Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

41yP7zqWI8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_I know I am by no means the first to cheer this wonderful book about writing and life and joy and jealousy and competitiveness and outgrowing that and love and loss. It’s one of the MUST READ books in any writer’s (or person’s) collection.

But I had it out last night for some inspiration and came across the lines below and they made me laugh out loud. She’s commenting about how she takes index cards with her everywhere to note down things since she (like me and many of us) forgets them unless she does. I know I travel with piles of little notebooks to write down little phrases and such. (I hear you can also do it on Evernote but my battery runs down with astonishing regularity and there’s nothing to beat a pencil and paper in the rain.) She’s figured out how to fold the cards and her pencil so she doesn’t look bulky, even.

But here’s what she says about this need to write things down:

I think that if you have the kind of mind that retains important and creative thoughts – that is, if your mind still works – you’re very lucky and you should not be surprised if the rest of us do not want to be around you. I actually have one writer friend - whom I think I will probably be getting rid of soon – who said to me recently that if you don’t remember it when you get home, it probably wasn’t that important. And I felt eight years old again, with something important to say that had suddenly hopped down one of the rabbit holes in my mind…

Emphasis mine. How wonderfully witchy of her!

That’s the thing about writing. Because no one really KNOWS how it’s done, we’re all out here in the wilderness stumbling along, and the slightest little thing can make us feel eight again and hushed up again and told to stop that talking and shouldn’t you be doing something constructive? again.

Reading Anne Lamott brings me back. I may be only eight with little to say, but at least I have a friend here, and perhaps we can play with our word blocks together.

Come join us, if you haven’t already. Anne Lamott also writes great books on faith and life and so forth – depending on your religious stance, these may or may not be for you – but in all things she comes across as a gal I’d love to have a lemonade with and laugh til our stomachs ached.

And then we’d write. And write. And write.

Reading “Why I read”, by Wendy Lesser

9780374289201Don’t you just love it when you open a fresh new book and, especially if you are the very first one to get it from the library and it has that scent of new adventure all over it, and you turn to the first page and realize the author is a friend you just haven’t met yet?

I’m on page EIGHT, for heaven’s sake and already I see the rest of the day before me, curled up with Ms. Lesser and a cup of tea and wallowing in her excellent writing and wisdom.

She starts off addressing the readers of her book, something she says she’s not done before, as usually she writes what she writes and hopes people like it at the end (apparently they do, judging from her publication list). This time is different, she says:

But with this book – perhaps because it so often contemplates the very relationship between writer and reader, speaker and spoken to in the works of literature I have loved – I find myself wondering about who you are? Are you a young person…, or are you an older person…? Do you come from a background similar to mine, or are we completely unlike in all sorts of ways? I would hope that the answer might be “all of the above”, and perhaps it can be, for the written word, at least as embodied in the English language, allows “you” to be both singular and plural. It’s not only the writer who can say, with Walt Whitman, “I am large, I contain multitudes”. That truth applies to readers as well. (p.8)

I think I may just take my multitudes for a gentle stroll through this book for an hour or two before I start my writing day. I can already see tea with Ms. Lesser is going to be interesting, comfortable, and stimulating. How I love meeting a new literary friend!

Freaking Out!

Gawd. I am losing it, and so, apparently, is the rest of the world. Everyone is fighting one another, my sodding firstFH9J-born is still not speaking to me with extreme prejudice, journalists are being kidnapped and women everywhere are being killed and raped and abused and by golly jinkums, I am just about ready to lose it and go postal on the entire place. And don’t get me started on the mess that is this Canadian government, else I shall shoot coffee out of my nose and burn you with the effluent.

It’s hard being cheerful in such a world. I find it almost impossible. Why just the other day I thought, quite seriously, about driving my car into a tree. What’s it all FOR, anyway? We don’t seem to be progressing, we dwell in hatred and anger and the urge (ever larger) to cling to the almighty penny rather than share a wee bit with anyone else.

What the hell is wrong with us all.

Oh yeah, and I’m writing crap. For my course. Which means I will have to send it to someone I respect and feel her frustration and watch the edits mount up online. Which of course is the worst thing of all the above…

Just kidding. The world sucketh anon. But if it weren’t for people like Helen Humphreys and Roald Dahl and Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett and Stella Gibbons and Bronwyn Wallace and Norton Juster and A.A.Milne and Edward Gorey and Jose Saramago and Donna Morrissey and PG Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford and Kermit, it would sucketh more, much much more.

And so off I toil, in the hope that somewhere in all this random verbiage, a flicker of magic may occur that makes some of this soul-sucking world make sense, even for a moment.

 

Submission Madness

In “the Secret Life of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4″, by the hilarious Sue Townsend, Adrian’s class is on a field trip when the bus driver, driven to the ends of his nerves, submits to motorway madness. All of the kids arrive home safely, but shaken, and the bus driver gets a well-deserved rest.

We’ve all been there, right? In the car, with howling kids? My oldest son just about lost his hearing thanks to the endless screaming by the middle one. I’ve felt that madness slip over me. (My sister still tells the story of me putting them out of the car.)

Well, today a different madness came over me. I started submitting things to publishers and journals. All sorts of things. Stories that have lain fallow for months, little ditty poems that struck my fancy, shorter or longer versions of other works in progress (called WIPs by the trendy Humber).

It’s not strictly speaking a sane process. I mean, I could work on these stories longer, could probably edit them for another few years, but there’s something about being in this crazy Humber program that makes me want to take it all seriously, start sending things about. It’s been a while since I was published, except in our local grass-roots poetry journal, OHForgery (which I love).

Oh, I’ve sent things in for competitions, sure. Won a few. Placed in a few others. But going for the publication thing – hesitant. See, in a contest, you can always argue there were so many competitors that you couldn’t possibly be expected to win. So when you don’t, that’s cool. No self-abuse required.

But when a journal writes back, no sorry, this isn’t for us, well, it chews a bit of your soul away. Immediately you start the inner walk of shame.

So today, I’m sending out submissions like I used to send out flirts in online dating. Send out lots, you don’t notice the no replies as much. Someone usually replies pleasantly…

Of course, if I don’t, I’ve got some lovely Writers Tears to drown my sorrows…

http://redroom.com/member/dorothyanne-brown/writing/first-date

Trust, that elusive animal, or Humber, week two

It’s coming up to the point of no return. Today is the last day I can withdraw from Humber’s School for Writers with no fee penalty.

I have to admit it’s looming large in my head. Not that there’s anything wrong with the program, and I am lucky lucky to have a mentor who I love reading and who has, I believe, a similarly twisted sense of humour to mine.

But I’m afraid. I’m afraid of letting myself down, I’m afraid of failing again, I’m afraid of starting something that I might be going to fail.

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And I’m SO good at NOT writing. I find it very easy to doubt myself, my ability to stick to anything, to see a project to completion. My lifetime script has been that I am an initiator, not a finisher. But that’s not strictly true, I know, if I think back. But I still don’t trust myself. And on the other side, I hate when I don’t try something out of fear.

Not sure where my messed up self comes from, don’t have time to dig deep enough into my psyche to figure it out today, but I know it’s there, like a big rock in the middle of the stream.

It’s not just me I don’t trust. I could list the names of trustworthy types I feel I know on the fingers of both hands (on a bad day, just one). Like Nova Scotia weather, you can come to rely upon a sunny day only to find rain driving into your face. I’ve become a cynic, not totally by myself, but with some considerable help. And fog.

But, when you have trouble trusting others, and you can’t trust yourself, either, it gets pretty murky out there. I have to start somewhere.

Maybe I should take a page from Neil Gaiman, another favourite author.

trust-2

 

Counting down

When I was in nursing school, almost at the end, my roommate and I hung a little tablet of post-it’s on the wall, marked with numbers, and tore one off every day until we got to ZERO!!!!!!! (Remember PP?)

When I was expecting my babies, I counted days down, eager to see their faces, meet them at last.

But now, as a grow up, I seem to have lots of countdowns going on simultaneously.

10 days til my course with Humber starts.

26 days until my next trip to Toronto.

47 days til I go to a cottage.

9 days til I go to my next meeting of the Halifax Ukulele Gang.

21 days til the Blue Nose marathon

Month and a bit til the MS walk…

Everything is exciting and something to look forward to, she says, splitting up her sentences in a way she will be unable to soon…

But my brain is crowded with conflicting priorities and thrills and spills. Time to focus.

Once Humber starts, I’m restricting my FB time to rare occasions as rewards for finishing goals. I’ll be writing my experiences with the course here, in case anyone is interested. I’ll be slowing down email responses and trying to check only 3 times a day – morning, noon, and night.

So forgive me if I seem absent… Just trying to push my brain into a focused box. It doesn’t fit as well as my cat does. (He’s been living in that box since it arrived a few days ago).

Wish me luck!

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Ah, Hemingway…

10153666_10152020746881776_8049968211621102789_nI cuddled with a statue of Hemingway when I was in Cuba, and I have a fondness for polydactylic cats, but other than that, I’ve got to say, I get a bit tired of him being held up as all that and a bag of chips every time someone talks writing.

What of the wonderful other writers, those that used long sentences, those that write of non-manly, non-war-related things. Women. You know, them.

Does it ever seem to you that, of the entire panoply of female writers, only Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath get any press time? With maybe the occasional Maya Angelou and Margaret Atwood tossed in “from afar” as my mother in law used to say about currants in unsatisfactory Christmas cakes?

It’s gotta stop.  So now and again, I’m going to hunt out famous female writers (some of whom not so famous, cos, as we know, there’s that publication bias out there) and put their writing quotes in this blog. Just for fun.

Here’s the first, from Goodreads! Yay! From one of my favourite writers, too, and so true.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
― Madeleine L’Engle

Going to ground

Time is creeping on….

I’ve made a vow to myself to tie myself into writing for the next several months, stay focused, try to avoid distractions. I’ve signed up for a high intensity writing course and I want to devote the amount of effort needed to get good results and not waste my or my mentor’s time. Which means cutting some ties, removing myself from some activities, stopping myself from my involuntary volunteering.

Ah, the volunteering. You see, it’s a problem I have. I’m not sure if it’s because of my Roman Catholic inoculation of guilt, or the inner knowledge that I am not the person I want to be, but I find myself endlessly wanting to throw myself into things to help out, to atone, to serve. Maybe I just need to go to Confession.

I’m not sure wanting to help is necessarily a BAD thing, but it means I tend to overcommit and get confused. And waste time, and exhaust myself. All foolishness I should have learned to give up when I developed MS. But I struggle on, silly me.

Detaching from people is difficult, too. It is hard not to give offence when you are really setting boundaries, especially when your boundaries have been too flexible in the past. Poor judgement, the need to be liked, the desire to be loved and wanted – well, they all play in to wavery boundaries and the loss of goals and focus. I’ve always been slightly scornful of those who are able to set firm boundaries with their time – how uncaring! How selfish! How cold!

How accomplished they are now.

And there is a part of me that says I have a gift, sometimes, with my words. I can touch people, I can tell a good story, I have something I want to do with my writing. When I allow myself to immerse myself in it, I can make some headway. But I consistently shortchange myself.

So I’m going to go to ground this time. I’ve allotted myself time for ukulele, as it gives my soul wings. I will continue with my rug hooking, as the fibres and colours speak to my heart. I’ve booked in time for exercise as my MS won’t stop moving unless I fight against it every day. My family always has first dibs on my time – as the woman said in the coffee shop, “Ah birthed ‘em”, so I’m always going to be there for them.

There are my dear friends, MB, H, B, P, L, T and W. Always a space in my life for them, though the times may be shorter than in the past. I hope they’ll understand. 

And then there’s Mr. PH. He I can’t put off, ever. For one thing, he’s my conscience, quite able to nag as needed. For another, I’m too fond of his dear phlegmatic British self.

Finally, Mr. Bendicks, my furry friend. I can’t put him off, either, but that’s primarily because if I do he stands all over my dasjbbdfgl;hf.

The course runs until late fall this year. Wish me luck with focusing. It’s with Humber College, and I encourage writers to explore it. Task for today, continue reading the recommended text, Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A guide to Narrative Craft.