Sunday, September 30, 2012

Boarding School Memories Wrap Up

Here's the edited version of my wrap up of remembering MacNeill House:

I love that they posted the picture of Tara and I in our Grade 13 prom dresses and the one of the 'thinking caps' we wore during exams! I'm a little sad that some of my favourite bits were cut from the writing, but given the nature of the publication, that makes some sense.

Here is the original version of the Wrap Up (Part 2):
(For Link to Part 1:)


So Branksome has pulled down MacNeill House this year, to make way for something newer and better, and in doing so, unleashed a torrent of Boarding School memories for this former career New Girl and her twin.

Our fears about entering our 11th school were unfounded. It turned out that Tara and I were warmly welcomed into the Grade 13 dorm, perhaps as a bit of fresh blood for a small group that had been living in close quarters since Grade 9. And like Switzerland, we fancied that we brought a measure of neutrality to a few longstanding grudges and rifts.

I don’t really know how it worked with day girls, but there was a lot of clique overlapping among boarders because no one could be too cool in boarding. You had to be at least tolerably civil just to stomach completing your nightly ablutions in close proximity to so many others. Sharing one bathroom among 25 girls was the ultimate democratizing agent. Tara and I were lucky enough to be accepted by the West Indians, the Weekends Away Girls, the Lifers, the Asians, the Misfits and the Cool Girls alike. Even the Head Girl, who was contractually obliged to spend her Grade 13 year in boarding, no matter how close she lived to the school, quickly became our friend.

There were two common rooms in MacNeill House, amply furnished with sofas, cable TV, a stereo, ping pong, and endless shelves of books, (internet was still a thing of the future) but we spent most of our down time sitting along the hallway, waiting near the only phone. Cell phones didn’t yet exist, and car phones were the size of cereal boxes. The one phone in our dorm was where we made and received calls (often to and from boys) and learned of the outside world. The line was long. We might sit for hours.

It was the late eighties, so things were changing. To the righteous indignation of the many smokers in our dorm, the school’s official Smoking Area had recently been abolished in recognition of its detriment to student health. We had never taken up smoking ourselves, but Tara and I watched in admiration as our dorm mates found ingenious ways to hide their newly illegal habit from the housemothers. Many girls cut cigarette-sized holes in shoeboxes, which they smoked into and then released out of the window when they were done. Some girls were even bold enough to sneak inside the housemother’s room (she was a smoker herself) for their evening puff, with the added challenge of escaping again without getting caught.

It’s no exaggeration to say that my year at Branksome led to my being accepted at every university I applied to. My average went up 16%. The two-and-a-half hours of required nightly study took care of that. We were meant to be in our rooms the whole time, but invariably, you would need to confer with someone about something confusing, and that discussion and rehashing of what we were learning in classes actually made for the best learning of all. It was quite a strict study environment, though, and any time you were caught out of your room (a.k.a. Room Hopping) during official study hours, there would be a stern lecture from the house mother. “No hopping, girls! No hopping.” I’m sure you can picture what we felt compelled to do next. Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. Any time we went to someone else’s room to study, we developed the practice of hopping there on one foot. While studying for exams, we had another ‘time-honoured’ tradition of wearing kerchiefs on our heads, knotted at all four corners, ‘to keep our brains in.’

Rituals are important in a Boarding School. We participated excitedly in some, like the Boarder/Day Girl exchange, where we lucked out and got to spend a week living in luxury and leisure with a wonderful day girl and her siblings – her parents were out of town the whole time! What timing that was. Other rituals, we approached with trepidation, like the yellow ‘Meat Wagon’ which carted groups of us to distant boys’ schools for dances. Still others we scoffed at initially, like the Father/Daughter Dance, only to find ourselves staring out our dorm room window in disbelief and regret, watching our dorm mates, just across the street from us, have an absolute blast dancing the night away with their dads.

Going to a girls’ boarding school didn’t result in us missing boys all that much. In fact, not including our own prom, I attended 4 other formals that year. When I had to refuse an invitation because there was no way I could afford the formal gown that would be required, half the girls who were lined up in the hallway waiting for the phone heard me, and piles of gorgeous prom dresses made their way to my room almost immediately, along with the instructions that I was to call the boy back and accept.

As I’ve said, I don’t really know what Branksome was like for day girls, new or established, and I have a hard time imagining Grade 13 there without the boarding. It was the defining element of our one year at Branksome. That was the year we became city girls, and learned to think about the globe, act in plays that felt like professional productions, and debate. Branksome belongs to that mystical time when we eased out of girlhood, but not too quickly. Since then, I've loved any drive down Mount Pleasant where I could point out the window of our old room, which we had kept open all that year and learned to let the roar of traffic lull us to sleep. It’s vanished now, along with the luggage room and the trunk of books I left down there, always thinking I would go back one day and collect them. I know they are building something new and wonderful, but I will miss that window to the world.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Blog for Our Kids Blog

Friday, September 21, 2012

Boarding Demolition

They’ve torn down my old boarding house – and it’s so strange to see it…gone. It’s been dredging up a lot of memories for me and many other former residents of MacNeill House.

I went to Branksome Hall with my twin for our last year of high school when our parents had moved to England. Contrary to our concerns, Branksome and the boarders welcomed us warmly, and we are still friends with many of those girls today. More than from our other high school – the regular one we attended for years and loved too.

Branksome is where we became city girls, and learned to think about the globe, act in plays that felt like professional productions, and debate. I believe my average jumped 16% just from the nightly required two and half hours of study. I got into every university I applied to. And I attended no less than 5 formals/proms in gorgeous dresses thrust upon me by my generous roommates.

Branksome belongs to that mystical time when we eased out of girlhood, but not too quickly. Since then, I've loved any drive down Mount Pleasant where I could point out the window of our old room, which we had kept open all year and learned to let the roar of traffic lull us to sleep. It’s vanished now, along with the luggage room and the trunk of books I left down there, always thinking I would go back one day and collect them. I know they are building something new and wonderful, but I will miss that window to the world.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Writerly Outreach

In an effort to stay focused on the writing drive generated this summer and push forward, despite it being September, and June such a long way away, I have been reaching out and connecting with other writers and friends from the Humber School for Writers 2012.

It's hard to believe that it took place more than two months ago - and the diverse reports back seem at odds with the experience of my own small group. Most of us found the period afterwards to be pretty prolific and the writing came flowing out. In my case, pages got edited/revised. Others found themselves blocked and unable to write.

I also managed to start writing some brief vignettes for a new project, so I met my vow of at least beginning to write something new, before summer's end, even while I am still mired in revisions for the big novel manuscript.

Positive Writing News for Me:

I met one writer friend to catch up over a great dinner, and she took a nice chunk of my novel to read and give feedback on. Her feedback was wonderfully encouraging and specifically helpful in suggestions.

I hosted two other writer friends who will form a more official writing group with me, and we will meet regularly to exchange and workshop sections of our novel manuscripts. I like them and admire their writing, so it seems like a perfect fit.

I participated in a reading for writers, hosted by another alum of the Humber School, where everyone in attendance was invited to read some of their own writing. I regretted not being able to stay for the whole event, but it was an excellent idea, and I hope these continue throughout the year.

In other news, I'm working on another scene/index card revision. We'll see if that yields any sizeable segments for slashing.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Septembers and Junes

"School teachers measure their lives in Septembers and Junes." I quote/paraphrase my friend and colleague JHay in this, but it will not surprise any educator to hear it. In an ecological setting, we school teachers were also reminded of how we measure our lives by the natural world, trees, and the changing appearance, and then disappearance, of leaves.

I just spent a wonderful week meeting and prepping for the new school year with my work family, and trying to summon up how much I love September (and always have), and how oddly that contrasts with the melancholy that surrounds the dwindling days of August. I understand that I should be enjoying August as it unfolds, but every day that passes is one closer to summer ending and the tyranny of the alarm clock's returning dominance.

Still, the life of a school teacher has many benefits, besides just the joys of teaching and, hopefully, inspiring kids to ongoing lives of curiosity and learning.

So, I had to add my own gauge by which school teachers measure their days, their years, their lives. And Gretchen Rubin is absolutely right - "The Days are Long, but the Years are Short." We measure them by the students, whether boys or girls, because the students (like the leaves on trees) change in appearance, they age, and move on. But we don't. Not us. Unless it's in the going. Honestly, 25-45 is pretty much the same age as far as our students are concerned. And when I look around at my colleagues, I don't see them any differently than I did 11 years ago. But those boys: boy oh boy, have they grown up! (from pre-kindergarten to high school and beyond).

I'm thinking about trees differently these days, as I try to stay rooted in my different realities. And about how trees are lovely at any stage or age.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Weeding Through the Weeds - Dirt in the Mouth

My initial alarm at homecoming to the sight of weeds approaching my waist (and sadly this is not a first for me) has abated as I contemplate the parallels between my current editing efforts - and in every respect - I still have plenty of weeding to do. This is what happens when you are:
A) Away all summer &
B) Not a gardener.
These are before pictures of the 'garden'. I haven't the heart to add 'during' pics, as it's a work of considerable magnitude! Despite hiring an able-bodied young one from Rent-a-Son, diving in myself (getting a few clod-fulls of dirt in the mouth for my efforts), and my husband's many hours at it, the weeding of the garden is far from finished. Perhaps I'll put the during and after photos up when all's done.

It might be harder to photographically document my weeding work on the editing front, but I will endeavor to do that too. The current approach - going from a written copy down to more cue cards, will, I hope, help me to cut more content on a larger scale.

The original manuscript was 507 pages. It went down to 474, and is now in the 440's range. Still more weeding required. Hopefully all that pulling won't leave too much more dirt in the mouth.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Timely Reckoning

I have big plans of writing in detail about the 3 Incredible Writing Conferences/Workshops/Retreats I attended this summer, but right now, it seems appropriate to show you what I was just served...very fitting, considering I was editing p. 430 of 474, and I've been at this manuscript since Time Immemorial.

Thanks, Becks Beer for acknowledging the many hours this labour of love has taken and will continue to take! (Becks has a limited edition of 'artistic' labels - this one finding me just now was fortuitous happenstance!)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Fifth Anniversary - Happy Memories

We waited until we had been together for 10 years to get married - but I think we knew pretty quickly. Two Canadians meet in an Irish pub in Tokyo (Paddy Foley's in Roppongi, in case you're wondering) - that's a 'meet cute' if ever there was one. First remembered conversation:

Him: "Will you marry me?"
Me: "What's your name again?"

Despite plenty of unconventional twists, it's all worked out remarkably well.
Newfoundland wedding was a week-long party. We still haven't been back to Tokyo...
Must get that trip in the works.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Desk at Damariscotta Lake Writers Conference - at the Kennedy Learning Center in Maine

This is my writing surface for the week. A polished board room table that could sit 16 - all to myself! Take a closer look at the view below.

This is my view for the week. Can hardly believe my luck. It's turning into a wonderful week - great company among smart interesting people and lots of solo time to focus on my own writing. A lake to dive into any time the brain cells start to stagnate and good food to boot.

It's a pleasure to be a founding attendee! Ralph Sneeden and John Casteen have done a great job of getting this retreat up and running.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

From Wordsmithing to Number Crunching - Whatever Happened to Whatever??

My 'Whatever Clock' is a prized possession - the gift of a former mentee, who gave it to me just as I was embarking on a year off in September 2008, an unpaid sabbatical, where I would have to answer to no clock for 12 glorious months. It is still mounted in Texas, where I spent a large part of that year off, and now spend a chunk of every summer with my husband - and only set an alarm clock if I have to catch a flight. (for example, tomorrow I have a 5:38 a.m. flight to Portland, Maine, where I will be attending the Damariscotta Lake Writers Conference in its inaugural year - so, yes, I will definitely be needing the alarm for that, along with a 7:00 p.m. bedtime)

During that year off, I ended up writing two book length manuscripts, one clocking in at about 200 pages and the other a whopping 500. Clearly, words were flowing. I read at least two books a week during that time, on top of the writing, and it was all about the love of language, the storytelling, getting it all down, with just those 26 letters of the alphabet, which according to Tim O'Brien (who was a mentor at The Humber School for Writers - can't believe it was just a few weeks ago), that's all we've got, so we better get them write - oops - right.

I updated the appearance of my Blog, which was starting to feel a bit like shag carpeting, or feathered Farah hair compared to other people's. I kept the blog title as Moving Meditations. Still seems apt, since I am always going somewhere - never staying in one place. Often those transitions between places provide the time to consider things. When I come to Texas now, it's for shorter stints. I know the school year is waiting, growing impatient, and will soon take over my time, but I am always hoping to slip back into that unplugged 'Whatever Clock' mode, where the words take over. It's harder now, because instead of flying through early drafts, I'm deep in revising/editing territory. Frankly, it's less fun - and returning to the places I inhabited during that blissful year of full-time writing has, instead of immersing me back in the land of letters, gotten me somehow stuck in and worrying about the world of numbers, and wondering whatever happened to 'whatever'?

Here are just some of the numbers that are sneaking in and wrestling far too much brainpower from my typically wordwise consciousness:

# How time on the clock is ticking by at an alarming rate
# How many days/hours/minutes/seconds of summer vacation are left?
# How many pages can I edit in one day?
# How many words can I cut from each page?
# How many pages can I cut in total and still tell the story?
# How many laps/lengths can I swim? (70 for a mile a few times this week)
# How many times can I make a wish because I catch the digital pool clock exactly as the numbers all line up?
(1:11, 2:22, 3:33, 4:44, 5:55, 11:11, 22:22, 33:33, 44:44, 55:55)
# How many reps/lbs can I lift on the barbells?
# How many minutes on the treadmill, at what speed, and at what incline?
# Is that really the size of my bridesmaid's dress?
# How many inches will it need to be taken in?
# How many grey hairs are there now? Ok, at least I can still count them.
# When will the temperature drop below 100 degrees Fahrenheit so I can breathe?
# How many bugs will I have to encounter in Texas?
# How humongous will said bugs be?
# What is the IQ of supernatural sized bugs?
# How many hours of sleep am I losing to said gigantic bugs?
# How many American dollars are there in my wallet?
# How much have I racked up on my credit cards on writing retreats, books, gym, etc.?
# Do I have the numbers of my passport, bank, frequent flyer, etc. cards?
# How far from this city to the next one?
# How many more airplanes, and how many more minutes up in the air?

This last concern leads me spend most flights quietly chanting in a mantra-ish fashion a few lovely and lyrical quotes that seem tailor-made:
"Men weren't meant to ride with clouds between their knees"
Five for Fighting 'Superman'
"I'm up on the airplane, making a deal with God, inspired by gravity"
Indigo Girls 'Airplane'
"What seems dangerous often is not - black snakes, for example, or clear-air turbulence"
Amy Hempel 'In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried'

Ok, by recording all these number concerns, it is my hope to push them out of the forefront and get back into the story, the world of words. Achieve flow. Leave the number crunching for a future me to worry about. Wish I had a quote for that.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Humber School for Writers

Tomorrow will be the last day of my full week workshop at The Humber School for Writers. They aren't blowing smoke when they tell us how fortunate we are. I don't think many of the close to 80 participants would find anything to argue with in that. Sure, we've paid for the privilege, but we've gotten incredible bang for the buck.

It's hilarious to my group, being mentored each morning by none other than @MiriamToews, when she asks us if we aren't exhausted and overwhelmed, and if we have actually attended any of the afternoon 'extra' sessions. We attend every last one, and with remarkably few dud speakers, we are indeed overwhelmed, but only in the best way possible.

This week, we've been lucky enough to hang upon the inspiring words of the likes of Tim O'Brien (The Things They Carried), Richard Scrimger (Me & Death), Eva Stachniak (The Winter Palace), Bruce Jay Friedman (Splash, The Heartbreak Kid), Joe Kertes (Gratitude), Wayson Choy (Jade Peony), Johanna Skibsrud (The Sentimentalists), Esi Edugyen (Half Blood Blues), David Bezmozgis (The Free World), Alistair MacLeod (No Great Mischief), and finally, our mentor Miriam Toews (A Complicated Kindness, The Flying Troutmans, Irma Voth).

I should also mention the articulate and appealing Craig Payette, Nick Garrison, and Janice Zawerbny who come from the Editing/Publishing World. They gently hacked sample offerings to pieces and made clear what would make those samples better. Every morning we spend workshopping our works-in-progress with our small group and our mentor and after lunch, the afternoon involves talks from other incredible author mentors, agents, and editors.

I have filled pages and pages with helpful notes from these meetings, but just as worthwhile have been the interactions and connections with other like-minded writers. Our 'student' readings last night were impressive enough that three hours locked in the room (extending our full day to nearly 12 hours) frankly flew by. I feel privileged to have enjoyed this opportunity and am now ready to dive back into the main manuscript for what I sincerely hope will be the last summer. Thanks to everyone at the workshop for making it what it was. Sad that tomorrow is the last day!

Ok, So It's Been Awhile...

Yes, when I say awhile, I'm talking about two years. Since I was just able to take the time to reread through my entire blog history, I can find no earthly reason not to find the time to post more often. I can account for two 'blog blockers' that affected me in 2010: 1) Two important deaths in the family 2) Grappling with what's reasonable/advisable to share online - as someone who had just returned to work after a year of writing full time, I honestly wondered whether it wasn't better to just sign off entirely. Time has helped me with both of those 'blog blockers' and I'm hoping to return to the habit of somewhat regularly posting. More to come...