Showing posts from 2014

That Moment, Redux

Four years ago, I wrote (in a different space) about moments in which you know something has changed and your life will be different--like the moment a light comes on . Early this month, a similar moment, even closer to home, came along and my life has changed again. Three-and-a-half weeks later, my husband is home from a heart-specialty hospital in southern Ontario, complete with a replumbed heart. He is doing well. I am still slightly bewildered. But yesterday I came home from the day's errands to find him tilted back in his desk chair in his office, playing FreeCell, as he would have been a month ago. This morning I read a draft of his final report to the granting agency that funded his novel last year. He is recuperating, finding his way back or perhaps forward--pick a metaphor. I am writing, too, of course. Because that's how I figure out bewildered, how I put bewildered into little containers labeled MTWThF with separate sets for AM and PM, how I serve bewildere

How to Lose November

The month is flying by. This was going to be the month AFTER the month that disappeared. However, this one is set to join October on the "months in 2014 that went by in a blur" list. On the up side, I've been churning through my to-do list and meeting deadlines. But sometimes, my brain is mush, and sometimes, I click through to Facebook, and sometimes, I take those quizzes. You know the ones: "what kind of old person will you be?" or "what animal is your spirit animal?" So far I have learned * In Narnia, I am most like Mr. Tumnus. (Time to investigate more aggressive hair removal.) * The word that best describes me is "cultured." (Like yogurt? So, more "curdled"?) * The first impression I create is "innovative."(This devotee of habit, this creature of routine?) * My spirit animal is the whale. (A good friend told me this when I was 27.) * The type of angel wings I have (Who knew there were different kinds???) is

Hey, Look at This!

This past month has brought a lot of people-related events and a lot of work, much of it unexpected and all of it urgent. On days when I'm not running to a meeting or prepping for a people-filled event, I have been full to the brim with others' words and ideas. However! I'm also happy to say that most days I get outdoors. Sometimes I have a camera, which I'm still learning to use. So here are some pictures for you to look at. In mid-October, I brought the rowboat around and it was raining. I have really cute boots. Look up, look down, look all around. I like to pretend I meant to do the distortion, but it's really just the multi-paned glass in the kitchen. I really like taking pictures because--even for me, the Queen of Let's Add Some Words--they don't normally involve words. I just look and then futz around till I enjoy what I see. Which is how I know I'm a dedicated picture-taker, not a photographer. I am an amateur. I do it f

Fore and Aft

This year has seemed a little back-to-front. Suddenly we had some summer--just when the calendar started hinting at autumn, and I'd resigned myself to doing the indoor things that needed doing. Like that writing thing. Still, we're happy to have had the chance to finish some important-but-unglamorous projects that required manual labor. Adjusting to the weather always always always tests my (metaphoric) flexibility. If I have a morning blocked out to get through the revisions on a story, and the day dawns rain-free and temperate, going outdoors requires actual physical wrenching. I force myself upstairs to put on the mud-covered jeans and denim work shirt; I force myself outdoors: "Just bring back one load of stuff from the little place, and then you can quit," I tell myself. (Then I test my physical flexibility, which is also not naturally great.) Sometimes that one load really is all I do. Sometimes I do more. But I do something. And 99 times out of 100, I enj

Lessons Re-Learned

Not everything in life is a metaphor for writing. Probably. Maybe. For the past few days, people have been staying at the larger, less-rustic-but-still-rustic cottage* we own next door to our house (as opposed to the extremely rustic cottage on the other side of us). Their cottage has a wood heating stove in the kitchen and a fireplace and electricity; it has running (and hot) water pumped from the lake. It has no insulation, however, and significant gaps at a few places where walls don't quite meet rafters, and baseboard heat only in the bathroom (and the temperature has fallen below 5C/40F at night regularly for several weeks) with no organized heat anywhere else. In short, these people--who claimed to know what they were getting into, who claimed to welcome what they were getting into--have had to be a hardly lot. Their planned experience, a sort of retreat from their own lives into a physical location where they control their level of interaction with the outside world and

Project Check-In: Reading

This year, I'm reading all the books we have (with some exceptions) before buying new books. It's been an interesting journey so far (slowed somewhat by my decision to read an issue of The New Yorker every weekday during Lent). In no particular order, here are a few thoughts: 1. I have read several "just fine" novels in a row. One was for a book club; we picked it because it was by an author I'd long been interested in trying (and I got it from the library). The rest were already in the house and I'd picked them up on sale somewhere. They were...fine. Just fine. Some were Canadian; some American. All absolutely fine, but no more gripping/fantastic than that. I may read other work by these writers, but I'm not sure I'd buy it in hardcover. These are the kinds of books that gradually fall to the bottom of the stack because something shinier comes along. I'm happy to have read them, finally. Fine-ally, haha. 2. I read a short story anthology tha

Cooling Off

The grocery store’s air conditioning provides a welcome respite from the heat after a full morning of errands. With every hot sidewalk and parched parking lot, I’ve dreamed of a cold mocha. As the barista makes my frozen treat, I hear a wail. Peering around the corner, I see her. A little girl, not too far from her second birthday, stands in the basket of a grocery cart, fists gripping the seat in which NO, she WILL NOT SIT. Her chubby cheeks flush as pink as her sundress. Tears or sweat, I can’t tell which, pull strands of curly hair down her neck. Her eyes squeeze shut and she inhales for another round. “Here you are, sweetheart,” a woman’s voice croons. “So hot, I know, but this will cool you down.” Nana (or Mimi or Grandma) holds a small carton of chocolate milk to the girl’s baby-bird mouth. With expert timing, Nana tips and straightens the carton, watching with a hopeful smile. The little girl swallows, widens her eyes, and opens her mouth for more. She bounces a d


Fun. When was the last time your creative work (for me, writing) was fun? When I asked myself that question, I got the mental equivalent of that little spinning wheel thing that you see with "buffering." In other words: uhhh. Been awhile. This summer, I participated in something that was really FUN. And although it was related to art, not writing (or perhaps because of that fact), I feel more playful in my writing, too. What did I do? Index Card a Day: invented, managed, organized, and curated (and copyrighted) by Tammy Garcia over at . The idea is that you somehow "decorate" an index card (either 3 X 5 or 4 X 6) per day, every day, starting June 1 and ending July 31. That's 61 days in which you take 5 or 15 or 65 minutes and cover the surface of an index card. * Nothing more precious--index cards are inexpensive--and nothing more ambitious. (That said, nobody's stopping you from doing other stuff if you have time or want to!) *

Careful Reading

Words, words, and so many more words. Getting them in the right order. Difficult to "stay on task"  (= persevere) on sullen, fickle summer days. Therefore, go there and read this. Aimee Bender explicates what writers can learn from the Margaret Wise Brown classic, Goodnight Moon, here . "Yes, move around in a structure. But also float out of that structure." That, and she contemplates the ending. Endings = tricky. But: persevere.

Visitors in the Guest Room

As you may have guessed from the post about wallpaper in the guest room and my absence from this URL, two important things have happened: we have guests and the sun has finally come out. Before the guests, though, and before summer consented to hang around for awhile, a bird gave me a framework in which to write about my frustration. Today that writing appears on River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative , at their Beautiful Things blog. You can read it here . And I highly recommend the blog in general, especially if you're personally sad or grouchy, or if world events threaten to pull you down into hopelessness. I've found that each entry reminds me to look for the beauty in a moment, even (especially) in a moment of difficulty.

The Great Wallpaper Adventure

Because houseguests are expected in two weeks--that's why/when you undertake a "reno" of the guest room that could have been done at any time in the previous six years. Well, "re-do" is more appropriate than "reno": no walls came down. But plenty of wallpaper did. And then paint went up on the walls (and dirt and crud came up from the carpet). Turns out, you get lots of "thinking time" when your face is two inches from the wall for three full days. The main thing was a reminder of the 80/20 rule: The first 80 percent of the labor is completed in 20 percent of the time; the remaining 20 percent of the labor requires 80 percent of the time. The first layer of wallpaper peels right off. Much of the underlayer comes off with a little more work. Here you're at 80% of the project but only 20% of the time. Getting all those ticky bits off (the last 20% of the removal) takes a water bottle sprayer, a scraper, and long-haul upper body strength

I Will Not Be Cold

Thursday morning was cool, with precipitation ranging from mist to downpour. I wore layers to my yoga class, forgetting that truism of weather--being in a car is warmer than being outdoors, even when there's no sun. Plus, my body thermostat likes to jump around at times. Let's just say that all in all I was plenty warm on the drive in. When I got to class, I dove for the spot in back row in front of the open window, thrilled that it (the spot, as well as the window) was still open. The teacher offered to close the window if I were cold, but I said, "Oh, no; I'm hot and like the breeze." She suggested I wear a blanket as a shawl for the beginning part of the class, while we do the sit/center-ourselves part, because I wouldn't be moving around. Fine. So I was readying myself for class, blanket and all, and another woman in class said, "You're going to be so cold if she doesn't close that window." I said, "Uh, no, I'm fine. In fac

Facebook: Lessons in Connecting and in Enough

This year I'm learning about connecting, and I'm learning when enough is enough. And participating in the wacky world of Facebook has helped me learn a little of both. Connecting 1. On Facebook, I'm connected to * people I don't really remember from high school, * people I didn't know well in high school, * people who are friends with my siblings, * children of people who know my siblings, * my parents' former students (and their children and grandchildren), * people my parents once knew professionally, * people I once knew well but am geographically distant from, * people I never knew well but felt a connection to when we shared geography or interests, * and various categories of people I've never met in real life (many of them writers). * Oh, and people I call/ed friends back before Facebook. * And acquaintances in real life. Many of these kinds of connections are equivalent to walking down the hall in high school saying "hi" to p

The Outsides: Bespoke (Glamour was earlier)

AsI said last time, I’ve been away for a short vacation. On the way home, two issues of  Glamour  magazine kept me company. Long story short: I used to subscribe but stopped, and I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until that day of travel. Then when I got home, I dove back into reading books, and had a similar experience—I got to learn about something I wouldn’t have predicted I’d be interested in. The book in question: The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, A Son, and a Suit, by JJ Lee. (Aside: as I’ve mentioned, I am doing this project in which I’m reading all the books we have before buying more. Book club books, and books I am reading for a specific project, are exempt. Which is how I justified reading this one. JJ Lee judged a contest I helped administer, and I had seen an excerpt of his book in a magazine but hadn’t read it. So I finally did.) Which brings us to the concept of “bespoke”: Someone measures you and creates a suit pattern (and later a suit

The Outsides: Glamour (and, later, Bespoke)

Glamour as in the magazine. I'm just back from a short time away, and I had the opportunity to read two issues of Glamour  on two airplanes. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't be so generous--I wouldn't leave the issue with the Lena Dunham cover(s) for another lucky passenger. Yep. I'd keep it. I'd hoard it. (Eventually I'd send it to recycle, and I know that, so that's more or less why I left it.) My sister gave me the issues of the magazine; she'd received them as a promotional incentive for something-or-other. I wouldn't have bought them myself; it would never have occurred to me. I'm completely out of the habit of browsing magazine racks. But ye gods, what a serendipitous find they were! See, Glamour  and I go way back. It kept me company from my mid-high school years through my mid-30s or so. I loved it for SO many reasons: * For giving me a glimpse into an idealized version of urban life, chock-full of freelancers, public rel

Tre: What I learned from reading a copy of The New Yorker every day (except weekends) during Lent in 2014

Part1: Why I did it. Part2: A few lessons from the process. Part 3. Would I do it again? Yes. I enjoyed the feeling of learning something. Reading some of these articles is like going to a dinner party and getting into the BEST conversation. Someone else has done a bunch of research and you get the most interesting tidbits. Other people’s enthusiasm is catching. This world is a fascinating place. I enjoyed getting through a bunch of back issues—a diminishing To Be Read pile; a growing Recycle pile. When many of your activities recur often (dishes, laundry, meals) and the important stuff feels as if moves at a glacial pace, (essays, stories), it’s nice to be doing something with visible progress. No. The time I spent reading books (for pleasure) fell off drastically during this time. I’m in a couple of book clubs, so I made time to read those books (which is why I had to catch up a little on the magazines nearly every weekend). But I didn’t read other than that

Deux: What I learned from reading a copy of The New Yorker every day (except weekends) during Lent in 2014

Part 2: How I defined “read” and other lessons of content. Last time I wrote a little about a project I finished during Lent this year: reading an issue of The New Yorker every weekday. Here’s a follow-up. By way of defining the term “read,” I’ll be honest: I didn’t read every word. I knew it wouldn’t make sense to commit to reading every single word of every issue. So I went in with some expectations around what I would and would not read. At the risk of sounding like Donald Rumsfeld and his known/unknown knowns/unknowns, here’s how that shook out. Some pieces I knew I’d read, and I did. For example, I read all the short stories (though I didn’t enjoy them all). The fiction is, after all, one of the main reasons I get the magazine in the first place. And then I knew I’d also read articles about writing, especially anything by John McPhee. In fact, anything by John McPhee, regardless of topic. Some pieces I knew I would NOT read, and I didn’t. I skipped nearly ev

What I learned from reading a copy of The New Yorker every day (except weekends) during Lent in 2014

Part 1 (of maybe 3?): Why I did it.  I’m not a big traditionalist when it comes to Lent. Observing some discipline—giving up something or even adopting a healthy or positive habit—ranks at about the same place as making resolutions at the end of December. I’m more likely to observe either custom if I already have something in mind that I want to do. This year, as I was taking stock for my “I want to read everything in my house before bringing new things in” project, I noticed I have a lot of back issues of The New Yorker . My sister bequeathed some of them to us in 2005 or so, when she was subscribing; we nabbed others in our book club’s “white elephant” gift exchange a couple of Christmases ago. I also have a current subscription, a gift from my brother. Although I read a lot (in both its “often” and “quantity” senses), I can’t keep up. It would be possible, in theory—if I were someone else entirely—to simply recycle issues, new and old, without reading them. But you kno

Making Sense of Making Sense (of Alzheimer's)

Mosaic, a science publication for the (UK's) Wellcome Trust, recently published a narrative summary by Michael Regnier  about Alzheimer's and research. Here's the link (and check out the resources listed at the bottom, too). Aside from my ongoing interest in Alzheimer's (links to my personal essays "Home" and "All I Can Say" are on this page ), the article is interesting because of the way it's written: It uses detective fiction as a frame. Here's a link to a description of the writing process. Fascinating stuff, for so many reasons. As Regnier says in his "how I wrote this" extra, it's hard to imagine a time when detective fiction didn't exist. A semi-disturbing element of the story (not its main focus): the nature of competition in scientific research, and the fallout thereof. The idealistic side of me wants to believe that competition in science is somehow "pure" and disinterested--that all involved ar


Lately, I've been expressing my inner scientist. I've been doing experiments! While clearing out a storage area, I found one of those amaryllis bulbs you sprout indoors. I remembered vaguely buying it as a gift and losing track of it in the "clean up for Christmas" rush. What I couldn't remember was how many Christmases ago that had been. So rather than throw it out, I stuck the bulb in the dirt, put it in the sun, watered it, and waited. This morning, I poured the remains of "maple" "syrup" into a red plastic dish and set it out on the snowbank near the bush (or rather, where bush will grow in a couple of months). We've seen bunny and squirrel tracks there and fox tracks elsewhere recently. We don't like the syrup, and rather than throw it out, I thought I'd see if anyone else likes it. For the first months of 2014, I've been hunkered down working on long-term projects. As April came around, I felt restless--many other id


Last time I was out skiing, several weeks ago now, I wrenched my knee. My usual form of recuperating from something like that--ignoring it till it goes away--hasn't helped. Shocking, I know! I'm now deliberately and safely walking and doing a few select and gentle exercises to ensure that my leg muscles heal and strengthen. Skiing is finished for the season, for me--even if we again find that sweet spot of enough snow and warm enough yet cool enough temperatures. And bonus: now that the sun is up for 12 hours a day, the roads are clearing. Often, I can walk at a challenging pace without fear of twisting my ankle (which I did in November) or falling (ditto). Even today, after yesterday's dump of ice and snow, I will be able to get out and get moving. When I'm outdoors these days, I no longer fret about wearing too many layers. I don't care if I appear gnarly or girly (go girls!); I don't care if others might say I'm "overdressed." I will wear en


In an effort to increase the time I spend "being" (and okay, also increase my effectiveness at "doing" things)*, I've done some new things lately, where "lately" means "in the past six months or so." Last fall, I signed up for a yoga class ( here's a link to Mayama's blog! ). Late in the year, I started a meditation practice. (Hence the " so/hum "--one of the ways I focus when I meditate.) "Meditation practice" is an awfully fancy-sounding descriptor for sitting cross-legged on the floor trying to not look at the clock, but it's actually accurate. I'm practicing . And there is no performance; no future time at which I'll be capital-M Meditating. This time, this session of practice is all there is.  Same with the yoga class--it's a dedicated space at which I do what my body can do right there, in that moment. I don't think about what I do today that's different from any other day. 

Pleasant Surprise

Definitely Superior, an artist-run collective based in Thunder Bay, recently launched the anthology Fuel  under its imprint. In it, I have a creative nonfiction piece entitled "Go to a Deaf Event." Visually, it's a poem but it's actually nonfiction. I wrote it in late 2009 and I didn't really think about it again until I saw it in the anthology. Reading it was a (gasp) pleasant surprise--I remember pushing against "creative nonfiction" forms during the writing process. And remembering a time when you were excited about learning something is almost as much fun as the learning itself. (Almost.) Here's a link to a version that retains the proper formatting of American Sign Language terms. Best of luck to DefSup and!

When is it too late...

to send Christmas cards? I'm only half-kidding. For various reasons (including freak holiday ice storms in Toronto), we celebrated Christmas twice--once around December 25, and another time around January 15. I had to gear up for 2014 all over again in late January. (But it was great to see people during the holidays--totally worth it.) In any case, we never got the cards sent. Even though "sending cards" now means "insert link in Facebook status to holiday letter in Dropbox; send link in email about 20 others; send a dozen actual cards to aunts, uncles, and cousins (some in foreign countries)." While I have dithered quietly about whether to do something about the cards, I've been thinking a little about that feeling of "too late!" and its present-tense version, "time's running out!" Now that I'm approaching middle age (or have passed my quarter-life crisis, assuming I live to be, like, 200), my peers often say some versio

Spreadsheet? Check!

A little late, but last week I did finally set up the spreadsheet for my Book Tracking Project (read more about that here ). I have a little more data entry to do, but basically it's done and seems to be capturing what I want it to capture. My focus now will be to pull together the to-be-read pile into closer proximity. And read! And report back periodically. So far, giving myself the "out" of book club books is helping. Having two library books available, in addition to the existing to-be-read pile, kept the "read the books you already have" part from feeling too claustrophobic. Yet I am also still reading the books I already have. Which is fabulous. I don't yet have enough books to take to the library book sale. But I know where those books are, and that's progress!

My Name Is ...

Recently I'm reading more nonfiction (yes, even with resolutions to read what I already own because guess what? I own a lot of nonfiction), and I'm connecting with more "nature writers" on Twitter. Aside: why do I dislike the term "nature writer"? It feels pejorative--dismissive. I prefer to think that a writer is a writer is a writer, and people who specialize in essays and fiction about the natural world are writers. The added specificity isn't necessary. Hello! And suddenly what started as an aside is part of the point of this blog post. Because taxonomy--naming something, calling it by an established and recognized name--is important. (To me.) Yet recently, this lovely blog post by Melissa Harrison, a writer in the UK whose novel  came out last year and who blogs about nature (among other things) , has made me reconsider. Specifically, this part: "Taxonomy is not an essential part of connecting with nature--far from it. Some people active

When It Snows, It...Blizzards?

Lots of fun opportunities have come my way recently! And, as is often the case, several have appeared at once. Last night, I read from a new-ish short story. The reading series, sponsored by NOWW  (Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop), is supported by the Ontario Arts Council , which also supported the work I was reading. The night was cold (minus a million in F and C) and the attendance somewhat more sparse than usual, but the listeners who did turn out were warm in their appreciation. So thanks, NOWW and OAC and all those who came out! Speaking of NOWW , it publishes a magazine several times a year that includes writing, member news--and this month, the annual  contest rules  (deadline March 15; entry fee $10) with information about the awesome judges: Ania Szado (fiction) , Robert J. Sawyer (speculative fiction) , JJ Lee (creative nonfiction) , and Roger Nash (poetry) . The upcoming issue of NOWW Magazine also features one of my essays, and some wintry photos my husband and

Because I Need Another Project

But this time, I really do, and I was kinda doing it anyway. The full title of this new project is "Books: Where do they come from, where do they go, and why do we have so many?" Part 1. One activity for this project is tracking the books I read. I've been doing this since 1996, just writing them down on paper I keep in my Filofax. Actually, I started before 1996 but my Filofax was stolen in 1996 and I started over again. From this exercise I have discovered that I generally read (mostly for pleasure) 25 to 30 books in a year. For what that's worth. I recognize that this activity doesn't correspond exactly to "where do they come from," but it is a measure of reality--whatever I plan when I buy a book, this list shows what I actually read. Part 2. The second part of this project is tracking where books go when they leave this house. I've been slowly but surely culling the bookshelves--selecting from the books I moved here from Colorado nearly


In 2013, I knew I wanted more music in my life, but I wasn't sure how. So I tried a few small things. In the car (when I remember), I've been listening to music radio stations (for example, CBC Radio 2 vs. Radio 1) more often. And on occasion, I've driven in silence! But that's another post. This fall, on an evening trip home from somewhere, I caught part of Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap program. (Yes, THAT Randy Bachman .) He was talking about (and playing) one-hit wonders, and hearing a bunch from the 1970s and 1980s took me right back. It was extremely conducive to reflecting on who I was back then and (most important) why on earth did I believe that what happened at the time was so important? Since then, I've tried to be a little more intentional about listening to Bachman's Vinyl Tap. I enjoy the themes: songwriters, for example, or sax solos. It's engaging to *listen* to instead of simply experiencing it as background noise. I highly recommend th

Backward, Forward

Although the beginning of the school year FEELS more like a new year, I can't argue with the calendar. Today is the second day of a new year. So it's time for resolutions and all that. Last year had lots of fun times and some times that weren't so fun. But one of the best things I did all year was this "great moments" jar. Except I didn't use a jar, I used a coffee can because we create an empty coffee can every week. (Yes, coffee in a can; that's a discussion for another day.) So. This is what my "great moments" jar looked like last year: I was not an art major, y'all And I have a similar one for this year. The idea is you write down great moments on a slip of paper and put it in the jar. Of course, I didn't put in a slip of paper every day; I often went months without even thinking of it. (Another example of transcending my upbringing--when I realized I hadn't done it in awhile, I didn't castigate my