Category: Writing

Looking for The Golden Mean

Before and after. I’m surprised every time I see her with that gap. She looks so different, and it reminds me that she’s growing up. Once again, I pulled the tooth. She is crazy brave; or else has superior pain tolerance; or both. Because, seriously, she made not a peep during the removal, except when piping up to offer suggestions and advice.
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I’m working on some writing news, but it’s not quite ready to unveil yet. Don’t get too excited. It’s nothing to do with the Nica stories, or any fiction or poetry or literary writing at all, actually. Not my usual writing news, she says, and thusly leaves her reader in suspense …
Meantime, I’m looking forward to a couple of writing mornings this week, and wondering where they will take me. And I actually managed to finish chapter one of Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean, which would hardly be considered a feat (it’s an amazing book, so far), except that I succeeded in reading it while babysitting this morning (parents of said babysat child: please don’t dock my pay). My usually cheerful threesome of Tuesday children went all Tuesday-ish on me last week, and there was much grumpiness and butting of heads, so I decided to stay right on top of the situation today. But soon discovered that just sitting quietly on the couch or rocking chair in the same room, being available to jump in when the tone changed from convivial to bossy, was enough supervision. So I added the book to the mix. It turned out to be a good morning. Read this book, too! Then we can chat about it, perhaps over coffee, while our children boss each other around. Just a thought.

Open

Okay. So, the reading. It was such a gift to speak those words out loud, to share them. It made me want to finish the Juliet Stories, and share the rest, too, collected altogether into something coherent and complete. The more I’ve reflected on memoir versus fiction, the less it seems that one needs to eclipse the other. Both can exist. Each would be a different creation, and there’s enough material to go around. I’ll barely touch it in one, or the other. Because the stories are so near completion, my plan is to return there first, and finish those. Any publishers out there short on beautiful story collections? Call me. Heh. Pretty sure I know the answer to that. But, the reading reminded me that these are strong stories, worthy of being published.
Open. That’s my state of being these days. Open, not closed. Look at those kids playing in our backyard. They ran outside after school yesterday, despite the chill, and imagined themselves a thousand different places and things. You couldn’t be more open than that.
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Oh, and a late edit addition: just discovered this post on the reading by the musician who played for us that evening. His name is Alex James, and he played us an evening’s worth of sweet homegrown tunes. When we clapped, he said, no, please, I’m just the background music! Well, background or foreground … he gave us the perfect soundtrack to a really fine evening.

Update, on a Rain-Spattered Day

An update seems in order.
Yes, my midterm went well. Apparently my mama-brain still retains and regurgitates factual information upon request. I realized it had been a really really really impressively long time since I’d written an exam; in grad school, we had to endure nerve-wracking seminar presentations instead. All said, it was doable. Best of all, my cold vapours seemed to lift as I entered the classroom, and by the time Kevin had picked me up and driven us across town to the Art Bar, I felt very nearly in the pink of health. It had been a really really really long time since I’d read, too. Though initially nervous, and somewhat dry of mouth, I reminded myself (as ever) to enjoy the moment, and take confidence in the words. The words will lead you home. Or something like that. Tough crowd, reading to a roomful of friends.

I never remember to have photos taken at readings, which is why CJ appears above, not me. He loves to climb a stool and hack away at the computer keyboard, which is probably ill-advised for its long-term health. Apple-Apple has also been spending great swathes of time at the upstairs computer, working on a Quidditch story. She has amazing focus and patience, and reminds me of myself, the way she can hole up inside her imaginary worlds and vanish. I perform vanishing acts regularly, much to the dismay of my family. It is maddening, I can see that. But there’s no other way to write something out. Writing takes me out of life; but it takes me deeper inside of it, too.
Alice Munro said a few things that struck me to the core: one, was that she doesn’t consider herself a very brave person, and though she might be a brave writer, it was very difficult to come back from that writing world and have to deal with the consequences of what she’d written. She admitted that she’d caused pain, not purposely, of course; and one could infer that it pained her greatly to have caused pain. That’s a part of the writing life people don’t much talk about. It’s damned true. She also said that outside of her daily chores, she really just writes. It’s all she does, all she wants to do. That gave me pause. Because it’s not all that I want to do. I have such a variety of interests, my energies run in different directions, and I love that part of myself that is physically engaged with the world; maybe I will not be a writer-writer after all. I’ll just be a happy dabbler in the great sea of literature. Just let it be that what I write is true. Both Alice Munro and Diana Athill spoke at some length about how the only thing that really matters, when writing, is to get at the heart of the matter, that in holding back, hesitating, being afraid, unwilling to go to the core, being anything other than totally honest … well, what you write will ring false. Which returns me to Alice Munro’s comment that she’s not a brave person: yes, she is. She’s been brave enough to write truthfully and unselfconsciously, and brave enough to publish it, no matter the consequences. I salute her. (And I can’t wait to read Diana Athill’s memoirs. I’m certain she’s a brave writer, too).

Where I’m At


Here’s where Kevin and I were last night: in Toronto, listening to Alice Munro and Diana Athill talk about their writing lives. Amazing! Once-in-a-lifetime. Anansi Press has posted a link to the podcast (click on the link above to find it all).

And here’s where I’ll be tonight: in Kitchener, reading from a new story at the Art Bar for the launch of this fall’s New Quarterly (still haven’t held the finished product in my hands; looking forward to that).
Where I’ll be immediately before that doesn’t get a link. Suffice it to say, I’m just required to show up with a brainful of knowledge and a working pen.
And, finally, here’s where I am right now: in bed, clad in pjs and bathrobe, sipping garlic-lemon-ginger tea (apologies to anyone who will be in my vicinity at any point in the near future), fighting a cold. Thankfully, my mother-in-law is visiting and has been wrangling children all morning. We’re all happy it’s finally naptime. (And if you’ve never seen me clad in pjs and bathrobe, be grateful. Be very very grateful. No illustrations needed.)

Book Me

I spent the holiday weekend researching and writing a paper on midwifery, and combined with the book reviews I’ve been working on, and the bits and bobs of commissioned work for The New Quarterly, I’ve (re-)discovered something: I love to write. Really, I love to write just about anything. But there’s a catch. I love to write to a deadline, to a commission, to a purpose, to an end. What’s hard, and beginning to feel near-impossible, almost stagnating, is writing purely for its own sake. I don’t mean these blogs, which feel purposeful in that they’re acting like journal entries and recording details about my family’s changing daily lives. I mean stories, poems. And I don’t mean that I write stories or poems that don’t need to be written–every story and poem I write comes from a place of genuine inspiration and need. The problem is that many of these don’t have a home, and after many years of working quietly and patiently upon material, what one wants is a home for it. Readers. A purpose. An end.
I’ve been reading Noah Richler’s cheery article in The Walrus on book publishing. His wife is the publisher of Anansi, a small and lovely Canadian publishing house, so he has a double view into the issues plagueing the industry. Which are not small. Do people even want to buy actual hold-in-the-hand, printed on paper books anymore? Who buys books? Did you know that Google has surreptitiously digitized whole libraries of books which will be/are available online? For free. And there’s the problem. Writing is work, like any other. Writing a book of fiction can take years. Who pays for those years of work? The idea is that one gets paid at the end, with the publication and plenty of sales; and, yes, this model works out for a few.
But for everyone else?
The publishers don’t know the answer to this either, big and small alike.
In researching for this paper, I discovered a big change: everything’s online. Journal articles are searchable and fully accessible with a university library account and a couple of clicks. Heck, entire books are available too. On the one hand, this is marvelous, saves a huge amount of wasted time and travel, allows one to scan a variety of sources looking for those most useful. On the other hand, reading text online is not fun, hard on the eyeballs and the back and the butt. I ended up printing out the most useful articles and headed to the library for the actual books. Is this because I’m old-fashioned? I also like to curl up in bed with a nice fat paper-printed book.
I’ve got too many ideas today, and too little time. It’s nearly lunchtime, my littlest would like to be held non-stop (runny nose, teething?), and I’m babysitting an extra, too.
Above, see pictured the food for our family Thanksgiving dinner, a snotty-nosed little tiger, and CJ’s latest favourite place to play (even better if a grownup is doing dishes).

Pace Yourself

Nope, that’s not Apple-Apple striding ahead out in front, in her very first running race ever; there she is, that very small figure most decidedly bringing up the rear. This was at the start of the 2.3 km race, and we had instructed her to pace herself. Which she did. “I was really exhausted because it was the farthest I’ve ever run, but when I saw the finish line I felt so excited that I forgot that my body was so exhausted and I sprinted as fast as I could!” She came in sixth in a field of about twelve seven-year-olds; interestingly, she will run in the same field next year, as she’s still only six. (But there is no six-year-old category). Albus–also pacing himself–also headed out in dead last, then worked his way somewhere closer to mid-pack, at 41st. There was some debate about the size of his field. Suffice it to say, he felt supremely pleased with his performance. And the parents were equally pleased.
This was a Kevin-in-charge event, and I received all reports via texts, as I was on my way to class. It was called a “Fun Run,” and Kevin and the kids were under the misapprehension that it would involve a jog around another school with their running club (or something of the sort), when instead it was a mini-cross-country meet, with loads of kids from other local schools, loud music playing, coaches readying their charges, nervous excitement, wearing your school’s shirt. Kevin said even if he’d known it was a cross-country meet, it wouldn’t have made a difference, because in his experience (rural living), cross country meets only involved, at most, fifty kids total.
Next time, we’ll dress the children in race-appropriate clothing. Apple-Apple was wearing a button-up shirt, for example. This is what happens when we co-parent. But it’s small stuff compared to the overall payoff, which, this fall, has meant that I get to say “yes” to more opportunities.
This past week, I was fortunate enough to doula at another birth, this time a friend’s–in fact, my first friend-birth (the others were people not known to me previously). It was, as it has been on each occasion, a revelatory experience, a true gift, the kind of experience that doesn’t translate easily into words–even for me. I drove home thinking, I must do this again, how can I do this again? I’m focussing my research paper on midwifery, generally, and have been reading a variety of texts, including a manual from 1671 written by a midwife; for some reason, this subject remains deeply interesting to me. I know this isn’t the case with a lot of topics, so it feels like I’ve struck on something that resonates core-deep. If I were to pursue a doctorate now, I suspect it would relate to midwifery in some fundamental way. But I don’t think doctorate is where this interest will take me. I can’t see the destination clearly. Maybe I don’t need one right now; maybe this journey, this process, this research and continuing hands-on experience is enough.
My other great pleasure this fall has been a renewed appreciation for writing. (Though it’s been almost entirely non-fiction. Hmm).
Speaking of writing (though in this case, writing fiction), I’ve just discovered that The New Quarterly has posted a sneak preview of their upcoming, soon-to-be-available fall edition, featuring my Juliet stories. Take a look! Those are my cows on the beach on the front!
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Oh, and here’s the info on the Oct. 22nd reading related to those stories, though, yikes! As soon as I saw it, my heart started to beat about twice as fast. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a reading …
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