Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve and a Self Imposed Deadline

I spent the afternoon with my twin who had a few last minute things to buy before a full year of buying nothing begins tomorrow. It was fun and rushed. I was inspired to get a new library card after a hiatus of 14 years! This is a big change for me. I love buying books - they've become my most frequent indulgence. I will never stop buying books because I want to support authors, just as I hope they're going to support me one day. But, borrowing books on occasion will hopefully enable me to pay down some debt and to participate in library culture. I'm enthusiastic. More enthusiastic than the look of the tiny library I just joined might warrant. But I can order library books online and go to any branch with my new card. I didn't even know how to use the internet the last time I had a library card!

We ended the afternoon with a pint at a nice pub and did some Resolution Focused Freewriting. I know, really I do, that resolutions don't all get kept, but I still think there's some additional power in the writing down of things. Lists, ideas, thoughts, paragraphs, notes. And sharing them is even better. I'll only include a few of the long list of 32. I've already ticked off the library card, now to get on with clearing clutter, taking my vitamins, stretching, writing every day no matter what, saving, and writing regular letters to my three living grandparents.

My self-imposed deadline is to finish the last (actually it's the second last - I'm already done the last) scene of this recent draft of my novel. Oh, did I mention the deadline is tonight? I REALLY want to be done this before the end of the year. Not that there isn't always more to be done, but this part, this part I want to be done, so I can move on to the next stages.

We had planned a big extravagant night out to blast out the end of the decade. (I rang in 1999 at an incredible Barenaked Ladies concert in Buffalo) Instead? My husband and I are hanging out inside our house, alone for the first time in weeks. We are excited about doing almost nothing, watching movies and ordering in sushi, and we'll probably have some champagne. In the background, I'm going to peck away and finish THAT LAST SCENE!
Cheers, and Happy New Year, Everyone.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Contemplative on Christmas day

What a disappointment to realize how long it's been since my last update. Writing more than a twitter update has seemed like an epic challenge. Going back to work full time has been a severe blow to my writing time, but I am rallying. Just not on my blog apparently. One of my favourite people on the planet - my Twin - is starting her first blog, and ironically asking me (as if I were an expert) for advice. I did learn a lot during my year off about social media and the like; perhaps it's time to be using more of it.

My Twin's blog is going to detail her ambitious New Year's resolution of BUYING NOTHING NEW NEXT YEAR! It's not a new idea - we have a friend who did it all this year, and who found the idea from an article. But it is new for my Twin. I contemplated joining her in this resolve for all of two milliseconds. I feel it was an inadvertent fact for me last year, during my year off. I didn't really buy anything new, and that was fine, but I don't want to commit to it just now. What I would like, is to hitch on to some of that motivation of hers to take care of some business of my own. Check out her blog:

Kind of like I joined nanowrimo this year with no intention of beginning a new novel, but rather wrapping up the recent draft of this one, using some of that frenzied nano energy to boost my own when it flagged. I'd like to borrow that mentality a bit more of the time - so when my Twin is fully engaged in reusing, and creating her own stuff, and getting crafty, and sharing, I'm enthusiastic about that. I'm also enthusiastic about being a much lighter consumer and being very selective, and saving more, physically and financially. Taking fewer cabs and more walks, getting some clothes altered instead of buying new ones, creating a better work space at home so I don't have to leave the house to write, clearing clutter - mentally, physically, and financially. It's time to be more spartan, simpler, give more without needing to get something for myself. "Breathing more and doing less," my yoga teacher says. But of course, I always need to do more. Sometimes a lot more. "Hurry up. I want to relax," my husband says. Wish me luck.
I wish you joy, love, and hand knit mittens today.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Re-entering Writing on a Friday Night

How do you re-enter your writing? Something so organic, after a pause? This question was posed to me during the Writer's Retreat at Bard College's Institute for Writing and Thinking. It was the third time I attended, and the instructor this time was Celia Bland. It was an excellent question for someone who has over the years worked in frenzied fits and starts, only to break off for long stretches and then return, ready, but unsure how to reconnect to the writing again.

The answer it seems, is that it's much better to never leave off in the first place. I learned that this past year, when I had all the leisure in the world to write non-stop and yet would sometimes find days had gone by where I had planned and written around, but never written into my piece again.

So, if never stopping isn't an option (though it's always on my goal list to consider for the future) now that I'm back to working full time, I'm finding it best to slip in sideways, where the work is least expecting me. Sometimes questioning precious parts of it in writing, (we called it text explosion at Bard) and sometimes letting it be and getting on with what comes next. I'm even trying some longhand, just to mix things up. That visceral mind to hand to mechanical pencil to page connection made at Bard is hard to keep up with in real life, but sometimes it's just the fit.

Tonight, I'm just glad I managed to write 6 pages on a Friday night, when I haven't written in almost a week, and before that even longer. I'm getting back to me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Moving Back In

You have to know when you take a year-long leave from your regular life that things won't have just gone into suspended animation in your absence. I did know that, but seeing it is different. Seeing the weeds that come up to my waist and the accumulated junk from a lengthy garbage strike, and seeing broken bits and pieces and holes here and there, seeing nothing where I expected something, and plenty where I didn't.
Dealing with all the minutia of returning to home and work after a year has been more physical than I would have imagined. More box lifting, more standing and bending to sort. Having barely walked the length of myself in Texas for the last few blistering hot months, it is liberating and limiting to spend so much time on my feet. I've got to get better at it - and quick!
So, instead of panicking, instead of feeling like everything and everyone should be the same, I have to let go and recognize that I've changed and that it's entirely natural that everything and everyone around me would have continued their earthly revolutions as well. This change will soon be the new normal, so I'm going to move back in and find my place, one element at a time, and be grateful for the journey.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Guest Blog by my Twin - Tara

On The Bus Today

Non-stop-talking A-hole
Taking up all airwaves
Competition appears
In the form of
Cell-phone-using baby-talker
One on my left
One on my right
Airwave A-holes in stereo
Someone call the noise police

Thanks Sis! Understand and appreciate the theme! Love the idea of guest blogging. Guess I need to do a little better at keeping up. The verbal embellishment I received of this little poem was also priceless. It's good to be back in my city, despite all the work involved.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Heat is On, and Moving On

Instead of a frenzied week of preparation for moving back to Toronto, it's been more of a slow motion roller coaster - our air conditioning broke - and for a variety of reasons it won't be fixed before I leave Texas tomorrow. Texas in August with no A/C - I wouldn't wish it on a mortal enemy. And personally, I don't stay cool easily, I run a little hot even in winter. So, I'm taking it worse than most. I have been spending lots of time either at the frosty library, or submerged in water up to my neck. I can't remember if I mentioned the example of a can of fruit exploding in our cupboard on this blog, but that gives an indication of how hot it is inside the house.

In some ways, it's been good. I haven't had the energy to worry so much about my year finally being over, and having to leave my husband behind again. Instead, I have been more focused on channeling the memory of this kind of heat back into my writing on Tokyo, where I first experienced this degree of torpid temperature bludgeoning. I've also spent time saying good byes to the friends I've made here, ones that I wouldn't have expected, but who made my cultural exchange so much richer.

So, I'm moving again, but this time, back into a house we already own that's full of our belongings, so really, I'm just packing up clothes and books. Still, there's always too much, so I've got the scale out now. Airlines only accept medium sized suitcases these days and I'm capped at 50 lbs each - so big red will stay in the closet down here.

I am worried about having to set an alarm. I haven't done that more than 3 times this year, and only then to catch flights, not to get up for work. And I'm worried about the challenge of continuing to write with a very full time work schedule. I don't want the hundreds of pages I finished this year to be the end of it. But I'm excited about getting home. I love city life, walking everywhere, the constant external stimuli. Friends and family you share history and geography with. Being in this suburb, as much as it has been a learning experience, has also sometimes felt like a trap. There's only so far you can walk in this temperature without expiring. Maybe I'll have to work on those driving lessons some more.

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes & Teenage Me

I haven't thought about John Hughes since my much younger brother and sister bought my twin and I that Brat Pack collection for Christmas a couple years ago. But there were movies in there that I have to admit defined us at the time, and music that provided the soundtrack to our daily dramas. Today there are RIP John Hughes blogs and tweets and quizzes galore, and in between writing 15 new pages, I've read a few of them.

In response to which Hughes character was I, it's probably a mix. I'm sure my exes and my husband would all see a troubling resemblance to Ally Sheedy's Allison in Breakfast Club, whereas I always identified with Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful and Sam in 16 Candles. And in dreamland, wished I could be as cool as Sloane Peterson from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

I was lucky because high school was great. Sure it was huge and there were different groups and even conflict occasionally, but it wasn't intimidating. Usually it was pretty open and interesting. I was able to be an Air Cadet, a Yearbook Editor and a Cheerleading Captain. I could spend half my time with my nose in a book and the other half dancing up a storm. I could be geeky and cool and no one minded. It was Grade 6 that was fraught with daily peril from the cool kids. High school drama was all self-induced. John Hughes really captured that, and the time. And I loved hearing excerpts from his letters to his 'penpal' @abfdc on twitter. He was real.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Finished First Draft of Twin Memoir!!!

As of today - our joint memoir - first draft - is done. I won't go into a lot of detail right now. It still needs significant revision and rewriting, but what an unimaginably glorious thing to have completed it! I can honestly say it was no work at all. It took time, but it was pure pleasure. I think it was an essential ingredient to refreshing my interest in my longer solo project as well. A project which I am still revising.

The joint memoir was begun in earnest just this past March, and sharing the writing with my twin blister, Tara, made it go very quickly. It was the source of a lot of mutual nostalgia and hilarity and I am so happy we made time for it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Fruits of my Knitting Frenzy

These are the amateur but much appreciated results. (note the pattern is the same though size, colour, function altered - manly afghan for Poppy, feminine walker seat cover for Nanny) Managed to finish these during my two weeks in Newfoundland for the family reunion/65th wedding anniversary celebration. While others were dancing and whooping it up, I'd be in the corner knitting frantically to the music, to get my offerings wrapped up before the big reveal. NEXT UP: something for my beloved maternal grandmother who supervised and assisted with some of my joining stitches. Not that she couldn't knit whatever I come up with in a quarter of the time and 100% better!
I love the continuity my grandparents give me. As someone who moved almost every year until pretty recently, I'm often amazed that they all still live in the very houses that they did when I was born. You can't buy that kind of anchor. Poppy has written and published his memoirs for the family. I keep hoping my stitches won't unravel, but will hold firm.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Knitting with my Nannies in Newfoundland

My Nannies are my grandmothers. I have two, and one grandfather (Poppy) here in Newfoundland where I have come for two weeks. After a frenzied week of preparing for a clan gathering where we hosted approximately 300 guests at a hugely successful 65th wedding anniversary reunion, I am just now coming down from the high of family time, and getting enough sleep to be coherent. Cousins came from all over Canada and the US but now are trickling away in small groups every day. I'll be the last one left.

It's hard to be the last one left, as the mood shifts from fun and frivolity to nostalgia and guilt over not staying longer, even though you've been here the longest.

I don't know anyone with three grandparents left at my age. I was 30 before I lost my first one. They are the anchors for me and my family. I know in my mind it can't be, but in my heart, I still think they will live forever.

Knitting frantically during every spare moment has left my hands cramped, but provided more of that moving mediation that I have sought this year. There's less of a caloric burn, but it's still effective. I've finished knitting a small masculine throw/afghan for Poppy, to put over his lap when he's booting around on his scooter. He likes to get out, but with poor circulation, he gets cold. My project has taken me more time than it would have either of my Nannies, but he will know I did it. The flaws are not subtle - it is clearly my creation. But, he will also know how much of me, how many thoughts and memories I had time for as I clicked away on the 4.5 sized needles, cramming a month's worth of knitting into one short week.

Now, I'm stitching it together. It doesn't look as polished as I'd like, but I love the feel of the high quality European yarn, and the colours, blocks of shimmery gray with deep brown and blue make me happy. I'd like to wrap him in it and keep him safe forever.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Writing and Wracking at the Agents Conference

I just returned from the Writers League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and although it was often a nerve wracking experience of epic proportions, I am very happy I attended. I can't complain: 3 NY agents expressed direct interest in my 30 second pitch, and at least that many more were open to submissions. I also met some smart and fun people whose writing I look forward to reading. People who are in somewhat the same position as me, or in some cases a little further along the spectrum of writing to publishing, and many who are experienced and prolific bloggers.

I don't have a great gauge of how it went with other writers, because once the pitching began in earnest (Saturday), the mood and attention span of writers shifted. Maybe no one seemed too comfortable being specific about their success to avoid making others feel badly, or maybe they were the ones disappointed. The flavour of discussions was less fresh than it had been at the Friday night cocktail reception, when it had all seemed like a big lark. By Saturday night, writers were snaking around wary bug-eyed agents in long circular lines. Not one of them seemed willing to leave their coveted spot in the queue to buy a beleaguered agent a much-needed drink.

I understand this was fair game. The agents weren't accessible at every moment - they did have some down time, and this two hour period was meant to be an opportunity to speak with them. I just didn't have the heart for it. I couldn't imagine any good could come from a conversation with an agent whose eyes had been hunted or dead for at least forty five minutes. I did hover close enough to hear some of the exchanges and make the decision that it was personally in my best interest to stick to the more formal one-on-one format.

In the end, I had a couple of agent appointments and a couple of professional editor appointments. I won't mention their names, as I'm not sure they'd like that. Both the agents were very receptive to my ideas, and one - I lucked out getting scheduled with my first choice - actually said she thought it was the best pitch she'd heard all day. Now, she didn't mention how many pitches she'd heard that day, but I have given myself permission to believe it was untold numbers. In actual fact, it may have been less. We'll see how their opinion of the writing compares to their enthusiasm over the pitching.

The editors were encouraging and offered useful and concrete suggestions. I may end up working more closely with one of them.

And finally, a note about the workshops and panels: I was impressed with the few I could attend, but given the agent and editor appointments I had scheduled, there were quite a few I had to miss. I had underestimated how much stomach churning stress I would need to pace off prior to any given appointment and how much time a celebratory pint would take afterwards.

Was it worth it? Definitely. Well worth it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Moving Meditations - To The Power of 40

I've been swimming a lot. It's too hot to even contemplate exercise in any other form, and my left Achilles hasn't let me run in years. Texas heat can only be compared to the Tokyo variety. So, it's swimming. Mostly indoors at my fancy pants club cool pool, and then I move outdoors for a couple laps of soupy Vitamin D. I need to credit my friend Jill for the term Moving Meditation, which is how she refers to her runs. I now think of it as any time when I'm unplugged and moving and my brain begins to toss up ideas and answers like my subconscious has been unleashed. But, given the almost lifelong nature of my many geographical moves, there's a connection there as well.

Lately my swims have gotten longer as I've gotten stronger. I'm still slow but I'm up to 40. Very recently, that number was knocking and I was backing away from it, protracting my adolescence the best I could. Now, I find myself counting laps and reliving best/worst memories from each of those years, adding up to a tidy 40 laps or 1 km. It used to take me an hour to swim that, and now it's only taking 45 minutes.

Maybe not coincidentally, my novel in its rewrite is 40 sections/chapters long (should I even admit this, given just how much that indicates will need to be hacked out?) and I find myself rethinking each of them as I count laps, and with some magical alchemy, finding solutions to problems or simply better insights.

I am a word person, and not typically fond of numbers, but this one has a meditative, even, roundness to it that I find myself embracing. For someone as chronically and infamously untidy as me, it is odd to embrace symmetry and balance, but that's how I'm finding forty. And it's finding me.