Where the wild things are

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I walked CJ to the school bus this morning, and noticed our paired footprints on the way home. And that’s my teeny-tiny attempt at positivity regarding this January-in-April weather we’ve been “enjoying.” I run outdoors all winter long, and this morning’s run was one of the coldest all year, thanks to a bitter wind and sharp flecks of snow. I’ve also got a hole in my running tights, and I’d really like to retire them for the season. Yes, that’s a first-world-white-woman problem, right there.

What was I going to blog about? I had ideas.

A blog is a nice place to gather one’s thoughts, I find. Maybe that’s why I don’t really want to stop. There’s a scrapbook mentality to this blog: every day is different, but every day is also focused and structured by the necessity of being and expressing where I’m at right now.

I read a piece in Maclean’s this morning about meditation, about using our minds to come to terms with ourselves. That is totally not the quote. I’ll go get the magazine. Here it is: Meditation is “a dignified attempt to come to grips with being human with the resources you have right there. Not depending on some guru, or some drug, or some psychotherapy. Just a very simple technique that, repeated again and again and again, will eventually change the way you relate to the world at the deepest level.” The person being quoted is Jeff Warren, a Toronto meditation teacher and journalist, who sounds like he could be guru-like, but who doesn’t like gurus. I, too, distrust the guru figure, even while acknowledging that I can learn much from mentors and teachers … I think it’s a fear of idolatry, but maybe it’s a fear of dependence, too, because I also dislike self-help books, or anyone claiming to be able to fix anyone else’s life. And yet I feel myself drawn to writing a self-help-like book — collecting and distilling all of the bits and pieces of discovery that keep me going and keep me digging — which seems super-hypocritical. I’m simultaneously pulled toward looking for ways to find and express a more meaningful life, and resistant to latching on to a single path or expression. As an individual, my path is singular, my voice is singular, there’s no way around that. Maybe that’s why I like fiction: it allows me to embody and express a wide variety of opinions and beliefs, none of which may be exactly my own.

Back to Maclean’s magazine (awkward segue), I’ve discovered a new (unpaid) talent: writing letters to the editor. I rattled off a critique of their deliberately inflammatory headline a few weeks back, in which a screaming toddler was labelled with the question: “Is she a brat or is she sick?” Ugh, I thought. Stop it with the name-calling! She’s neither, of course: she’s a normal toddler. That’s the gist of my letter and they printed it.

As I put in a load of laundry this morning, I thought, I often write from a position of response rather than call. I react to what exists with emotion and opinion. The non-fiction essays I’ve written have almost all been assigned rather than originated and pitched by me. This has been a stumbling block to my freelance writing career. When I write an essay on an assigned subject, I never know where I’m going to end up, but I know it’s going to be a fascinating exploration of unexpected territory. I know also that these thoughts and discoveries wouldn’t exist without someone else inviting me to make them exist. It burns a lot of energy to come up with an idea and spin it into existence, all on my own steam. This may be my downfall, as a writer, my Achilles’ heel, the personality flaw impossible to overcome.

But that’s okay.

Because my goal is to make writing my comfort zone, my place of meditation and peace, and not my bread and butter. I’d like to stop complaining about not making money as a writer. (I’m sure you’d appreciate that too.)

I’d like to free my writing from the burden of earning.

I have a feeling that particular complaint will never vanish, no matter how long I work at writing. The tension between creativity and a comfortable lifestyle is built right into the artistic enterprise. I, personally, can’t imagine how to change the system so that creative energies are compensated in a steady and reliable way. I’ve tried! I just can’t imagine it. And while I’m appreciative of the important role grants have played in supporting my work, I really hate asking for money. Just hate it. I want to earn my living, plain and simple.

Easter weekend
Five-year-old's birthday party with friends: album

6 Comments

  1. I’ll have to look for your letter in the cast-off Macleans issues that my friend passes on each week. I also noticed that cover picture and thought it was weird.
    It’s interesting that you want to be a midwife because I do, too! I’ve actually applied twice to the program and not gotten in, but now I know it wasn’t the right time. My longterm goal is to pursue midwifery once my kids are older, and I can figure out the logistics of attending a program while living up here.
    I’m glad to hear you want to keep blogging because it’s wonderful to read.

    Reply
    • I hope it works out for you, Katherine! You’d make a wonderful midwife.

      Reply
  2. Congratulations on the letter to the editor!

    If you’re drawn to writing a self-help book, maybe it would be useful to read a few that your friends have liked. Perhaps you’ll find a few things you *do* like about the genre that you can incorporate into your own. (That sounds like a lead-in to a recommendation, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head! No not true, I liked a book called “Raising Happiness” that I read a few years ago–can’t remember the author’s name. And people seem to love Anne Lamott)

    And finally, long comment here, I firmly believe that grants *are* earned. For one, they’re a lot of work to write. And for two, they’re our collective support for your creativity; they’re a country’s capital investment in our culture, if you will, of which you are a part. We need your books (and academics’ research, and artists’ sculptures…). You get paid that bit in advance, that’s all.

    Reply
    • Heather, I agree with you whole-heartedly re grants and support and earning them. It’s just that it doesn’t satisfy me, in some way, to go through that process, so that’s not to say the process is flawed, more that my personality is not suited to it. I would also, for the record, make a terrible politician (asking for votes! agh!). I’m sure I could think of many more jobs I’d be completely unsuited for.

      Reply
  3. I feel similarly about making art, and grants, except that I personally balk at an art practice that is not geared to generate some sort of income. I fear that if I take away the end goal of selling my art to someone I will be the dreaded ‘hobby artist, and that’s some sort of ‘thing’ of mine. I don’t want to relegate my creative pursuit to a hobby- if I know that the end goal is to generate some sort of income- no matter how far in the future, or how minimal, it makes me feel as though I can spend the time on it (which is probably something a self-help book would fix right? 😉

    Reply
    • Yes, I fully intend to keep writing books that will sell. I do write to be read, and I think that’s a good goal for any writer. But the reality is that most professional writers do not survive on the income their literary work generates. I’m tired of being upset about that, and excited to move on to a new and different stage in my career.

      Reply

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