July 19th, 2015

Best job

When I was about five or six, I had maybe the best job of my life. My parents and I were getting out of our car, which was parked at the one intersection in my little hometown. I think we were going to the video store. A woman was walking along the sidewalk, a rarity in rural areas because so few places are walkable that everyone just drives everywhere. She wore a long black wool coat and from one of the hip pockets you could see the head of a small grey kitten peeping out. If you’ve met me, or really any small child, you’ll know that I was enthralled. The woman came over to me there on the sidewalk and told me she had to go into the bank, but you can’t take a kitten into a bank. Could I hold the kitten for her until she came out?

COULD I??? Of course I could. I would not get a kitten of my own until my seventh birthday, but I was quite confident I could handle the squirmy little fuzzball. So she handed it over and off she went. I think this scenario involved one of my parents having to forego the video store so that I could be supervised whilst I supervised the kitten. I can’t remember too much about the actual kitten interaction other than it was really soft and I was so happy.

The woman came out of the bank fairly quickly and apparently not realizing this was the best thing that ever happened to me (or, I know now, of course realizing exactly and being as delighted as I was) paid me fifty cents for watching the kitten. And took the little fellow back and off she went. I come from a very small town, where people often know each other, but not always because it’s near a bigger city and people come and go. I had no idea who that woman was and neither did my folks. As far as I know we never saw her again.

This happy little memory just popped into my head and, because I have a blog I can share it with you and so I have.

July 11th, 2015

Things I miss about being single

One month from today I will have been married to Mark for three years, and on that date I’ll probably post something about how much I love being married to Mark, and Mark in general. And I do–it’s almost unbearably cliche to say it, but he is actually the best thing that every happened to me. I’ll try to make an interesting list of reasons why that is the case, but of course there are some things I miss about my pre-Mark life so, one month ahead of that post, here’s this one:

–dumping my clean laundry on the couch and picking items to wear from it day by day until it reaches a manageable level to fold and put away
–always knowing how much cereal is left in the box
–being able to schedule events easily–if someone asked me if I wanted to see a movie on Saturday, I would think for a minute if I had any plans, then agree. It’s harder to remember plans someone else made and harder still to guess what they might be hoping for or planning but not yet mentioned. Plus, hooking up with someone romantically effectively doubles your social circle, because you get his too. I quite like all of Mark’s peeps, but there’s simply a lot more people to see now.
–sleeping like a starfish
–stirfried eggs, which Mark does not believe is a food, but I used to eat several times a week.
–singing myself to sleep, which I used to do when I had insomnia, but I figure is rude if there’s someone else in the bed.
–that wildly over-optimistic excitement of walking into a party or event and wondering if tonight I would meet “the guy”
–the way my friends’ boyfriends would be almost paternally nice to me as a way of making points with their girlfriends. Like fixing stuff around my place and driving me to stuff. I knew it was sad because I was the loser single friend, but it was still kind of adorable.
–no one knew how many popsicles I ate
–going to gym, then to bed without showering

July 9th, 2015

Songs that have been stuck in my head

I decided to keep a diary of all the songs that have been stuck in my head, because they are so varied and random. And they don’t seem to come from anywhere, it’s not like “Oh, I heard that on the radio at the dentist’s office.” Some of these I hadn’t heard in years until one day they began playing inside my head and wouldn’t stop. Most of them are terrible. What does this say about me?

Anyway, tracking them has taught me a thing or two about the whole “stuck in my head” thing–I tend to only hear my internal music when I’m doing something that does not require my full attention, like cooking or showering. If I’m working or reading, no aural landscape. Interesting?

Well, here’s the diary, starting with the very surprising song that triggered the project. If I can recall having heard the song recently or can think of another reason it’s in my head, I have put a * beside it–all the starless entries are inexplicable!

Tuesday June 23

–evening: “Nookie” by Limp Bizkit

–later evening: “Izzo” by Jay-Z

–going to bed: “Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer” by Elton John

Wednesday June 24

–morning, in the shower: “Poor Cow” by Elton John*

Thursday June 25

–3am, awake for no reason: “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” by Shakira

–getting ready for work: “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

–immediately after that: “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage

Somehow I don’t have any songs in my head on the weekend???

Monday June 29

–in the elevator leaving for work, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”

Thursday July 2

–in the elevator leaving for work (seems to be a popular time for songs to invade my brain), “Let’s Talk about Sex” by Salt N Pepa

Tuesday July 7

–getting off the bus at work “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet

(Are you noticing there are fewer and fewer of these? I’m not forgetting to post them, the phenomenon is just diminishing. I wonder if this is like lucid dreaming, where the more you try to recall and control it, the less it happens…?)

–getting ready for bed, “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet

Wednesday July 8

–morning, getting dressed, “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet (I’m trying not to take this as a message from my brain–it’s just a really catchy song!)

–around 11:30pm, trying to fall asleep, “Rossland Square” (this song is noteable as being the first on the list that is in my current listening list, though honestly I can’t think of the last time I heard it outside my own skull)

Thursday July 9

–late afternoon, heading down the subway stairs after work, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John (Geez, that guy is on here a lot.)

–evening, microwave frozen mango for a snack “You’re the One That I Want” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John

All right, I’m going to end this hear because this exercise has been humiliating and proves no matter how much good music I try to shove into my brain, something in more core has lousy lousy taste. I want to think that truly complex interesting music is difficult to just play on a mental loop without thinking, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Maybe I am truly just a 90s mallrat in denial.

If you’re tempted into doing one of these mental-music diaries, I’d love to see it!

June 16th, 2015

Things people who haven’t written anything yet need to stop saying

Warning: this post is probably snarky. And I’m not even at all confident that I’m right to disagree with the statements below, which is why I’m adding the caveat that these injunctions are for non-writers only. If you’ve been working at the craft seriously for years and want to argue with me about this stuff, I will listen–but if not, I won’t. Here’s why…

Everyone has a novel in them; everyone should write it. Nope. There is nothing, other than basic human functions like eating and walking and texting, that everyone can do. Not everyone can score a soccer goal, not everyone can sing on key, not everyone can paint a lilac bush so that it is recognizable as such. This phrase is a mangling of the basic principle that everyone’s life contains a novel–if looked at from the right angle and with enough insight and artistry, some aspect of everyone’s life could form the basis of an interesting novel. This is also how dating works. But not everyone is able to write–or even find–the novel within his or her own life. Which is fine–they simply have to be content with living it, which is still pretty good.

Are you worried about ebooks and stuff? It’s not even friends and acquaintances who keep asking this question; it’s newspapers and magazines! To be fair, newspaper and magazine journalists are also writers and I suppose they are themselves worried about ebooks and perhaps think that creative writers are going to share their pain. And some do, up to a point–I know plenty of writers who have an emotion of some kind about ebooks (I don’t). But insisting that hardworking passionate writers talk about something they have no control over and that has nothing to do with the content of their work is disempowering, not to mention boring. Imagine if a huge double-page spread in the sports section were devoted to astroturf.

Once I really get down to writing, I think I can make a living at it. I don’t doubt that people do make a living at writing–I know a few–but it’s very hard and fairly rare, and saying this having done nothing towards said goal indicates a complete misunderstanding of the industry (or non-understanding, as in no attempt made). Not to mention it’s mean, considering I’m still showing up to work every day and squeezing writing into my evenings and weekends. Would first-year law students approach a working lawyer and say, “I plan to be much more successful than you are.” Well, maybe they would, but they shouldn’t.

I think I’m just going to write a bunch of [insert genre] stuff to make some easy money. Apparently there’s a Doris Lessing novel in which someone does this and it works out. Maybe that’s how things were in the past or maybe it was just Lessing being a snot, I don’t know. Certainly, it has not been possible for most of us to quickly and easily write novels ever, and especially not in a genre we distain. For those that can do it, it still isn’t very easy to sell said novels, and for those that can do that it is unlikely that they’ll make much money, let alone enough to justify the (I imagine) excruciating process of writing a novel one does not like. Not to mention the horrible cynicism of attempting to sell something to people one transparently does not respect–not impossible, but please stop telling me about it. No one I know personally has ever succeeded in one of these projects and most have quit almost upon starting.

I would love to be a writer, just sitting around all day writing, but I’ve never been able to afford to quit my job. This is a problematic sentence all around, but the central issue is that people are saying it to me. One very special someone made this comment to me at work, standing about six feet from my desk, which was not far from hers. I can’t even begin to parse what this means–that I’m not a real writer? Oh, wait, I think I parsed it and, again, that’s mean. Even if you truly don’t consider me a real writer, and I’m sure some don’t, why would you announce that? I’m sure some people don’t like my hair or clothes, but they rarely mention it at dinner. Also, who spread the rumour that being a writer is just like being on vacation? Being an accountant is largely just sitting at a desk all day too, but no one thinks that’s much easier than having a “real job.”

I think most of the writing in my genre/writing in my region/writing of my time/writing published anywhere ever isn’t that good. I just want to do my own stuff without getting influence by all the weaker books. Again, as I say above, it is not impossible that a talented writer would feel this way, though I don’t honestly know how–how do you create in society if you’re not in dialogue with others working in the same way in that society? But whatever, I know for a fact that some people can do it. So, if you can, write something amazing and blow my assumptions away. For everyone else who makes this claim but hasn’t themselves accomplished anything yet, I assume that you’re like the women I met in university (and beyond, sadly) who thought “most girls are bitches” and preferred male friends–an exact translation of, “All the attention for me, please.”

June 8th, 2015

Mark Raynes Roberts

You will recall Mark Raynes Roberts from my previous post of wonderful portrait photos he took of me. Now one of those photos, plus many many more of other Canadian writers, plus Raynes Roberts’ crystal sculptures, are to be featured in some exhibitions this fall. There’s a flier below (you’ve got to click on it to make it readable size) and a more detailed press release below that. I hope as many people as possible will see these intriguing exhibitions.

It Started with Charlie! (1)

P R E S S R E L E A S E

M A R K R A Y N E S R O B E R T S
I L L U M I N A T I O N

RENOWNED CRYSTAL ARTIST & PHOTOGRAPHER
ILLUMINATES CANADIAN AUTHORS & LITERATURE IN A CELEBRATION
OF CRAFT, IMAGINATION AND ARTISTIC DEDICATION.

For Immediate Release

June 1, 2015, TORONTO – Craft is in short supply these days. The investment of time it requires – and the need to continually perfect the skills of that craftsmanship – are not for the weak of heart. In celebration of the passion for craftsmanship and the important value it has in a fast-paced, technological world, renowned Canadian artist Mark Raynes Roberts illuminates the imagination and personalities of Canadian authors in three venue exhibitions in Fall 2015: the Gardiner Museum, International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre and Toronto Reference Library.

At the Gardiner Museum, Raynes Roberts, who is best known for his intricate, hand-engraved crystal art that draws upon ancient techniques of old-world craftsmanship, will present 12 new engraved crystal pieces. The ILLUMINATION: Portraits of Canadian Literature communicates narrative passages based upon the theme of light and taken from 12 literary works by Canadian authors. (Literary passages were chosen by the Writers Trust Advisory Board.) At both the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre and the Toronto Reference Library, his ILLUMINATION, “Portraits of Canadian Authors,” a projected art installation of 150 photographic portraits of Canadian authors, will be showcased to the public.

The multi-media project was two years in the making. Raynes Roberts traveled over 20,000 km and took over 22,500 photographs as well as worked on his one-of-a-kind crystal pieces, the hand-engraving of which involves a mastery of skills that are a lost art. His ILLUMINATION crystal art pieces use a rare combination of both delicate stippling – a time-consuming technique from the 17th century – and deep intaglio diamond wheel-engraving. They depict “dreamscapes” of Canadian literary stories, expressing the beauty of the written word and exploring the human condition, hopes, wisdom, love and transcendence born from Canada’s most inquiring minds.

“The Gardiner is delighted to be unveiling twelve luminous new crystal works of art by Mark Raynes Roberts that uniquely celebrate both Canada’s rich literary culture and the beauty of human craftsmanship and creativity,” says Kelvin Browne, Executive Director and CEO of the Gardiner. “Seeing Mark’s work in the context of the Gardiner collection really illustrates the deep affinity between glass and ceramics in terms of history, design, and technique.”

As creator of the prestigious Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Award for Non-Fiction, Raynes Roberts was interested in investigating the authors’ creative process, determination and contribution to cultural life in Canada and the world. Interaction with authors provided the inspiration for this important body of work, which celebrates the Canadian literary community at a time when authors and publishers face the challenge of redefining their industry due to technological changes. He also understood the parallel between the time required for the craft of their work with that of his own. And he wanted to draw attention to the importance of this dedication and passion in a world that is increasingly automated and divorced from the touch and nuance of human craftsmanship – the very thing that helps define us as a species.

“Literature is an art of illumination. Every author wants to shed light on some truth no matter what form the writing takes: fiction or non-fiction. Writing is a pursuit of knowledge and understanding; the desire to bring attention to a story that needs to be told, whether it be about a person, an imagined life, an issue, a part of our history or the human condition. This is why literature is important. We’re not only enriched by it; we’re connected by it,” commented
Raynes Roberts.

A Canadian artist whose crystal masterpieces sit in many private and corporate art collections around the world, Raynes Roberts art has also been presented to royalty, business titans, sporting superstars and luminaries including Dr. Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and the Archbishop of Canterbury to name a few. His largest architectural installation, a stunning 53 ft engraved glass mural at McMaster University, Health Sciences Library, was designated a cultural property of Canada. In 2013, “Visions of Light,” a 30-year retrospective of the artist’s work was held in Toronto, with subsequent exhibitions in Johanfors, Sweden, London, England, and New York.
Throughout the 32 years of Raynes Roberts’ career, photography has played an integral role as both informer and catalyst for his crystal interpretations. To complement his crystal exhibition at the Gardiner Museum, ILLUMINATION: Portraits of Canadian Authors will provide an intriguing glimpse through his artistic eye to reveal the personalities of Canada’s literary community including such noted authors as Margaret Atwood, Conrad Black, Joseph Boyden, Emma Donoghue, Charlotte Gray, Elizabeth Hay, Sheila Heti, Plum Johnson, Margaret MacMillan, MG Vassanji, Anne Michaels, Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje, Andrew Pyper, Miriam Toews, Kathleen Winter and Jane Urquhart.
“We’re pleased to be able to complement the crystal art sculpture exhibit at the Gardiner Museum with a special display of the ILLUMINATION photographic collection here at Harbourfront Centre during the 36th edition of the International Festival of Authors this fall. That Mark has brought together photography, sculpture and literature in such a moving and beautiful way is astonishing. And it’s wonderful to see so many past Festival participants as his subjects,” commented Geoffrey Taylor, Director, International Festival of Authors.
Central to the project has been Raynes Roberts’ commitment that the ILLUMINATION project be viewed by the Canadian public as an inclusive project reflecting the diversity of the country he immigrated to in 1982. The 150 portraits in the ILLUMINATION photographic collection is his gift to the country which will celebrate its 150th Anniversary in 2017. In this spirit, the project celebrates both emerging and established authors from all genres of writing, ethnic background and gender, often traveling to the authors‘ homes to photograph them in their places of work and inspiration.

Raynes Roberts says, “Canada is a country known for its modesty. But we have every reason to feel proud of our literary excellence and to herald our Canadian authors whose words of truth, solace and wisdom are read by people from around the world. ILLUMINATION is about bringing into focus portraits of those who write the words in silence and in solitude.”

ILLUMINATION VENUES:
PORTRAITS OF CANADIAN LITERATURE – Crystal Art Sculpture
Gardiner Museum, Toronto – Oct 26 – Nov 11, 2015

PORTRAITS OF CANADIAN AUTHORS – Portrait Photography
International Festival of Authors, Harbourfront Centre – Oct 22 – Nov 1, 2015

PORTRAITS OF CANADIAN AUTHORS – Portrait Photography
Toronto Reference Library – Oct 11 – Nov 1, 2015

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Mark Raynes Roberts, Crystal Artist + Photographer T: 416 520 7588
E: info@markraynesroberts.com
www.raynesillumination.com – launch date July 1, 2015 www.markraynesroberts.com
Rachel Weiner, Communications and Volunteer Assistant Gardiner Museum, 111 Queens Park, Toronto, T: 416 408 5062 E: rachelw@gardinermuseum.com
Maeve O’ Regan, Communications & Marketing Coordinator
International Festival of Authors, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto,
T: 416 973 5836
E: moregan@ifoa.org

Yvonne Hunter, Manager, Cultural + Special Events
Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St, Toronto, T: 416 393 7098
E: yhunter@torontoreferencelibrary.ca

June 2nd, 2015

Things I feel awkward about

Oh, they are many and legion, the things I feel awkward about. In this case, I am not referring to social awkwardness, although those things are many and legion, too. Today I want to talk about experiences that weren’t awesome or terrible and that maybe I still haven’t fully processed–I just don’t feel exactly one thing about them and that is…awkward. These were all going to be separate blog posts and then I realized a) I won’t write that many blog posts in the next few weeks, and after a few weeks these topics will all feel irrelevant and b) they fit together this tidy theme. And so…things that made me feel awkward lately…

Career Day I usually agree to do just about whatever I’m asked if it gets me an opportunity to speak to young people. I’m at an age where teenagers and early twentysomethings won’t speak to me voluntarily at a party or even at work, but all my friends still have only little kids, so they can’t help me much with the zeitgeist (though they do help me get to swing on swings without anyone giving me weird looks). So I did a career day at UofT and it was definitely an awkward experience. I was on a panel on working in education, which was a bit weird as everyone else taught in some format. Youth today is much for savvy than I was in my uni years, and much more goal oriented. In part, they have to be–the job market it is tougher now than in 2001 when I graduated, and it was plenty tough then. I saw a lot of fear in the eyes of the people at the seminar, and I wanted to help them but I wasn’t sure how. One way they very much were like me in my youth is that they couldn’t really process the idea of jobs they hadn’t heard of before–teachers made sense to them, along with firemen and doctors and crossing guards, I’m sure. For those not playing along at home, I am a production project manager and that most definitely did not make sense to anyone there–I thought I explained pretty succinctly (and my job isn’t rocket surgery, as they say, though it’s pretty interesting/challenging) but most of the young folk were looking right through me. Hell, maybe they knew exactly what i was talking about, but just didn’t want any part of it. I did get a sense of the zeitgist (panic!) but other than that the day was kind of sad.

Klout Scores I had the opportunity to go to a seminar on how to land a book contract, and even thought I actually already have a book contract (and I can’t say enough hoorays about that) I went–it’s always good to know more about the business, and I wasn’t doing anything else. It turns out I learned a tonne, because the author who was speaking has an American agent and submitted her book to only American houses. It is VERY different over there. (Also, I should point out that the speaker, Rachel McMillan was so incredibly charming and well-spoken that it was worth the hour just to listen to her, and I will defo buy her book when it comes out!)

Anyway, to publish in the States is a very different thing, it seems, than publishing in Canada, and one of the differences is how many things other than an author you need to be. Skilled marketer and respected influencer are two; the presentation touched on Klout scores, which are a measure of how known/respected/influential we are on the inter webs. All of us, even if you don’t register for Klout or look into it, you are still out there, with our certain amount of influence in the world.

I’m really into quantifying stuff so even though I’d like to pretend I don’t care about Klout scores, of course I set off immediately to find mine out. It was a 10/100, which I felt sort of bad about but resigned to, but it turned out it took a few days for the data to feed into the system–now I’m a 52. On the one hand, that’s a bare pass; on the other, Rachel said influence begins at 35. I don’t even know if telling you this is appropriate in polite company–is this like revealing my weight?

Christina Kelly Has a Blog It’s called Fallen Princess and I love it even though it makes me squirm. If you’re not familiar with this writer, she was one of my heroes back in the early 1990s when she wrote for Sassy. When Sassy, the best and weirdest teen-girl magazine I’d encountered crashed and burned, I was already 16 and basically ready to leave the teen-girl mag world behind and actually, gendered magazines full stop, so I missed out on the rest of Kelly’s career there–she went on to Jane, YM, Elle Girl…and apparently did good work at all. For some reason, even though the Sassy writers put a lot of their personalities into their writing and I loved them all, I didn’t attempt to find out where they went or what they did next. Actually, I do know why that is, if I’m honest–I read them as fictional characters, and when Sassy ended, the novel I was reading about these people ended.

At that point in my life, the first person was verboten in anything but novels–everything for school or even the student paper or the yearbook was supposed to be this weird unbiased unreferenced speaker. The first glimpse I got of self-referential journalism and criticism–the world that would become the blogosphere–is via Sassy. And Rose-coloured is actually where you can hear the greatest influence of that kind of writing; if you follow the link above to Fallen Princess, you’ll hear a voice that echos distinctly around here.

Christina Kelly was the tougher, scarier one at Sassy–known for her sarcasm and being in a rock band. I thought she was an amazing super-adult, and I dreamed of having her life while simultaneously knowing I’m not cut out for a rock-and-roll lifestyle and I don’t understand sarcasm. And honestly, I’ve done a lot of amazing things in my failed attempt to become the person I imagined CK to be in 1994 (that’s a tough sentence to get right, but I think I got it), so the result was excellent.

But now, having stumbled upon this blog, I’m startled to discover that the target has shifted and Kelly, while still a charmingly brusque and funny writer, is also a suburban full-time mom, Girl Guide leader and yoga-doer. She still sounds like an excellent person to meet for dinner, but I no longer wish to be her. Maybe I’m just older and no longer wish to be anyone other than myself (which is true) but also I think this is a good lesson that people change and life changes and you’re not always on the road you think you are on. Or something.

I don’t really have an issue with the suburbs or the yoga or the Girl Guides, but I’m distinctly uncomfortable with the regularly-bubbling-to-the-surface subtext of the blog, which is that it is f–king hard to be a writer. I found this Non writer post kind of heartbreaking, because it is such a well written (right until it trails off onto another topic, but such is the license of blogs) meditation on not writing. But the post I Am Actually an Actual Feminist Housewife is probably the best post on the blog (and yes, when I found out Fallen Princess existed, I did go back to the first post and read it straight through like a novel–I often do that. Maybe I sort of wish everything was a novel.) It’s so complicated and honest and when you finish reading it, there’s no designated response, no obvious, “right on!” or “what you should have done” or anything–you just need to think about it.

So the awkward thing is that I’d like CK to write more for publication so I could read it, but I also think I’m happy for her that she’s comfortable making the choice not to…for now.

May 26th, 2015

Wall of Fame

I try to avoid talking about my writing life at work unless someone specifically asks me. I’m not embarrassed, I just figure it’s not really anyone else’s problem and everyone at work wants to just focus on work. Which actually isn’t true–everyone in my office has been very supportive and encouraging about my writing ever since a freelance editor who is also a poet outed me as an author on a conference call with 10 people, and one of those people emailed the entire company for some reason. Very awkward, but very sweet–she was that excited for me.

I’m so lucky to have received all this support and encouragement while I balance my two careers, and now I’m even on the Wall of Fame in the office. This is where they put up little blurbs about folks who have done cool things outside of work. I’m honoured to be included! Here’s my blurb…design credit Jennifer Leung.11x14-Rebecca (2)

May 22nd, 2015

My Life in Birthdays

As I approach epic 37 on Saturday, I have been thinking about birthdays past and trying to see how many I can recall. When I began writing this post, I didn’t think I could make it have a larger meaning than “It’s fun for me to remember” but the time I’d delved backwards through 15 years of notes and photos and diaries, trying to figure out how I spent each milestone, I realized that I had learned something–I feel in the moment like I never change but I have… 23-year-old RR was so different from almost-37-year-old RR that it’s shocking. I think I have finally impressed upon myself that I am truly aging. How odd. Anyway, here’s how I spent every birthday, more or less, since my champagne year…

36: I threw a big birthday party for myself, something I hadn’t done since high school. Somehow I thought people would find it self-important or an imposition, which doesn’t make any sense because I go to lots of self-thrown birthday parties myself and find them delightful. So I did it and it was wonderful and I suppose if anyone was annoyed by it, they just didn’t come–lesson learned!!

35:  This was a more chill birthday. It had occurred to me that I never go to fancy restaurants even though I am no longer dead broke and could do so once in a while. So Mark and I went to Joso’s for Italian style seafood and a decor of naked ladies. It was pretty great.

34: I was able to pull up the other memories here without any help, but I can’t for the life of me remember what I did this year. There’s no blog post about it and no birthday pictures on Facebook except for my colleagues taking me out to East Side Mario’s, as they do every year (love!) But usually I would do something else in the evening or on the weekend to celebrate…very mysterious. If you were there, what happened??

33:  Challenging birthday–I had to go to NYC for 24 hours for a reading, plus I had both mono and a terrible rash from some misprescribed medication. But I got home and Mark gave me ice-cream cake and then I felt better.

32: Mark and I went to Montreal and I got the courier bag I carry to this day. I also maintain 32 is the best age because it is the only 5th power in the human lifespan. I enjoyed it anyway!

31: I was visiting my brother in Tokyo and we did a whole day of celebrating. One of my favourite birthdays ever (36 is also in that category).

30: My good friend Penny threw me a birthday party in the party room of her condo, although curiously this post doesn’t mention that–I wonder why? Anyway, it was a fun party and I remember it fondly. However, unlike all of the above birthdays, this one seems like a different era, a very long time ago. And it really was a different time–Penny moved out of that condo shortly thereafter, my friend Kim who brought a multi-tiered neon-frosted cake to the party went on to move to England, Kerry and Stuart were at the party and they didn’t have any children yet!! Most importantly, I suppose, though it seems all of a piece, this is the last birthday before I met the man whom I later married. Truly this was a previous age of RR.

29: Apparently I went to Port Dover with my family for my 29th birthday but honestly this isn’t a crystal-clear memory. 2007 was also the first year of this blog, so props to that!

28: We are now fully in territory I don’t remember, but I can check diaries and photo albums to figure it out. I spent this birthday with my family, as my brother had just returned from most of a year abroad and I was very glad to see him. Apparently the Kimster also gave me a kit to hand-embroider a silk scarf, which sounds so lovely but what did I do with that??

27: This is now pre-Facebook for me and my diary deals but a glancing blow on the birthday. I seem to have been in a bit of a low state on my birthday, frightened of going back to school and being unemployable. Fred came to visit shortly after the birthday and that cheered me up. As well it would!

26: Apparently I went to see Shrek 2 on my 26th birthday??? This is where old RR differs significantly from young RR, as I can’t imagine why I would have wanted to do that. It’s starting to feel a bit creepy, investigating these old events as if they were the work of a stranger into whom I have no insights.

25: All I know is I described the day as “excellent” and Melanie gave me sea monkeys. I seem to remember those sea monkeys…maybe. Also, I made this statement–really funny to me now that I felt mocking of the idea of Young People when I was all of 25. “I am all lethargic and groggy. All I want to do is lie on the couch and read Fashion, a truly dreadful magazine that my mother receives in the mail for no reason and saves for me because it seems, in her eyes, to be meant for Young People”

24: My notes from my 24th birthday are a bit demented. Apparently I was working at both of the jobs I had at that point on my birthday, as well as going to a class, so my plan was to “go out at midnight.” Not sure what I meant by that–hope I had fun! I sound very tired in this entry.

23: I was living at home after university graduation at this point and a touch depressed, but I actually do remember this birthday because my home bedroom still contains a “Becky is 23!” banner that Kim brought over. I think there was cake and other friends in there too. I was excited that it was my champagne birthday even though I had no desire to drink champagne…and didn’t.

22: I didn’t keep any kind of diary (that I recall, anyway) in university, but because I stayed in Montreal the summer after third year and almost none of my friends did, I can guess by default I spent this birthday with my friend Wren and maybe Zainab. I have a vague sense that maybe we saw a movie…?

 And that’s as far as I can even guess. The summers after first and second years I went back to Ontario to work so I guess I spent my birthdays with people there, but I don’t recall. I could start going through high-school diaries and photo albums but I actually really don’t want to–this is enough nostalgia for one post.

Only one pre-20s birthday stands out, which is my 16th. I had read a story somewhere in which a girl was born in a leap year on February 29, so her birthday only occurs every four years. Thus, when she’s 16, it’s her “fourth” birthday and she throws a party appropriate for pre-schoolers. Which I thought was awesome, so I did it too, even though my birthday isn’t on February 29. Details! I remember my friends and I really enjoyed this silliness–I guess we all like having a little glimpse of our youth every now and then…

 

May 17th, 2015

Pain Diary

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m doing a bunch of stuff to try to improve and control the migraines. One part of the project is that I’m documenting them for the first time in a “pain diary” as per the title of this post. I guess you can’t say “diary” to a writer without her interpreting it as “cache of information I can later mine for stories”–at least, that’s what I’m think. It’s an interesting project, even though it does document some of my lowest moments, physical-health-wise.

Every day I’m supposed to rate the morning, afternoon and evening on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being no pain and 10 the worst pain. Here is how I am scoring things so far, but honestly I have no idea if I’m doing it right. I’d really love to see other people’s pain hierarchies–any ideas how I would google that?

1–mild twinges of pain, maybe an incipient headache but could also be just passing through. Annoying, but doesn’t affect my day very much.
2–mild headache, a backround hum of pain. Makes me more tired than usual, but I can usually do what I planned to do despite the headache.
3–real headache, noticeable pain. At this point I would take some sort of med (but I’m starting to wonder if I should take them earlier) and consider whether my plans for the rest of the day are cancellable. If that’s not easy to do, I will continue as planned and probably still have an ok time, but be very tired and quiet.
4–serious headache, unhappy amount of pain. I’ll take the strongest drugs I have and try to just go home and rest, but if I can’t do that, I can usually muddle through whatever I have to do. I might fumble my words at this point, and my hands often shake. The last rung of functional.
5–severe headache, non-functional Rebecca. This is where I actually can’t do anything other than lie still and maybe stagger to get a drink of water. I can’t stand to be touched and I can’t talk very much, though I can say a few sentences. Some nausea, inability to eat. This has only happened to me a handful of times in my life, and thank goodness always in proximity to a bed (except once when Mark had to park the car so I could lie in the grass beside the parking area until I felt better).
6–I’ve never had a 6, but I have been close enough to see it on the horizon. I would probably vomit from the pain at this point, something I’ve never done wrt migraines but have thought about. Ditto crying.
7–I honestly think that if, with all the meds at my disposal, I got to a 7 and couldn’t get away from it, I would need to be under medical care or at least really want to be. The thing is, it is so impossible to do anything when you feel this bad, I don’t know how I could manage to say, walk to a vehicle and sit in it, then walk into a hospital and explain my problem. I’m kind of hoping that if I ever hit a 7, I’ll just lose consciousness so someone can call me an ambulance and I can be wheeled away on a gurney.

Does that sound accurate to you? I haven’t included 8, 9, and 10 because, well, I’ve never had a baby, been shot, or been run over by a car; I’ve never been deprived of oxygen–I imagine those things are what occupies the far end of the spectrum…I think. And yet the pain diary form I’ve been filling out actually specifies 10 as “the worst pain you’ve experienced”, in which case 5 becomes the new 10 for me…but then there’s no room for things to worsen, which in all honestly looks like where I’m headed. Also, it’s kind of disrespectful to those who’ve had those babies and been hit by those cars. My pain threshhold is low and I know it: I’m trouble at the dentist and sometimes if I walk into a door or stub my toe, my eyes actually fill with tears. We have to allow for a certain amount extreme reaction in my pain reporting, even though I don’t mean to do it.

So basically, I’m worried I’m doing my pain diary wrong, but also, the process is very fascinating. I had a 5 yesterday, and of course in the worst of the pain, I was just a trembling ball of nerve endings, but as soon as I started to feel a little better, I was trying examine the pain scale and see where I was. I guess that’s the writer’s instinct–as soon as we’re taking notes on the situation, we can see it from the outside and maybe analyze it a little for use in other writings.

So tell me your pain scales if you want–I’m fascinated and it’s research…

May 11th, 2015

Things That Might Be Wrong with Your Fiction

Guys, I really do try not to be a snark-head, and this post is not intended that way. It’s just that I read a lot of fiction–stories in journals and magazines, big name novels and collections as well as those from unknowns, plus the literally 100s of fiction-contest entries I’ve judged. From this reading, I have categorized in my head a number of foibles authors of fictions often seem to have. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to fix published work and the people who run contests do not let you call up the non-winning entries and let them know where you think they went wrong. Sometimes I use what I have learned in creative writing classes, but since I am not currently teaching, I have no one to share these insights with. I do want to share–and offer some potential solutions. I’ve stayed away from problems I feel like a lot of writing advice thingums cover–like overusing research and having one-note secondary characters–in favour of stuff I haven’t seen covered too much.

Please (please please) do not assume that I am making this list under any kind of impression that I am a flawless writer. Ahahaha. It’s just that other people’s problems are far easier to spot than one’s own. I am actually writing this post as procrastination against my own writing. Yeah, I’m pathetic, but let me help you!

1) What happened: You started your project with the central character and you did a lot of free writing, character sketching, and thinking to explore who this person is. You feel you know what he or she would wear, think, eat, and imagine every second of most days. When you started writing the story or novel, you were able to write quickly and easily because you were so thoroughly in the shoes of your protagonist, but what you ended up with is very long and rambling, because you kept getting stuck spending pages  on how the character feels as s/he, say, walks to the bus stop and realizes the bus is late. All of this minutiae is helpful in learning who this person is and why what happens to him/her matters…and yet people do claim to have been bored while reading.

What went wrong: I ran into this a lot with the young writers I taught in high schools, but you also see it with grownups and even published books. In my humble opinion, what is happening here is mistaking process writing for product writing. Authors often do need to know everything about their characters; readers very rarely do. It can be very useful to free write about your characters’ childhoods in great detail, for example, because that’s going to reverberate through their later lives and a reader will be able to feel it–without there being a word about the actual childhood on the page. It can be very hard, especially for students doing a writing assignment or adults with limited time to believe that they’ve written hundreds or thousands of words for themselves, not for an audience–but that’s often the way we write.

What to do: Sometimes, we just need to write the block of wood, then carve the story sculpture out that. So do it–write about every teacher your character had in grammar school and describe her whole house and all her friends. Then go back through what you’ve written and figure out what the story is about and trim it down so that most of the text is in service of that story. I don’t know your writing process but a random shot: maybe colour coding would help? Running a coloured highlighter down the page beside the text, switching colours when you switch content. Maybe green for dialogue, blue for action, yellow for character introspection. That can help show you schematically where cuts might be needed. You might also need a trusted and literary friend to go through the manuscript and note everything that doesn’t really need to be there.

2) What happened: You wrote a story that circled around a secret–a character’s hidden past, a mysterious crime –without knowing what in fact the secret was. You wanted to experience the mystery along with the characters and when you got to the end you were pleased to come up with a fascinating denouement and the secret has now been revealed to both you and the characters. However, you weren’t able to make the ending 100% line up with what came before–some characters’ actions don’t make sense given what they knew at the time, and other “mysterious” action has no real point at all now. You might have a character who knows the secret truth seemingly lying in interior monologue, or someone acting clearly counter to their own best interests for no real reason.

What went wrong: This is not a failure of writing–writing to find out what the ending is a totally fun thing to do–it’s a failure of editing. Really the first example is, too, but it is much harder to see when you have too much extraneous information–it should be obvious to an author when some information in the book is actually wrong in the face of other info therein. And I feel several really big-deal books were published in the last few years with this sort of thing not yet worked out. I read and read, excited by good writing and an interesting plotline–I was eager to figure out where all the pieces fit and get to the end…and never really figure it out. Apparently no one cares about this sort of thing because I look up the reviews of the books and my issues go unmentioned, but I still think writers should try to fix them.

What do do: Reread your manuscript once you know the ending ad make sure everyone’s actions make sense given what they know and what their goals are even if the reader won’t know these things until the end. You may need to make a chart of who knows what when, and what their goals are, if your plot is particularly complex. Really, this is just an extension of the challenge of writing any long fiction–make sure desires, personality traits, problems, and pleasures play through throughout the book. You can’t make a character who hates ice cream in chapter 3 gobble down a bowl in chapter 7, and you can’t make a character who knows who the murderer is throughout the book have a long internal debate about who might have been the killer.

3) What happened: You based your book or story on real events that happened to you and/or people close to you. Initially you thought that you’d either just tell the story as it happened or, if you got uncomfortable with writing some personal details, lightly fictionalize and make up things to replace what seemed best kept private. It turns out both these strategies are challenging, as more details make you uncomfortable than you thought, plus some people in your life have asked you not to write about them. The fictionalizing isn’t really working out either, as it hard to make things up when you know what really happened–it just feels like lying. So you’re ending up with a lot of holes in your story–big jumps in time and event where you skip over what you don’t want to talk about. You’ve also eliminated a lot of characters at the request of the people who inspired those characters–so it feels like the people who remain in the story live in a sort of social black hole. Yet another problem arises when real events were somewhat convoluted–people showing up even though they weren’t involved, multiple locations for reasons that are irrelevant–and you’re wasting a lot of time trying to explain all this stuff.

What went wrong: A humble guess–you might be too close to the events, emotionally or in time. It’s really useful in a therapeutic sense to write out important or traumatic events in your life when you are close to them, but it’s really hard to do that artistically in a way that a reader can understand and empathize with. It’s tough to walk the line between writing that you have no feeling for and writing that you have so many feelings for that it impedes your process.

What to do: For most writing problems, I would say one solution is to have a wise friend read it over and see what they suggest, but that might not work here if you are very emotionally invested in the work–criticism of plot and characters might come into your brain as criticism of your life and friends/family/self. Waiting is the cure here; eventually you will have some perspective on what is germaine to the story and what you can safely leave out or fictionalize. You need to be able to see what you are writing as something for strangers and work to make it what it needs for them to be affected, involved, empathetic. As long as it’s something you’re writing for yourself, beautiful and important as it may be, it will be hard for others to access. Writing is always a small act of generosity–you are giving a story to your reader. Wait until you have enough emotional strength to be generous to your reader.

***

That’s all the tips I have for now, anyway–I’m sure there’s loads more ways to solve these problems than what I’ve mentioned, and lots of other problems besides these. What are you seeing in stories and novels that you’d like to fix?

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