty-plus minutes to midtown to pick up your groceries and they can't bring them out because the cash register system is down. 


Days like that. 


BUT! I recognized this morning that it's no real hardship to take another hour-and-a-half-plus to drive to town with my husband, chatting and listening to the news, and come home with groceries.


A book with poor editing? Oh well--I can finish it or not, as I feel called to do.


The minor inconveniences will get fixed and/or (internet connection) shift over time. The weather will warm up. I may have to do something about that down-arrow key, though.





Regardless--it's OK. It, too, is a moment. It will pass. And meanwhile, I can write and go outdoors, wearing a spring sweatshirt--this is, after all, the season that required the invention of such a thing.   

And maybe these moments are also good. In their raven-on-the-deck way.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Transitions

Switching gears is, as always, a challenge for me. Once I overcome inertia to start something, I'm happy enough to keep doing it. So stopping is also hard, let alone changing directions.


And yet. We're finally seeing weather typical of mid-May, which means I'll be outdoors more. I finished a presentation, which means I'm looking ahead to the next event, the other project (which one?), the different muscles.


It's the season of "where was I?" (To be fair--for me, that's true of many seasons.) 


Speaking of weather typical of mid-May, here we are today.



And I, too, am a little blurry. Happy to watch drips and reflections. Taking stock of what's happened and what's next.


Hope you can be the same. 


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Forms of CNF

A few years back, Susan Olding (Canadian writer; author of the essay collections Pathologies and the recently released Big Reader) served as my mentor. She helped me understand how to get from where I was (floundering in a manuscript morass) to where I might like to be (with a book on a shelf).


Maybe even a book in the same section as some of these.


Tangles, Sarah Leavitt; Trespasses, Lacy M. Johnson, Voice, Adam Pottle;
Keep Moving, Maggie Smith; The Book of Delights, Ross Gay. 

This Saturday, Susan and I are speaking about mentorship at the Creative Nonfiction Collective's annual conference. Info is at this link; you register once--$100--for everything and get to learn from a bunch of interesting folks. It's held completely online.


As is true in my life in general, I'm increasingly aware of the many (many!) ways in which privilege operates. Specifically, how privilege allowed me to participate in this mentorship. Obviously: money. Obviously: education. Obviously: family support, personal safety in which to undertake anything creative, health. 


It's a long list.


In fact, it's baked in. 


Here's what I mean. 


At the most basic level, I could go to the bookstore and find an example of what I wanted to do. There they were, essay collections. Rows of them. When I chose Susan to approach as a mentor, I had read works by others, but when I picked up Pathologies, I said, "This." 


But what if you want to tell a story that you can't find in a bookstore? What if your story isn't neatly captured by lines of prose on a page? 


Our mentorship included a reading list and discussion, and Susan directed me toward many titles that play with form. I'd already groped my way toward some braided essays, and she introduced me to several others, two of which are below: prose poems and graphic novels. 


The point of showing you any of these forms isn't so you READ what's in the picture--you can tell just by looking that these aren't like a traditional book, with its paragraphs of prose. 


Trespasses, Lacy M. Johnson

Tangles, Sarah Leavitt

Since then, I've noticed books in different shapes (physical shapes, even; this book is tall and slim), like Adam Pottle's interrogation of the many meanings, to a Deaf man, of the term "voice." 


Voice, Adam Pottle


Books like Ross Gay's and Maggie Smith's, that collect brief "essayettes" and intersperse inspirational quotes with longer explanatory essays. 


The Book of Delights, Ross Gay

Keep Moving, Maggie Smith


In my book's essay, "Transitions: A Coding Secret," I collaged snippets of my mother's writing to explore what elements of her personality might remain as her dementia progressed.


from Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's


So yes, CNF comes in many forms--and these are just a few that are printed and available in bookstores. Again, it's a privilege to see them.


But what if my culture relied on stories in a different form? Deaf culture treasures "ABC stories"--a story that grows as the speaker uses handshapes in alphabetical order. They've available now on YouTube and through publishers like DawnSignPress, thanks to technology. 


Other forms of oral storytelling might lend themselves well to podcasts specifically, or radio stories in general. 


Both of those forms of storytelling also have barriers to entry--monetary costs of equipment and access to publication methods, for starters. 


And also: You have to know that those forms are even options. You have to be able to see someone doing the kinds of things you want to do. 


Beyond an individual showing you what's possible, you need a community in which you can share your stories and improve your ability to connect with your audience, within the context of your story. Not to conform to some institutional, established norms of grammar and structure--but in the way your story wants to live. 


I think mentorship is perfectly designed for these kinds of storytelling. Mentorship is flexible, a relationship with varying degrees of formality that can contain elements of teaching, coaching, feedback, and critique--and that can strengthen a culture. The Festival of Literary Diversity and other various arts-granting programs can be resources for mentorships.


And about creative nonfiction forms: Both Nicole Breit and Brenda Miller have many resources specifically around forms of creative nonfiction. 


I feel the need for a summary statement, because that's apparently the form of essayette or blog post or whatever-this-is that I'm writing. So here you go. In closing, two things: consider finding a mentor when you feel stuck; and privilege, like creative nonfiction, can take many forms. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

We've Been Here Before

 As I've said already this year, and probably previous years, this stretch of the year between mid-March and mid-May contains a lot of anniversaries.


Monday of this past week was my mother's birthday. I posted these photos on Instagram: 





She's at her office at Oklahoma State University, with a couple of colleagues. I do love to see her laughing (something in the flash of the wristwatch on her arm in the photo is especially poignant), but I also like the photo of her (I cropped out the chair of the Mathematics Department) being her pleasant-and-professional professorial self. 


She had a public persona. She worked and taught and dreamed mathematical dreams, and I am grateful to have seen that, every day, at home. Even though she yelled at me often about the inadequate sharpness of my pencils, I know she did it from love. As mothers do.


The anniversary of her death comes at the transition, this week, from Friday to Saturday--"she died at midnight" is what my father said on the phone, no doubt desperately wishing it weren't true--and then we all (in North America) have Mother's Day on Sunday. Yay for mothers, and those who wish they could have been, and those who have mothered in any form, and those of us who generally recognized it wasn't our calling. Yay to all of us.


In case you missed it, I've also been here recently, talking with great delight about another book well worth your time:


Fuse, by Hollay Ghadery, is a remarkable book. I’ve seen it labeled “memoir,” but I’d describe it as a collection of personal — very personal — essays. Organized around themes, the chapters include poetic fragments and reflections, narratives and insights, considerations and re-considerations. Instead of building to a narrative climax, this rich material forms a mosaic, a representation of a life that’s coherent but still in progress. Ghadery deftly supplements her lived experience with background information to give readers insight into a larger cultural context.


Many thanks to Vicki Ziegler, who hosted this review at her bookgaga.ca site, which includes more fabulousness about genius ideas such as the Silent Book Club and daily poetry reading and is well worth checking out.


I said last week that I was in a sort of miraculous reading space where I was reading a lot of works I liked, and that's still true. 


I will add (again) that "liking" work isn't necessarily why I read. I've read a lot in the past year I haven't "liked," in the sense of "great beach read" sense. Books that some would label "difficult." I relish those kinds of books, too, especially if the writers are writing from their expertise (lived experience) and push against my preconceptions and comfort level. 


But there's a special sort of joy I feel when reading a book that makes space for a world and welcomes me into it, even when I don't know all the tree names and can't label relationships easily. I so appreciate the generosity of writers who labour to make those worlds and go through the rigours of the publishing industry to make them available to the rest of us. 


And because I feel the need to sum up, I'll just say that times of remembrance, contemplation, and appreciation seem to come in seasons. I'm grateful to be here in this year's spring.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A Moment

I'm having a moment. Not the kind that means fame or cultural relevance (see: monstera plants, which have displaced succulents, and mushroom-growing, which is apparently replacing baking with sourdough), but the kind I like. 


I mean.


A moment in which most things feel possible; the moment in which I haven't yet dropped anything irrevocably today and I can maybe pick up some of yesterday's things. 


Little things. The laundry is in the dryer and if I'm not around when it's done, the wrinkles won't matter. I have an idea for supper and don't need to thaw anything. We have adequate supplies of sandwich fixings, butter, raisin bread, chocolate bars, coffee and decaf, and prescriptions. 


I have ascertained that the blub in the top of the upright tag alder at the shoreline, which I know is NOT the blackbird and NOT the kingfisher, IS indeed a bird. A goldish little round sparrowish jobber. (The ongoing "learning more about the world around us" project is going REEeeeeally well.)


The annoying-yet-necessary Paperwork of Life is resting on others' (virtual) desks--the desks of people whom I trust to meet deadlines, a miraculous process every year. This morning, I even completed the "I could always be prepping this form though it's not technically due yet" form and submitted it. Caught up.


The members of this household are between vaccination doses. I regret only that I missed the social cue of the clinician administering mine. She wanted to chitchat and I didn't understand that fact until she said, "You're very no-nonsense? Are you in law enforcement?" and added wistfully, "We say the same things so many times a day, I like to talk with people as they come through." By then, it was a little late to relax my "get in and out and stay the hell out of the way" demeanour, even though I did sit in her chair for an extra breath to thank her before blinking back tears as I found the next row of sanitized chairs, where I waited out my fifteen minutes. 


In a couple of weeks, my mentor and I will be presenting about mentorship at a conference, and we're at an appropriate stage of readiness, given that we're still a couple of weeks out. Yesterday I happened on a related article and thought, "Yes, I know we can include this" instead of the "OMG how and where will we include this?" 


I like all the books I'm reading. I've actually had a good run with books lately--pleasant reading experiences. More specifics at another time. 


The lake ripples, the sun shines. The wind isn't tossing trees and powerlines around. We're between bouts of precipitation, even. 


It's obviously time to go for a walk before I return to accumulating sentences and completing tasks for others. But before I leap up and charge into the next thing, I am having a moment. 


Aaaaand there's the dryer. Oh well. See above.  

 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Tomorrow, and Yesterday.

A reminder: Tomorrow I appear as part of this Ask an Author panel, sponsored by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop.



It would be fun to see you, if you can come. Remember: no stupid questions! Can't vouch for our answers, though. The link to the zoom meeting is live here. If you're reading this after the event, sorry!

A report: Yesterday, this happened.



As I said on Instagram (where you could follow me; I'm marionagnew):

I did it for me. I did it for him, and him, and her, and for them. I did it for you. For us.

For my immunocompromised, high-risk family and friends. For your loved ones, too.

Every vaccination makes us all safer. Thanks, science. ❤️

It's heartening to see friends and family and strangers getting vaccinated. Like a break in the grey, snow-laden clouds that April has brought back to the North Shore. A break that lets in light and hope. 
Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Days of Anniversaries

April 15 is the anniversary of my father's death, fourteen years ago. My sister and I actually begin marking the Days of Anniversaries--his death, and the anniversaries of my mother's birth and death, and Mother's Day--mid-March. That's when the joint vacation my father and I were enjoying with my sister turned into his last month. 


My father with his "map of the US" (except Texas) (because then-presidents)
(a story to be told another time) made from rocks picked up on the beach.

My book, Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's, is about both of my parents, though only my mother had Alzheimer's, because ... well, because families, I guess. In it, I describe my father's other "last" vacation, the summer before he died, when he came up here to visit with family and to remember my mother. Before leaving for the airport on his last morning, he and I visited the older family camp, walked to the point, and sat on the beach.



And then my father began to talk. He stared out over the water, but I watched him, listening intently so I could hear him over the waves. 

He described the summers he came to camp with my mother, starting in 1945, when he was back from Hawaii in time for V-E day. One summer included side trips researching his Ph.D. dissertation, which he'd abandoned in 1942 to enlist in the Navy. In 1947, he and my mother didn't make the long drive from the East Coast of the U.S. to the lake because they were expecting their first child, the baby that died the following January.

He meandered through stories inspired by stories layered upon stories that branched into stories and returned to summers. 

The gull hovered above us. 

At last, he reached 1950 and the birth of my oldest brother. He checked his watch.

"Well." He stood up. It was time.

I don't remember all the stories he told that morning, and I don't think he expected me to. I think he just wanted to tell them again in that place, in the presence of those rocks and balsams and birch. And the gull. And the water. 



This is one my favourite photos of my father. It's from the time of his 90th birthday, a great occasion. He appreciated the celebration not because it was about him, but because it wasn't, really. It was about being together, laughing and teasing and talking, and he could bask in that atmosphere without being the centre of attention. 

 




This past five years especially, I've thought often of my father, who not only taught and researched history but loved it. I wonder what he'd say. I wonder what he'd counsel when I am tired of politics and pandemics and bad behaviour--lethal, murderous acts--on the part of people who have power toward those who have less. 


I happened across this prayer today in my morning reading (which isn't always religious or prayers, though it always inspires contemplation). After my mother died, any time my sister and I were together with my father--visiting Mom's grave, or in that last month with him in the hospital--he asked to hold hands and recite it. It was one he and my mother learned in the early days of their courtship, when they both sang in the church choir.

 





I wonder if, perhaps, he'd offer this prayer as hope and consolation for us, once our work is done. 


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Where Else I Appear (Virtually)

 Last week, a review I wrote of a lovely book, A Father, a Son, and All the Things They Never Talk About, appeared at River Street Writing:


“There is only one way this story is going to turn out.”

Everyone has parents. Everyone’s parents die. Yet the stories where parents and death intersect are unique. 

George K. Ilsley’s recent memoir tells one such story. As a young adult, George left his Nova Scotia home, heading west, eventually landing in Vancouver—as far away as he could get while remaining in North America. Then, as he turns 50, his father turns 90, and his father needs, but doesn’t especially want, Ilsley’s care. 


I enjoyed this book so much--it's honest and engaging. Go here to read the rest of my review, in which I also share a few general thoughts about memoir and creative nonfiction, and check out the book from Arsenal Pulp Press


Also! In a few weeks, I'll be appearing with two other writers from the region on an "Ask an Author" panel, hosted by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop. It's free via Zoom on Thursday, April 22, from 7 to 8:30 PM Eastern Daylight time. Bring questions! We'll have opinions (maybe). I look forward to hearing both Jean E. Pendziwol and Vera Constantineau (Sudbury's poet laureate!) read from their work and share their writing experiences. 


Meanwhile, it's raining (Spring! Never a dull moment!), which is fun to watch. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Everything At Once

When we went to bed last night, the lake ice in front (back?) of the house was still there--increasingly rotten on the surface, but intact. 


This morning, it's not. Ice breakup is a huge sign that the earth really is invested in this new season. Spring is willing to crack the ice for us. Or perhaps for herself, with us as grateful beneficiaries.





A while later, it started to snow. 


Everything is happening at once. The fight against the pandemic is not going well in Canada and especially in Ontario. 


Yet age eligibility for vaccinations is dropping all the time, and we have made what appointments we can. 


I've long proclaimed a fondness for nuance, for "both/and," for "life is complicated." For one thing, life IS complicated, and in nuance lies the richness. 


And it's also true, because both/and, that (as I have said before here, recently): spring is exhausting





Much as I'd like to finish out this pandemic (at all) with the illusion that I'm self-sufficient and "I'm fine, we're fine, it's all fine" (which I am, we are, it really is), the tension is wearing on me. Even on me, by which I DON'T mean that I'm some superhuman pandemic-weatherer so much as I mean that our "pandemic time" has been relatively easy, and my heart goes out to those whose time has been so very different. 


That's it. Some things change; some never do. (Politicians will forever throw blame around like candy while ducking responsibility.) But March is over. Daylight is returning, and the ice is leaving. I'm grateful for those things.