Writing classes, or how to spend lots of money without really having to write

13 10 2018

I’m guilty. I’ve been signing up for writing classes since I started writing way back when become-a-writermy youngest was 2 or so (He’s in his late 20’s). I’ve done college classes (excellent), online courses (variable).  Like Claudia Casper, I love literary festivals as well (SO fun and full of kindred spirits and one was in Iceland, just saying). I’ve done Humber, Gotham, and a few other classy places.

One could argue that I’ve been wallowing in writing courses and socializing with other writers rather than actually (ahem) images-2writing. But I have been published here and there over the years and was feeling pretty confident until I started writing for public health and was told I needed to suck all the life out of things. Now I have too much life in things.  It’s like, once the boot of writing pamphlets was lifted off my neck, all I seem to be able to write is bad language, unusual sex scenes, and naughty characters. And religion.

I MAY be working a few things out somewhere in the depths of my brain.

220px-Margaret_Atwood_2015I’ve just finished a Masterclass online, taught by Margaret Atwood. I’ve had my difficulties with Ms. Atwood, with her negative worldview, and most especially with the stranglehold she has on Canadian Literature. In a sour grapes way, I complain about the FOMA (Friends of Margaret Atwood), those who get slid in for Booker prizes on their first attempt, the upper crust of writers. (I am still bitter about Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, which is yet another memoir about how awful doctor training is. They should try nursing training – the same disadvantages with much less pay and no respect.) (OMG, Bloodletting has been optioned for television! Gawd.)(I really don’t think it’s very good, can you tell?)

But I’m slipping into my usual pit of writerly jealousy and self-hatred (What have I published recently, anyway???). So, back to the class. Very rarely in the writing biz you fall across someone who is both a good writer and a good teacher. Margaret Atwood is one of those rare angels. (As are Christina Decarie and Meg Wolitzer and David Lebovitz and Claudia Casper, to name a few) The others I mentioned are good face to face, where I met them. Margaret Atwood manages to be warm, engaging, encouraging and realistic while chatting to a screen. As in Steven King’s wonderful On Writing, her course offers nuggets of information that are worth the time and expense to obtain.

Well, at least I think so, and as I said, I’m a bit of an expert in these things.

My favourite tidbit of advice from Margaret Atwood’s course?

“The wastepaper basket is your friend. It was invented for you, by God.”

I’m posting that on my computer. I need to remember this. For all of my creative endeavours…it’s freeing and opens the door to literary and creative play. After all, no one has to hear a wastepaper basket scream… and I can even use my crafting urge to create the basket itself!

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Indecision…

11 10 2018

images-43“The problem,” says Elizabeth Gilbert, “…is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice.”

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But then, Neil Gaiman (a person I gush over regularly, unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, who, though okay, is given to bromides) says: “Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”

See, I like that philosophy! One of my email names is Dabble, after all. And I DO dabble – trying this, attempting that, fooling about the edges, usually bailing when I start to get good. The last part is where I get cross with myself. It’s like I doom myself to endlessly dabbling without ever seriously contending.

 

Sometimes it isn’t my fault (except if you believe in the psychogenic source of disease). I really HAVE developed an allergy to wool and it annoys me terribly. How’s a wool sculptor supposed to work if I’m sneezing all the time and scratching my hands? Sheesh.

But then there are all the other things I’ve tried. Like my books. Or solo road trips. Or …

Well, there are lots, and I suspect you, gentle reader, have a bundle of UFOs (Unfinished objects) as well. I have a cowl I started knitting some years ago until the numbers of mistakes I was making made me give up and put the yarn in solitary until it learned to IMG_5678behave. I’m sure by now it has developed a psychosis from too much solitary confinement and will simply tangle itself as soon as I look at it. I have three embroidery tasks on the go. I have a couple of felted animal commissions I should finish or say I can’t. And I have at least two books in the burner, waiting for some love.

Unfortunately, Gilbert is right about there not being time to do everything. Unless I become a complete hermit and stop gaily gadabouting with friends (which I enjoy tremendously) and allow my cat to pine away, I can’t possibly do everything. Plus, where do I fit the pleasures of reading, the joys of a kiss, the enlightenment of a walk on a fall morning?

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As my lived life gets longer and my expected left life correspondingly shortens, I wonder, what will I leave behind? In a way, a pile of UFOs would be appropriate, as I’m sure I’ll leave before I am finished with this planet and the people it holds. But I feel I need to pick a horse and ride it.

Then the lazy one on my shoulder whispers, “You’re retired! You should just be having fun!” Alas, for me, fun involves accomplishment.

So I think I shall decide to aggressively schedule myself. Not that that has ever worked, but let’s pretend, shall we? Writing in the morning, when my brain is perky and happy to be in front of the computer, coffee to the right side for thoughtful pauses. Bendicks, my cat, has a long morning nap after breakfast, so that lets me off cat duty. Friends, crafty stuff in the afternoon and evening. With breaks for general foolishness and walkies.

And deadlines…I always do my best work with a deadline. Especially if it is a short one. Otherwise, the following might happen…deadlines-are-approaching-i-am-therefore-leaving-immediately-for-nepal-13331918

(graphics from the incomparable Ashleigh Brilliant and the genius Blackadder)





On being seen…

11 08 2018

There’s a lovely foolish Monty Python “military” training film on ‘How Not To Be Seen.’ big_1494432163_image

In the clip, people are hiding, NOT BEING SEEN, and then they are asked to stand up. Once they do so, they are either shot or blown to smithereens.

I feel viewing this in my formative teens MAY have had an effect on my behaviour through life. As a VSP (very short person), I am, in fact, rarely seen unless one is specifically looking for me. I’ve tried to make my personality large enough that people can hear me but I don’t think I’ve gone nearly far enough. And now, if I were to go wild and dye my hair magenta or wear army boots or whatever, people would now gently pat me on the head and arrange for a lengthy stop in a nearby nursing home.

But the fact remains that if I hold myself JUST SO, people don’t seem to see me. It’s been a good thing in terms of not being blown up. But perhaps not so good in other ways.

This occurs to me of late because a few opportunities for being seen have come my way,its-the-most-extraordinary-and-saddest-thing-the-amount-of-talent-out-there-not-being-seen-quote-1 and recently I’ve found myself unwilling to take them. It has to do with being on par with others, being able to be respected, etc, etc. And this hesitation is a terrible burden. It keeps me from sending out my stories for publication, or from finishing projects. “I’m a great initiator!” I cheerfully tell others. “I just hate the fusty end details.”

It’s silly though. All of life is ABOUT the details, about tying things up neatly, about presentation and finishing and just getting the damn things done. But I don’t. And so I reinforce my imposter syndrome and cringe and seethe inwardly when someone actually HAS. And I tell myself things like, “I really don’t care if people like what I’m doing – it’s all for fun anyway.”

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I wasn’t always this way. You don’t have time to dawdle as a nurse. You put your head down and do whatever nasty bit of work has to be done. Mind you, you don’t have a line-up of critical judges’ comments after every task, thank heavens. Especially from the semi-conscious patients…

I recently had a longish chat about art and craft and new experiences and such with two women who know about the importance of getting things right. They both have or had demanding jobs, where precision was fundamental, and both have recently let their artistic spirits loose.

One has returned to school and risks the dreaded being assessed, brave lass.

(PS: I met one of the teachers at her school today and migods she was terrifying. The sort who would draw black lines across what you were doing and smash it through with her fist. I really don’t want to be seen by anyone like that. I feel they may not have my best interests at heart.)

The other has done these sort of academic challenges many times before, as have I. We’re both a little tired of jumping through artificially created hoops and just want to play. But in our heart of hearts, we both also want to be validated as an artist, a creator, a creative mind.

But one can only be validated if one is seen, by people who aren’t your best friends and supporters. The first time I sold something to a complete stranger through an art gallery, I felt it, that little rush of “They really like me!”. (Of course, poor Sally is misquoted, she really said – “You like me, right now, you like me.”)

The same thing happened whenever I felt a skinny envelope holding the cheque for something I’d written and sold. Being valued for something you pulled out of your head is an unbelievable sensation. Being paid for things counts for more than one would think.

But all of that approval is an ephemeral thing – you are only as good as your last success, as it were, and as those slip away into the distance you run the risk of being patronised as a wannabe whatever. I hate that.

But what does one do? Risky risky, no matter where you turn.  And a lot of work, just to set yourself up to fail in front of everyone.

I’m lucky – I have some magnificently supportive friends and family (I have the other kind, too, but I digress). They continue to think of me as a creative force even when I’m not producing things, or getting that project done. I like that.

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And I live for that moment in a creative project where a secret smile starts in the corner of my mouth, when suddenly the task is no longer a hardship, when the joy shines through and I find myself racing to see how it all ends. I’ve been known to laugh out loud when something like that happens. It’s the magic. The twinkly bits.

Those projects I don’t mind showing people. I’ll even force myself to do the little details so I can.

But being seen when you are unsure of your project, when you are just plain putting it out there to be shot at or down or, worse still, patronized… well, that takes great courage. And revealing vulnerabilities you might not have known you had. Scary, that. Bravo to my friends and others who take the risk.

I’m planning to be that sort of gal again, soon.

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Now is the Summer of our Discontent

30 07 2018

Made impossible torment by this fog of humidity

And all the clouds upon the horizon looming

Lessen not the damp through lightning or storming

Now our brows are laced with gobs of sweat

Our pale-white arms hidden from the sun as we search for coolth

And fierce horns presage the coming of ships

Shrouded in fog – moistness made solid…

Okay, is it just me or would all of you out there like to wrap the climate change skeptics images-33in their bespoke suits and dangle them over the bayou of Louisiana without access to a/c? Or worse still – place them in the scorching hot cities of Europe – Paris, wreathed by concrete; Edinburgh, utterly unprepared for heat; London, on the tube surrounded by anxiety-sweating people suffering in polyester; Rome, in tourist season…again without any access to ice or shade or air conditioning…Or even Toronto. You know the perfect place.

 

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Ideal shape for humid weather

I am melting melting melting, except not really because in order to melt one would require the ability to liquefy of which I can only dream. My cozy fat wrap seems a teensy bit dysfunctional at present.

 

It has set my MS off, so I am tripping over dust particles and dancing like a drunken soccer fan, looking for a fight like the same. I have fallen, not wisely, but too well, spraining my hand and denting a rib and generally mashing myself up. It’s not getting better, the hand or the MS or anything, and likely won’t until the mind-clearing breezes of fall. FML, as the word-impaired sorts say.

 

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My parents didn’t believe in orthodonture until child #3

 

Truth be told, I have no right to complain. Life is overall good, and I am blessed with a loving son who has kindly arranged for house cleaning so I can spare my hand for more important things, like making blueberry sorbet or embroidering ridiculously small things. Or brushing my hair and chaining it back so that I don’t frighten young children…

 

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After not doing a THING in the heat…

 

Today is their first cleaning day, and I only know this because the coordinator called me at ten last night to check if I was going to let the workers in. At the time, I was laying gasping on my chaise courte (in truth a meridienne)  like a beached cod, waving a plastic bag at myself for the breeze (and to keep the cat from eating it).  I looked around myself.

As anyone who has had official house cleaners knows, it ain’t so much the dirt as the clutter that fells us, though I am eternally grateful to said son for the help in scrubbing detail (not possible for me at present) (and truth be told, the idea of tumbling into my tub head first like Father William lacks a certain charm anytime, least of all in my current wounded state) (But I parenth).

085cf2013facbb3c3e02a2bbc017e5f7--alarm-clock-app-storeSo this morning, before all my %^*%$ “get up in a positive mood” alarms went off, screaming at me to ‘drink water’, ‘stretch’, ‘be grateful’, I was dashing about in a polka-like rendition of the IKEA ad ‘The People are Coming” 

As a side comment, who on earth has a kitchen that organized? Well, I do know of one person, but she is a superhero and we can’t all be like her, can we?(CV, you know I mean you…)

Also, note to self: delete said programs and alarms. They are just depressing you in this heat. New goal: breathe without falling over.

So I spin about, trying not to use sprained hand and failing, throwing things in drawers, which, unlike in the IKEA ad, I have very few of so it is likely I shall find the things again. Possibly. I have ordered tracking devices.

images-32Meanwhile, Bendicks, my cat, decides this, yes this, is the time to show how truly gobshite-y he can be – eating all plastic items, thrusting his head into cupboards and extracting feminine supplies on which to chew, pushing things off counters, standing just in front of me so I can step on him and he can look wounded, vanishing who knows where….

Hmm. It’s quiet. Too quiet…just a mo…

<extracts long partially chewed piece of plastic from cat’s intestine>

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Yep. Summer. Be kind to one another. Hide your plastic bags.

Reunite the separated immigrant families!!! Oh, and while you are out? Impeach Trump and jail all his cronies, will ya?

 





Hanging out in a liminal space

6 03 2018

liminal-space-definition-ofI have a feeling of being in transition, of being in between the not anymore and the not yet. I’ve been chewing on it ever since I saw my dear friend incarcerated in his body from a stroke, and struggling in a nursing home.

The push onto the threshold is also because this is my 60th year. My parents were wrapped in end-stage cancer by this age. I’d been married for a few years by that time, my children born before my mother left us. It is so hard to believe this was so long ago; also so hard to believe that I am this old. In my head, I am still a rollicking 45 – not as spry as a young ‘un, but no way am I as old as my parents were!

In a real life and space, I’d be planning for retirement, I’d be managing some poor employees, I’d be all serious and such. Maybe I’d even have learned to play golf. Instead, on my “freedom 50 get MS plan”, I’m looking down the wrong end of the telescope at a life that seems very far away.

Not that I don’t have one now – lucky me with friends and family and a view of the harbour and almost my health! I am definitely NOT complaining.

6c6a49f23bf8b7fb1bcff4f50f1a1971--love-birds-for-the-birdsI’m sensing a change coming, though, like a fresh wind. Maybe it’s the birds doing their still-chilly spring romantic dance. Maybe it’s the fact that sometimes, sometimes, I feel a bit like I can play the ukulele. Maybe it’s the repetitive strain injury from stabbing wool for hours…or the look of my still not right bedroom, covered in wool and still-waiting-to-be-unpacked necklaces and clothes.

I’m tempted to throw it all out. Sell it, give it up, start fresh. It seems to be on the backward side of the threshold. But what is on the other side? What can I do next?
When I was in first-year university, I didn’t have any money to buy my parents a160503_BOOKS_Allegory.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2 Christmas present. So I wrote them a story, about a unicorn and a girl making choices at a fork in the road. It was so dreadfully heavy with allegory I’m surprised my parents could lift it, let alone read it, but never mind, I can do a good preaching when I set my mind to it. They cried. My English teacher read it and told me it was trash.

images-8In the story, the Unicorn was there to help the girl along the rockier path she chose. It was meant to symbolize the coming of adulthood and the need to take on responsibilities, as it were. It had capital-B Bears in it who were my parents, who were ahead of me on this treacly road, who provided support from afar; it provided sympathy for what they’d lost by taking on adult responsibilities.

It was gruesome, I tell you. Whenever I am feeling too full of myself, I get it out and read it, and then go brush my teeth. Three times.

But I’m feeling that split in the road now. The need to figure out what this later bit of my life will come to mean. The tasks that will keep me sane. The things that will bring me joy. Housekeeping just ain’t it.

I know a few things will have to figure. Since my fall yesterday, I know I am going to have to throw myself back into physical fitness. My body is quitting on me, but that doesn’t mean I have to help it. It’s time to really allot time to exercise as I have done before. I’d say I should give up scotch, chocolate, and cheese, but let’s not get crazy here!

That means less crafting time, as all of that takes time and space.

I’m going to work on friendships, because I love them so much and often don’t get to meet up with my friends. (or family – that has to change, too) I don’t want to end up alone. I’ve seen how that can go, and it’s nasty.

This can also mean less crafting time, though most of my friends gather to do crafts, so maybe not…

Creativity is important to me, too – so I’ll have to work that in somewhere, somehow,00f5dde1205620d312e1ccceeabc3210 using words or needles and thread or wool or both.

So I’m standing on a doorstep. Time to step forward…just have to push myself through all of these piles of wool first…(but wait – I still want to try this, and make that, and there’s Alice and other stuff I could try and even little things …)

Maybe I’m not quite ready to step over that threshold … seems like I’ll be liminal for a while yet.

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The post-conference slump

2 05 2017

lacking_focus_koteckiI am a terrible person. I go to these writing conferences  (Iceland…..) and come home, alight with the possibilities in writing, and then I find myself committing acts of extreme procrastination so I don’t have to actually get down to it.

And yet, the conference makes me feel like I NEED to be writing. Ergo: guilt – that floating misery underneath the skin of every properly-raised Roman Catholic gal. And grumpiness from feeling guilty. And restlessness.

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So I needle-felt some animals, do some embroidery, met up with friends I haven’t seen in ages, and even caught a horrible cold that has laid me low for the *(^^*)*^ 2nd time this winter and rendered me voiceless and dizzy. Hard to think with all that going on. I’ve even resorted to knitting socks. I don’t even know HOW to knit socks.

images-2And I volunteered for a facebook list on MS that is so incredibly busy I had to opt out again almost immediately, booked a cottage for June (ostensibly to write), plus volunteered for a festival where I have to camp and take tickets and such. It will be exhausting and fun and I’m looking forward to it – but it all isn’t writing.

Though, every experience gives me a character….And every character has a story…and I read things about strange little historical items like the hospital for the poor and ill nearby that saw so many deaths and has a tiny graveyard lost beside it. It calls for a story, a tale about the inhabitants, those with MS, MD, acquired illnesses…

But I have to finish what I have started, first. Like a magpie, my eye spins to sparkly new things, wants me to shift focus.

cough-till-lung-is-outOr maybe that’s just the ^#&$)Q^ coughing.

I’ve got to focus more, put my head in the game. Now that I’ve paid my taxes (a horrible weight on my soul since I owed), and organized my budget, got through the first days of the cold from hell, I should be able to push my head into writing. I can split my day, write half, felt half. Maybe I can even finish the socks. Need to stick my head into the bridle and pull forward.

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