I’ve been reading Charles Foran’s biography of Mordecai Richler. It’s a fat book and I’m not even halfway through, but already lines are jumping off the page. I’m deeply intrigued by the portrait of the formative writer–the kid, no more than twenty, who set off to Europe cadging money from any willing family member or friend, working as if possessed, carousing, ambitious. That’s what strikes me most about his formative years, when he was writing frantically and receiving nothing but rejection letters–the sheer volume of his ambition. Of course, in part what he displays is youth. And he had talent even if it was awfully raw at that point in his life. He had luck too. Just before he left Europe to return to Montreal, broke, just twenty-one, he found an agent who admired his potential, and helped him see his way into this life he was demanding for himself.
Charles Foran writes about what might have happened, had Richler not been found and professionally validated; he had a lead on a job at the CBC and in fact worked there briefly writing news copy; but not for long. “By 1952, CBC radio and the new television network were already the destination of choice for those with talent and culture who dared not risk seeing if they could really make a go of it as artists…” [my emphasis]
Guess what Mordecai Richler dared to do?
What elements make up the personality of someone willing, as Foran writes, “to hustle, do what was required. … Henceforth, he would be freelance, his own master and servant. Without security. Without nets.” Brash? Egocentric? Bold? Calculating? Intensely focused? In many ways, it’s not the nicest personality, is it? It can’t really be. You can’t worry about pleasing others, or meeting conventional expectations. It helps not to be apologetic in your approach. Why apologize for being who you are?
(Side question: Does this apply mainly to male artists? Personally, I don’t think so, though traditionally it’s been less acceptable for women to be unapologetic in their ambitions. Now where the heck does motherhood fit into the bold/brash/intensely focused rubric?).
One more thing. Around this same time, Richler wrote to his editor Diana Athill: “Often I think I don’t like or dislike writing, it’s just something I’ve got to do.”
I read those words and felt like something in me had been struck. Yes.
This week has been a flurry. There’s a lot of hustling going on. At various moments during any given day it feels like I’m keeping up; not keeping up; almost keeping up; hanging on by sheer will; taking a tumble; staying with it; losing track; back in the game; organized; overwhelmed. But mostly, okay.
I’m okay because I keep landing on this thought that completely amazes me: I’m doing what I want to do. No, you know, it’s even more amazing than that: I’m doing what I’ve got to do.
Yesterday, a reader commented on my Green Dreams post, which was written about a year and a half ago. This morning, I read that post again and found these words, which feel like a wise reminder from my (slightly) younger self:
I would like to offer my time–because I have it, and I’m grateful for that gift–to living creatively. Anyone who’s ever made anything knows that there is a great deal of invisible work behind what’s created. There is the original vision, changed and altered and made deeper by reflection and time, there is work, there is error and recognition of error, and incorporation of error, too, and there is luck, happenstance, improvisation. There are bursts of production and activity, and lulls of wondering, daydreaming, even doubt. There is sacrifice. You have to figure out if it’s worth it to you–figure out what you’re sacrificing, and why you want to.
Mostly, though, you just do it: you do the work you’ve chosen to do.
Living creatively, improvising, digging in, committing, taking risks, messing up, pausing to reflect, continuing, trying new things and rediscovering the tried and true: that pretty much sums up my life at present–or at least, the life I’m aiming for, every day. Yours, too?
On that note, I’d like to tell you about a few projects I’m currently digging into.
* increasing subscribers to my blog: If you look on the right-hand side of the blog, I’ve got links to a variety of extras, including a new feature that allows you to type in your email address and receive blog posts in your inbox. We’re still tinkering with this (and by “we” I mean my techie friend Nath is troubleshooting for me), but I’d be happy if you signed up. And then please let me know if it’s working for you.
* Storywell: My friend Susan has launched a business aimed at helping people tell their stories: “Whether you are writing for your own family and community, aiming at publication, or needing help in telling your company or organization’s tale, we can help you tell your story well. We offer you a team of professional writers, editors and proofreaders whose goal is to help you develop as a writer.” And guess what? I’m one of the professional writers on her team. Interested, or know someone who might be? Get in touch.
* a new challenge: “Make Carrie’s Book a Bestseller.” Okay it’s a crazy challenge over which I have no real sway. Even publishers don’t know how books make it onto bestseller lists, the compilers of which seem to collect data from a variety of unpredictable sources. But I think it will be fun. Kevin is the brains behind the idea. He created and hosts a flexible web site for his business that can be used by personal trainers as a forum to run challenges. We’re using that forum to create a challenge called: “Help Make Carrie’s Book a Bestseller.” The site is still under construction, but I plan to have it ready to launch in the new year, and you will be invited to join. I only have one hope for my book, and that’s that it will get read. Then it can speak for itself.
* early to rise: This isn’t really a project, it’s just something I want to continue whether or not I’m working toward a particular race (my next one is in March, which still seems too far off to be highly motivating). I like the ethic involved in getting up early. I like that it’s not easy. It’s not easy, but it’s ALWAYS rewarding. This morning, my internal alarm woke me up for yoga. I’d planned to sleep instead, but when my eyes saw 5:48 on the clock, I recognized that it was a little gift, and I accepted it. Few of my evenings are free. My only guaranteed alone time is in the early morning hours. I’ve never been a morning person and even now do not consider myself one; but that doesn’t mean I can’t rise early and move my body and stride confidently into the day.
(Just realized that this looks like an early New Year’s resolution list. It’s not meant to be. I’m very ho-hum on resolutions. I prefer big picture overviews of the past year combined with swooping excitement and energy beamed at the year ahead. Every year on the eve of my birthday–which is Dec. 29th–I write just such an overview in my journal, by hand. Very old-school. Very satisfying.)
… still buzzing after meeting all of the Anansi staff at their sales rep party in Toronto last night. I was so nervous. So nervous! I put on mascara while Fooey writhed on the floor and screamed in her bossiest voice, “You will not be going to this meeting tonight! They can do the meeting tomorrow! You are not going!” It brought me closer to the reality that, for my little kids at least, this Mommy’s publishing a book thing is a major inconvenience; they really can’t understand what it means to me. Mommy’s publishing a book and she’s not tucking me in tonight! Not: Mommy’s publishing a book, yay for Mommy! I set supper on the table, set the table, and as soon as Kevin walked through the door, peeled two desperately clingy children off my legs and made a run for it.
Then I had a pleasant (not) leisurely (not) drive down the 401. The traffic! Plus, the closer I got to my destination, the more nervous I got. I got so nervous I was having to remind myself to breathe. It’s been awhile since I’ve schmoozed. Thankfully, as soon as I walked through the door, I was in good hands. My former boss from, oh, a decade or more ago, is married to Anansi’s publisher. I think he knew I was nervous. I kind of had the same expression on my face that I had at the beginning of the marathon (but with better hair and a nicer outfit). He got me a glass of wine and took me outside to meet his dogs, and I was soon feeling much better. Just like reaching the 10km mark. Before I knew it, I was cruising.
And I got to meet everybody! I mean, all of these people who have been working with me from afar (not so very afar, but far enough that we’ve never met in person). I got to meet them! I met my editor! It was like meeting an old friend, except I had imagined her looking just a little bit different. I’d imagined everyone differently, come to think of it. Everyone looks different over email and the telephone. It was like meeting the people behind your favourite radio voices. Without even knowing it, you construct these imaginary faces.
Anyway, by 34km or so, I was one happy writer. I’d been fed a lovely dinner. My sister’s red shoes looked great (thanks again, Edna!). Best of all, I wasn’t schmoozing, I was just getting to know people. Hey, I like people! And come to think of it, I like talking too! Not so nerve-wracking after all.
At the end of the evening, I mentioned that I was kicking around for a new challenge this coming year–thinking of a running challenge or something like the 365-day photo challenge–and Sarah, Anansi’s publisher, said (and I paraphrase): “How about publishing your book!? Forget the other challenges. This will be plenty. This year, you’ll launch a book!”
I like that. I might have to go with that.
(Oh, and I got up early for spin class this morning and I was still buzzing … still am … floating on an evening out of the every day.)
(And, no, that photo does not relate. It’s just a purty picture of some berries in the snow in front of our house.)
This is what my book looks like!!!!!! (Insert full paragraph of exclamation points.)
You can even pre-order it!!!
But this is what it looks like!
(And, no, I don’t know who the girl is, though she does look weirdly like my own AppleApple. The publisher designed the cover, not me.)
This was not the post I began writing this morning. That post started like this:
“Long week. General gloom. Set alarm, rose early. Glad for that.
Snow falling. Cough cough cough from my constant companion.”
And went on in the same vein. Which is true enough. But I’m glad the cover popped into my inbox and interrupted my cranky, restless mind with a splash of colour. And, oh, that dreaming girl. I’d like to just go be her for a little while.
What happened to the past two days?
Well, yesterday was spent organizing digital photos for the year. Ugh. It’s one of those things that has to be done that didn’t used to have to be done. Remember film? Remember prints? Here’s my digital method: I order prints of, say, the top 300 photos of the year right around now, in time to be put into albums for Christmas. It’s tedious work, but someone’s got to do it. If we want to keep these photos, that is. Poor Fooey’s babyhood is essentially unrecorded due to an awkward family switchover from film to digital. And she was the cutest baby ever. I don’t want any more eras to disappear; or at least not due to negligence on my part.
So that was yesterday.
Today, I’m going to post the blog I should have written on Wednesday. Yes, I’m behind the times. This is yesterday’s news. But what lovely news it is: on Tuesday evening, Canada’s literary scene got all glammed up for the biggest literary prize we’ve got going on here. The Giller Prize! And my publisher, Anansi, was there with TWO books on the shortlist. They posted a behind-the-scenes slideshow if you want a peek inside. Ah. It will make you want to drink champagne while wearing something sparkly.
Once upon a time, I got to attend the Gillers. I was 24. I dropped the better part of a pay cheque on a glamorous outfit, arrived early, sat at the back with fellow books section types and drank and ate and had so much fun. A little glamour goes a long way, especially in an industry not really renowned for the glitz. Let me tell you, sitting here in my sweater thinking about semi-colons: nothing but hot.
Now, I’m not super-connected to the CanLit scene, having spent the past decade being mostly-mom-at-home in the wilds of Waterloo, but still. The CanLit scene is like Six Degrees of Separation minus a few degrees. So I can say that my editor edited two of the books on the list (that’s pretty sweet.) And I can say that I read at an event with this year’s winner, Esi Edugyan, back when we were both promoting our first books. If I say I knew back then she’d win prizes someday it will sound less like intuition than hindsight, but man, I just knew she’d win prizes.
Anyone else looking forward to reading through this year’s nominees? Any books you wish would have made the list? Got any six-degrees-of-separation connections you’d like to share?
Oh, and on a side-note: I’m developing a weird hankering for an electronic reading device. Anyone? Anyone? Kindle? Kobo? I do love books, the objects themselves, don’t get me wrong. But I keep having thoughts like, wouldn’t it be cool to, say, watch a video about an author after reading a book? Do e-books have features like that? They should. I so often finish a book and want more. I want to hear the author telling me where she got her ideas, or where she grew up, or how she feels about her characters. Know what I mean? That would be a very appealing addition to any book.
PS Yes, that’s a photo of my new office!!!!!!! Electrical work needs doing today. I’m moving in on the weekend. Can you believe it?! Me neither.
**Mentioned/mentions: Obscure CanLit Mama was featured on the Fix It and Forget It blog (I wondered why a snack post from awhile back was suddenly getting so many hits). And, here I am on the Anansi web site. Still no book cover to show you, but you’ll be the first to know when the art arrives (and by first, I mean second or third right after husband and kids).
By the way, Anansi is up for a Booker prize tomorrow for Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers. Which is a Very Big Deal, and Very Exciting.
Page 11 of 13« First«...910111213»