Travel Writing

P1090247P1090275The picture on the left was taken in Pokhara, Nepal. I’ve seen so many butterflies in my life and yet I cannot forget this particular creature. As you can see it’s not especially dazzling, but there was something unique about the insect that struck me. The room in which we found it was yellow and circular. Another hostel, no more special than the last, except that this room had a butterfly and the others didn’t. I didn’t write about this room while travelling in Nepal. I didn’t even write about it upon reaching India or China or Thailand. I didn’t write about it for years. It wasn’t until my second year of university, the butterfly still flitting in my mind, that I wrote a poem. The poem was so far from what I would’ve expected. It wasn’t a description of the room’s light or the insect’s small body. It was a conversation, a conversation I’d needed to have about sights that followed me home, sights that troubled me. I asked the butterfly if it, too, felt sick each night as teenage prostitutes lined the streets. I distinctly remember sitting in a bar drinking beer when I looked down onto the street and noted a pair of girls in heels. They soon disappeared. This was a common sight. The poem I wrote was edited several times and eventually turned into a series of poems about the amount of prostitution in Nepal. Upon further reflection, I’ve become aware that travel offers my writing an immediate energy, the kind I wish to capture on the spot, in addition to a lingering one, one that follows me for yearsIMG_8511. I tend to write the most after a trip. I take notes and photographs while traveling. I dream up stories and occasionally jot them down but it’s not until I come home, rekindle a relationship with my desk and laptop, that I begin to write obsessively.

IMG_0004The picture above was taken the morning after my best friend punctured my tent with a knitting needle. We took some time apart as I cried in my ripped tent and she wandered the hillside. Little did I know that a year later I’d take that very same tent to Alaska and have it slashed and bear sprayed by local teenagers then find myself writing about the experience in a cafe in Seattle after stupidly missing my flight home.

Returning home from my trip up North, I was scheduled for a 35 minute layover at Seattle’s Tacoma International Airport. This seemed like a rather straightforward task, only I was given the wrong time by a flight attendant and my smart phone failed me on the smart front and informed me of a time that coincidentally matched that given to me by the attendant. So, thinking it was an hour earlier than it actually was and having foolishly failed to check the clock in the airport, I set off to the food court. There, in the spirit of healthy eating, I sat near a window and munched on soggy fries and the kind of burger that leaves death whooping and clapping his hands as he watches the cholesterol in your body mount dangerously. While I sat packing on the pounds in the food court, my fellow jet-setters boarded the 2842 flight to Calgary and flew away without me.The lesson here is to always check the clocks in the airport. Or to not if you prefer strandedness.

The point is, travel brings out the unexpected.  The cliche holds true. People travel as a means to soul search, figure out their next step in life. In the same way that having my tent slashed taught me something about coping with the unexpected, travel has taught me to embrace the unexpected in my own work, let stories take shape in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible. I used to try and control my work, I saw “wrong turns” as failures within the text. Now, however, they are more often than not seen as opportunities.

DSCN1224While I love the amount of work I turn out after every trip, I have to admit there’s something magical about writing on trains or buses, on planes or during layovers. I have a copy of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar sitting on my bookshelf. While I’ve only gotten around to reading tidbits (it’s on my read ASAP list!) I can relate to his love of trains. I remember stubbornly trying to avoid taking the high speed train from Shanghai to Beijing because I didn’t want to pay for a ticket (I preferred, or so I said, to take an overnight bus) and yet my recollections of that train ride are some of my most pleasant in China. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember writing. I remember feeling fantastic.  

That said, the difference in quality between work produced on the road and work produced at home is, at least in my case, incredibly noticeable. The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about backpacking in Iceland.

It is before the old road hardens with ice and the black wing of an old snow, and it is before the sky curls into an angry fist, that an old man in a rust licked hatchback follows us down the abandoned road to Thingvellir National Park. The car in which he emerges rumbles over potholes and through the spattering of dust until our shadows are caught beneath the front wheel of his red and shaking vehicle. He pushes his head through the window and stares solemnly into our wind burnt faces, the wild hairs of unkempt eyebrows resting like a snowy overhang above kind and quiet eyes. They look, however, to be suffering a kind of sad defeat, for he has spoken to us once before and asked us to return to the highway where we might continue our journey in proximity to civilization. Should any emergencies arise, we could, in our desperation, flag down a car or knock on the door of any kind Icelandic farmer, such as the man himself.

“You don´t know my country” he argues and I look at the storm forming in the distance. The weather channel has called for torrential rains and high winds, but in our stubbornness, we hike onward.

“We’re from Canada” we say, countering the man’s request with tales of deep snow and bitter winters. We believe ourselves to be well versed in the language of weather, to understand the clouds, which gather, white knuckled and stormy where the snowy peaks of mountains break the horizon. Bidding the man farewell, we wave and he retreats, tires once again clunking down the long driveway to his farmhouse, which, now, is no bigger than a thumbnail embedded in the landscape.

And the following is an example of how I write while travelling (although I’m planning to dedicate more time to writing on future trips):

I had cordon chicken bleu which was a giant piece of brownish chicken. It was so nasty and then after I didn’t feel well at all. Oh and the chocolate fondue was like Hershey’s chocolate out of the can. I also had my first piña colada today and attempted to smoke a cigar which drastically failed. It’s not as easy as it looks.

As you can see, the notes I took while travelling are more like field notes or journal entries. So while I’m often documenting what I’m doing during my travels, part of the fun is fun in coming home to describe the feeling of chocking on cigar smoke or drinking piña coladas in a town square in Cuba. Next up is part of the Appalachian Trail this August, which I plan to write about in detail.

Please feel free to share your own travel stories or thoughts on travel writing in the comment section below. Thank you for reading and enjoy the weekend!

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Poetry and the Late Night Psyche

Gardening 

***

One year I planted shame. Thinking it small and useless,

like an old coin, Elizabeth’s patina green face a worthless value on the sidewalk,

I buried shame in a patch of soil out back. I wore gardeners gloves to keep my nails clean,

afraid the soil would form into dark half moons and expose my secrets.

I did not realize that shame could grow, like a child, like a plant,

like any sure creature it grew limbs. I’d hoped it would grow green like Elizabeth’s face,

become as forgotten as the copper thumbprints that once distinguished our country

but instead it bloomed and like clematis, it crawled into me.

clematis.jpg

Tonight the world feels strange and I can’t sleep. I feel as though I’ve not slept in years and though the exaggeration is extreme, my dreams as of late have become so frequent and so intense that I awake feeling exhausted. Nevertheless, when I turned to bed a few hours ago I could not banish the thoughts in my head. The persistence of words are like stubborn animals; it seems they only settle once indulged, once given a home on the page where they can mingle with other verbs and adverbs. Only then will they turn their backs on you, let you sleep. Tonight, these stubborn creatures forced my hand and thus the poem above was created in an attempt to sleep. The process of creation, especially at night, is an intriguing one. In many ways it feels private. It feels secretive and important. I don’t know why, it just does.

Some people consider themselves night people, others say they’re morning individuals. I used to say I was a morning person. Right now, however, I feel completely lost. I’m no longer a morning person but I’m not a night person either. I have no way of predicting when I’ll feel capable of completing work and with the amount of work I have to complete I’ve had to give up routine. It’s incredibly frustrating. It seems my lack of proper sleep is leaving me irritable and exhausted. So here I am, sometimes awake at 6:30 in the morning, other days awake and working at 1:00 am.What has become of me?

Regardless, the one pattern that has managed to stay with me is that I tend to have insights in the night and feel alert in the morning. My ideas generally come to me when it’s dark, form into beings that stalk me until I agree to hear them out. In the morning, however, I am a much better editor and, in general, a much better writer. Meanwhile, what I love most about the night is the silence. Solitude is generally an experience I adore and the sense of isolation is only magnified by darkness and silence. Perhaps it is due to this lack of stimulation and distraction that insights occur.

***

It is now morning and I am finishing this post, once again, exhausted and depleted after a night of intense dreams. This isn’t particularly new. I remember being a kid and associating sleep with nightmares. My mantra as a child, which I routinely told myself before bed, was: “don’t dream, don’t dream, don’t dream.” Eventually I developed sleep anxiety, meaning I became so stressed about not being able to sleep that in turn I couldn’t sleep because I was stressed. And so it goes, back and forth, back and forth, like a pendulum. But although I am frustrated to feel my energy wane on a daily basis, I am glad that, should I find myself tossing and turning, I can at least turn to my writing. In the night, I can at least write poems. I can at least make some sense of the world.

Let’s Write to Unite

I’ve been feeling troubled lately by the number of aggressive articles circulating the web. There seems to be a misunderstanding in regards to the meaning of opinion… Aggressively sharing an opinion and activism are not necessarily synonymous. I’ve read so many articles whose messages are muddled in the writer’s hate. Their point, in the end, loses power by the writer’s inability to refrain from swearing, bashing or satirizing. These methods hold their place. Satire, for instance, is certainly a prevalent mode when interacting with, say, politics. But I firmly believe that if one’s message is powerful, it may be expressed eloquently, strategically and comprehensively without relying on the word “fuck.” Swear words, it seems, are equated with power. There is a belief that these words infuse work with a certain level of intensity and thus, in turn, demand more of the reader. I disagree. I am not against swearing, admittedly I have a tendency to cuss myself, but I try to avoid using these words in my writing. Occasionally they appear in my fiction, but strictly within dialogue as a mean to develop character. To sum these feelings up, I believe that “People need to listen,” is as powerful or perhaps more powerful than “People need to fucking listen.”

I felt infuriated the other day upon reading an article about Beyonce’s pregnancy. This blog post is going to be tricky to write as it may inspire debate. I ask that you hear me out before forming conclusions. First of all, as a history major, I am deeply aware of the historic impact events hold, on the way they continue to shape cultures in the contemporary world. I also believe that, when using these events in an argument, one must remain aware of their significance and carefully choose when and how to discuss these events so as not to dismiss their weight. But even though I am aware, to the best of my ability, I can only, truly, understand my own world. I am a twenty-two year old white female from a middle class family in Calgary, Alberta. This detail does not “define” me, but it does contribute to my identity. I cannot change that fact. I am proud of who I am. But today, people are condemned, in a very general sense, for belonging to one ethnic group or another, to one class, religion or gender. So we’ve started to push back. We’ve started to analyze our differences. I do believe in equality, but I also recognize that right now, even if two individuals claim to believe in universal rights, many are held back by hate.

The following is an excerpt that breaks my heart not because it is true or untrue, I believe the following contains valid and invalid points but because it relies on such aggressive language to convey what is, ultimately, an issue grounded in an intricate and wounded social history. The following was published by theestablishment.com

I’m going to need white women to shut the fuck up with critiques relating to black women and pregnancy in general. When it comes to the Beyoncé and the artistry of those photographs, your whiteness and lack of awareness kept you from understanding the cultural references and the importance of Oshun. I don’t expect you to understand, but I honestly need you to stop and break down why misogynoir seems to be a pervasive theme for your shitty think pieces.

I recognize a lack of awareness but let’s be real, it’s impossible to remain completely aware and engaged with every social issue impacting this world of ours. It’s also impossible to truly step into another’s shoes and even if we say we understand, we probably don’t fully understand. This is okay, it’s human, we can only do and process so much but what I don’t understand is the lack of patience. I consider myself an open person, I want to hear and learn why certain situations are important, why they matter more to some than others, but I can’t do this if the first response following my “ignorant” questions are responses stemmed in hate. Meanwhile, I cannot tell if words like “fuck” and “shitty” used in this piece are supposed to cause me to more deeply consider the cultural relevance explored in this writing. What I do see is hypocrisy. In an attempt to call out one group for making ignorant assumptions and generalizations, this writer is in turn generalizing and perpetuating the hate problem.

I certainly recognize, though cannot understand, the experiences of individuals who have faced unfathomable injustice but how are we to proceed, how are we to make progress, if our writing is divisive? As writers, we are granted power and that power may be used to unite or divide. I hope to see a world in which writing aims to inform, educate, inspire, compel and focus on progress rather than dividing, condemning, generalizing and demeaning. There is a balance between calling attention to important matters and perpetuating an issue. Racism, which is inherently tied to deep seeded ignorance and fed by cultural conditioning, is important subject matter. It’s subject matter that should be written about! But if in writing about one issue is going to, in this case, condemn an entire group of women, I see but sad, cyclical writing that relies on the very issue of which it is disapproving to make its point.

The point of this article has nothing to do with whether white women or black women are “right.” The section of writing I chose to quote was chosen not because I am a white woman, nor was it chosen in an attempt to justify or defend, but rather because I believe that it clearly outlines how divisive and angry certain writings have become (though if you get digging, many archival writings have reflected hate too.) My point, in sum, is that we must learn to write in a way that demands the reader’s attention, that demands change where needed, that inspires cultural growth and oneness, that recognizes and appreciates history, but that is written in a way that not only holds the reader, but makes them want to change and learn.

Please feel free to comment and share opinions!

Source:

https://theestablishment.co/white-women-this-is-why-your-critiques-of-beyonc%C3%A9-are-racist-a431e7e1f672#.9p31qzn9m

 

7 Ways to Get Yourself out of a Writing Funk

Okay, first of all, I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” In my mind, “writer’s block” is an excuse. A big, fat excuse to avoid writing when life gets busy or difficult. There seems to be this myth floating around that writers are creative sponges, that we sit down and words hit the page instantaneously. While we all have creative bursts that allow for hours of furious, ecstatic writing, a lot of the work is actually sluggish. It requires dedication and a good dose of self-motivation. This reality can make work seem daunting…. So I’m offering you a list of ways to get writing even when you’re missing that creative bug. Obviously these are optional and don’t apply to everyone.

Read for at least twenty minutes before a writing session 

This one always saves me. If I’m in a writing funk nothing kickstarts my desire to create like reading another person’s work. It reminds me of potential, what my work could be if I’d only sit down and start writing. What I read depends on my mood or what I’m working on. If I’m feeling discouraged, I might read books on writing. If I’m looking to mirror a certain style, I might look for books with similar settings, tones or characters. I often hear people say they don’t want to “copy” another writer’s work. Well gosh, I hope not because that’s plagiarism but looking to another writer’s work to learn and become inspired? That’s a part of the learning process.

Read some of your past work 

For some reason, sifting through old work helps inspire me. I think this is because every story reminds me of the positive and negative emotions associated with writing. Remembering that inspiration and frustration will always be present makes new projects feel less hopeless. I also find that reading out loud does wonders. It’s interesting to notice how your opinion changes based on the way you read.

Make yourself a schedule 

This is why I blog. Knowing that no matter how I’m feeling I’ve got to post three articles a week makes writing feel like a responsibility. For some, feeling this way might seem negative… but I enjoy feeling accountable and believe that a certain amount of routine can encourage productivity. While I encourage routine, however, I’d caution that one must remain flexible. It’s currently 1:00 a.m. and I should probably be sleeping but I feel a desire to write so here I am, wired and restless. If the schedule needs to be bent, I say bend it. It’s there to encourage creation, not hinder it.

Go for a walk or a run 

Walks are more than a way to clear your head. While I think the first assumption is that walks help because fresh air is rather therapeutic, walks are also great because they offer opportunities to people watch or note new details about the world. I can’t tell you how many times the colour of a door, a strange shoe abandoned in the road or the style choices of a fellow citizen has sparked new ideas. Even if those ideas aren’t directly related to what you’re working on, you’d be surprised at how transferable creativity can be.

Analyze your surroundings

For some of the same reasons I suggest walking, analyzing your surroundings is a sure way to find connections. It’s easy to get busy and forget to consider all the small details that makes a space unique. Look around. Right now, as a analyze my room, I notice a pair of antique opera glasses, a bag of half filled chocolate chips, dried eucalyptus tied in raffia among many, many other objects. There’s so much to work with. Why, for example, could a certain character not part with said strands of eucalyptus? Who did the antique glasses belong to? Of course I know these stories but if I pause for just a moment and consider them through new eyes, I’m introduced to a myriad of wonderful beginnings.

Learn new words 

Woo! The joys of new words. I recently discovered a love for scrabble (as someone who loves reading and writing I don’t know why it’s taken me until the age of twenty-two to discover this game but, that said, better late than never!) I also suggest checking out freerice.com, a website that inspires learning. Their mission: “For every correct answer you choose, 10 grains of rice are raised to help end world hunger through the World Food Programme.” Trust me when I say it’s easy to get caught up playing. 10 grains might not sound like a lot but they sure add up. Then, of course, there’s the good old dictionary read. Sit back and relax with a fat dictionary, scan the pages for words you don’t know and learn their definitions. I just inherited a desktop dictionary and plan to make this little exercise a part of my daily routine.

Write somewhere new 

I’ll admit to the cliche. I love writing in cafes. While I adore my apartment and recently did some revamping to make it more “writer friendly,” experiencing new spaces keeps me feeling stimulated. Unfortunately visiting cafes on a daily basis gets expensive so in the summers (because trying this in the winter would ruin me) I tend to sit by the river, in the backyard or in random fields of my choosing.

So these are just a few of the ways I pull myself out of a writing funk. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you get out of a writing funk? Please drop a comment below!

Michael Chabon Visits the University of Calgary

Yesterday, exhausted and grumpy, I waited around at school for Michael Chabon’s speech. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to go, but I also wanted to go home and crawl into bed. I had to attend the event, however, and boy am I glad for that. So I walked in sluggishly and found a seat with some friends and waited rather impatiently for the event to begin. Well… what had been a somewhat dreaded two hour event brought me more delight than I’ve felt in a while. I left with bounds of energy, inspired, feeling that sense of limitlessness more often felt by children than by adults. I could not stop smiling on my walk home. I noticed everything. I felt mesmerized by the world and grateful to be alive. As soon as I got home, I threw some blankets and pillows on the floor, made myself a kind of “writer’s nest” and dove into editing my manuscript. Sitting in the candlelight, warm and inspired, I worked for several hours.

I hadn’t read any of Chabon’s work, except a New Yorker piece I found for the sake of acquainting myself with his style. I enjoyed the piece immensely and plan to read more of his work (I now have an autographed copy of Telegraph Avenue and cannot wait to read it!) Often, I feel somewhat guilty for attending  readings or talks if I haven’t read the author’s work but despite having never read anything by Chabon, the moment he opened his mouth I knew the speech would be good. His voice lured me and I felt myself attentively following his every word. He began my talking about something I agreed and resonated with. He spoke about his childhood skepticism towards God.

“But what about the carnivores?” he said, detailing his childhood thoughts on Noah and the Great Deluge, “if you have two foxes and two chickens won’t you need more than two chickens to keep the foxes alive for forty days?”

I had to try my very best to suppress my laughter. Chabon, it turns out, is as funny as he is wise and this is what made his speech so wonderful.

If I had to pick a word to describe the theme of Chabon’s speech I’d perhaps pick “connections.” He delved into the importance of connections in the physical world as well as in the world of story. He began by hilariously recounting his childhood love of Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, a book he’d make his mother renew time and time again. His mother, inevitably, attempted to redirect Chabon’s interests, having read the picture book every night for months on end. Then, one day, he found a book about a boy named Mike who also loved Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. In this book, the boy’s mother also lamented having to read the same book every single night. At this point, Chabon explains the sense of realization that swept over him. Could a book be written about me? He asked. Could I be a part of a larger story? His questions provided the framework for his entire talk. How we connect to stories and how we connect to one another go hand in hand. Stories work their way into our life and we work our way into stories. What’s funny, is how disconnected I felt walking into that event. As I said, I was exhausted and wanted to go home and sleep. Two hours later I felt deeply connected to myself and to the world.

Near the end of his speech, Chabon described the bi-monthly “librarian runs,” he and his father made. Having grown up in an era where fathers and their children perhaps spent less “quality time” together, Chabon relished these evenings. Three hours to spend with his father, just the two of them, talking about books and life and anything that interested them. These are moments Chabon looks back on with pleasure. In sum, he claimed that human connections with loved ones are the truest existing connections. They are special and to be cherished. I have to say that I agree. While I do believe that such connections can be made apparent in literature, the importance of human relationships is enormous.

So to conclude, if you ever get a chance to hear Michael Chabon speak, GO! You won’t regret it. I haven’t even read his work yet and I’m already taken by his views, amazed by his ability to expressive thoughts with such wit and clarity.

The Joys of Journaling

I apologize for posting on Thursday instead of Wednesday this week. Life happens.

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Several years ago I found myself sitting in a bright office with a therapist whose name I cannot remember. What I do remember was the sense of desolation and sadness I’d felt before entering that office. I won’t go into the details but in sum, I felt as though I’d lost control of my mental stability and was suffering regular breakdowns. So for a few months I’d take the bus down to Fernwood and sit on a tawny sofa, staring at a potted zebra cactus and nervously sipping water while my therapist led a conversation prompted by personal and painful questions. We established early on that while I felt out of control, I was still incredibly attuned to my emotions so we looked for outlets that might help me to linearize or organize these emotions. She advised journaling.

What helped me, in a time where I felt paralyzed by anxiety on a weekly basis, was journaling. Journaling and routine. I’ve never been any good with routine but I know, now, that it’s important for me to maintain some kind of regular activity. In my second year of university, living in Victoria, I attended school full-time in addition to working approximately 30 hours a week. I was obsessed, completely consumed by a desire to succeed financially, intellectually and academically. In the midst of all this craziness I began to fail emotionally. Journaling gave me a reason to sit down and remember where my priorities were at.

Ultimately, the act of writing helped immensely, but just the other day I found myself feeling lost. I could see the shadow of a certain self-loathing creature lurking around the corner. No, I thought, I’m so tired of this. I’m tired of feeling stalked by a creature that drains my energies. So I turned to my journal and not only did I write, I re-read my previous entries and discovered in them a kind of wisdom. I was able to ground myself, remember how I arrived at this point in life and could look to my past self for advice. Patience, I’d written again and again. Love and patience.

I suppose I’ve avoided talking about the “anxiety” part of my tagline “on books, writing, tea and late night anxiety.” Everyone, I do believe, struggles with some form of anxiety and yet despite this universality it’s incredibly stigmatized and the number of people who allow themselves to feel “broken” as a result of this is dispiriting. So I like to be honest. I enjoy maintaining a presence online but I refuse to pretend that life’s a basket full of cherries. We all know it’s not. Therefore, I’m willing to share my experiences. I am not ashamed to say that I’ve been to therapy and that I plan on going again. Nor am I ashamed of my brain. Instead, I try to work with myself rather than against myself. Journaling is one way I’ve attempted to do so.

Lastly, my love of writing and my anxiety overlap in a myriad of ways. Writing is the only thing that can get me out of a funk, but it’s also thrown me into a few. Journaling, for instance, helps me to feel calm and rational. Meanwhile, the thought of failing as a writer is enough to leave me sleepless and panicked. So to avoid more restless nights, I plan to make journaling a part of daily life once again. There’s something special about giving yourself time to reflect no matter how busy or overwhelming life might seem. It’s also a wonderful way to tame memory, since we all know how unreliable memories can be.

If you’d like to share your thoughts or experiences please leave a comment below. Happy Thursday everyone and thanks for reading!

Storytime

Remember bedtime stories? Being read to? Reading to someone? Bedtime stories are often remembered fondly. Both my parents read to me and my siblings, though my Dad, a natural storyteller, spent many nights making up stories for us. I remember looking forward to bedtime because I’d get to revel in the worlds my Dad created. We had our favourites… Ozzie the Ostrich, a somewhat awkward and clumsy ostrich who sold bagels off his lengthy neck or buried his head in the sand so as to avoid being spotted by nasty hyenas. We also loved Charlene the Cow, a cow who ate so much chocolate she started to produce chocolate milk. He used to ask me and my brother and sister to come up with three words, all of which he’d incorporate into new stories. Flying cats. Magic keys. Fairy dust. Skeleton kings. You name it. These stories were fantastical beyond belief.

We were also read the classics. Beatrix Potter and Dr. Seuss. Grimm Brothers fairy tales (child friendly.) Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, forever heartbreaking in the beauty of its message. These stories shaped my childhood and I owe my gratitude to more than the authors. I also owe my parents. Their attentiveness, their awareness that stories contribute to a child’s development is something I’m not sure I’ve ever thanked them for. I know they read my blog, so thank you, Mom and Dad, for your caring devotion!

But the oral tradition doesn’t end here. Campfire stories filled with ghosts or ax murderers are often told as frightened listeners devour melting s’mores, peel their feet from the fire’s edge as sparks reach for their toes. Campfire stories… What I love most about these stories is the way in which they bond people. All stories do, but there’s something about the mesmerizing dance of a fire, the feel of a warm blanket over one’s shoulders as stars freckle the sky, that infuses these stories with life, encourages community and attentiveness. To lean forward, the smell of hot cocoa rising from a tin mug, as the storyteller describes a headless ghost on the prowl is horribly delightful.

Among my friends, I tend to be the reader. When my best friend and I adventured through Iceland together, she expressed her love of being read to and I expressed my love of reading out loud. A wonderfully symbiotic relationship formed. At night, I’d read her poems or stories. As the wind howled violently, these stories offered solace. I started paying attention to intonation, came to understand that reading out loud is something of an art form. She, meanwhile, was exposed to new stories. Like children, we looked forward to bedtime, to stories and new worlds.

But while I love reading out loud, I also love being read to. I remember deciding I wanted to date a guy after he’d spontaneously read me a book off my shelf. I’d felt happy that he did so without my asking. I also remember travelling with my first love. Some nights, especially when home seemed impossibly far, he’d read me excerpts from various books. The sound of his voice, irreplaceable and incredibly comforting. Lately, however, I’ve been considering audiobooks. One of my friends listens to them regularly, loves being able to listen wherever and whenever. It’s taken me a little longer to get on board since the few audiobooks I have listened to were of poor sound quality and dully executed. Nevertheless, I think I’ll give them another chance. After all, I miss being read to so perhaps they’ll satisfy my desires.

I’ll end by claiming that stories are a part of any culture. The oral tradition has a long history. As do books. Stories are everywhere… in schools and hospitals, at camp and church, sought in times of crisis or celebration, in beds, tents or cars, stories are portable magic and exist in so many forms. With that I bid you farewell as I plan to enjoy this snowy weather curled up with a book and some warm coffee. If you would like to share bedtime memories, your favourite books or thoughts in general, please comment below!

Stories We Tell Ourselves

Stories help us make sense of the world, they inspire us and thrill us. Stories offer travel, escapades, adventure. We sip on them like a cool drink on a hot day, let them refresh us. But while stories can be transportive, they can also ground us. We learn about our role in the world through stories. From an early age, we are exposed to the notion of morality, to the perils of unwarranted trust, the devastation of loss, to the reality of emotional growing pains. In essence, we are exposed to the dynamics of human life.

Take a moment to consider what stories you tell yourself. Fantasies, daydreams, worries… these enter the mind in a story-like way. Dreams, too, imprint the brain in such a way. We imagine scenarios in an attempt to understand.

I was bullied a lot as a kid, which I think is part of the reason I’m so obsessed with stories. Stories offer a way out. But they also offer a way in… Which brings me back to my earlier conclusion that some stories ground us whereas others might transport us. Here I renege. Sort of. I’ve presented too clear of a dichotomy. Rather, it’s not that some stories transport us and others don’t. It’s that stories reflect human queries and in analyzing a story’s proposed answer we find ways to reassess our own understandings.

Growing up, I thought of stories as alternative places, better places, ones that were safe and welcoming (essentially I was in love with Harry Potter and like every other millennial child, yearned for Hogwarts like none other) but what I didn’t consider is how stories taught me to interact with my own life. Hogwarts will never be a part of my reality. Understanding, however, like Harry, that one’s future can be shaped by perseverance could influence my reality.

So I’ve come to learn that stories are far more powerful than sheer fantasies in which one can indulge. They help us make decisions, empower us and encourage us. Sure, some stories bring us up and away, transport us to some magical place. But that doesn’t mean they don’t offer a glimpse into the human condition.

What fascinates me most is that stories aren’t afraid of you. They aren’t afraid to tell you what you don’t want to hear. In fact, they want to. They revel in their ability to make you squirm, laugh or cry. I think we know this and this is why we use stories to explore our own goals or fears. We know that in considering these stories we are being told something vital about ourselves, something we may or may not want to acknowledge. Might I take a moment to congratulate the subconscious on its stellar story-telling capabilities.

The bullies of my childhood managed to successfully torment me because they found my weak spot. As a kid, I was easily manipulated, perhaps because I held a strong faith in the world or perhaps because I was so desperate to make friends that I was willing to turn a blind eye, regardless of the reason, I let people tell me who I was. I let them make me feel disposable, alone, ugly or overtly strange. The point is that from an early age I was looking to escape. This manifested in several ways, one of which turned out to be incredibly positive. The place to which I escaped was filled with fairies and other fantastical creatures… creatures who became my friends. My belief in fairies was so strong that I’ll omit telling you just how old I was when I finally began to let that belief die out (my unwavering beliefs probably didn’t help with the friend making process but oh well.) Nevertheless, I told myself these stories to cope.

I preferred fantasy to my own reality, but looking back on what, at the time, I’d assumed was sheer escapism, I now see as something different. I see a girl who discovered that the realm of story and her own world were not two disjointed places, but rather, two places bound by a mixture of imagination and rational thought. They aid one another. Rational thought is furthered by engaging the imagination and vice versa and it is out of that collaboration, I do believe, that stories are born.

The Long Way Home

In writing, there are no short cuts. Techniques, perhaps. Skills worth practicing. But there’s no “easy” way to wrap up a story. Not a good one at least. I’m writing this post in the spirit of editing because I’ve recently finished the first draft of my first ever manuscript and I know that the next few months are going to be defined by MASSIVE, soul twisting edits. Cutting, re-writes, expansion etc. etc. etc. Like I said, no short cuts. My first draft is full of flaws, certain sections lack continuity, other sections witness inconsistent character reactions. The writing is riddled with issues that need fixing. But that’s fine with me, because if I’m being totally honest, I hate writing first drafts. I’m an editing fanatic. I get a charge out of it, unlike first drafts, which I find draining and often frustrating. Editing makes me feel like I’m in the driver’s seat and there’s something about witnessing a piece grow from the seedling stage to the flowering stage that’s enthralling. I’ve become so close to my work that editing makes me feel like a proud parent (not that I can understand parenthood.) Either way, watching my work gain balance makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something great.

Pardon all the cheesiness… But at least I can say my edits won’t require as much work as Snoopy’s here! Were they, Snoopy? Were they really among the finest of her life?! Tell me more!

peanuts-1

There seem to be “first draft people” and “editing people” and few in between. What I mean is that, at least from my observations, most writers seem to prefer one process over the other. I consider myself an “editing person.” I enjoy fine tuning, breaking bits of stories apart so as to rebuild them, polish their edges. Others might prefer the initial world building, the first meeting of new characters, worlds, ideas. Of course this is a generalization and doesn’t apply to everyone. It’s just an interesting partiality I’ve noticed in most of the writers I’ve spoken to.

There’s a lot of discussion around first drafts and whether or not the process of editing is always a daunting one. I can’t say I understand these debates. Doesn’t everyone approach writing in a way that’s unique to them? Yes, there are fast-drafters and those who write more slowly, meticulously aware of every line meeting the page. Inevitably, some first drafts will require more edits than others. It’s that simple. What I can say, however, is that I have never heard of longer, published work that didn’t require any edits. If you have, please contact me because I’d like to hear about this prodigy! So… editing? A necessary evil? A great joy? A challenge? Sure. To me, editing is all of the above.

I love quotes! (as you all know) So let’s look at a few….

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

***A note: If you haven’t read King’s On Writing and are interested in writing, go! Go now and buy a copy! Whether you’re a Stephen King fan or not (I’m not) I highly suggest reading this book.  

“Let the reader find that he cannot afford to omit any line of your writing because you have omitted every word that he can spare.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

***This doesn’t mean you can’t use beautiful words, write poetic prose or elaborate on concepts. It means that every word has thoroughly earned its place.

“Merely because you have got something to say that may be of interest to others does not free you from making all due effort to express that something in the best possible medium and form.”

[Letter to Max E. Feckler, Oct. 26, 1914]”
Jack London

***I agree with this in full. Writing is not just “writing.” As the saying goes… writing that’s easy to read is incredibly hard to write and was likely written in a sincere attempt to clearly and eloquently convey ideas or emotions pertinent to any given subject.

Today, I feel incredibly lucky but also proud. I’ve been writing since the third grade and have always intended on making a career of writing (though in the third grade I wanted to be a writer, vet, painter, farmer and own twelve dogs, eight cats, two horses and a pig- I was crushed when I eventually came to realize that 24 hours is a very short day… that life, in general, is short and warrants a great deal of attention and gratitude.) While I’ve always dedicated myself to writing, I didn’t begin to edit my work until I started university and finally understood that I am, by no means, an amazing writer. I, like every other writer, must edit. I must edit and edit and edit until the work gleans and says “stop editing me you compulsive writer! I am ready to be read. I know what I want to say and I have found a way to say it.” So pay close attention, edit what must be edited but do not hide behind your edits. Do not use them as an excuse to forever withhold your work. When the work feels ready, by all means, share it with us. In doing so, you’re offering the world a gift. People may accept it or reject it but you, as a writer, have done your job.

 

Tangential Deliberations On the “Writing Lifestyle” and Writing as “Home”

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” – Truman Capote

Welcome to Monday, the day one’s brain should feel fresh and revived after a weekend’s rest but seems to succumb to erratic thoughts and dreams of one’s bed. Hence, I present to you a somewhat circular tangent, a glimpse into the inconsistent nature of my “Monday Brain.”

The writing “lifestyle” is riddled with cliches. In fact, writing, I believe, is often romanticized by the general public. I’ve listened to friends divulge their desires to write, to become poets or revered novelists. They describe what lures them, they dream of an inspirational tap from which literary gold pours uncanny characters, meaningful dialogues or symbolic settings. They seem to revel in the idea of “contributing something meaningful,” of attributing metaphorical significance to an otherwise mundane notion.

But I don’t believe there’s such thing as a “writing lifestyle,” especially not a “writing lifestyle” that infuses work with meaning or inherent significance. I don’t believe that copious amounts of coffee, waking at five in the morning, shuffling from café to café or drinking heavily to endure the world’s downfalls is a part of this “lifestyle.” Perhaps for some. But not all. I believe that the writing “lifestyle,” includes writing. And reading. That is all. Anything else is unique to the individual. So despite the many romanticized understandings of the writing life, what’s so special about writing?

I believe that writers write because they must. Because if they don’t, they will go crazy. If they don’t, they will feel the stories in them bloat, resulting in a great discomfort that can be soothed by none other than writing. Or reading. Always read. (If you want to write, read first. Do not waste time considering the “But if I read I might imitate…” argument. It’s a ridiculous argument.)

Beyond that, I believe that every writer writes for their own personal reasons. They have lived stories unique to them. There’s no umbrella explanation for why someone can write or why they want to write. Here is where I diverge… As explained, I don’t particularly believe in the “writing lifestyle,” in the cliches of alluring and overused quotes (though I do, I’m sure you’ve noticed, love quotes.) So why do I write?

Personally, I write to make sense of what I don’t understand. That’s not the only reason, but it’s a huge part. As a kid, I discovered that I could write myself out of funks. To this day, writing is my most valued coping mechanism. This past week I felt lethargic and overwhelmed, unmotivated and apathetic. Feelings that most of us experience at one time or another. To be human, of course, is accompanied by highs and lows of varying extremes and in the face of unpleasant or overwhelming emotions we develop coping mechanisms. For some people, a good yoga session will do the trick. For others, a trip to the river, the shooting range, tea and a bath, unleashing a fit of rage, walking the dogs, cooking. You name it. For me? Writing. Other than a few special people whose presence in my life is irregular, nothing can pull me from the water like writing. Writing is my home. (Oh goodness… here I go, romanticizing! It’s easily to fall into…but dangerous, also.)

As cheesy as it sounds, writing does feel like home. Someone very close to me once observed that I’ll likely never find home in a place but that I’ll discover home in another person. Their observation, I confess, is likely quite accurate. I’m not one to get overly attached to physical places. I feel thrilled to move apartments, schools, cities. I get bored easily. Ask my family… every trip we’ve gone on in the past few years has begun with an enthusiastic declaration that I plan to move, become a resident of Hawaii, California, Alaska, Cuba, China or Italy. “I am going to move!” I say and generally recant within a week or so.

This declaration, however, reflects a deep obsession with the concept of home, an obsession that developed years ago. When I was in elementary school my fascination with building forts was rooted in a desire to “build a home,” to create a space that felt genuine and authentic, safe and full of possibility. I have a kind and loving family, a family who struggles to understand why I was so obsessed with breaking away, moving to the forest, vanishing into solitude. To this day I don’t know why. I still feel displaced. Discombobulated. What orients me, however, is writing. When I write, I feel settled, stable. If home is defined as “the place one lives permanently,” then I am all the more willing to argue that writing is my home, since fathoming a permanent, physical address terrifies me.

I’ll conclude my circular tangent by suggesting we steer clear of assumptions that suggest a belief in the “quintessential writing lifestyle.” I personally reconvene with myself every few weeks to remind myself that writing requires work, more work and more work. It doesn’t flower overnight. Writing, I don’t believe, magically improves by following a set of “Kafka-esque” guidelines. Make your own guidelines. Consider why you write, how it shapes you. Decide what you want to accomplish and a lifestyle will naturally unfold around you.

Lastly, don’t fret if the “copious coffee” stereotype eats you alive. It preys on everyone, doctors and architects alike.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. Have a happy Monday!