Archive for the ‘writing’ category

As for the terrors ahead…

December 31, 2015

You’d think we’d never seen food before. December 31st, 11AM in the grocery store, and the line snakes around the centre displays of gift cards and bananas. We’re all at the same thing, gathering to consume larger amounts of the things we eat on a regular basis anyway.

What else is there to life but the necessity to feed, take shelter, and celebrate survival at the end of each year?

I pull out a book (I’ve taken the advice of Stephen King, never leave home without one). David Grossman, See Under: Love. I read:

Momik tells Mr. Munin about [the latest spaceship] Pioneer 4 and Munin jumps up and lifts Momik high in the air, and hugs him with all his might, to his prickly whiskers, and his coat and the stink, and he dances wildly all around the yard, a strange and frightening dance under the sky and the treetops and the sun, and Momik is afraid someone passing by will see him like this, and Munin’s two black coattails fly up in the air behind him, and he doesn’t let Momik down until he’s all worn out, and then he takes a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and looks around to see if anyone’s watching, and then he crooks his finger for Momik to come closer, and Momik who’s still pretty dizzy comes closer and sees it’s a kind of map with names written on it in a language he doesn’t understand…. Munin whispers in his face, “The Lord redeemeth in the twinkling of an eye, and the sons of light soar high,” and then he imitates a flying leap with his big hand and says, “Feeiiiww!” so loud and furiously that Momik who is still dizzy trips over a stone and falls down, and that’s when Momik with his very own eyes saw stinky black hilarious Munin taking off diagonally in a strong wind to the sky like the prophet Elijah in his chariot maybe, and at that moment, a moment he would never-ever-black-and-blue forget, he understood at long last that Munin was actually a kind of secret magician….

When I look up, a woman who was grunting in an attempt to get her shopping cart through the line has suddenly smiled at the crowd that parts just for her, and a child who was crying decides to laugh.

I consume books, in line at the grocery store, at home between work and guiding the kids to figure out how to clean up after themselves. I’m reading Geraldine Brooks’ latest, The Secret Chord. I adore the brilliance of Brooks’ historical fiction!

I dip into my daughter’s pile, but I never have enough time for fantasy, so I demand she summarizes all of her fiction I am missing.

I pull out one of my fav’s, Anakana Schofield’s Malarky.I love this one, and re-visit it for the brilliant voice, the surprising plot twists and depth of vulnerability of the main character.

Then I’m on to dancer memoirs, sheer, raw, admirable, take-my-breath-away perseverance in Agnes de Mille’s Dance to the Piper, and the much more recent  Life in Motion, by Misty Copeland. I prefer de Mille’s writing, the density, the wide world view she presents of life in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, but Copeland’s story is no less riveting.

There’s a different kind of dancing in Bohumil Hrabal’s Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, a hilarious, one-sentence freak show, loveable, dirty old man, and in Karel Capek’s War with the Newts.

I’ve begun my own read-around-the-world, and I wonder how many of the books (thanks for Tweeting it, Gemma!) from Ann Morgan’s list I could get through, in 2016.

But I have my own project to work through in the coming year. My friend, Sharon Bala, says, tell everyone you are writing a novel and it will keep you to task.

So here it is: I will finish a first draft of my novel in 2016. For my Master’s thesis, but really, for me. Resolution: have a goal, stick with it. And in the dark of self-doubt, when weeks go by where laundry and doctor’s appointments seems to take precedence over my work, I will Dance to the Piper and persevere.

Or, as in my daughter’s favourite line from Bridge to Terebithia:

As for the terrors ahead, well, you just have to stand up to your fear and not let it squeeze you white.

Published!

December 7, 2015

One of the stories I wrote recently found a home! My story is called Rescue, and it is published in an anthology of new Newfoundland writing called Racket, along with stories by the other members of my writing group, Port Authority.

Racket is published by Breakwater books. Check it out:

http://www.breakwaterbooks.com/books/racket/

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The realm of the unexpected

April 19, 2014

 

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park, where the European and North American plates are separating at a rate of 1cm per year.

When I was small enough to be stuffed in the back of the car with my brother and toured across the continent, my dad would sing a repertoire of traveling songs. Our favourite was about a man’s first night of marital bliss. The couple are alone in the bedroom, and the woman takes off her eyelashes, which were fake. She takes off her hair, which was a wig. She takes off her false nails, the blush on her cheeks, and her leg, a prosthetic. She removes unexpected parts of her body, everything besides the clothes the man had hoped to see in a puddle on the floor.

I was thinking about this song on the Icelandair flight back to North America from Europe. How appropriate it was that my dad only sung this one during road trips. In Iceland, I went to a geothermal pool in Reykjavik and had to shed my very North American notions of shameful nudity, to strip down in the change room and shower in front of other girls and women – how liberating! (see #4 here) Also in Reykjavik, I shrugged off my tendency toward nothing but mellow music, and, after seeing Sin Fang perform at an art gallery, I went to a heavy metal show at Gamli Gaukurinn – how ear piercing! I loved every minute of it (after shoving tissue in my ears to block the high notes). I learned that heavy metal has a basis in classical music (thanks, Gemma!), and that, as a lake-lover, there are public pools I can handle – the kind with no skin-drying chlorine.

This is what travel is all about: a stripping away of the expected, to step into the realm of the unexpected.

Travel is also about making new connections in a world of endless possibility, beyond the borders of daily life. In a Reykjavik café called Kaffibarinn, Gemma and I met a couple from Bergen, Norway. The man was fascinated when I told him I live in Newfoundland, because he is a journalist and friend of Todd Saunders, the world-renowned architect who designed the five star inn for the Shorefast Foundation on Fogo Island, NL. I was struck by the way the couple talked about art – his painting, her adoration of music, the people they know and the communities they adore. I said goodbye, determined to incorporate more art into my own life back home.

I booked this trip to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat. I wanted to do something special and memorable, and selfishly indulgent for my 40th birthday. The week knocked “special” way out of the park. The workshops were fabulous, with take-away inspiration about immediacy in literary beginnings, story arc, character and voice, and the emotional beat to end on. Every time I turned around there was another writer with a fascinating story to tell. Each and every one of us like a turtle poking our heads out of the shell of self-consciousness we wear, downplaying every small thing we’ve ever accomplished, and giddy to be in the presence of published authors.

home of Halldór Laxness

In the home of Nobel Prize winning author Halldór Laxness.

We met the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who told us with a smile that in his country there are no statues of presidents, but you can find many statues of writers.

The day of my birthday we went on a tour of the Golden Circle (even the weather cooperated with mostly clear skies), and that evening, we enjoyed two author readings by Gerður Kristný and Ragna Sigurðardóttir, and a performance by Lay Low. As we left KEX to head to another bar, the northern lights appeared. Only in non-fiction do things work out this perfectly.

My husband was worried I’d be sad and lonely to be away from my family for my birthday. I admit I did choke up once: during the final Q&A with the authors, when Susan Orlean said, Give yourself a break if you are writing into the void (without deadlines or promise of publication). I decided, if there’s nothing else interesting about me, this is it. The fact that I am committed to my writing, without any concrete goal besides maybe being published, someday. So committed, I take time away from my family and other pleasures to pursue it, to work at it, so committed that I’ve invested in it, in the best ways possible.

When asked her opinion on pursuing an MFA, the very wonderful and inspiring Geraldine Brooks suggested a writer could take the thirty thousand per year she’d spend on an MFA, and travel instead.

I couldn’t agree more.

Brutal winter magic

March 29, 2014

It started with the flu and a power outage. It developed into a cold, a cough, bronchitis. Weekly storms brought winds that nearly blew me off my feet. Someone threw up. Someone else got an ear infection. Cold sweats and hot chills, and he we go with the flu again.

This winter has been less than kind to the general health of my family.

There were four PD days to manage in February, snow days and sick days from work and school. Several times I said aloud, I did not go back to work to be stuck at home with kids! Then I’d get sick again, for punishment.

Still, there’s been magic. The tooth fairy visited us with Santa Christmas Eve. I’d forgotten about this until my daughter lost her first molar last week.

The next day, after she’d stashed her four dollars, she said she had something to ask me. I didn’t know it at the time, but my body was brewing another bout of flu. So maybe I wasn’t feeling much like keeping the magic alive, which made it easier, when my daughter asked if it is, in fact, parents who leave money for teeth, to ignore the angel on my one shoulder for the devil on the other. I told her the truth. Then, when she asked about the Easter bunny, I believe I used the word ridiculous.

Now I might have the angel and devil mixed up. Because what I will never forget, despite my haze of cold sweats, is how grateful she was that I didn’t lie to her direct question. And what I hope my daughter never forgets about this conversation, was the advice I gave her to move forward with this new information: how, when you are no longer told what to believe, you are free to discover your own magic in the world.

It’s taken a certain amount of magic to get through this brutal winter. I found plenty between the covers of books. Quite literally, in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, what a cool idea! Very much an impossible love story, where real magic is almost believable against a backdrop of realism, with so much great detail. I have re-read some of my favourite authors, Jane Urquhart, Anita Rau Badami, Barbara Gowdy, Michael Ondaatje, Susan Musgrave.

Did I mention I am going to Iceland? I can hardly believe it, it seems so unreal, but I’ll be there in just over a week. My preparation for the Iceland Writers Retreat has open several doorways to new discoveries, including Sjon (I read The Blue Fox in an afternoon, and it summoned ancient storytelling methods in a modern setting, very different from anything I’ve read lately). Another book that was on my list but I got to it sooner because of this trip, was The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden (which won Canada Reads this year!). This is a very important book, one I feel like I’ve been waiting for, for a long time, for its very honest depiction of Canada’s beginnings, a story we don’t talk about often enough.

And finally, I discovered Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. I haven’t been able to pick up another new book since putting this one down. This is the most incredible work of historical fiction I could ever imagine. This one makes me squeeze my eyes shut tight and imagine I can time travel to the places Brooks brought to life on the page, several different time periods, all drawn so clearly it makes my fingers itch to touch the dirt, the rocks, and clothing of the people there.

I’ve had at least one sick day with each of my children this winter. With my three-year-old, I made train tracks and caught up on some Kids’ CBC episodes. With my middle son, I played Uno, Monopoly, and enjoyed his favourite Disney movies. My daughter and I watched two seasons of The Dance Academy on Netflix. I’ve hardly had time to think about how stuck I was feeling last year before I found a job. Things are ticking along, just as they should.

 

 

Iceland adventure

January 20, 2014

Reading Icelandic literature and history in preparation for this:

http://icelandwritersretreat.com

The Motherlode of Inspiration

May 10, 2013

I’m suffering a roadblock where my due may not be coming. My due time to sleep, my due time to have two coherent thoughts back to back, uninterrupted by tiny hands and persistent munchkin voices, my due time to put on clothes that haven’t been trampled under a hoard of dirty laundry.

It’s eight am and my daughter is not dressed or finished her homework and my son is anxious to start walking to school and my two-year-old is freaking out because his cereal is soggy and he wants a cookie. I take a deep breath and pass out small glasses of orange juice and bowls of oatmeal, make sure they are all wearing clean underwear (the pants and shirts I can’t be sure of). After school my daughter comes home crying because of a fight she’s had with friends and I ask all the diplomatic questions and nod understandingly in all the right places. My son is crying on the stoop because his father, his hero, is not home from work yet and nothing mom can do is quite as magnificent as what he can do.

My next deep breath conjures an image that’s been hovering in my peripheral vision through weeks of sleepless nights with one coughing kid or another, weeks of being one pace behind a clean house or a move made on my job search. This image is one that lives in my heart even with thousands of kilometres between us, and it is of my mother.

Image

A pregnant me celebrating a birthday with my mom.

Mother of composure who can pass on dessert and make me believe that a morning walk is important as sunlight. Mother of compassionate determination in the face of sky-high demands of career and family and self-care. Mother of creativity when it came to birthday parties or PD days, always ready with a cardboard box — aka fort — from an appliance store, scissors and crayons, glue and scrap material. Mother of hilarity, who has this great ability to laugh at herself (she once sent me a copy of her disastrous passport photo in a letter I opened, to my great embarrassment, in front of my friends at camp. But I had to laugh  because I could imagine her chuckling to herself as she sealed the awful picture into an envelope and put it in the mail for me). Mother of a remarkable way of creating fabulous meals in a wake of charred oven mitts and broken dishes, spilled soup and sticky dribbles in the creases of the kitchen. Mother with a knack for something more laughable than a good comedy sketch in the way she never fails to screw up the punchline of a joke. Mother of maturity and insight who could pinpoint the appropriate lessons and events by which I have marked out some fabulous courses for my life — summer jobs where I was able to work outdoors, encouragement to not just talk about writing but to call myself a writer, and so many other practical ideas she sought out to place in my lap. Mother of energy and unconditional love, unafraid to be wrong (but really, always right), to get angry or express joy, who taught me to fight my own battles and for God’s sake pick up after myself (that one didn’t really stick, sorry mom), and to go after whatever it is will make me most happy.

During the daily grind of rearing children I find it tough to imagine what will make me happy but that, like my mother in my life, is always there, even if it is pushed to peripheral places where it mixes like watercolours on the canvas of my existence. Thoughts of how best to proceed day to day blend with images of my own mother looking when I wanted to show her a dance step or a story I’d written, answering whenever I call her seeking advice, encouraging me to study or practise or move a little faster in the mornings while getting herself ready for another day at a job she loved.

I’ve had a lot of great role models in my life but my mom tops them all, and here’s how: because when I’m not feeling up to the struggle to shove pudgy round feet into square shoes, or to arm wrestle carseat straps, to clean another poopy bum, deal with midnight barf-a-thons or the confusing new math homework, and I’ve yelled at my kids not because they are awful children but because I’m tired and I’ve lost my patience, I think about all the wonderful things my mom manages alongside her roles as mother, daughter, wife and friend. This business of motherhood is not, even with well behaved, perfect children like my mom had and like I have, an easy job. So far, the only place I’ve got my mom beat is having three children to her two. But I know that when one career wasn’t satisfying, my mom worked hard, taking courses or networking to find another. And when that challenge was old hat to her, she strove for more. Always while remaining an available, approachable, and loving mother. She is my light at the end of a sometimes murky tunnel.

As I was writing this my two-year-old got out of bed, whining and wanting me to come upstairs and I said no, go back to bed, but I asked for one more hug and kiss from him. He refused. I put on a pouty face and he said, Don’t cry, so I pretended to cry and he ran into my arms with a smile and gave me a big hug and kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, all over my face the way I do to him, the way my mom did to me, and when he walked away he said, Don’t cry, and I somehow maintained my composure.

I have many wonderful female role models in my life. My very own fit and healthy ball of energy, humour, intelligence and wisdom who is a superstar of a mother, truly. Lovely aunts and a mother-in-law and sisters-in-law I admire and can confide in. I had two amazing and loving grandmothers. I have had terrific female bosses, also mothers, and only the best women friends with little ducklings in tow. My mom introduced me to the battle we as a gender have been waging, to be able to fulfill our dreams that extend outside of our work in the home while answering the very natural pull toward motherhood. Her actions as a working mom have been a lesson to me in how to go after what I want, while celebrating my femininity and my capacity as a mother. I adore time spent with my mom shopping or hiking or getting lost on a road trip and finding our way into a quaint cafe. I cherish the unending talks my mom and I are capable of, which drive the men in our family out of doors to swat flies in reverential silence. I celebrate the fact that, thanks to my mom and other women like her (although no other is quite like her), where we are is a place of true partnership between the sexes, if not complete equality. I know women like my mom worked hard to get us here.

Another thing my mother taught me is to be myself. And this self, as a mother, is something I can only be as a woman, full of both self-doubt and confidence, creativity, ambition and hope. I embrace this part with love, laughter, thoughtfulness, and never without compassion. Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss and kiss, to you, my beautiful fellow moms but most of all, to the brilliant shining star who is my very own and much beloved, mother.

Lost in Winter

February 18, 2013

So this character walks into a library. He has unruly eyebrows, notable because he appears, otherwise, to be quite young. He is under thirty. Well, maybe thirty. Just.

He has never been in a library. Never in his life. Yet he is standing inside the door of this one, stories of thick books rising up eight floors from the open foyer, layers of heavy tomes, thin volumes in a series, wide opuses, extraordinary titles. He senses their grandeur without taking another step, without touching a single cover. He does something else he’s never done before: he strokes an eyebrow.

The eyebrows he attributes to the fact that he shaved them off once (okay, he had one shaved off when he passed out drunk at a party when he was eighteen, and immediately shaved the other so as not to appear lopsided. There is nothing worse, in his view, than lopsidedness. It is perhaps his biggest pet peeve).

He leaves the eyebrows alone because he’s found the more he tries to shave/trim/tend to them, the bushier they grow. Call them caterpillars, cattails, the frayed edges of rugs that have been vacuumed excessively, towels that should have been thrown out decades ago. They and his library moment are all you are ever to know about him.

Perhaps it was a sense of hibernation that drew him out of my imagination. The closeness of winter that stifles other meanderings. But as we all push through the centre of February, there’s a restlessness of spring around the corner that carries an eagerness bordering on madness. This is my sense of the world, post Groundhog Day, pre-thaw. My escape from adult responsibilities and routine is fiction. Mostly writing it. Is it an escape, or a moving into something more real than the mindless routine of seasons?

I got lost in the stacks the other day. My breath of fresh air in the basement of a library. I’d read a short story online by Joyce Carol Oates, In the Region of Ice (you can find it here: http://www.narrativemagazine.com/issues/stories-week-2012%E2%80%932013/region-ice). She’s got this theme of humanism in the story, so I had this on the brain when I walked toward the literary journals and got sidetracked by a title on the Social Science shelf, called Anthropology and Humanism. Learned about a form of music that I couldn’t really tell you anything about except it’s name (which was spelled with a K in the journal, and a C online, a tidbit that must have its own storied story), Karnatic, and that the article has already seeped into more than one story I’ve been writing, where music, the motion of the human body, culture and sensibility are all at play.

There’s a fiction in randomly coming across something new, and the meaning I place on it, to use in my next (current) story. But that’s also pretty real. Or maybe I just want to think so, as an escape from the endless cycles of earthy existence that carries me from one season to the next.