Showing posts from 2016

Be "Another"

It's been a year of loss. Lots of people whose work influenced our world for the better are gone. Musicians, actors, writers. Artists of all kinds. The loss of Carrie Fisher--actor, writer, advocate --hits me especially hard. Especially her, especially this year. So, Yoda says, "There is another."  Whatever or whoever he (or George Lucas) may mean by that--all that speculation feels, increasingly, beside the point. All of us can, must, should be "Another." Yes: speak/write, especially speaking up when power is abused. But also, find others who are speaking. Stand beside them, listening to and amplifying their work, letting them know they're not fighting alone. NOTE: I'm not listening backward (or, you know, backwards). I'm no longer interested hearing people speak hate or even ambivalence about people who don't look like they do. I refuse to seek out voices who glorify "business sense" at the expense of compassion and equity,

The Best Gift

For many years, I made calendars for my family for Christmas gifts. I live in a place that my siblings and I visited every summer. The calendar was a way to show them photos of our beloved place in other seasons. As gifts go, it was fine. I mean, printed calendars are still somewhat useful in our age of digital everything. My siblings thanked me and seemed to enjoy the pictures. I certainly enjoyed putting it together every year, but over time, making the calendar became another thing to do--another item to check off my list in a busy season. Several years ago, in late December, I met a fellow artist for coffee. She was a large-hearted, charismatic woman, an actor and writer, who raved about my photos on Facebook. She had a fractured family and a sensitive soul and, underneath her "show must go on" demeanor, dreaded the holidays. We weren't especially close, but I liked and respected her as an artist and a human being. At coffee, I pulled out a calendar--I always fa

What Will You Miss?

I'm within one package and a few cards of having my holiday obligations taken care of, and I kind of don't know what to do with myself! I'm used to drowning in guilt for missing these family deadlines. Nobody likes guilt, right? How I've handled that in the past is declaring, "Our Christmas will be in January." Or telling myself "Better late than never!" But sometimes, receiving the right gift in the right way--under the tree, in the stack of gifts after you blow out birthday candles--magnifies the value of the gift. It's a big part of the fun. Plus, there's a satisfaction in meeting deadlines other than those imposed on me--deadlines I choose for myself. So imagine my surprise to learn that I actually miss the guilt from being behind. Similarly, I spent a good part of this past year pulling together a nonfiction manuscript that I've been working on for twenty years. TWENTY YEARS! Twenty. Years. Twenty. Years. I've recei

Highly Recommend

Below are a few of the books I've read recently--and OK, three I haven't yet read. Good gifts! The top four are available as a boxed set , and of those I've only read Spring so far, but based on that volume alone, they're worth the price. Also, they're a fundraiser for The (UK) Wildlife Trusts . (And no, I get nothing from any links.) After a respectable-yet-not-excessive amount of dithering, I've decided I will read Winter next, given that that's what's mostly happening outside and the calendar will catch up in a couple of weeks. I'll write more about Common Ground later, because man oh man. Rob Cowen, like Melissa Harrison (not coincidentally, the editor of the set of seasonal books, above), writes like gangbusters about the natural world--specifically, bits of land in urban or suburban or exurban areas that aren't "nature" in the normal sense, but where natural things happen. Because nature. And people. And us all togethe

The Story and its Context

I keep listening more these days. I may have some skills and know some things, but other people have different skills and know other things. Hearing their experiences is interesting. And people are always more likely to share if they have an audience. So I'm listening. I know I've mentioned favorite podcasts before. I'm still enjoying NPR's Code Switch , maybe more than ever since the election. And north of the border, here's a series I can't recommend highly enough: CBC's Missing and Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams?  By Connie Walker and Marni Luke, this podcast looks into the disappearance and murder of a young woman decades ago. Nuanced and layered, it tells a heart-wrenching story of one person, but it also gives the context for so much of the pain that lingers in Canadian culture around missing and murdered indigenous women. The residual fear and hurt of Alberta's relatives is palpable, but never exploited. Connie confesses and considers h

Pattern or Particular

So I've been dispirited recently. Yes, because of the election, but not only because of the election--this stew of feelings is pretty complicated, and the world seems to include a lot of people yelling at each other while others are stunned or cowering. I recently teased out one feeling as being a problem for me: familiarity. So much today feels so familiar, in a bad way. Especially the loud messages of "you're not good enough" and "you're fundamentally flawed" and "stop taking it seriously" and "you're not important" and "you have nothing of value to offer." They're very destructive messages in a pattern I remember too well. They sap my energy. Coincidentally, the lingering warm weather vanished, and we've been deluged with winter weather. See? Hello, snow! Yes, it's pretty. But winter weather brings with it a new pattern of living. So many elements of living in the country are different in the w

Futility and Preparation

Over the weekend, I put on my boots and went for a walk. My idea was to follow the deer paths through the bush to get a different perspective on the beautiful place I live. Fairly quickly, I recognized that my legs are not like deer legs. My legs are shorter and, uh, stubbier. Where deer can step elegantly among fallen tree trunks, I crash around without grace, shoving branches aside (and perhaps swearing). (Perhaps.) Not only that, the ground is mushier than it normally is at this time of the year. Holes in the dirt underfoot--openings to nut caches and muskrat tunnels--dotted the area, and I could feel spaces collapse with every step. Sorry, squirrels--I think I made it impossible for you to find those nuts. And sorry, muskrats; I think I messed up your tunnel system. I didn't mean to, but I recognize that my thundering around on your turf destroyed your careful preparations for winter. My inadvertent cruelty doesn't render their work futile. First, they needed to do

The Eagle

One morning last April, an eagle was out hunting, harassed by the usual complement of gulls. Birds harass each other a lot in general, and eagles come in for some special attention. I get that. Eagles are predators and scavengers. Young birds of all kinds are vulnerable--we had a front-row seat one June morning to an eagle grabbing a duckling--so I understand why gulls and crows try to drive eagles away. But you know what? Eagles play a vital role in the ecosystem. Eagles have families, and their families have to eat. In any case, I tweeted about that morning; it's in the fuzzy picture below. In case you can't read it: "With graceful elegance, a bald eagle plucked a fish from the lake, silencing the gulls." Not necessarily my best tweet, but one that caught the attention of Creative Nonfiction magazine. To the left, it appears in print in Creative Nonfiction #61, Learning from Nature, in the compilation of Tiny Truths. Lots of interesting reading in that


This morning, I couldn't resist playing outdoors. I produced this. Decades ago, my husband transplanted a small maple tree from a yard in southern Ontario to the side yard here in northwestern Ontario. For some reason, it's almost always among the last of our trees to change colo(u)rs. And although the leaves on the trees in the same yard in southern Ontario turned red, the leaves of our tree up here turn shades of gold and orange. This autumn, the greys of November came to stay about halfway through October, but today provided a bit of a respite--a warm, mostly golden-sun day, full of peace and happiness. For this element of play I was inspired by others who create art in nature. Andy Goldsworthy is the first I was introduced to, and his work is well worth looking at. Here's some work he did with Common Ground. I don't consider what I do to be capital-A Art, although it is creative for me. I do it for the same reasons I noodle on the the piano and I draw--bec

Working Hard

One of the refrains in the writing world*: "You can control only how hard you work." In other words, you can't control what "they" are publishing these days or two years from now. You can't control who else applies for an opportunity you want or need. You can't control who evaluates those applications. You also can't control world events that may make it more (or less) difficult to share your work--a new form of technology will or won't make digital reading or paper reading obsolete, a shortage of X makes it harder or easier for Y to happen, and that means publishers do Z. Yep, stuff happens, and you can't control any of it. So, the thinking goes, all you can control is your work.  I agree with that. And I think it's super-important to define what you mean by "work." Say you submit a piece of writing (or a novel) to a literary journal (or agent) and it's rejected. Okay, you can't control what your target

More Poetry? Why, Yes

Also at Definitely Superior Art Gallery: an exhibit by Sarah Link and Riaz Mehmood . (The link above goes to the gallery's exhibits page, so there should be way to find the description for a while, though the exhibit itself closes at the end of October.) The art combines technology and ceramics in a bunch of interesting ways, and I encourage everyone to visit to experience its several elements. The part I'm participating in, as one of many poets in Northwestern Ontario, is called Light Poem. In a dark room, a poem is projected briefly onto the back of a screen and then flies into bits. Motion sensors detect the presence or absence of a person in the room--and then whether that person is still or moving. For the poem to reassemble so you can read it, you have to remain motionless. It's a fabulous, physical reminder that sometimes the best way to experience life, and art, is through stillness--internal, external, both. And while it's always awesome and extreme

Randomly Poeting

Last Thursday, I put on orange construction coveralls and, as part of a "word construction crew," read some of my work as part of Random Acts of Poetry, a project of Definitely Superior Art Gallery and Artist-Run Centre. Now in its 12th year, Random Acts of Poetry takes small groups of poets, singer-songwriters, and other spoken-word artists into the community, bringing a moment of reflection and creativity. See the list above? I'm not a poet, singer-songwriter, or spoken-word artist. I'm prose all the way, baby. I still agreed to participate, because I have a few short pieces of prose, although I find it difficult to keep them short. I figured I'd read one of those. But I found something surprising in my Dropbox catch-all folder. A few weeks ago, I mentioned the writing equivalent of practicing musical scales . I even wondered about using writing prompts daily as a form of warmup--you know, like scales. Which is what I found in that folder in Dropbox. Ap


Welcome to October. The birches are in almost-full gold at the moment, but at some point this month, the leaves will swirl away. That's okay, I guess--trees without leaves show more sky and the leaves themselves do all kinds of nice things for plants and dirt and small animals. October makes it easy--too easy?--to feel wistful about the passing of time. For all the pressing issues in the world these days, though, I wouldn't go back to childhood, not for a bazillion dollars or all the chocolate in the world. October Past had its joys, but I like October Now. (I like All Months Now a quite a bit, in fact.) But I get that some people like yesterday, too. All of which brings me to "Skeletons," a brief piece of creative nonfiction. It's featured in this month's edition of The Walleye , a local arts and culture magazine. Click here for the page with the electronic issue, and then keep going until you get to page 81. I hope your October Now is as much fun as, o

The Equivalent of Scales

As I mentioned last week , I recently started making music. I've been playing the piano for 15 minutes every day. Yep, I have the usual history with piano for a mid-20th-century kid in North America. Piano lessons as a kid, forced to practice, allowed to drop it in favor of other music and sports in Grade 6 or 7. In years past, I've tried "just playing" at the piano, but it wasn't particularly fun--in part because I wasn't playing very well. I'm a much better musician than I am a pianist, and that was frustrating. So this time, I started with scales. Not JUST scales, but scales to start with. A scale, repeated, repeatedly. My fingers need more coordination and more strength. Starting with scales, and then practicing--really practicing--the studies I'm noodling around with has made this time at the piano a WHOLE lot more fun. I'm sure it sounds deadly dull. The most "un-fun" part of music is the stuff you wouldn't expect anyone

Words Fail

Sometimes, words are insufficient. I've sure spent more than my share of time, and words, looking for a perfect metaphor for those intense events that I want to capture somehow. And sometimes, I just can't. For several weeks, I've been creating music every day. Just for a few minutes. Mostly to clear my head, exercise my fingers and brain, and let my heart relax. I've also returned to "making lines on paper," as I once described drawing to my sister. I'm not particularly skilled at either music or drawing. But sometimes, words fail. Sometimes, my fingers need to do something else for a while. Especially when a dear friend dies. Many dear people have died this week--not all of them dear to me, but every one dear to someone. Every person who dies is dear to someone, surely. I stole the title of this post from the title of a meditation posted by a church that unexpectedly lost one of its stalwart members, a woman with a heart as big as the Tucson sk


Sometimes you feel like one. A fraud, that is. Sometimes you don't but have to deal with fraud anyway. Ironic, I guess--on a day when I'm not feeling particularly "legitimate" as a writer, whatever I even mean by that, I am forced to confront the fact that even so, I'm "legitimate" enough that someone somewhere wants access to my credit. So I'm off to look at Ryan Nickerson's artwork, here . Ryan's cousin is a Thunder Bay writer, and she's been sharing his new works that feature our most famous landform, the Sleeping Giant. But I love the energy and cheer of all his work. Why not check it out? It's an excellent place to see pretty things on a day that might otherwise feel less pretty. And after that, heigh ho, heigh ho, all I can control is doing the work. Time to do some more.


While tidying up items in a notebook I ran across a couple of questions that I've had fun investigating. * Yes, "ignorance" and "ignore" are related. * Yes, "routine" and "rut" are also related. Recently I met writer-friends at a new-to-me coffee shop. I hadn't been ignoring it; I'd just never made it there. And it was great! Fun art on the walls, interesting selections of coffee, some tables. A nice place to go when I want a change of pace. I also FINALLY got to an exhibit at the local historical museum . Again, not a place I'd been ignoring, exactly, but a place that isn't part of my routine. And it, too, was an awesome choice. I happened to go see an exhibit in which my cousin had a hooked rug, but I don't need to wait for a personal connection to go back. The permanent exhibits are interesting, and who knows what visiting exhibition they'll host next. And both destinations and activities were inexpensive.

Random Questions

We had errands today, so lots of time in the car--enough to get beyond the necessary sharing of information, through the "hey I forgot to tell you this weird thing I heard about," on to those random questions that come up. Such as: 1. Do birds enjoy flying on muggy days, or do they like relatively dry days? 2. Is traffic heavier on the expressway or Lakeshore Drive? 3. How come we've seen only black birds today? All grackles, crows, and ravens. Well, except the pileated woodpecker. Was it because once we started noticing black birds, they were the only ones we've noticed? I love times like this. The sharing of idle speculation. The thinking aloud. The "I know this factoid, does it relate to the question?" Sometimes, after we bring in all the stuff from the car, one of us researches while the other puts the groceries away. Wondering about stuff together is fun. And I've found that what I wonder about, I write about. Especially when a to-do list

Today's Metaphor for Revision

Here's a project I should have been helping more with. Except I've been indoors, revising. But I think what I've been doing is a lot like what's going on with this tree. Here's why. * Sometimes you have a tree and what you need is firewood, so you take out a tree. * Sometimes a tree falls down and you might as well cut it up (lemonade from lemons, as it were). * Sometimes a tree hasn't quite fallen down yet but when it does, it'll destroy other stuff so you take it down and since it's down, why not make firewood. * Sometimes a tree dies and you leave it standing because the birds find it useful. * Sometimes you have a tree. The thing is, it's your tree--your life experience. You decide what to do about it. You don't even have to write about it. But if you want to write about your life experience, sometimes you have to revise the hell out of your original work. Or so I've found. The work is improving in its new fo

When It's Ajar

When IS a door not a door? When I'm revising. At least at this point in the process. In On Writing , Stephen King said, "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open." Meaning, write "for yourself" until you get it as right as you can, then think about how other people might read it. In relation to my (APPARENTLY NEVER-ENDING) revision projects , by his definition my door is still closed. But by my definition--anything that comes after the throes of creation, any time I can return to a draft with slightly jaundiced eyes--my door is ajar. I'm certainly not thinking, "Who would ever publish this?" or "Where should I submit this?" or "What's the word count for that contest again?" All "door open" questions. But I am thinking, "What does a reader who doesn't know me need to know in order to care about the story I'm telling?" And, "Oh, by the way, is this even a story?" So

The Doldrums

I'm revising a couple of things. Okay, several things. And by "revision" I mean a wide range of things, from "more" (writing new material to see if it broadens the emotional range I'm going for) to "less" (reading aloud to ensure that the words I'm using are the ones I actually mean). Sometimes I want to throw papers in the air. Most of what I'm working on is still pixels, which are more difficult to toss into the air in frustration. Also: although creativity is a messy process, not all messes actually move me forward. (Your mileage may vary here.) So to entertain myself, I tried to label this point in the revision process. I looked up "the doldrums," and learned that what I sort of thought meant "becalmed" has a lot more nuance. In fact, the doldrums ( according to Wikipedia ) include variable weather patterns--severe weather (I especially like thinking of my frustrations as "squalls") as well as those per

To Read, or Not to Read?

August brings guests. At least in this part of the world. Most rooms in our house have bookshelves and/or books lying around. Except for the guest room. Which, come to think of it, maybe should be exactly the place you leave books. Or at least reading material. Although visitors ostensibly come to VISIT, there may be times when they want to hole up in a room and read. Or there may be times when they're the only person awake and would pick up something to read. Maybe not novels--unless the guests have real problems with insomnia. But something? With that in mind, I left a couple of fresh issues of The New Yorker in the guest room. I just had another thought. We could move a bookshelf into the guest room and THAT could be the one we stock with local and regional writing. Hmmm. Not before our guests arrive, though.


So, the wait is over. I've had some good health-related news, and, of course, some writing rejections, because that's all part of life. I'll take it. The wait is also over for both political parties in the U.S. By this weekend, both conventions will be over, their nominees officially in place. For the most part, I avoid talking about politics in public anymore. But it's still the best theatre (or theater) in which to hone one's, um, critical thinking skills. And, as it happens, it's a great venue in which to learn about writing--speechwriting in particular. Here are two articles about the speech Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention earlier this week. By Roy Peter Clark, at the Poynter Institute: Eight Writing Lessons from Michelle Obama's DNC Speech. Read this to learn about the magic of three, about narrative, about pronouns, and other good things.  By Rebecca Thering, writing at Medium: The Line I Wish Michelle Obama Hadn'

Five Tips for Waiting

"If you can fill the unforgiving minute/with sixty seconds' worth of distance run"  "If--", Rudyard Kipling   I didn't encounter this Kipling poem until my first exposure to sports psychology at university, but it reminds me of my parents' insistence that we spend our time in "useful" ways. And I can't shut up that Kipling-in-my-head as I wait. Yes, this is the same waiting I wrote about a couple of weeks ago . I'm still waiting on the most nerve-wracking stuff, but not for much longer. Meanwhile, the clock seems to be moving ever more slowly as it counts down. Some periods of time are just awkward--not long enough to complete something, too long to "do nothing" (read for pleasure or scan Twitter) without guilt. (Darn that Kipling.) So here are some possible ways to handle those weirdo time periods: 1. Chunk the awkward time. If you have a flight, meeting, or appointment mid-afternoon, you still have the full morn

Vacating and Recreating

That's what I'm up to this week. Difficult as it is to leave this place at this time of the year (or, like, ever), I'm enjoying family time. Here's something else I really really really enjoyed recently. Come Thou Tortoise, by Jessica Grant I mean, what is not to love? It's funny and insightful and goes off the rails on occasion, and what is not to love about that? Please: do not say no to this tortoise and her current "owner," Audrey. You will laugh.


Waiting is not my favorite thing. Probably because it is one way to demonstrate patience, also not my favorite thing. However. So many times, it feels as if the only option is to wait. * for a response to something * for information * for a choice to become clearer "They" always advise against waiting. As in, "while waiting for responses to work you've submitted, work on something else." The theory is, this response you're waiting for won't define you. You continue to be yourself, you continue to do your work, regardless of any one particular response. In other words, you don't cede your power to whatever it is you're waiting for. And for "power," read "time," "energy," "personhood," "identity," and other good words like that. I think of the Reeboks ad (because I'm old like that): Reeboks let UBU. So: don't wait. That's great excellent wonderful advice. I take it when I can.


Sometimes you have choices. * Put color on all your hair this month, or just cover over the roots? * Schedule a pedicure or just throw some new polish over the old? To bring this back to writing... * Ignore feedback from beta readers, or accept every suggestion? Or, here's a thing. Maybe it's not really an either-or. Maybe you have a third option, or even a fourth. Okay, not so much for the hair color, but with your toenails, yes. Your third option could be a home pedicure, something a little more thorough than throwing new polish on top of old, but less time-consuming or expensive than a salon pedicure. Similarly, you don't have to accept feedback from beta readers. You don't have to reject it, either. You can evaluate what you've heard and decide what you think brings your work closer to what you want it to be. And do those things. Or not. And maybe finding "the right choice" is just doing what best fits your life right now , that helps you le


This isn't about Glamour the magazine, though I loved it both long before and long after I was the age of their target demographic. It's about something that appears in The New Yorker every week on the page with their guide to who's playing where in the city.  Can't quite read it? (Sorry for the bad photo.) Underneath ROCK AND POP, it says, "Musicians and night-club proprietors lead complicated lives; it's advisable to check in advance to confirm engagements." There was a time when this small statement would have represented, to me, the height of glamour. I mean, for The New Yorker to issue a public excuse for the complicated nature of my life! To be given carte blanche to be unreliable--even irresponsible--by the magazine of the intelligentsia of THE most glamorous city. The smart set, the jet set, the rat pack, the brat pack. Like that. My idea of glamour has changed. Or rather, maybe I've outgrown the whole concept, in the same wa

Showing Up. To Listen

So I'd written a big long thing but I just deleted it all, because here is the important stuff. Last night I went to the Thunder Pride Literary Night. Here's a link to the event , which was absolutely wonderful--good writing from near and far in a supportive environment. Because sometimes it's okay to stay home and take care of things in your own life. To be an ally in name; to listen, but from afar. And sometimes, it's important to show up, and listen in person.


I'm a planner, I admit it. In fact, I was planning so hard last night, trying to see how I could make the most of my morning hours, that I couldn't sleep. So I overslept this morning, and everything ran  late. Go figure. And yet: Eisenhower (or someone) possibly said, "Plans are worthless; planning is everything." My day has gone more smoothly than it would have, even though I forgot one key ingredient (a piece of tech, naturally) that I need to do the work I planned to do this afternoon. But that's OK. Through the years, I have learned to punt, metaphorically. (And not in the sense of going out in that type of boat known as a punt, but in the sense of kicking away the football on 4th and long.) So: planning or plans? Of course, all this planning/punting relates to revisions. (What DOESN'T relate to my current work, whatever work it is I happen to be doing at the time?) Yes. I'm revising. Or rather, I'm taking thousands and thousands (many te

Three Thoughts of Home

1. 'Tis the season to receive rejections (and then re-send those pieces out again). Recently, I've noticed that more rejections include words such as these: I wish you the best in finding a home for it.  " Finding a home ": that really is a good metaphor for publishing an essay (or short story) in a publication. I've written before about feeling as if characters in a story, when it finds publication, have friends. This is a similar phenomenon. And so even though I thought I had found the perfect publication for the most recently rejected essay, I was mistaken. It's good to know--I sure don't want it to be there if it's not welcomed. So, on to the next publication. 2. It's time for me to switch journal notebooks, and I was flipping through the one that's full. It has entries from January, when I was just back from a vacation at the holidays. In it, I wrote Home is imperfect but it fits you like that leather couch: it gives where it nee

Quote for Thought

My parents treated books, all books, with great reverence. We were to TAKE NOTES, not underline an important thought in a book. We were to USE BOOKMARKS, not turn a book upside down or--HORRORS--dog-ear pages to mark the place where we left off reading. So it is with some trepidation that, these days, I dog-ear book pages. I do it not to mark my place (I own dozens of bookmarks and enjoy using them) but in lieu of note-taking. Or to mark something I will write down in the future, when I get around to taking those notes. (I usually do get around to taking notes because then I need notebooks. NOTEBOOKS! and PENS!) In any case, here's a quote from a page I dog-eared recently. Which may finally be the only real difference between one place on the earth and another: how you think about the people, and the difference it makes to you to think that way.                                                                     -- Canada , Richard Ford Earlier in that paragraph, the narrat


Most of the messages "out there" these days have to do with being the unique -- the outlier: * How does your business differ from all the others in your sector? * What is your unique selling proposition? * What are you adding to the conversation about your chosen topic? * How does your project advance knowledge in a particular field? * How do you tell a story that's been told a thousand times before in a unique way? Being the outlier is great. It's how your book gets picked out of the slush pile/it's why customers want to entrust your company with sweeping their chimney/it's what people come to YOUR restaurant for-- when they could have picked any of a zillion others. As I waited for a medical checkup today, I was reminded of situations in which you DON'T want to be unique. As in, healthcare. If you have a health problem, you want it to be something lots of other people have. You want it to be something that you can change with lifestyle or something

The Meaning of Life, Here and Elsewhere

It's part of a traditional university experience--the late-night conversations about Big Ideas, the ones that settle all the world's problems. Once mortgages, families, and other adult realities infiltrate our daily lives, most of us don't have time to debate Big Ideas anymore. Even (or especially?) in election years, we like to make our points without listening. But maybe we should make some space for those conversations again. A website by a Thunder Bay writer gives people a chance to ponder some of the Biggest Ideas around--as a speaker and as "listener" or reader. Maureen Arges Nadin recently launched "The Awakening" blog to start a conversation around the question, "When life is discovered elsewhere in the Universe, will faith and science collide or merge?" On her site, she asks four questions (listed down the right-hand side) that serve as a great starting point. People of faith, and those who aren't part of a faith tradition,

Do Good Work

I've written before about the value of the Scriptnotes podcast . A few days after they post each podcast, they also post transcripts (and interesting links in the shownotes). In a recent show in which they interviewed Lawrence Kasdan (writer of Body Heat and The Big Chill , among others, and oh yeah The Force Awakens , the most recent Star Wars movie), Kasdan spoke about making good work. (Boldface is mine, for emphasis.) I like this a lot. And you have the freedom of your computer. When we’re done here today, go home, sit at your computer, and say, “What is the story I most want to tell? And I know that it’s going to be really hard to get it made. And everyone is going to tell me I’m crazy because it’s not a franchise and it’s not a brand. But I really want to tell this story. ” And then work as hard as you can to tell that story. That’s actually how you do good work. And it’s also how if you are charged with creating a franchise movie, it’s the same process. What’s the


Sometimes it's helpful to get a different perspective. Even if you can't open the window, you can find a new view. Even if the window, and/or the picture, is slightly crooked.

Lifelong Learning

Yesterday I learned something new, which is always one of my favorite things to do. And bonus: it involves office supplies! For those playing along at home who ALSO aren't 100% used to bilingual packaging for office supplies, "trombones" = "paper clips." In The New Yorker from February 1, 2016 , Nathan Heller writes, in "Air Head," about flight and airports. (Something I didn't know I was interested in until I read it, the sign of a good article.) Here's a quote from the last third. Writers and travellers alike do their best work when they don't know what they're looking for; disorientation requires problem-solving, and a new landscape holds secrets still.... To land somewhere unfamiliar is to force yourself into alertness, to redraw whatever maps you have, to set the stage for creativity more than mere pattern-matching productivity. I like the distinction he makes between pattern-matching and creativity. I'm not sure i

New in New Orphic

Sometimes the mail brings such pleasant surprises. The Spring 2016 issue of The New Orphic Review  (a fine Canadian publication based in Nelson, BC) includes my story, "Two for Balance." I hadn't anticipated seeing it before the fall. The story's about Thunder Bay. And love. And odysseys. I'm so glad it found a home.

(Snow) Showers

Today I'm walking around singing, "So keep on looking for that bluebird and listening for his song." Because we're having an April Shower, all right. This kind. I sure hope it's snowing vi-o-lets. Go here to hear The Velvet Fog's version of the song. Hiya, April.

The Opposite of Energy

L ast week I was talking about energy , and the interactions that help me feel more usefully energetic. This week, I still have the cold or whatever, and I still carry tissues, and I have practically no energy. (I did, however, open our last box of tissues and when I said to my husband, "We're down to our last Kleeneck," I laughed for a long time, far beyond all reason.) So this will be a few random thoughts from someone whose sole energetic activity seems to be carrying piles of used tissues to the trash can. 1. Write Everything, or Set Down My "Pen" Forever? I'm (still) (always) catching up on issues of The New Yorker and I happened on a lovely George Saunders short story (a redundant phrase) from February of this year. On one hand, I am ungracefully chuffed that it took him four years to write it. What a regular guy he can be. On the other hand, man, that voice! That sensibility! That--wait, where did he take this?--plot! For more information abou


I'm doing that thing where I might have a cold and I might have just allergies, but either way, I've got a box of tissues with me at all times. I'm not really REALLY sick--even if it's a cold, I'm not, like, seriously sick. But I AM much more aware of energy. Energy, as in, what activities give me energy. Whose company I leave feeling energized--I may be tired, but I have a sense of possibility, of good things happening. And, on the flip side, what activities and whose company leaves me feeling hopeless, annoyed, or frustrated. And I'm writing it down. Because the seasons are changing (hi there, Spring!), and someday our snow will melt. I'll spend more time outdoors on projects (noodling around as well as chores) that I can't do in the winter. I'll need to be even more aware of what (and who) helps me grow, and where I can contribute with the most integrity and effectiveness. Now, please excuse me while I ignore the dishes and the errands in

Word Made Flesh

One of my friends, a really excellent writer, is in the throes of a fun time. Her first novel was accepted by an agent and she's been in talks with editors and publishers. In the middle of all of the excitement and stress and "yikes" feelings, she said, "It's so odd, kind of neat but mostly odd, that other people now have opinions about my characters." I knew what she meant! I haven't (yet) written a novel accepted for publication, but a few of my short stories have appeared in journals. Every time one is accepted, I get a little thrill on behalf of the main character: "Oh, s/he's got a friend! I'm so happy for her!" In fact, almost every time I start a story, I label it with the name of the main character until the story title emerges. It's all about that character and telling her (or his) story to the best of my ability. Letting go of that person can be wrenching. Here's (I think) another facet of that phenomenon. For th

Stories about Stories

So many stories, so little time. And then the stories about the stories. Here are a few podcasts that have kept me company on the treadmill for many hours this winter. (And, given that ice follows snow in this region and walking remains treacherous in our neighbourhood, for more hours to come.) They're all, in some way or another, meta-podcasts. Stories--and also stories about stories. And I think they're great, in different ways. The one I've listened to the longest: Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters, by John August and Craig Mazin. I'm actually not a screenwriter but these guys are so incredibly generous with their time and their knowledge, and I learn something new about story, writing, professional behavior, research, accepting feedback, and tough love (not to mention two "one cool thing"s) every week. You can subscribe! You can buy all the episodes ever! And maybe you should! The newest-to

Facing Facts

You know those giant, daunting projects that you know you should be working on but they kind of freak you out to even think about, so you're not? I'm finally within spitting distance of finishing a logistical project that has been hanging over my head for far too many years. No, not the novel that's still mid-revision. A family thing. After several months (*cough* years?) of just moving it from one month to another's MUST DO THIS list, this morning I spent some time figuring out exactly what information I'd need. And then in an hour, I found the information. (And, bonus! I've semi-organized the piles I had to get through to find it.) And then I did some calculations. And finally I think I have the information I need to finish this thing. (Something we are NOT THINKING ABOUT is completing this project means several others are now possible and should be dealt with. But we're NOT THINKING ABOUT THAT TODAY!! We're instead reveling in the near-finishing

Awesome Things

Here are a few awesome things I've seen recently. Love the natural world? Love words? Go here and read "Antevernals in the Anthropocene" on The Last Word on Nothing blog , in which Michelle Nijhuis (among other things) suggests coining new terms for natural phenomena in our changing climate. In fact, the entire blog is awesome--varied and interesting. As they say on their "About" page, they provide "Science: clear, crafty, and delivered to your door." Assuming your door is a computer, I guess. Anyway, lots of great writers, lots of great content. Here's an awesome fund-raising idea : Four anthologies, each describing a different season, all to raise money for the (UK) Wildlife Trusts. They'll be released throughout the year and are edited by Melissa Harrison ( whose fiction I raved about earlier ) (and who also has a new book, Rain: Four Walks in English Weather on its way in early March). You can get the Spring anthology now. (Too

Solving Problems

Q: How is assembled-at-home furniture like a manuscript? Furniture Some ten years after putting together our "wardrobe" (a credenza from an office supply store), my husband looked at it and said, "Why don't those doors latch?" I've been wondering for years without caring enough to find out. My husband, however, took the doors off, took the hardware off them, got out a measuring tape, and started puzzling over what he found. At one point he called me into the bedroom and pointed at the insides of the doors. "Does this make sense to you? The pre-drilled holes show the latch goes here, like this, but how would that work? Why would the latch slide up, instead of sideways in front of this thing here? They must have drilled it wrong at the factory." I was working on something else at the time, so I shrugged and said, "Not sure. Are you going to re-drill it?" "I guess. That's the only thing that makes sense," he said.