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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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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Prepared to grieve

16 04 2018

williamshakespeare1The tragedy of the Humboldt hockey players bus crash and the loss of all those sweet boys was and is truly horrible. I feel for parents and friends and other teams and everyone involved. Especially the driver that survived…images-26

But while this is happening, and we respond by doing things like putting hockey sticks outside doors, wearing team shirts, etc., I can’t help but think that at this moment, we are all prepped for grief, standing on the edge of weeping, hanging onto the unstated hope that the US government and people will not send the world into war.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in this constant state of tension, waiting for that deadly tweet from an insane man who doesn’t think the rest of the government has any role. What will keep he-who-shall-not-be-named from setting up a fake situation with Russia or Korea and sending off those “very smart” bombs he is so proud of? Especially if his stock goes down, or that infamous tape is released?

1bvnzs(Aside: his childish hatred of the Democrats is insane. Who does things like pee on a mattress just because the Obamas slept there? What is in this man’s head?)

As a Canadian, I’m not directly involved in the loss of democracy below the border, but it and the hateful rhetoric that allowed the fascist oligarchs to take over is slipping through the permeable membrane between our countries. H-W-M-N-B-N and the GOP have made it okay to promote racism and stupidity and flash anger over rational thought. That’s tempting for anyone who is frustrated by the status quo. Simple sound bytes and lack of discussion are easier, clearer, than complicated explanations and balanced approaches.vx7jcsh

 

 

So everyone I speak to seems to have an undercurrent of tension these days. A little high pitched note under their speech, a slight twitch to their eyes. We joke – but there’s a tone under the humour, like things are changing in ways we don’t like to this may be the last time the winter is like this, the spring comes like this, fall slips in like this.

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I imagine it felt like this before WW1. I’m reading Barbara Tuchman’s excellent “The Guns of August” about this lead time and it sounds terribly, awfully familiar. People taking offense at nothing, anger over things that are said, a sense of chaos and loss of control. Evil people consolidating power and denying existing governmental rules, backroom deals and the lust for money.

It almost feels like something must happen to let off the tension.

Let’s hope it’s impeachment and not world destruction.

 

And meanwhile, we watch in the darkness, sensing the storm coming, unable to stop it. We giggle, nervously, clutch at entertainment and the solace of hygge, wrapping ourselves in wooly cocoons. But when something awful happens, we scream out, prepared as we are to weep.

Practicing. Preparing. For the big one?

Thank heavens for the young, the hopeful and perhaps a wee bit ignorant. Everyone says everyone must study history. True. But we must do so without engendering the cynicism many of us have tangled so close to our chests. Because cynicism crushes hope, and only in hope can we achieve any change.

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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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Oh, Mr. Neville…

27 07 2017

05103c84733200777408f3c80b5eb4da4e65deOne of the blessings of my enforced by MS flare-up idleness is that I have been able to plunge myself into a myriad of books, to wallow in lives not my own, to lay on my patented “chaise short” (an antique chaise with the merit of being less than 5 feet long and thus fitting both me and my apartment) and read the hours away.

It’s been wonderful, but I see that I have chosen the last three books unwisely. The first mistake was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This book tells of a man who loved a woman so much he followed her around, through her marriage and children, at a distance,  until her husband dies. Then he asks for her hand. She accepts, and he tells her he had remained a virgin for her, all those 60 years. She says, simply, “liar!”, and they go to sleep. Meanwhile, he had been keeping track of the conquests he had to relieve his suffering for her love. He had arrived at 650 or more.

I adored this book, both for the love over the years and for the practical approach to it. It’s a grown up book, with grown up affection. And lasting love. And badness, concupiscence, and humour.

The next mistake was another of Marquez’s  – All My Melancholy Whores, an amazing and surprisingly sweet book. A ninety-year-old man desires to bed a virgin to celebrate his birthday – (at first a horrific thought.) He goes to a whorehouse that he used to frequent when younger – of course, it has aged, too. The madam obtains the virgin, but the girl is nervous so she is drugged, asleep when he meets her. The man finds he prefers to simply look at her, and sleep beside her.

Over a number of visits, he falls in love with her, and she with him. The romance is chaste and both sad and joyful in turns. I loved it.  Again, a twist on the usual story, and characters with deep, serious emotions. I suspect Marquez of being one of those men who truly loves women. There aren’t so many of them about…

images-10Third mistake – The charming, witty, and ultimately motivational Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner – winner of the Booker Prize, and I can see why she won. It’s brilliant.

Edith, the protagonist, is a writer who has been sent to the Hotel du Lac as punishment for something awful she’s done. She has not been a “good woman”. The hotel is almost closed down for the season – it’s fall, and it is not in a fashionable ski resort. The weather is generally glum and foggy, as is Edith’s poor mind. She’s trying to write another novel, but she is emotionally fraught.

We don’t learn why until halfway through the book. She is in love with a man, David, but scheduled to marry another. David is married to a Very Perfect Wife, and thus available only upon his whim. The man who is to marry her is a bit too commanding for my liking, and also for Edith’s. She stands him up at the altar. The author is wise to put the “reveal” in the middle of the book – by this time we’ve grown to quite love Edith and her quick wit and desperate kindness, her loneliness and her resilience. So, of course, we cheer when she tosses the bossy man into the drink.

The other characters at the hotel and the employees are all charmant, all interesting in different ways, all dealing with their own issues. The rampant consumerism of some females is hauled out and mocked; Edith is made to feel inadequate in dress. (It’s a common enough thread amongst women – I’ve felt it myself. Edith and I favour comfort and giant sweaters. We may, at times, look sloppy. Just saying. ) There is a very thin woman with a tiny dog, a fat older woman and her clingy but oddly sensuous daughter, a deaf woman who smiles or grimaces on occasion, and a mysterious man, Mr. Neville, who seems to like Edith.

He proposes to her and offers her his companionship because he wants someone “steady” to help him rebuild his status after having his wife leave him. He says cheerily that he doesn’t love her, that he will have affairs and she can, too. I identified so much with Edith, I found myself saying ‘NO!” out loud when she decides to accept him.

But she rallies. And I am left cheering, and, oddly, with the desire to write.*

So what is the problem with reading these three all together? They all three deal with solitude and loneliness, with the interweaving between the desire for contact and the desire for silence, with connections made and severed.

It’s too close to my reality to be completely comfortable.

And, they are all filled with discussions of passionate love – not the “grab and smooch” kind my cousin and I used to giggle over in “the soaps”.

bb0daba08d0cc572acfe66e4a94d018c--forever-alone-quotes-being-alone-quotesThe sort of love that lasts through hardship and challenge, the kind that comes unexpectedly, but is fulfilling even if incomplete.

The kind of love that fills in the spaces around one’s life, enriching it.

The kind I would still like to find.

So the three in sequence makes me feel a bit sad, a bit lonely. I feel an ache. It’s not painful, just a bit of a gap.

Which is what makes me want to write.

 

*Of Anita Brookner, Wikipedia has this to say: “Her novels explore themes of emotional loss and difficulties associated with fitting into society, and typically depict intellectual, middle-class women, who suffer isolation and disappointments in love.” Hmmmmm. I think I may have found a kindred spirit.





“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.

 





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.








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