The Countdown

Yesterday I popped over to my parents’ house and discovered that my dad had made samosas. Not the frozen kind (easily warmed in a microwave or oven) but rather, homemade samosas stuffed with love, spiced potatoes, peas and onions. As I smeared jelly onto one of the leftovers my mom turned to me and said: “your dad claims he’ll never again complain about the price of a samosa. They’re harder to make than they look.” This is true. A samosa is a small, triangular Indian food with potatoes, peas and the occasional meat. I’ve always imagined they’d be easy. Chop some veggies, toss on some garam masala and voila! A samosa. Apparently, this is not the case.

How do samosas relate to reading you ask? Well, I also journeyed to a friend’s house last night to do some homework and while we were making dinner she helped me work through some plot issues I found in my manuscript, loopholes if you will. Just before this, however, she’d asked me when I’d finish school and I told her that my manuscript was due the 21st of April, making that my last official day of the semester. “Well you’ve got lots of time,” she said in regards to the eleven days I have to edit and rework several sections of my manuscript, write another term paper and study for yet another final. I laughed. Considering this is project has been on my mind for about a year and has been in progress since last June, eleven days feels like nothing…

But after working through these plot points she came to see how difficult it can be to create an alternate reality. There are, of course, the basic “who, what, where, when and why’s” when starting a project, but these questions become increasingly more complex as the work gains layers. She admitted, after our chat, to seeing the writing process in a new light. So my point is that writing is perhaps a little like samosas. The final product is often a tasty treat we wish to devour, but it is also easy to discount the work that went into that product. A three hundred page book might be read in a matter of days but it certainly wasn’t written this way. The editing process is long and rigorous. In fact, prior to our chat, this same friend reminded me of what she knew about my manuscript. It had been months since we’d spoken about it and when I told her I’d cut a character named Heather she said, “wow, that must have meant you were cutting entire pages” and I told her that yes, I had. Entire sections, pages, characters. All gone. Chucked. Forgotten. What do they say? Kill your darlings? Well, I murdered them with a shined axe. I’ve been merciless.

So it’s easy, when we are unacquainted with a given process, to assume its ease. I am no chef and so in restaurants, when a dish with a simple garnish is placed in front of my I might think “okay, easy” and proceed to list some ingredients. In doing so I fail to consider how long various ingredients might need to simmer, whether or not something was left in marinade overnight or whether some particular ingredient was imported in order to add to the dish’s overall success.

This said, even as someone who loves to write, I’m discovering how complicated the writing process is. Until now, I’d never written anything longer than about fifteen pages. Now, fifty pages in, I’m having to go back and say to myself “wait, but that doesn’t make sense because didn’t so and so say such and such back on page eighteen?” or “wait a second, I’ve sent so and so off on said adventure but what the heck did they do with their kayak?” and as I go back to fix these problems I inevitably encounter or create new ones.

So the countdown is on and with eleven days to go I’ll be buried in work. But I must say, I feel a certain thrill. I love a good challenge and though I’m stressed, I feel my stress beginning to act as a motivator, a voice in the back of my head cheering “Go, Em, Go!” I’m curious if all you writers out there feel the same way. Do you enjoy a tight deadline? Are you motivated to run in order to escape the prospect of failure? Please feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts!

 

A Reader’s Thoughts

This week I’ve decided to reflect on three fine quotes. They are all rather pertinent to my life at the moment and I’m going to guess that most readers will relate to these quotes in one way or another.

***

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
Groucho Marx

This week, I’ve mostly cut out television, allowing myself to watch no more than twenty minutes of Netflix a day. This might sound like a small task, but as I’m currently discovering, I rely more heavily on distraction than I’d like to admit. These distractions exist in various forms, one of which is television. I do not learn anything from watching reruns of Friends or How I Met Your Mother. In fact, I watch these shows to avoid thinking. But like I said, I’ve cut out television this week and I’ve spent a copious amount of time reading. More time, in fact, than I can ever remember. I read when I wake up, when I go to bed or when I’m on the bus. Essentially I’ve filled my time with books (and, as always, with writing.) I also feel like I’ve discovered a lot this week, a lot about myself and a lot about the world so I plan on continuing this “cleanse” which consists of limited screen time in addition to having deactivated Facebook. It’s a wonder what cutting out such distractions can do for the soul and the mind. While yes, I do find myself feeling occasional bursts of angst in which I immediately feel the need to mindlessly scroll Facebook or sit in bed and stare pointlessly at a screen, I’ve begun forcing myself to either sit with these feelings or turn to the comforts of a book.

“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.”
Gustave Flaubert

This week, having been a particularly difficult week, I was advised to read something “light.” The book that was suggested to me was Mindy Kaling’s book Why Not Me? I’ve skimmed through this book and it’s certainly not my taste. I personally found the excerpts I’ve read to be somewhat frivolous and boring, though it is widely enjoyed and considered incredibly humorous by many. Meanwhile, in saying this, I catch myself. I often say that I don’t want to “waste my time” reading poorly written books and yet I wonder how many film critics spend their time watching Friends. So in this sense, I believe that many slip into Mindy’s pages with a desire to be amused and in turn, distracted. I suppose because the majority of my time is taken up by writing and reading, I turn to distraction in a different form. But I have to say that I agree with Flaubert. Reading is a joy, a gift, and though we may feel we are escaping our own lives, however temporarily, the truth is, that reading influences our current life, the one and only life we know and live. And yet Joyce Carol Oates would say that “reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” I might further add to this by arguing that while we might slip into another’s soul for some 300 pages, we return having added to our own soul. This, perhaps, is the result of a merging between the reader and the characters in which we temporarily inhabit.

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love this quote as I’ve always felt a tad guilty when I forget the details that make a book. I don’t have the best memory, which is unfortunate for a writer and history major but I make do. This said, I’ve often forgotten the titles of my favourite books or the names of characters I admire. Nevertheless, these books have contributed to my sense of being. While I may forget a book’s details, I do not forget how books make me feel. I am very much the same way with people. I forget birthdays and traits, things people have told me, but the way a person makes me feel will remain a part of me for years. I cannot pinpoint the ways they’ve changed me, nor can I with a book. I simply know I’ve changed as a result of those interactions.

***

I’ve always enjoyed quotes. Personally, I find a good quote forces me to reflect on my own life and reminds me of the universal nature of many experiences. For instance, the other day I posted something on Twitter and noticed that the Canadian writer, Angie Abdou, had posted the following:

“‘See! That’s a step! It’s gone from fucking novel to stupid novel. Improvement!’- husband cheering me on through find edits #amwriting.”

While this is not the kind of quote we might think of right off the bat, the truth is that after having spent some six hours editing my own sad manuscript, I was feeling rather discouraged. Reading Abdou’s comment reminded me that this acclaimed novelist is also faced with similar experiences, despite our many differences.

Finally, if you’ve got any favourite quotes you’d like to share, please feel free to drop a comment down below! Thanks for reading and I wish everyone a bright and happy Saturday!

Louise Glück: Feature Poet

I’ve decided to start featuring poets… partly because I miss reading poetry and this will encourage me to read more frequently but also because I’d like to discover new poets and thus, in the name of each month’s “feature,” I will find an excuse to set off on “poetry hunts,” (meaning I will spend copious guilt-free hours scouring my favourite bookstores.) Meanwhile, with a few weeks left to the semester, this blog will soon be given more love than it’s currently receiving. I’d like to set up a monthly schedule that includes book reviews from various genres, interviews with authors, occasional musings and, because I can’t help myself, a smattering of historically focused articles.

This said, I’d like to introduce a poet I’ve enjoyed for a number of years. Louise Glück was born in New York City in 1943 and is considered to be one of America’s most talented contemporary poets. When I was still living in Victoria, I bought an anthology from Munro’s that includes work published between 1962 and 2012. I haven’t read the entire anthology front to back but prefer to pick it up every now and then to read whatever poems I find myself craving.

I’ll start by offering you a taste of her work. The following is a poem titled Matins from her 1992 collection, The Wild Iris. 

You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I’m looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?

What I love most about Glück’s writing is perhaps the earnestness with which she approaches her work. I am in awe of her ability to provide such layered images. She offers the reader arresting depictions (checking each clump for the symbolic leaf— oh my goodness…) but while these images insist on being seen, they also insist on being heard. A well-known cry that has, at one time or another, burst from the hearts of every human being is a cry that begs for meaning, purpose and reason. This cry hopes for a neatly wrapped response, sent to us in the form of a sign. A reason to be. And yet, as Glück seems to understand, we are so rarely offered such a sign. Regardless of vehemence, we are most often left to kick at dust which lifts and billows and despite our yearnings, organizes itself in no clear fashion. Thus, Glück’s ability to cloak bleak experiences or insights in language that is tender and as poetic as it is candid, is a strength I admire wholly.

Here is another poem from from her 1980 collection, Descending Figure, titled Rosy.

When you walked in with your suitcase, leaving
the door open so the night showed
in a black square behind you, with its little stars
like nailheads, I wanted to tell you
you were like the dog that came to you by default,
on three legs: now that she is again no one’s,
she pursues her more durable relationships
with traffic and cold nature, as though at pains
to wound herself so that she will not heal.
She is past being taken in by kindness,
preferring wet streets: what death claims
it does not abandon.
You understand, the animal means nothing to me.

Her poems frequently explore themes of connection (or the lack there of), the impacts of loss, the reality of isolation and, in general, mortality. The Poetry Foundation quotes Stephen Burt who, upon reviewing her 2006 collection Averno, noted that “few poets save Sylvia Plath have sounded so alienated, so depressed, so often, and rendered that alienation aesthetically interesting.”

It is almost a cliché now, to claim Sylvia Plath as a favourite poet. But I have to admit, I have always loved her work and am incredibly intrigued by her ability to turn twisted, existential agony into lines that parade as beautiful. It is true, Glück approaches her work in a similar fashion and it is perhaps for this reason that I am so drawn to her poetry. Finally, one reason Glück has climbed the ranks to becoming one of America’s most beloved poets is because her poetry, while deeply contemplative and rendered with sensitivity, is also considered “accessible.” Her work has sometimes been considered “spare” and avoids excessive convolution without abandoning metaphor or lyricism. She pays incredibly attention to repetition and rhythm. Her work is thus far from the colloquial but is nevertheless comprehensible.

If you’d like to discover more of Glück’s work, I suggest checking out the Poetry Foundation. Luckily, much of her work is published online so you may discover her work for free. Meanwhile, if you’d like me to read or review any poets, please leave a comment below. I’m always eager to discover new names.

Confidence & Criticism

When I was thirteen I believed I could write. I didn’t recognize potential in myself or foresee earned abilities. No, I thought my work was perfect. Just. the. way. it. was. My work consisted of glorious, polished, beautiful sentences that by no means required editing. Nope, I thought, my work’s masterful and I must show the world. I used to print out my poems and put them in binders with plastic cover sheets. I’d read them proudly to whoever would listen. When I look back, I can’t help but laugh and, at the same time, feel a little jealous of young Emma’s naivety.

While my previous confidence is something of a laughable matter, I do believe the process was important, however unrealistic it may have been. It was helpful in that I believe a certain amount of confidence is needed to truly develop one’s skills. These years of blind certainty encouraged me to explore my writing with little to no fear of failure, a notion that, as an adult, scares the living daylights out of me. If the notion of failure had plagued me from the beginning, I may have shut down before I’d even gotten started. Luckily that didn’t happen and now, after years of writing, the thought of “failure” stimulates me to work harder. I know that with enough dedication I’ll get to my desired destination.

This being said, if someone dared criticize thirteen-year-old Emma’s work, they’d likely have been met with a string of defensive remarks.

Clearly…. I’d say, you don’t understand…. IT WAS A METAPHOR!!!

So while I can look back and cheer myself on (you go girl!) I also recognize that my writing was somewhat stunted by an inability to accept criticism. It is my personal belief that learning to accept criticism and to “kill your darlings” A.K.A. edit, are two of the most valuable lessons in writing. Nowadays I welcome criticism with open arms. This doesn’t mean I agree with all of it or implement every change suggested to me, but I am open to ideas and to feedback.

But I didn’t just wake up one day and think YES, I’m ready for criticism! While most of the people in my life know that I’m not much of an “academic type” and never particularly wanted to attend university, I have to admit that one of the most valuable lessons I learned over the past four years was to listen. Workshopping taught me to listen and to become more critical of my own work. It taught me that there are a ton of amazing writers out there, many of whom are just as dedicated and eager as myself. How could I continue to defend my work in such a setting? What made me any more special than any of the other young, emerging writers with whom I studied? Not much. I was (and still am) just a little fish swimming in a vast lake.

My main goal right now is to grow as a writer. This requires both awareness and sacrifice on my part. Apart from allocating as much time as possible to working, I am constantly trying to centre my ways of thinking. I still experience those “clearly you don’t understand” reactions but it’s a gut reaction. It’s not a reaction I vocalize and it’s one that I quickly dismember. This way my ego can’t go running off without a rational, analytical companion.

I’d like to conclude by shifting focus to the delicate relationship between confidence and criticism. I believe these two complement one another. Sure, too much confidence can get in the way of one’s ability to accept criticism and too much criticism can certainly squash a person’s confidence but, in many scenarios, learning to balance confidence and criticism can do wonders for a person’s writing. This said, there’s a difference between confidence and conceit. The first of which I have developed over time. The latter I may have known in the past but am certainly distanced from now.

Finally, I offer a reminder that criticism is contributive and not detractive. It’s aim is not to destruct. Meanwhile, there is no shifting scale that delineates a clear relationship between criticism and confidence. A certain amount of criticism should not result in lowered confidence though it may result in more work than desired (hello caffeine and late night work sessions!) So with this I bid you farewell. Please feel free to comment with stories or ideas pertaining to criticism or writerly confidence!

Fluctuating Between Romantic Notions of Writing and Writing as a Reality

For the first time in my life, writing has begun to feel like a ritual. A sacred practice. A practice that I not only rely on, but one that encourages me to grow. As I near graduation, I find myself visiting the contemplative depths that exist within me. I find myself both softening and hardening, opening and closing. Such dichotomies have come to define my latest experiences. I have allowed myself to consider new thoughts and to close the door on others, on those which creep into my life as willfully as knapweed, dirty thoughts that insist they’re beautiful.

These thoughts have begun to feel clear as a result of more frequent writing. In the past, I wrote primarily when tempted by inspiration but now, I find myself writing everyday. Perhaps a few lines. Perhaps several pages. By engaging my writing, I have learned a great deal about patience. I have learned to be patient with both myself and with others. This, I do believe, is of the utmost importance. I have never worried too much about getting my work published (not for now) as I am keen on learning and developing my skills. As of recent, I’ve begun submitting poems or stories here and there. Rejection, of course, is a large part of being a writer and receiving rejection letters has further contributed to my sense of patience.

Nevertheless, I write because it has become a part of who I am. I do not currently profit off my work but this doesn’t discourage me, it doesn’t deter me from writing or cause me to enjoy the act any less. In fact, I feel the opposite. I feel incredibly inspired to work hard. It is perhaps this very inspiration that has encouraged writing to become a daily activity.

I had a friend over the other evening and she mentioned an interview she’d listened to with Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild. My friend admitted that she felt better knowing that even successful authors go for months on end without writing. Cheryl Strayed, from what I’ve been told, is a notorious binge writer. My friend told me that she couldn’t imagine how I wrote everyday and I replied by expressing my inability to understand how she could go for weeks or months without writing. We agreed that the writing process is so very different from person to person.

This same day, I was scrolling on Facebook and noticed a funny picture another friend of mine had posted. This picture included a page from one of Franz Kafka’s diaries in which he laments, day after day, that he feels unable to write. I have concluded that there is an inherent relationship between patience and writing as a ritual. The desire to write daily may exist, but the ability to might not. Likewise, one might wish to write but lacks the time.

Today I am taking deep breaths to remind myself that I must remain patient. I am overwhelmed by the number of tasks I must complete, all in a rather short amount of time, and I feel sad that I am allocating so much of my time to tasks that I do not care about. Instinctually I wish to  get up and leave them behind. To say they don’t matter. To take a drive to the mountains and write. The fact of the matter, though, is that while writing is an important practice that defines parts of my life, it is not “my life.” It does not wholly consume my energies. Nevertheless, I am choosing to feel grateful. I am grateful to have writing as an emotional fall-back, as a kind of best friend, a friend that sticks by me even on days I have little time for it.

Handwriting

My family moved to France when I was nine and I was faced with culture shock. Of course France offered much of what I was used to… big cities, mountains, good food, a stable school system etc. The “big” changes were actually quite small but to a nine year old, they struck me as incredibly strange. I distinctly remember being thrown into the French school system with a somewhat broken understanding of the language after years of french immersion. My most distinct memory is being called our for not only writing in pencil (PENCIL YOU SAY?!) but I wasn’t writing in cursive. Although I’d learned cursive in the third grade (and I admit, I thought I was the best) I was used to printing. I was also used to pencil, to the wonderful grey half moon smudges they’d make on my hand and to being able to erase whatever I pleased. Well the French weren’t going to make any exceptions. Not only did I fail French class (I was treated like any other French student and as a result, I wound up with many zero’s) I was also forced to give up my beloved pencils in exchange for fountain pens and French ruled-paper. If you don’t know what it looks like, check out the picture below. All those lines? Yeah, they’re there on purpose. Now you can know exactly how high to draw you “l’s” or your “o’s.”

main-french-ruled

So I learned that there’s an art to handwriting. I paid careful attention to curling the bottoms of my “g’s” and to always cross my “t’s” or dot my “i’s.” My younger self would be horrified at the state of my handwriting nowadays. I’ve become reliant on laptops and cellphones and rarely write by hand. I also don’t take notes for school, so where most of the people I know continue to write by hand, I spend most of my time improving my pig drawing abilities. I’ve also drawn some pretty good flowers and stick men. This being said, I occasionally find myself feeling detached from my computer and in those times I pick up a pen and paper and return to handwriting. There’s something freeing, being able to write on an angle or in an colour pen. Many studies also claim that people tend to remember content better when they write by hand.

One of the best gifts I was ever given was a beautiful Shaeffer fountain pen when I first found out I’d been admitted to the creative writing program atP1090487 the University of Victoria. I wonder if others feel the same way, but I feel as though I developed a bond with this pen which ultimately adds to the writing experience. When I pick it up, I feel as though I am reconnecting with someone or something special. I feel inclined to write. I can’t say I feel the same way about free pens with a tooth and “Dr. _____’s office” scrolled down the side.

I also wrote an earlier blog post about letter writing. In that post, I considered whether or not letters extract more sensitivity from the writer. I can’t say I have an answer. I can say, however, that handwriting something hard or emotionally difficult to admit feels truer and more daunting when written by hand than when using a keyboard. Perhaps because writing by hand requires a more conscious connection, a more acute awareness.

I’ll conclude by saying that hand-writing is also very mysterious to me. Nowadays, many of us are less accustomed to reading the writing of others. As someone who studies history, I have given myself a goal: I plan to practice reading archived letters in order to attune my eye to the writing of others. My uncle recently e-mailed my family with some World War One documents. The name on the document was Wilfred Meagher, my Grandfather’s name. When my Mom saw the document she immediately exclaimed that it was her father’s signature, the same signature she’d seen him sign her whole life. He was not, however, old enough to have fought in the First World War. I immediately googled “123rd Battalion, C.E.F. Royal Grenadiers” and discovered that the Attestation Paper was from the first war and not the second. The Wilfred Meagher who’d signed this document could not be my Grandfather. Upon further thought, my Mom figured that they’d grown up in an era when everyone was trained to write in a certain way. Having similar signatures, therefore, wasn’t all that surprising.

Perhaps this week I’ll settle down with a cup of tea and my favourite pen and start writing again. For now, however, I offer you this post in a typed format.

 

 

Silent Company

There’s a select number of people with whom I can sit quietly and feel perfectly comfortable and happy. As a somewhat solitary person I value these individuals highly and am comforted by their presence on days when I have nothing to say. With them, I do not feel guilty for falling into quiet or solitary moods as I know they’ll understand.

I first learned about the joys of silent company from my Dad. I remember when I was younger we’d go for neighbourhood walks together. He might not say anything for minutes at a time and as a kid I would walk next to him desperately searching for new discussion topics. Silence, I thought, was awkward. It seemed to mean something was wrong. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to love this about my Dad. I know that our occasional silence is not a sign of boredom or awkwardness, but rather attests to the comfort we feel in each other’s presence.

I am intrigued by silent company as it can be either incredibly comforting or painfully awkward. Most of us have been on horrible first dates (first and last) wherein a series of stiff questions eventually leads to silence, subtle chair shuffling and a quick wave to the waiter for the bill. Elevator silence can also be strange. I know I’ve blurted a number of stupid comments in an attempt to “break the silence” and my comments have generally led to an even stiffer, more awkward silence as those in the elevator count down the levels until they can get away from the poor girl who embarrassed herself on the sixth floor.

But then… there is that silence as two people sit curled on a couch, reading their separate books for hours on end. No need to look up, no need to explain the lack of conversation. Or those walks, where the world is so beautiful that both of you know you’re taking it in and no words can even describe what’s ahead. Or the silence when something painful’s happened and the silence between two people isn’t indicative of a lack of caring but rather signals the contrary. These are the silences I value and love.

I remember travelling in Iceland with my friend Sasha. Some days we’d walk for hours without talking, existing in our own separate worlds. One day she told me that the sound of my rain pants rubbing together was comforting. I laughed at this thought but we’ve since looked back on those days and acknowledged the closeness we felt in moments of “silence” as we walked side by side, kilometre after kilometre, feeling no need for conversation.

I also made a wonderful friend in the fall who, after realizing that we both enjoyed silent company, accompanied me to the mountains for several nights after no more than two coffee dates. We bonded over knowing our friendship could survive occasional spells of silence and to a reader who enjoys the presence of other beings, her friendship has brought a lot of bliss into my life.

Nevertheless, silence intrigues me. To some, even the silence of a loved one is uncomfortable so I sometimes wonder if our interpretation of silence is related to how noisy our minds are. Depending on my state of mind, I attempt to shape my environment. Some days my mind is so loud that I cannot deal with additional noise so I find myself alone, kneading my thoughts into submission. Other days I find myself feeling blank and look to external stimulation, a way to end dreaded silence. If I’m being honest, I probably seek out more silence than I do noise. I can barely stand living in apartments, the sounds of neighbours, however subtle, ring like bells in my ears. I usually leave bars early, tired of the incessant chatter. Yet my desire for silence has never been intwined with my love for solitude. They aren’t synonymous. At least not in my mind. Company and silence, I’d argue, can make an incredibly good pair.

 

 

 

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.

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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