WELCOME!

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...

My photo

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, January 31, 2010

Sun-day

A frigid morning that makes you wanna cut to the chase. The rigidity of frozen pavement; banks and yards of rock-hard snow. The impatience this brings: no leisurely strolls, no meandering along the seawall. No lingering.
A certain pragmatism that says: outline.
Take the snowballs and chunks of ice, melt them down to their essence.
Water. Molecules that move.
The day's task: shoveling through pages and pages of accumulation, looking for a flow. Whatever solid, stubborn stream lies buried, and charting it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Baby you can drive my car...

Further to traffic jams and skidding downhill.... Gotta throw in my two cents' worth about Toyotas. I love mine. Knock on wood, it has never let me down or taken me anywhere I didn't wanna go.
Yes, it's bad, very bad, the recall of 270,000 cars. Annoying, worrisome and potentially horrifying for their drivers, not to mention a blow to Toyota's reputation.
On CBC TV news the other night they were playing up the worry factor, the issue that Toyota has let its customers down when it comes to safety.
And this is true.
But I don't think people buy Toyotas thinking they're safer than other cars; they buy them because they're more reliable.
That is, you trust that the thing will start when you turn the key. You have faith that it won't die on you in the middle of nowhere.
Then there are the aesthetics.
A few days ago the Globe and Mail ran a hysterically funny list of the world's all-time worst cars. Death-trap travesties of design. The Ford Pinto, the GMC Gremlin, Pacer, Aztek, etc etc etc. Things you would not want to be caught dead in, but, let's be honest, might have driven. (I got my license in my parents' Pinto!)
Worse than clunkers, lemons, beaters. Notoriously dumb, hideous, embarrassing.
But there it is: sometimes things fail, ideas nose-dive.
You have to get past it.
Everything's a leap of faith--whether lifting the pen or puttin' the pedal to the metal.
Today let your designs be gorgeous. Foolproof. Reliable.
Let them be timeless and fuel-efficient and their suspension give you an elegant, happy ride.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Snow day

A perfect day for reading, gathering info, letting something simmer and stew. Snow moving like flies in the air, then showering off trees. Landscape reduced to the grey scale. The solitude of the kitchen table. The wind grumbling.
A traffic jam of ideas trying not to skid downhill.
Snow up to the axles.
Such hard wading.
Another form of working out.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mark-making

Time flies when I'm marking...the temptation of a story chafing. A rough little seed in the folds of the brain. Just waiting for the last essay to be raked over, commented on, graded. The double life of a writer: what we do in the temporal world, and what goes on in the head. A bun in the oven that wants to bust outta the pan. The story behind the story of a certain painting what presently grips me. Curiosity. The more holes in the real story, the better. Note to head: some Googling, some scholarly searching just to explore the ground. Could be there's no room for the seed to sprout. But something to investigate. It's the wanting to know, the need to know more, that fuels writing, that keeps me smiling. The reward after the marks are filed. The deep grin of a secret.
If La Joconde could talk, right?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hope springs eternal

Today, in the midst of marking, a break to take in an uncanny blast of spring. A tease, but still. Sunshine, melting snow. A reminder, nevertheless, that things thaw, move, flow. Even when the world appears frozen. The flat-earth of mid-winter. But the memory of warmth, of buds popping; a tiny flame of expectation, optimism.
The example, the inspiration, passed on to me yesterday, that Paul Quarrington wrote right up until his death, finished his memoirs just in time. Such fierce devotion to the craft, to the purpose behind it. A humbling in the midst of my grumbling. To die with a pencil or a brush or a lump of clay or a weaver's shuttle in hand--to die as you live, my brilliant friends, exercising the hope that comes of having a gift.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ephemera

Ideas are flies...or birds that visit the yard but once a year. In flocks or singly, sharp against snow. A flare of colour in bare branches. A visitation. Note to head to scribble down bones. Then life intrudes. The grocery list, chores. To do or not to do. And hours later, when the day settles...what was that lightning flash? That tiny feathered thing that flitted, never touching down? The tiny beating heart of a story. The gizzard of an essay. A throat pulsing with song--swallowed. The ghost of a thought scratching the mind's lens. Focus, focus. Too late. Gone.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rain rain go away

Drizzle. A bag-full of essays to mark. The flipside of the writing life, the activities we do to fund our writing habit.
But sometimes teaching makes a good buffer between the writer and the neuroses of writing. The trouble is, like writing and mothering, it can be an endlessly thirsty sponge. The only limits on your efforts are those you place yourself.
Is it harder for women teachers and writers who let their motherly urge to give and give some more dominate?
The hardest thing is being unable to see the fruits of our labours. At least not any time soon.
The long haul, the hanging-in. Persevering.
Being able to look at drizzle the Maritime way: Hey, at least it's not snow.
And the essays are short.
And while I'm digging myself out of the marking pit, a brilliant idea will rise out of the murk. Turn drizzle to dew.
At least, let's hope.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Patience

...has gotta be the No. 1 thing writing keeps teaching me. Not just to wait for le mot juste, or the right plot point--the thing that snaps its fingers, says lissen up, and whose magic hooks me--or the rest of the story to slowly burn in. Nope. It's the patience to sit through the rest--all the stuff that's beyond my control--that's hardest to cultivate. Not that story and its uncanny unravelling (or coming together) is all within my control; what a dull and wooden story that would be, if it so behaved. But at least we/you/I can trust in the process. What is so much harder to have faith in is the "compliance" of those who help bring a book into the word--another paradox of writing, that what is solitary has to become collaborative. Waiting for those in the business of publishing to give the green light. Like watching paint dry in drizzly fog. Worse. Because patience means stoicism, or at the very least trying to be polite. Genteel.
The No. 1 ongoing, never-ending lesson, Patience. Good priming for the real-life situations where you really need it. At least our characters won't die lying under rubble.
As always, when tried by waiting I find the patience of survivors most inspiring.
If those who truly suffer can hang in so bravely awaiting help, what is my wait but an inchworm-style speedbump?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

No rest for the wicked...

Update: WHIPS went swimmingly. Great audience asking lots of good questions. The very humbling experience of writing a very lousy first draft. The reminder to head that writing without an emotional commitment to the subject means you're just throwing down words. Not the most rewarding way to spend your time. Better to spend such hours reading and living and stocking up on images, bits and pieces of fodder to feed into the work.
The "trouble" is we never give ourselves a vacation, yes? As if we're slacking off or letting down The Gift by not practising it all the time. Spinning our wheels.
Writing sometimes just to appease the dragon under the desk.
So...today is a day off.
Proper thing, what?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Write Here, Today

This is it: WHIPS day. Decisions: what to write. What, of the many beginnings and middles floating around in my computer. The crunch. Whether to face a fresh blank screen--ground zero--or pick up yesterday's yarn-end and continue first-draft knitting. Or jump-cut to something adrift in a piece too sprawling to make it matter. Writing just because.
I've got the t-shirt: Dalhousie Tiger colours no reflection on writers but the football team--maybe the hockey team (some team, anyhow, whose members back when it began received the charitable donation of black and yellow uniforms, cast offs maybe from some theatrical production?). Writing the bald opposite of teamwork.
But, back to decisions. I'm thinking scenes. A chunk that's presently coming to a slow boil? (Nope, it's still too close to simmer mode.) A piece that's part of a present plateau? (Maybe, but only because it has humorous possibilities.) Pencil-scratchings dug out from last year's marathon which have gone past being stale to moldy.
No. It's got to be something new. Something the left brain can run with while the right brain rationalizes, lectures, explains. Leave the heart out of it, though. No time for crying on centre stage. But laughing, yes, though is it rude to laugh publicly at your own private jokes?
The writer as serious fool being foolishly serious.
All this enough to cause a serious blockage if pondered too long or too hard.
One laptop, two hands, one brain split six ways to Sunday, a big screen and a seriously amused audience.
Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More W.H.I.P.S.

Write here, write now. A colleague and I, up at the crack of dawn today to do an interview on CBC radio Information Morning about tomorrow's Write Here In Plain Sight sessions.
First question: Is this some kind of publicity stunt?
Hardly.
As I responded, You have to have NO pride to do this. Writing in front of a roomful of people, whether it's a first draft or a revision, is pretty humbling.
The whole exercise staged to give viewers some sense of how the writing process unfolds in various mysterious and not-so-mysterious ways, different for everyone and always dependent on the nature of the work itself.
I think people who don't write--at least those who don't write fiction--have this naive idea that writers are egomaniacs. Well, maybe some are. We won't go there. Let's just say I am far more inclined to believe writers, most writers, are humble, vulnerable souls who through some odd taste for risk (peeling off their pride as they enter) willingly play make believe.
It's all about building castles in the air. It takes a certain fearlessness and equal measures of faith and craziness to trust an idea, a dream, an image, enough to pursue it, often for years. The best writing--and anyone who has taken the leap knows this--means ditching the ego pretty quickly. Parking it and often losing the keys.
It's like any kind of exploring.
The more you know, the more you realize you don't know.
Just one more thing about writing that makes it hard, that keeps us open.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Write Here In Plain Sight aka WHIPS...

A couple of days from now some writerly colleagues and I will be doing WHIPS, a wild 'n' crazy public writing marathon at Dalhousie University. Writing in front of an audience, an audience whom it's the writer's responsibility to engage in both a running monologue on the writing process and an ongoing Q&A session while s/he actively types or scribbles away.
Last year I requested special equipment that allowed my low-tech pencil-scratchings on paper to be viewed on the large screen of a lecture room as I frantically dashed off a really sketchy hole-ridden draft of a short story (that later ended up being shelved).
The whole thing was like walking a tightrope at a frenetic pace to keep from looking down. If I'd stopped talking at any point to reflect on what I was drafting I'd have utterly lost my nerve and frozen--a physical spin on writer's block.
Like having an army of explorers invade your moon landscape. The unknown/forbidden territory of the writer's imagination.
The other subjects/specimens/guinea pigs/lab rats who kindly offered themselves up to this unholy exercise were nonfiction writers, academic writers and commentators. With one exception, I was (and probably will be this year) the only fiction/creative writer fool enough to do this.
Why? asked a curious journalist. Writing is so private; the last thing you want is an audience seeing inside your head.
A public debunking of some of the myths around creative composition, perhaps.
The writer as a kind of guide through the process.
The writer as teacher.
The writer/teacher as a "holy" fool. An invisible cipher.
(A slight bit of the show-off there too?)
Writerly exhibitionism?
WHIPS certainly does expose a person. It's a little like walking through a mall in your underwear. Clean underwear, I would say, because even in this very public display of a decidedly un-public event (the writer dealing with the blank page or screen; for an audience like watching paint dry) there is still the kernel of oneself that's held back.
So, as I await this year's WHIPS, I'm already contemplating what I'll write. It will come from the visual landscape of a story, yes, but only from the neck up. It won't be the heart that gets exposed.
There are only so many risks you are willing to take when someone is watching.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Outside the box

So the idea is swimming around like a tadpole. Hatched from an egg, a square sort of egg that's a bite-sized chunk of "reality"--whether "reality" is fact, myth or a juicy bit of legend. A snippet of story unknown beyond the neighbourhood, a tiny piece of local lore that's bigger than gossip. That has ripples.
Ripples mimicked by the ones the tadpole creates...a tiny bit of turbulence in a tea-coloured, brackish pond.
Around in circles it travels; the pond is only so big, but its parameters are infinite. A scary thing, but delicious too, as the tadpole grows and grows....

Monday, January 18, 2010

No two flakes....

The perfect writing afternoon--even if writing time amounts to only (best case scenario) an hour. No wind, snow falling peacefully. A cup of tea. School work under control (for now). Imagination a pair of treadless boots attempting to scale a hill of black ice. But that's okay. Patience. It's the softness and the solitude that lulls me, that I trust will allow a toehold.
The fevered opposite of this a climbing gym. Plastic thingies to grip and fasten guy-wires to; places to anchor your feet. Every muscle engaged. The ideal place to be in your writing, maybe: that muscular, gripping, gripped mode--but you can't rush it.
So much of the work is listening, watching snowflakes fall and silently laying down tracks. Learning the horizontal landscape before you can even consider heights.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Empathy vs Sympathy

Connection - isn't that why we write? To connect the dots in our miniscule galaxies and hope that the shapes we discern--sprinkles of light--mean something to somebody else. A lottery. A crap shoot. (How often do the words make it past our solitary screen?)
That first faltering draft so necessary, telling ourselves at least part of the story. Sympathizing with our softer selves, easily misconstrued as self-indulgence.
The trick is in firing up the rocket, blasting ourselves beyond our comfort zones into the Other (hostile? hungry? quake-ravaged? ) Territory of Someone Else.
Think of it, though: zero gravity. Floating from predictable boundaries. The outer limits. A cup of coffee spilling to the ceiling.
By the power of the imagination, being outside the box.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Serendipitous dive

Have I become a blawker? A blog-stalking dog-walker? The most ordinary events and activities laden with writerly opportunity. Like this morning, a classic blue-and-white Maritime winter moment, when I happened upon some divers taking a dip. The Northwest Arm uncharacteristically crystalline. Took them forever to duck, backwards flipper-flopping into the water. Air temp a balmy -1; dunno about the water.
So much like taking a story-plunge. A ton of tinkering, adjustments, hook-ups and prep-work beforehand to make it safe enough, pleasurable enough, before delving into the unknown.
"What are you looking for?" I asked, and they said, "Can't say. It's top secret."
Lots of old bottles down there, and golf balls.
And a ton of other stuff too, apparently.
But you start with what you know, then keep going.
So many treasures, gathering rust and barnacles.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hot off the press in Germany!

Just arrived, the first copy of Glasstimmen, the German edition of Glass Voices, published by marebuchs verlag in Hamburg.

Court and spark

(Sorry, Joni Mitchell) That's how it feels when a story comes to roost after flitting around too high up to hook the imagination the way it must. That feeling barely contained inside your ribs as the idea gestates. A wild conception. Falling in love. The knowledge, filed away, that it is tenuous, fragile--that, if you don't give in to it, it could as easily miscarry. The story a dark, secret gem your hands and heart and (God willing) brain cells hold protectively. May it implant itself deeply enough to grow. May it thrive enough to be born some day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Misery

Haiti: suffering that is beyond our comprehension. Another horrific situation that begs the question Why? Why the poorest of the poor, and not someone else (us)?
Unanswerable, of course. All we can do is donate money and pray and hope that the goodness in the world trickles down to those most in need.
A situation like so many others that once again makes us question the value of fiction, of storytelling.
When fiction's cousin, journalism, muscles up to the plate and calls the shots. (Bad mixed metaphor, sorry).
And isn't everything we write triggered by a question? Fiction the determined little critter that tries to burrow through the rubble where nothing is so clear as black and white.
Journalism shows us the bodies, the crumbled shanties. It shows our Governor General (bless her!!!) crying at a press conference. It pulls at our hearts enough to dig out our credit cards and make our pledges. Thank goodness.
But when the missing are given up for lost, journalism pulls out. Wham bam...(you know the rest).
It leaves the relief workers and the survivors themselves to clean up the mess.
And the storytellers picking through the dust, collecting relics, trying to piece together something: the true tale of how it is, how it was, how it will be, to endure the horrific.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

To everything there is a season

Okay. So there's ice: skate-able ice on the pond, and someone (the city?) has cleared paths and rinks, and blue has broken through the clouds, and the temptation is strong. Close the file, brave the minus whatever windchill and lace up. It's all about just doing it, right?
My carrot for gluing myself here and writing all day--the promise of a twirl and stumbling glide (notwithstanding my aching ankles). The reward. After I've done "enough."
Stephen King has that quota, you know: ten pages a day, every day. Easy for him, given his imagination. It's a worthy goal. Not always practical. In fact, given life, hardly practical at all.
But we try.
Trying is like throwing cookies to that thing under the bed, under the stairs, down in the basement, up in the attic. The glow-in-the-dark monster that always wants more. That snarls, Hey, what kind of writer are you if you're not, um, writing?
More to the point, pushing the pen, tapping the keys, can be a frantic scrambling slippy-sliding move to keep yourself from looking down. Or up.
You have to be in the right mood, the right place, to do either. The same goes for staring into space, or at the blankety-blank screen.
Which makes that other cookie-craver, the girl that just wants to have fun, all the more persuasive, yes?
Good ice comes once a winter.
Darkness hangs around, though, you'll notice. It can be at your beck and call when you're ready.
The same with a good laugh, or a shovel.
Or a sleeping laptop.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In the bleak midwinter...

Something about the late-afternoon light of January prods and stirs words and dormant stories. So what if you've got no plot, or at least not a riveting one (yet), the propulsive kind that keeps a reader enchanted. Something about the hard orange sun setting over rock-solid snow makes you think, hey, it's coming. The land, the storyscape, is only barren if you think so. Because the clarity of winter light shouts that there is more than meets the eye. There's sap in the trees; somewhere tucked away you have pages and pages and pages of stuff that, given a little warmth, could be fanned into life. A tidy bonfire to melt away the ice. A bonfire in the middle of a frozen lake, a glow to skate circles around. If and only if the surface could be shoveled off, melted just a little, smoothed. Just enough that you could see through the ice: lily pads and reeds caught there. All of it waiting for you to get down on hands and knees and look, really look, and let whatever glimmers back be a sign, a serendipitous hook in sync with all the gobbledygook spilled out on those pages. Pages that suddenly feel connected.
Walking on ice.Trusting that it holds. Being fearless, even reckless: the trick is not looking down too long, but keeping your eyes on the light skimming the spruce tops: their jagged zigzag, black on blue.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Never a dull moment

Nothing like teaching to remind you why writing is respite. To have time to sit down, tune in and tune out--bliss. And in short supply once the gale of email hits full-force again.
Maybe we novelists should've been born two centuries ago, when all you needed to deal with was paper and a quill pen and ink. No phones. No emails. Not even a manual typewriter, never mind electric.
It's kind of astonishing, actually, that anybody writes anything longer these days than a two-line note. (No texting during class, I tell my students, and keep your laptop closed.)
Sigh.
There's something sooo romantic about the thought of being shut away in a clean uncluttered room with nothing more than the action in one's head and a good sharp pencil and a pad of lined paper.
Okay, bring on the Bronte fantasies--I can ignore the dark, sad parts of the spinsterly sisters' lives. The spartan, freezing Haworth parsonage, their tiny closeted lives. The hunger pains, the grimness.
What I see are stories, messsages, on the wings of ravens flying around the churchyard there, lighting on the tombstones.
It's rainy and grey, and there's a funeral going on in the church for some miserly misfit.
And our collective inner Charlotte/Emily/Ann is peering ecstatically out the window, scribbling away like a maniac.
This writer-familiar doesn't notice that her fingers are blue or that the rain is turning to sleet and her hair the same colour.
Nobody knocks. Nobody calls.
The ravens dictate.
She writes into the long bitter evening; writes until the candle burns to nothing; writes until there's nothing left but dark, then writes her way to dawn. When a sparrow arrives to perch on the windowsill, and so assured, our W-F dips her pen again, and carries on.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Being here now

Last day of break before school starts again. Switching back and forth from teacherly to writerly modes--not always easy. Different sides of the brain. The same but different, in the sense that teaching is creative too, but so heavily about being analytical. Being analytical chases away that skittish presentness that doodles and likes fiddling with words with no destination in mind, often not even a route (until plot comes along to micromanage, offering a signpost or two).
Switching modes can be like coaxing a cold old car to start. Once the thing's running it's usually okay. After it takes you to where you're going, the switching feels natural, fine, normal, as things should be. Too much of any one thing is bad for another, right? Ah, balance, my friends! Balance, whether you are chipping away at a cliff of revisions or on the brink of one and either wanting to jump or run, or happily scribbling or tapping away like there's no tomorrow...perhaps (probably?) happiness is best defined as when both left and right synapses are firing away in tandem. So that your creativity is sharp and your sharpness is creative...or something like that. Here's to finding the combo that works for you.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Eat, Pray, Blog

Saturday morning: scanning the Globe Books section and the Chronicle Herald. Great to see Lezlie Lowe as a regular Herald columnist, her commentary on the Truro mayor's gay-bashing. And on the religion page a piece by a journalism student on the conflict between Capitalism and Christianity. Then, in the Globe, a review of Elizabeth Gilbert's new memoir about the scariness of saying "I do". The need, in all three scenarios, for commitment to compassion. Caritas.
I admire Gilbert and other such memoirists their ability to write so blatantly of their own lives and feelings. Words are a wonderful way of processing personal fodder, but, frankly, the thought of such direct commentary gives me the willies. I always prefer to take the fictional leap into the imaginary drop-off, and to stretch what presents itself to me into the minds and hearts of other people: characters.
A different kind of honesty, perhaps, but from the same place.
The hardest thing about writing, I tell students, is saying exactly what you mean. Sometimes (a lot of times?) we're not even sure what that is ourselves. Writing is a pretty good way of finding out; but then it's finding the right words.
Writing is the place, maybe, where our true feelings and what we would aspire to believe occasionally meet.
A point of double vision: our humble and higher selves conversing.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Orphan works

The Google Settlement grows more bamboozlingly complex by the day as we press on into unknown territory, not just with our imaginations, but our writerly hopes for recompense for our work. In TWUC chair Erna Parris's most recent letter to members, among all the complexities she mentions the problem of "orphan works"--that is, Google's scooping up of works whose authors cannot be found.
This could be a rather enormous category, when you think about it--despite our big brother atmosphere of social networking. Orphan works--books, words that outlive their authors, or whose authors have long quit trying to make money "opting out" of the publishing world, and who knows, going off to live out their days in Meat Cove or Harrietsfield or Ecum Secum, driving school buses or cutting firewood or....fill in the blanks: all the sundry things writers do to actually make a buck.
Orphan works: it has a ring, don't you think? A reminder that words outlast their makers. Which reminds me, too, that what we say in emails is there forever, floating around who knows where in cyberspace. Electronica truly giving, well, legs and longevity to stories, words, snippets, and, oh my, blogs.
Anyway, my friends, embrace an orphan if you know of one. Read it, lend it to close friends, and when they return it, keep it on a cosy shelf. A bientot.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Realism

Here's an obvious one: reading is a great way to pass time while waiting for plot. Plot like a cab that takes its sweet time, but could be just around the corner.
Am well into Linden MacIntyre's Giller-winner, The Bishop's Man. It's a thoughtful, engaging and deeply honest reflection on the horrific reality of abusive priests. Told from the pov of Father Duncan MacAskill, the story succeeds admirably in revealing and exploring the consequences of the actions of a few--not only for the victims, but for clergy undeservedly tarred with the same brush.
The novel is a wonderfully true-to-life depiction of the Cape Breton community where it's set, and MacIntyre's storytelling voice is rich and funny and wise. You can hear his journalism at work here, both in the style and structure, which intersperses a sort of interview/documentary approach with Fr. Duncan's interior reflections.
Best of all, the book humanizes the priest at its centre. Fr Duncan is a flesh and blood individual whose struggles with faith and commitment fully engage our empathy. He's exactly the kind of priest--a genuine human being with faults and frailties like everyone else--whose suffering is only second to the victims of abuse.
And isn't this what fiction should do, venturing into dimensions where journalism cannot?
Amen.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Point P.S.

On the heels of my earlier musings, Booknet reports that in the past quarter Canadian sales for fiction were up 9%, while figures for non-fiction have dropped. Granted, we don't know what genres were responsible for this, or what authors. (As if Stephen King needs more readers, no offence.)
But it's an interesting development after years of agents and publishers telling us that nobody reads fiction anymore, and that trying to sell it is like flogging goutweed to a Maritime gardener.
So, thus bolstered, let's keep on keeping on.

The Point?

Yesterday on CBC radio they interviewed a woman from Edmonton who, when her kids were finally grown, sold everything she owned and moved to Kigali to help women whose lives had been all but destroyed by the Rwandan genocide. Hers was a powerful story of risk, faith, fear and a determination to do her "small" part in helping. Since 2004, using privately-raised funds she has set up a centre to create employment and other opportunities for this community of women and their families.
Talk about a dynamo--the kind of person who, as I wait for the novel to percolate in my head, makes me wonder yet again: what is the point of writing fiction? What possible illustrative (or other) effects can a made-up story have?
Let's pretend.
It feels hard to justify in this world of urgent wants and calls for action. Yet, as all of you who write know, writing seems to be this thing we are given; until we give in to it, our days feel unsettled, random, unfulfilled, in short, pissed away. Why? Is it that we write to keep us from thinking of all we should be doing--is it a buffer against mountainous sins of omission?
When I first started writing, it was escape pure and simple--momentary escapes from diapers, laundry, peanut butter fingerprints when my dear boys were tiny. But as I have grown into writing--and have become almost but not quite an empty-nester--it has become less escape and more duty and obligation. The long and short of it is I make it harder to do. I expect far more of myself and the craft--a justification? A rationalization?
Maybe, maybe not.
Because there remains a sense of rightness, of satisfaction, in finding the words, in uncovering the arc. I suppose this is so because I still believe, I hope I will always believe, that there is honour in seeking order, worth in giving experience shape and meaning--and that in attempting to do so, perhaps the way is made a little brighter for others? That is, if and when we are read.
We live in hope.
Onwards, good buddies.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dog blog

I promise, no more allusions to pets--at least for now. But, about waiting. Wouldn't it be nice to have the patience of a tortoise as we await the Muse's visitation, or editors to stir the slush pile now and then, or the pot. Yes, as one of my writing pals reminds me, 90 % of writing is waiting. How true. The thing is, waiting is easier once you've got the assurance of something, anything. We writers are a steadfast, optimistic lot, despite the myths about lapsing into alcoholic stupors in freezing garrets. But we're also chronically restless, and the only antidote is a story cooking, whether at a slow simmer or a rolling boil. Such an odd tension between the need to pretend we have forever, and the urgency we inflict on ourselves that without action our ideas, our gifts, will dry up, disappear, check out and maybe take themselves for a swim wearing concrete shoes. The urge to fly, and the urge to keep both feet on the ground. Impossible not to think of Beckett, Waiting for Godot. Or the average five-year-old in the backseat, demanding, Are we there yet? Waiting for Time, as the Newfoundland novelist Bernice Morgan entitled one of her books. Speaking of which, time, isn't blogging like a sort of babysitter, depending on how you regard it? It can be like the sitter who ignores the kids to go smoke up in the bathroom, or the one who gets down on all fours playing horse or leapfrog, or digging snow tunnels. The point is, for now anyway, it's fun, and at least it uses some of the same brain cells as Writing. So, until tomorrow, au revoir!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bogged down blog flog...

Okay, now that I'm half-addicted to blogging, a day's load of chores has postponed today's installment. But here we go, better late than never. For what it's worth, the florist and the goutweed are no farther ahead than yesterday. The problem is plot. Plot that keeps slipping away like a poodle's scent in (yellow) snow. Sorry, it's just that my dog is on my mind; he of decrepit body and a puppylike spirit. More of the same vis a vis yesterday's homily: reality versus dream. Idea versus rendition. Here's the thing: I have a cast of characters, a setting, even an idea for pastiche-like intrigue; the character who's nagging has a name and a situation and lots of things she wants, and problems, she's got those too. The problem, my problem, is that I still have Trevor's Love and Summer in my head and I just can't see how a plot involving my goutweed-afflicted florist could ever be half so brilliant. The problem is I want to flick a switch, yank a chain, and there, there it will be, illuminated: a story, its elegant stripped-down form sitting there like a perfectly-groomed cat. A little, lithe black cat, one with no fleas or gluttonous appetite; one that needs no shots, no Meow Mix or litter box, and never picks the furniture. The trouble is, such a cat would be stuffed, right? A proper little plushie. (Sorry - I hope that reference doesn't trigger obscene pop-ups.) The trouble is, maybe I need to wait a little longer for this plot, perfect or imperfect, to claw me, hook me long enough that its purr drags me in. It takes so much stroking, so much feeding, so much patience to raise a story out of nothing. The truth is, everyone who does it is a magician, pulling you-know-whats outta their hats, rarely doves or bunnies.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Epiphany!

Now that the snow-cement has been shoveled from the driveway, ah, a day of lightness and a fridge full of leftovers: an ideal writing day. Realization: Alice Munro was so right when, several years back, she wrote in an essay that the best thing about writing is the idea--the spark, the quirk, the clang, my writer friends and I would call it--as it presents itself. So many sparks, but such hard work to shape and commit them to paper. Like visualizing a Julia Child style dinner party, then saying "Yeah, right" while telling yourself it's the thought that counts.
If only one could be happy with the thought and not put oneself through the torture of its execution, is/was the gist of Munro's complaint. Ah, let's just say we did it. Let's pretend. Pretend you said this, pretend you did that--the way we played as kids, those of us who pre-date computer screens. When the imagination ruled. When the patch of trees between two suburban houses was a forest (an enchanted one--because maybe enchantment comes from being small and closer to the ground; when you're tiny you notice all those little star flowers.) Just pretend. Doing so is magical; pretending transports us. And I notice that Munro is still giving exquisite form to her sparks, which indicates by her example that the struggle is worth it. Okay. So now I've got an imaginary florist and a patch of goutweed. What if...?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Weather Bomb

A good day for a neighbourhood party - we're expecting what forecasters call a weather bomb. Last time a w.b. hit, we were buried in 20 feet of snow (probably an exaggeration) which shut everything down for days. Ideal weather for writing and reading. Just finished William Trevor's new novel, Love and Summer. Brilliantly vivid prose written from the inside out; every word counts, every bit of dialogue is completely telling of character and predicament. Inspiring. Oh, to be able to write even an eighth as well...Meanwhile, real life calls: dog to be walked, house to be cleaned, food to be made for our gathering of friends tonight. Meanwhile, this blogging could take up your whole life. I've already got one, thanks. And no patience to read through the various help menus to flog my blog. But there it is. Time now to walk in the snow.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Out with the old....

Ah! Day One of the new year, and I've been busy clearing out last year's debris. The paper!! Had my shredder going full tilt, scrapping paper from the past ten years--receipts, oil bills, ancient birthday cards, dead insurance policies. Ugh. Maybe a paperless universe wouldn't be so bad? Anyway, yes, this is the year that Kindle invades Canada. A purse-sized device that can hold 35,000 books. How many words does that equal? Too many. I'm sorry, but I prefer my books in print between soft or hard covers, books that I can recycle by passing on to friends or donating to charity sales. Not that there's anything wrong with going around with a thing in your purse that's loaded with all that stuff--all those words all those writers sweated over in the solitude of their desks, kitchen tables, cars, cafes, It's just that I've always been the type who likes writing with pens and pencils, and then going to my desktop or laptop with a handwritten draft like a roadmap. The type who refuses to get a cellphone simply because I hate phones, have hated phones ever since...well, as long as I can remember. Let's just say I'm happiest communicating via ink and a piece of paper as well as email. Day Two of this blogging, and ya know, I can see how it could be fun. I can see how it allows you to ruminate, and (so far) shields you from all those who, with great justification, would say, Who gives a crap what she thinks about blah blah blah? Yeah, so I am overcoming this feeling that the last thing the world needs is more blog blah blah. Just as when I go into Chapters and ask myself, quite sincerely, if the world really needs more books. Well. Yeah. I guess it does. As long as we writers are breathing--and words are swords just as they are ploughshares. So it goes. And so here's to a year of adapting rather than lying down in the dust. Cheers!