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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“If we are not sometimes baffled and amazed and undone by the world around us, rendered speechless and stunned, perhaps we are not paying close enough attention.” Ben Marcus

13 05 2017

“So You Want To Be a Writer” – excellent article by the Guardian. I love the Guardian. A voice of sanity in a baffling world.

 





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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Fuck-up Nights

14 03 2017

i-dont-always-fuck-up-but-when-i-do-its-big-timeJust read about this group of people who get together now and again and talk about their failures over a few drinks  – sharing where they’ve messed up, telling what they learned, if anything, sharing that’s okay to make a complete mess of things. 

Here’s the article.

I think this is a great idea. Ever since we told our first lie to our mothers about how well we did in school, or our school friends about how well we live, we’ve been told to emphasize the positive. We become great at rationalizing. “Yeah, I failed the exam but that’s because I was helping starving orphans – no really!” Or, more likely, “I didn’t get the marks I wanted, but it was the professor’s fault.”

We graduate to hyper promoting ourselves in job interviews because we cannot be seen to show weakness. We even get into the (gasp!) fradulent Christmas letter writing, the tremendously successful social media posts, the endlessly cheerful selfies, carefully staged. And don’t get me started on the dating site posts. Lying abounds. No one admits to failures in their broken marriages, no one admits they can’t maintain a relationship for more than fifteen seconds (or that that’s about the amount of time they take for sex).

Eventually, this can change into the toxic mess of really thinking that any failures really aren’t our fault and then we get the bizarreness that is running the USA at the moment.

But here’s the thing – failures are the BEST. That’s where the rubber hits the road, where you are forced to think about things, where you confront the actuality of your existence. Where you learn. Heaven knows I’ve learned a lot from my multiple failures …(#humblebrag)

Gosh, see how that slips in? I can’t even honestly wallow in my failures without having to come up with some fraudulent positive to hold forth like a shining light like I’m better than everyone else because I’ve THOUGHT about my failures…

And truth be told, there are lots of failures I just haven’t learned from. Like:

Weight management. (chocolate calls to me like a seagull, persistent and loud)forrest-gump-fat-people

The need for exercise. (Again, it feels good when done, but that chair and book are so cozy)

Humility. (Though thankfully I get slapped with that one on a regular basis, so it’s harder to forget)

Relationships. (Though I heard that men, apparently, don’t like it if you seem willing. Who knew?)
winter-witch-female-snowwhite-disneyscreencaps-com-186163.2Forgetting to put lipstick on my aging lips, so I look like the undead. (Though I can rationalize about the chemicals in lipstick, it still doesn’t prevent me from looking like a 
winter witch)

Dressing for success. (I dress for comfort and often get followed around by staff in stores)

Writing. (I can’t even discuss that one)

Oh, gee, there are so many.

I try and make a joke out of them. I tell myself they don’t matter. Most of the time they don’t. Truth is, what I may see as a galling gaping hole of embarrassment doesn’t even touch the outside world. No one is looking at me, or if they are, they take me for what I am or judge me and it means nothing. Either they are friends or they are not.

maxresdefaultThe problem with this not acknowledging failure thing is that we become perfectionists, hide what we attempt. Once I took a pottery class, throwing endless cylinders on the wheel. Every one I threw I sliced in half to see how thinly I was able to throw the walls, the bottom. I failed to make a pot every single time because I’d cut it in half. I left the 6-week class with nothing to take home. None of them were worth keeping, in my perfectionist mind. In a way that was freeing (I do so HATE to finish projects (see unlearned-from failures)), but I could have learned a lot more if I’d accepted the good enough and just pushed forward.

For awhile, I was published a lot. I’d write off a short piece, polish it, and send it in. Get paid for it, even! Lately, I have been holding onto my pieces, sure they are secretly horrible. They pile up, sliced in half like my clay cylinders. I’m holding back, refusing to throw myself into the world, “be seen”, as my friend Bonnie used to say.

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Fortunately, I make weird felted animals, and I have a wonderfully supportive group of female friends who told me they were good enough, so I dared to toss them into the caring hands of the people at Argyle Fine Art, and they have accepted them, welcomed them, given me street cred. I have been seen.

 

I still fail at them regularly, and a wise friend from my knitting circle told me yesterday, “But maybe that’s why people like them?” So…who knows?

Now, if only I can do that with my writing. I have many a project that needs a little fluffing and then releasing. They aren’t perfect, but maybe, like my animals, people will like them more for that? I dunno, but if nothing else, I’ll have more failures to add to my pile…and that’s a good thing.

Because failures mean that I tried.





Stardust

12 02 2017

There are times, frequently, when I wonder if the world really needs another book, especially one written by my clumsy creative heart. After all, there are so very many BAD books out there, killing trees by the thousands.

I really wonder about this, though, when I read something so marvellous, so heart-changing that I am left with nothing but awe. The kind of book or story that makes you weep when it is over, that makes you wish for the world it describes, that transports you so readily that you feel jarred when the day is over and you have to pull yourself out of the book and toss yourself into the comparative greyness of your dreams.

9405533_origNeil Gaiman routinely does this to me. I’ve just finished reading his lovely fantasy tale (or is it fantasy? I wonder…), Stardust. It is filled with witches and dread kings and lowly boys who dream big and fallen stars and even a unicorn. Characters can walk on clouds and even hail ships that sail on them.

And it is all utterly believable. I suspect Mr. Gaiman is a wizard ship_on_clouds_by_totialcott-d4iu6nahimself. Somehow he has seen into the world I dreamed of as a young girl and he has recreated it, filled with beautiful language and quotes from famous literature and derring do and the type of boy I’ve always looked for in my romantic heart of hearts, the boy I’d thought I’d found only to realize he was not, quite.

There are no glamorous princesses here (well, maybe one); there are dirty, muddy, and wet journeys; there is kindness and cruelty. It’s a real world, but with the magic I sometimes see the edge of in our world.

It reminded me of that magic at a time I really needed it, as we watch the world we loved dissolve in anger and frustration, peril and threat. It reminded me of the fact that we are both fact and fantasy, that by tilting our head to one side we still can see the beauty that surrounds us.

Thank you, Neil Gaiman. May you ever dwell in the joy you provide.

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