Writing is a solitary pursuit--the imagination guiding the hand moving the pen. I'm pretty old-school, valuing the work of good editors and the revisions process before letting my words go public. But life is short, right? And sometimes, just sometimes, we need to spout off.

About me...

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A writer, mother, teacher, friend, I love books, blizzards and beaches, music from Hildegard von Bingen to the Beatles to Bonnie Raitt to The Brood; I love medieval churches, red wine, creme caramel, and roasted beets, and walking the woods and coastlines of home. 

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canada GOLD!

Am seeing red with joyous jubilation. Canada rocks! We live in the best country in the world
(even if we have Nickelback and a Prime Minister who seems unable to show emotion). A band with the talent of a pickle and a leader with the charisma of an onion ring. There...nuf said in a blog not intended to be political.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Walloped by wind yesterday, hence blogging boggled by power outage. No internet! Imagine.
In the Globe's books section today there's a sampling of writerly tips from those in the know. One of them, from Jonathan Franzen, is to sever all internet connections if you hope to write good fiction. You can check out the other suggestions at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/books/on-you-go/article1482789/
Franzen's is a lovely thought if harsh, but not very practical. More useful is Atwood's suggestion to carry not one pencil but two in your carry-on luggage when travelling. (Long-pencils?)
All of these writers fiction-eers--when fiction is supposedly tanking.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


More naysaying in today's Globe and Mail about fiction: the fact, as everyone in publishing keeps saying, that nobody reads it anymore. And at the same time, a boom in creative writing courses. Go figure. Lots of writers (ahem) ready to teach, lots of people eager to learn...and then?
Sometimes I wish I lived in Jane Austen's day...or Colette's...or Margaret Laurence's. Pre-computers, anyway, when you wrote out your drafts, or, if you were lucky, typed them. Over and over, draft by draft. Or got a close relative or friend or (ahem) secretary to type them for you. In the days of carbon paper, correcto-tape or white out. (Actually the selectric typewriter was bliss--I used to write long missives to friends on one while working graveyard shift at a news agency, once upon a time, a long long time ago).
Anyway. Everybody and their cat writes these days. The computer has made it all so much easier. But how much of it is just throwing words down, just because?
How much of it is overload, the difficulty of publishing a glutton's reward for, well, if not gluttony, then verbosity.
Maybe silence is silken, if not golden. Maybe silence is what we should aspire to at times.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Back to make believe...

Just pretend.
Easier said than done sometimes.
It means disengaging from the naysaying world. The earth that would appear to be flat.
Time, space, permission.
Such a process.
Characters that step out of dreams, open their mouths, speak.
This mysterious uber-unter world that invests ours--the flatness of snow, of pavement, of rooftops, tables--with possibility
And out of all these things slips and slides a point of view.
The living breathing presence of a protagonist acquiring flesh.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Study break

Three full days devoted to writing--in this case, an essay--and what bliss to enter that zone. That timeless present of words, phrases. Voice, figures of speech. Figuring out what you need to say, then threading the needle to stitch it. The piece itself a cushion, tastefully embroidered. A silk-tasseled, lighter-than-air cushion to cradle the reader's reading. Not to pad or embellish, but to aid in absorption. The darning of bumps and thumps, and every little tear.
The mending of emotion offered up.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Real Life

Fiction-writing is walking a trapeze. Don't look down, and you'll be okay. Just keep up the momentum, one foot in front of the other.
Switching gears to real life, reality, the nits and grits of non-fiction...and it's another story. Watching every step, observing the flex of each toe.
Wondering when what you say will bite back.
Only the impulse is the same. To jump. To let 'er rip. To dance, to shout, to sing.
To deflect the eye's attention from trembling muscles, nerves.
Never mind the why.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Paper pariahs

So what if paper were to become a banned substance? Would we become a world of skimmers, scrollers, surface-surfers? Probably.
Or maybe I'm a Luddite, hopelessly attached to texture. Print.
The real-life feel of fresh cut pages. The smell of books.
Instead of a stack, a tidy little device with multi apps, crammed to bulging with 35,000 books and not looking a bit bloated.
But not what you want to take to bed, or cuddle up to on the couch.

Friday, February 19, 2010


It would be interesting (scary) to know how many trees we've collectively killed on works that go nowhere. A totally depressing thought, but unavoidable. Pages and pages and pages, I would bet. Boxes and crates full; drawers, filing cabinets and cubbyholes stuffed with our best intentions, hopeful doodlings, plotted purgings...
By "we" I mean all writers past and present. An arboreal catastrophe of cataclysmic proportion, all that paper. So many trees, that much more global warming.
How many degrees Celsius for wanton effort?
So what if we just stopped--what if we completely quit practising on paper?
It's very hard to doodle onscreen. Harder to stuff a hard drive in a sock drawer. (And they say the stuff in cyberspace is virtually indestructible--which means the mistakes, the miscues, the misbegotten and the nakedly unwanted can keep coming back to haunt us.)
When our mistakes and misbegotten and misplaced efforts are often the stubborn if saggy box-springs for cushier moments: the times when words rest easy.
Triumph through try-and-try again failure.
Sharpen your axes, good buddies. Once the snow melts we'll plant seedlings, like the good reforesters we truly are.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Snow day. D'you know, every now and then when things slow down, you realize that the characters and storylines we cast into the ozone are out there for a long time. For instance, this morning when my neighbour was outside very kindly snowblowing out my driveway, he suddenly stopped the snowblower to ask:

“Does Michael survive?”

"Michael?" I said, thinking huh?

“His heart attack! You know, Michael!”

Meanwhile, I'm drawing blanks, thinking: Reality show? Like, what? "Sorry, I don’t watch a lot of TV," I probably said.

“In your story," prompted my neighbour, like I had Alzheimers. "The Tarot Reader?!!”

Ohhhhh. O-kay. But that story was published 10 years ago. And I'm supposed to remember? (Obviously the writing of it couldn’t've inflicted much pain.)

But my neighbour was insistent. He wanted to know: Did Michael survive? And I had to scramble, I did, because I really couldn’t remember. So I made up the answer. “Yes,” I said, “he did.” (Best in such situations to end on a cheery note.)

So now I figure that story must need work, if it leaves someone guessing.

Or maybe not, since writing is about raising questions, and also about letting go….

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Who'd've thought we Canadians could be so vibrantly, outspokenly red & white & maple-leaved...all of this red cheer against the gorgeous blue & white visuals of Vancouver. People who cheered and yelled at their TV sets while watching sports used to baffle and leave me bemused. Now I'm one of them. Go, Canada!!!! There's just something about seeing excellence in action.
Something about the energy and wide-open feeling of possibility, courage and confidence.
So--how does this translate into writing?
No guts, no glory, my friends.
I'm cheering you on!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sports fever

Imagine, spectators cheering writers on. Screaming! Hoping against hope. Gold!
There's a Monty Python skit based on such a scenario: "He's picking up his ballpoint...he's...scratching his ear....putting the tip of the pen...to the paper...." Wait for it, wait for it...."He's writing a...T....and an H....and.....and.....and an EEEEEE."
Imagine, writers zipping along, neck and neck.
Competing with their own shadows.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Living Dangerously

Valentine was a priest martyred in Rome on Feb. 14th, ca 270 AD, for performing Christian marriages. Before his execution under Emperor Claudius II, he restored the sight of his jailer's blind daughter, then wrote a farewell note to her, signed, "From your Valentine."
Let's write with love this day, in it and through it and with it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Luge Tragedy

Heartbreaking, the death of the luger in Vancouver.
Are extreme-sports enthusiasts hard-wired to be near-suicidal?
You have to wonder. Writing being the extreme opposite--or is it? The worst that can happen, falling off your chair. Getting carpal tunnel syndrome, or a pain in the neck. Or in the arse, when things don't pan out. Scalding your mouth with too-hot coffee. Back problems, possibly. The litany of ailments linked to a sedentary lifestyle. Heart attacks, diabetes, etc etc. The list is potentially endless.
Risk. The things we put our characters up to daily. The places we send them that we would never go. Or would we? Do we?
I'm thinking of a comment, made quite a few years back, by John Irving, about novelists' entitlement to write of grief they haven't "personally" experienced. If you do your emotional homework, he inferred, yes, it is not only possible to write of other's extreme sorrows, but incumbent upon the writer to plumb them.
Extreme empathy = revelation.
Which goes above and beyond ego, I think.
Emptying of the ego. The extremity of the extreme sport of writing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

One Farch Day = progress

Solitude, discipline, putting in a solid five hours writing. Everything in alignment, self-enforced confinement. Scenes with narrative and dialogue forming on the screen. Grinning and bearing the tedious moments, fighting perfectionism Bird-by-Bird style. The hook, where's the hook? my network censor keeps yelling. Shut up so I can listen for it, I say. This is a quiet story, a quiet book. Never mind that in the first ten pages gunshots ring out. A sound like somebody driving over inflated paper bags. And already, a funeral (which may or may not be related.)
All I know is that writing is like getting dressed: you put your pants on one leg at a time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's only words

Ah, finally, am at the "business end of a mullet" after days of marking. The process could kill a clown's sense of humour. A sense of humour the essential ingredient. Without it we would curl up 'n' die. Which, incidentally, is the apt name of a hairdressing salon in North Sydney. So many found lines to be picked up and filed (a lot of them, I confess, from student papers.) "Polonius hoovering behind the arras." "Like the mullet says." "The sculpture is clad in a fur suit." And my all-time fave: "Depression comes hand in hand with syphilis." I'm sure it does.
(And aren't we always telling people to SAY what they mean and be direct?)
No lies, no sugar-coating.
Say it, sister (as she/you/I avoid the novel.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Down but not out

How utterly dependent we are on the Net, set adrift when disconnected. Our service disrupted (inexplicably) for 24 hours, a full day and night. Eeek!! Like being marooned on a rock in the middle of an eel-infested lake--a Coke-coloured lake as lakes tend to be here. Yuck.
Kind of a slap-upside-the-head, feeling incommunicado. Only the TV for viewing the shoreline. My phone phobia, and the fact that a clear radio signal avoids our house like the plague. Who knew? We are so used to being wired. Stop the world, losing the Net makes you wanna say. Stop right now. Funny thing, tho. How being unplugged backs up time. Minutes, hours well-spent reading pages of print. One less carrot/stick to reward marking. Eliminating a host of excuses for buckling down. Alas, online again even though the essay heap diminishes. Yet I still hold out hope for writing time tomorrow. The jackrabbit shuffle, beating the clock. Oh, this ADHD culture!

Monday, February 8, 2010


"Respect the page, it's all you've got," says Margaret Atwood in Negotiating with The Dead. Also: "Where is the writer when the reader is reading?"
In the studio or at the tavern? I say to my students. The page a kind of mystical meeting place for writer and reader--so we would hope. So I say optimistically, facing a fresh stack of essays to mark.
A humbling thought tho, that pulls you up short. That makes us all vulnerable to that act of translation, transcription. What the mind sees and what the hand puts down.
The eternal struggle, yes? To make what is abstract "real."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Find the narrative...

Jean-Pierre Gauthier's Machines are wonderful...a cacophony of found sound-making parts. See the show now at AGNS before it ends March 15th. Installation sometimes leaves me cold, but this work drags your inner kid out to play. Best of all the piece that's a janitor's nightmare, that begs you to build a narrative. A volcanically-bubbling sink, a cupboard spewing rolls of besmirched t.p., industrial-strength rubber gloves that inflate like the hands of some creature from a black lagoon.
Inspirational. Fun. A reminder that the artist can go anywhere s/he wants.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Day of rest

Trouble is, we never take vacations. Words are always with us. The storyline, to be wound in and around and through the daily obligations, joyful and otherwise, of being in this body in this world. All good, all to be grateful for. Not enough hours in the blue and white crackle of sun on snow.
A clean house, no wind, -14 degrees. Brunch to eat, art gallery to visit, dog to be walked, reading to do...
And all the while the story sits. A yarn-end to be clung to before the playful, greedy cat rips it away.
The desire, my friends, to knit a row daily before it unravels again, a messy tangle around table legs. A trail to be followed before the light goes out.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snail's progress...

So it takes all morning to fix up two paragraphs then knit on a few more sentences. Writing is slow, you could say ponderous. Then at lunch my son says, Why not just write something trashy for the fun of it, something outrageous, just to make money? Something "controversial," was how he put it, meaning something completely out of my zone, i.e. something compellingly untrue. A la James Frey's notorious drug addicted imprisonment.
Yeah, right.
No, I said, Writing is so torturously hard that it has to be something that is true for me. Or that starts from something true for me: something meaningful, that's what I meant.
My son backing off once he realized that, by association, having a mother who made up nefarious stuff might implicate him too.
It's a small town, right?
A small continent. A small universe. Too small for telling lies to gain notoriety.
A novel much too deep and dark a space to be stuck inside a faulty web.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Poetic Persuasion

Just finished reading Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist, which I highly recommend to all who write poetry. Tis a virtually plotless novel plumbing poetry's process (more alliteration for my own amusement this hibernatory morning), that reflects heavily on rhyme and meter. A lot of ramblings about iambic pentameter a la the mathematics of music. (I have to confess I skimmed these parts.) What makes this book sing is Baker's wonderful quirkiness. His off-the-wall metaphors and linguistic leaps. His wise and funny and poignant reflections on the inward-and-outwardness of writing; how very private it is, and how, urgently and of necessity to writer and reader, how public. How its failures can be its successes. How it hollows us out and brings us to our knees. What serious business it is, never to be taken too seriously. A calling where language rules, and not our egos.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Pl(unge off the)edge, or, another word for furniture polish

Starting, again, after many false starts. The end of excuses. A space heater in my office, my dinosaur desktop dusted off. Bad, bad alliteration. Not a deterrent. You can fix the crap later, I'm always telling people. Following my own advice today. Finding that focus where characters speak, and soon enough say startling things--when we're willing to listen. Today's eight pages barely resembling any of the previous first eight-page fits and starts and false beginnings. Beginning, always beginning; but today I began to say "I do."
To find the story you must start somewhere. Shoveling, in this case. Laying aside the dirt to reach bedrock.
A fierce act of bravado that just says No to doubts. If you can skate over top of them, soon enough they sink away, leaving a glassy sturdiness. If you can trust it enough to get to 30 pages, or 50, or 200, eventually even the edges feel safe, at least negotiable.
Till then, though, it's sucking in your gut, pretending to weigh nothing, following your nose.
A nonchalance that's open to mixed metaphors, especially crashingly bad ones.
As simple and as hard as that, telling the network censor to take a hike.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Orchids in winter

Too cold to go outside. A spare couple of hours before class. A luxury, time. Use it, I tell my students. Five minutes is better than no minutes.
Easier preached than practised, alas.
Every excuse: not enough time to immerse myself in the scene. How to open? The right words as invisible as pollen, in short supply these frigid days. My office is too chilly. Procrastination.
The shame of it puts down roots. Stubborn roots against the waxy balm of persistence. Practice.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Take the orchid. A hothouse plant known for its fussiness. A dull dead stick of a thing all year until it flowers each February.
Ignore the groundhog; his message is meaningless.
Tomorrow, I tell myself.
But keep watering.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dr Syn

Down-time. A throwback to childhood - circa 1964, Walt Disney. Scarecrow of Romney Marsh on DVD. Smugglers, Red Coats, press gangs, barmaids. Disney's wonderful world of color, Sunday nights. The Scarecrow's signature cackle, deliciously chilling to an entranced little kid.
A series based on a book.
Back when TV was watchable.
Newspapers and books as we know them are under threat, but what about television? A dead medium. Talk about imaginatively bankrupt, beyond moribund.
Which makes printed texts all the more appealing on cold winter nights?
The place/space where writers meet readers: that two-way street.
A relationship, a transaction more real than any reality show could hope to be.