Writing desk as home

mydeskThis is my desk.

A lot of famous writers or published authors have taken to showing where they work. I’m positive they clean it up and manipulate it. I didn’t even bother to dust.  I wanted to give you the authentic experience. Oh the glory!

Of course, I’m neither famous nor published (at least not in book form), but as a tip of my hat to all writers who spend hour upon hour alone with their thoughts, music or not playing on a DVD, and engrossed in a story they want to tell, I pay tribute to you, my friends. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re published or not. I have a small sense of what’s in your hearts and how much of yourselves go into what you’re creating out of nothing but your memories and your imaginations. You are the experience. The experience is you.

I have a relationship with this space that’s as every bit as real to me as those I have with people in the flesh. Even though in the past four years, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve spent way too much time here in this five foot rectangle. I’m not denying that being out in the world, interacting with people, seeing places near and far is a good way to live and explore. It’s the best! But there is a world so rich and so deep inside that Dr. Seuss got it right even when he didn’t mean for the expression to encompass what I’m talking about: Oh the places you’ll go! The people you’ll meet! Even inside your own head. ha ha.

Like most people, the things I’ve chosen to have around me hold meaning.

Clay mask

I have this weird mask that I bought in a small art gallery called Marigold Arts on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was made by Allan R. Bass. I spent more money on it than I’ve ever spent on a piece of art. The pamphlet that came with the piece says he “developed a style of firing that combines Raku and Pit-firing techniques to achieve an Ancient yet contemporary expression.” He lives in a Kiva-styled pit house in rural New Mexico. In other words, he’s my kind of guy! But I bought the mask because it was just so different than anything I’d seen.claymaskArbutus Tree

I took this photo of an Arbutus tree on Salt Spring, of course, on a visit in 2007 with my friend Lisa Wolfe. She was recovering from an operation and still chose to come camping with me. I was being interviewed for a job at the Driftwood which I didn’t get. Gotta love rugged women! I just loved the patterns and the green bark. This tree is in a special place in Ruckle Park that I go to where few people ever are, and it takes me back to so many times of happiness and peace. The first time I ever saw it was with Will Gerlach whom I am eternally grateful to for introducing me to Salt Spring.

arbutustree

Buddhist Temple

In 1987 or 1988, I went to San Francisco with a friend named Pam Melnyk. She was a quintessential hippy, a few years older than me. Pam had been to San Francisco many times and was the perfect person to travel with, especially for me a newbie to the city. We stayed at a hotel in Union Square. She took me through Haight Ashbury and because she was such a music buff, I got the whole history. At the end of a most memorable few days we got bumped from the plane and got paid to stay. We were so HAPPY you would have thought we’d won Lotto max. One more day! This Buddhist temple was at the end of a fantastic walking tour of China town and it was high up in a building that overlooked the financial district. I still recall the experience of lighting those incense sticks.sanfranbuddisttempleElephant

I have a little gold elephant in front of me bought by my dear friend Colleen Eaton on her trip to India. She has a fantastical story about getting on the back of a motorcycle to go back to this shop to have these little prints framed. I love elephants and elephants with trunks up are lucky. Did you know that? Never buy an elephant print if the trunk isn’t up!

elephant

Ruckle House

Below elephant is Ruckle house. This photo taken by a very dear friend Tom James while I lived on Salt Spring. I just love the reflection through the window and the photo of original Henry Ruckle with his wife and baby. I have peered into this window so many times, a ritual whenever I visit Ruckle farm, and it never changes. It hasn’t changed in 30 years. There aren’t many places or things you can say that about and that really appeals to me.

Ruckleportrait

BC Women Artists

A poster I purchased at the Art Gallery of Victoria on a week-long trip to Victoria in 1986. I used to look at this poster and wonder about it, not really understanding the second to last shape. Now that I am that shape, I get it. Damn! I have always loved this poster. There is something profound in those five shapes representing the five phases of women which is its title. By the late Victoria artist Margaret Peterson.

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Paper weight

A paperweight with raspberry’s inside. Takes me back to a simpler time, a time in the country. I imagine this lying on a half-finished quilt in a small house with a wood stove and I just love it. A Value Village find.

paperweightIdog

Hey, it can get lonely here. Sometimes as a distraction I press the nose of my little yellow Idog and he shakes his head and barks. Often he’ll be silent and then out of the blue he’ll let out some robotic yelp and scare the hell out of me. Bad dog! Unpredictable! He wants attention but he’s so much less fuss than a real dog, if not quite as unconditionally loving. idogPhotos

A picture of Colleen and I on a trip to Salt Spring way back in 2001 to visit her sister who owns a house there in Vesuvius Bay. A particularly nice weekend.

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A saying

Whenever there is a problem repeat over and over. “All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation only good will come. I am safe.” A gift from Colleen, probably at a time when I wasn’t feeling very good.

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Another card, hidden behind the one above. A card from Catherine Bennington, a woman I shared a workspace with at UBC in the basement of the David Lam building when I worked at UBC Multimedia Studies between 1995 and 1999 and she worked for Teaching and Academic Growth. She still works there. We’re Facebook friends and I know she would probably be amazed that I still have this card. But it was perfection and she captured what really matters to me in this simple handmade card. Thank you Catherine.catherinecardThere’s also a photo of the house I grew up in on Hamilton Street at Canada Way across from Moody Park in New Westminster that was ripped down in 1980 to make way for condos after my parents sold and moved to Langley. mavorhouse

A photo taken by me inside the old barn at Burgoyne Bay.  I love the colours of the wood and the beautiful vines across the window. I used to go there on my own with my camera and the enjoyment I got from that old run down place is impossible to describe or perhaps even understand. The sound of the starlings. The aroma of the grass in summer. Those moments are embedded inside of me and this photo helps to remind me of how special my time on Salt Spring was; how much contentment. It almost makes me cry now thinking of it.DSC_0746

I could go on but this is already way too long. Suffice it to say that our things are special to us. And this tiny space, my desk, so easily dismantled, is also a reminder of how little is truly required to feel at home when the richness of life inside of us is equal to that all around in the world.

Maybe you’d like to tell me about your writing space. Or show me.

Energizing writing into art via collaboration

Reeces

Reece’s peanut butter cups – The ultimate collaboration?

I met up with the artist Eryne Donahue who is going to visually bring to life her representation of my words for the community exhibit space in the Anvil Centre in the not too distant future.

I met her at the Waves Coffee shop on Columbia in New West and when we met you would think we were mother and daughter or old friends, but not two strangers who had never met before. We even had the same hair colour, relatively speaking.

We slipped into conversation without delay. I feel like Eryne and her newly emerging family represent the best of the evolving New West. People who have come from elsewhere. Young, dynamic, engaged and wanting to shape their lives in a community that they can raise their new families in. She is originally from Ottawa and moved to New West with her husband a couple years ago after being renovicted (“get out, we’re renovating and raising the rent”) from East Van where they’d lived for 9 years.

She has a little two year old daughter whose name, Ourigan, is spelled after a Chinook place name that she and her husband picked after they were reading a book together about the explorer David Thompson, “the greatest explorer who ever lived.” According to Google, Thompson mapped 3.9 million sq. kilometres and who, not so cool nowadays, married a 13 year old Metis child who remained married to him for 58 years

Eryne and her husband decided to follow some of Thompson’s route through Oregon, Washington State and B.C., camping as they went.Her husband works for an environmental consulting firm and travels around the province doing work related to water conservation and community education.

They have another baby, also a girl, on the way, due in May and they have chosen a wonderful name that begins with a Q. I’m not sure I should share it here so I won’t. Both names are gender neutral.

Eryne also works for herself as a graphic artist and arts educator with aspirations to do something related to community engagement and art, something she’s already been quite active in. At the moment, motherhood is kind of at the top of the priority ladder.

It was exciting to hear another person’s take on a piece of writing and to hear what she, as an artist, was drawn to in the piece in terms of how she was conceptualizing her representation of it.

It was surprising for me to recognize that her take on the term “diversity” was not as literal as I thought it might be, but instead, what stood out for her was the diversity of the spaces I describe within it, and then, as we met, the psychological space some of which was represented on the page but some only picked up via additional information I shared during our face to face meeting.

She is thinking of focusing on that aspect of diversity, an aspect I had not thought of at all, and that may help me improve the story’s ending. Therein lies the beauty of collaboration. How words on a page can engage another imagination, expanding upon the original creativity to present a completely new direction.

I’m excited to see what the final piece looks like and really happy to have made her acquaintance.

Visit Eryne’s website to learn more about her art and community engagement projects.

The importance of year end musing

TarotcardsA quote that struck me as particularly relevant by Paulo Coehlo – “Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all, or by having everything happen all at once.”

Even though I know that the end of another year is an artificial marker, I think it’s truly important to spend time reflecting on the 365 days that have passed.

Beginnings and endings are a container for life and it’s good to sift through that container and discover, to remind ourselves annually, what has been deposited in that time frame?

What am I hoping to do better in the next 365 days? It seems, especially as we age, if we begin to recognize the significance of one day, each day, everything becomes more urgent.

I don’t want that urgency to manifest in a panic stricken, deer in the headlights, rushing around, never having the capacity to be alone kind of way. No. I just want to accept that no matter where I’m at, no matter what is going on, acceptance is really the only way to calm down and get through it.

If I’m not pleased with the way I have spent too much of my time in the past year, with the way relationships have unfolded, or even if you are exceptionally delighted with all that has transpired, it is good to remind yourself that this is no dress rehearsal. The challenge, then, is to weigh that conscious awareness of what your ideal reality might look like, then realign the structure of your current endeavours to fit better with that ideal. It sounds so much easier than it is.

These past few years have felt really challenging, emotionally. To use a cliché, two steps forward, three steps back. That’s how the past couple of years have felt to me.  I’ve thought about it a lot and wondered about it deeply without being very successful at finding the ultimate solution. Expecting that there is one is probably the problem.

I know that part of it has to do with the move back from Salt Spring. It was as if the biggest dream I could ever dream, one that I never imagined could ever happen, happened by my spontaneous move to Salt Spring for a few years. Then, I returned to a place that I never really wanted to come back to for a variety of reasons that made sense then, and after all, it was only temporary so no big deal.  That’s what I told myself. It was time for other things that I didn’t think I could make happen from that island and I was right about that.

Temporary has now been four years. I’ve struggled with trying to understand what this is and why, as my former shrink once said in reference to my leaving the island and my subsequent feelings about that, “It’s as if you are mourning for a long lost lover.” Perhaps Salt Spring was my ideal lover. It fit so many of the experiences that matter to me – nature, community, creativity, solitude, relationship with self – that I experienced much less of prior to that move, and didn’t really know how much they truly mattered to me until I lived on that island and experienced them to a degree I hadn’t experienced previously.

So to leave that ideal and return to the muck of my own history, by returning to the place where I was born and lived the first 20 years of my life because it was close to my elderly father, because the rent was cheap, was not what I would call a well thought out decision.

Some people think my equating my feelings about the past four years with a place is ridiculous. It’s just a place! We have the ability to determine how we think about where we are at, geographically.  But anyone who thinks that hasn’t thought very deeply about how childhood shapes us, defines us before we can define ourselves, and how much work it took, especially if that childhood was less than ideal, to throw off that cloak and walk towards something better in the first place.

Given that, how could there not be psychological consequences to return to such a defining place. Places are memories and experiences that have led to ways of thinking about ourselves, not just dots on a Google map. Anyone who has made a move to a new location, found a new home, will have experienced that feeling of rightness or out of placeness. “Wherever you go there you are,” but sometimes where you are truly isn’t the best place for who you’ve become.

And in spite of my resistance, the decision has resulted in some personal growth. Since I’ve been back, I’ve travelled to Cambodia and Thailand and my favourite big island, Hawaii. I went through the Writer’s Studio, I wrote a lot, I met some new people. I’ve then taken a bunch of courses towards a different goal related to counselling and met a smattering of other types of people – wannabe counsellors are different from wannabe writers. I enjoyed observing the differences and mulling over the similarities.

I’ve never felt so in between things in my life, except, as I say that, I think that’s wrong. I think that experience, that in-between, has been the theme of my life for a very long time. Not quite settled. One foot in the past. Another in the future. Hovering above the present.

These past couple of years have been a test of my patience which is limited at the best of times. It’s been a test of being forced to examine the past, layers of memories around every corner where I now live, and there is some minor inkling that this reluctant return is not a coincidence even if born from a less than insightful choice.

There is a sense that at some point in the future, in my writing, or in my life, that this detour, will prove to have been the returning to the source that was required to start anew no matter how far a stretch that seems as I write it.

So tapping into intuition, or perhaps yearning for it to be so, I’m feeling that 2016 is going to be a year that finally frees me from this stuckness. I think it’s going to be a very good year. Better than I can imagine right now. Hoping I’m right. Hoping I have the will to make it so.

I hope that for all of you as well.

Word Vancouver: From Comics to Kids Lit

WORD2015

This year at Word Vancouver, I decided I’d go to sessions that I might not typically be drawn to, especially comic books and Kids Lit.

First stop was a panel of children’s authors. One of the authors walked us through the steps she takes to create an animal character as the subject of a rhyming poem.  I really enjoyed that. Four authors spoke about how much going into the schools and reading to kids is an integral part of what’s required of children’s authors. That sounds like a fun thing. And as always happens, which is why it’s important to attend events such as this if you write, my own ideas came bubbling up as background all throughout the talks. Think of it as creative mind mapping, silently but stealthily, a running commentary of possibilities mingled. Creative thought begets creative thought.

I listened to Caroline Woodward, who had worked in the publishing industry for 30 years. She was speaking about living at the Lennard Island Lighthouse at the entrance to Clayoquot Sound near Tofino. Being one half of a lighthouse keeper has enabled her to get back to her first love, writing. Her latest book, Light Years, is about her time at the various light stations where she and her husband, Jeff George, started as relief lightkeepers. George’s photographs in slideshow format were a nice touch. Woodward’s favourite lighthouse is Nootka because of its history and its natural beauty.

I didn’t even know there were still people working at lighthouses anymore. Apparently seven of the 23 people who are stationed at lighthouses in B.C. are couples.

I listened to John Vaillant whom, of course, I’d heard about but had never seen in person or read before. He gave a compelling  intro to his book  The Jaguar’s Children and the life and death crossing into the USA of an illegal immigrant.  His reading and the prose was so precise that it was a clear lesson in how a compelling presence mixed with vivid language does indeed go a long way towards selling books. He said a teenage boy’s voice came to him clear as day one day while he was working on something else. He felt compelled to carry that voice onto the page.  This happened while he spent nine months living in Oaxaca with his wife who is a potter. Perhaps the spirits visited him. Perhaps they knew he was someone who could do their story justice.

It was cool to hear the journey of The Flour Peddler by brothers Chris and Josh Hergesheimer. Their original focus on local grains and farmers’ markets in B.C. (starting in Roberts Creek) eventually took them on a global journey to South Sudan. Their bicycle-powered flour mill is adding efficiency to small farmers there. Chris is now in Ecuador doing Ph.D. work through UBC’s Land and Food Systems faculty.

I found it kind of sad to hear the trials of cartoonist David Boswell and the trajectory of his comic, Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman. What began as just a one-off, one pager for The Georgia Straight back in the day, developed a small cult-like following with a script eventually optioned for a movie at Warner Brothers Pictures only to be quashed at the 11th hour by the executives who just didn’t get the humour.  That’s funny actually! The script remains locked in the vault there, stuck in limbo, history.  Boswell showed a movie that one of his nephews made about him with guest appearances by Matt Groening and others who sang his praises and the genius of the character, Reid Fleming.

The last session I attended was by Michael Kluckner. The local artist and heritage advocate has put together a graphic novel, a love story, called Toshiko.  I was surprised to learn that not all Japanese families were interned during WWII. Some lived independently, specifically up in Tappen, B.C., and Squilax near Salmon Arm where they worked on a farm called Calhoun’s.

I really tried not to buy but resistance is futile when it comes to books. I have to laugh at my purchases though which are more a reflection of proximity and mood than a strategic plan since I didn’t actually end up buying The Jaguar’s Children. I bought The Flour Peddler, Toshiko and Amber Dawn’s How Poetry Saved My Life.  Boswell was selling his comic book, a signed copy for a Toonie, so I got one of those as well. Go figure?

Did you go to Word this year? What stood out for you?

Revisiting Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

It must have been about 20 years ago now that I started to read the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Enquiry into Values and then, like a lot of people, I got a little overwhelmed by the density of the content in spots and put it down.

I love reading about road trips. I have fantasies about being a motorcycle owner and riding off into the sunset. Who hasn’t?  Robert Pirsig’s descriptions along the way kept me engaged even though I was increasingly frustrated by not really understanding what the philosophy behind the book was really about. I didn’t get it.

A few months ago, I heard a really engaging radio documentary about the book which brought it back to life, and as you might have noticed in your own life, the universe conspired to put the content right in front of me, albeit in a bit of a round about way.

I stumbled across, Zen and Now, a book written by Mark Richardson, the editor of the Wheels section of the Toronto Star newspaper. Richardson published his book in 2008 after doing the Pirsig Pilgrimage, following the route that Robert Pirsig took with his young son, Chris, back in 1968. Pirsig’s book was published in 1974.

Richardson had an inkling about writing a book before he took off on his copycat journey in 2008 but really wasn’t sure he would follow through on it.

What I enjoyed most about Richardson’s book was the background information on Robert Pirsig’s life, written with the advantage of history on Richardson’s side.

Robert Pirsig is still alive. His son, Chris, was robbed and murdered outside a Zen monastery in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco when Chris was 22-years-old.

Pirsig is now 86-years-old according to Google and his whole life (at least to the public) has been defined (for better or worse) by taking that motorcycle journey from Minneapolis to San Francisco and his compulsion to write about it, and then follow the first book up with a second book, Lila: An Enquiry into Morals.

If you’re interested, here’s Mark Richardson’s website, Zen and Now.

Here’s a timeline of Robert Pirsig’s life: http://www.psybertron.org/timeline.html

Watch an 8 minute video and hear Robert Pirsig speak and hear how the title of the book came to him.

Here’s a discussion group on the Metaphysics of Quality. http://moq.org/

I now have the little pink paperback, the original Pirsig book. I purchased it at a used bookstore near UBC and I’m feeling a little more ready to commit to getting through it this time, now that I’m a little more clued in to what he was trying to communicate.

Zen Habits to the rescue

I know what it’s like to feel on top of the world. To feel like I’m standing on a surfboard and I’ve caught a rogue wave at its peak and with no effort at all, as if every fairy godmother in the universe is cheering me on, I’m gliding like Jesus walking on water.

As I continue on the wave, I’m peering into the horizon and no matter what I do, I can do no wrong, as if pink unicorns and purple fairy dust is sprinkling down on me and isn’t that a rainbow? No. Oh god. Look. It’s a DOUBLE rainbow rising up out of the ocean directly in front of me like a magnificent Orca beckoning me towards it, straight towards Nirvana on this earth in my lifetime. Amen. Been there. Occasionally. Okay at least once that I can think of, vividly, but not for quite some time.

I also know what it’s like to be on the other side of that coin. It’s not depression. Well, maybe a little. It’s more like being dropped into some bunker in the middle of nowhere and everyone has forgotten that you’re there and you might as well be in the trenches at Vimy Ridge or at least having a flashback to that time. Well, okay, that’s overly dramatic. So?

Now being a writer helps contribute to the second reality because there are many periods of uncertainty, and periods of down time, or periods of just trying to think of something new when you’re in between the actual writing of something. It’s that period of time that requires brainstorming and researching related to coming up with a good idea, or even a really stupid idea, or let’s get real, a downright bad idea for queries or something, anything, give me a sign. One that doesn’t show how lame I can be at times at handling uncertainty, but never as lame, alas, as those who have long-term, full-time jobs are about to be unemployed. Not as lame as them.

The downtime can be a tricky period because for someone like me, it can feel like I’m not working even though I’m always working and I have to figure out why someone who seems to be spending more and more of my life these past few years not working at a formal job can still get anxious about not working at a formal job.  I will chalk that up to my childhood which is the root cause of everything that is wrong with me. There’s research to back up that fact so, no, I’m not being overly dramatic.

Not all periods of work are productive. Are you at work? Look around. I mean, honestly! You’re reading this stupid blog post. Get back to work!

Somehow, alone, just me and my computer, in that period of time that requires mining for new ideas, sitting or going for a walk in the middle of the work day or getting outside for a coffee at Starbucks and just free associating to come up with something of value as a starting point can make me feel like more of a fraud than I normally feel in the troughs of neuroticism as Holy Grail.  I blame it on being raised by Presbyterians on my late father’s side.

So yesterday when I was feeling this way, right at the zenith of that feeling, I got an e-mail from my subscription to this blog called zenhabits and it was so perfect. Leo’s solution related to countering that feeling of being overwhelmed with just doing the dishes.

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I love that. Here’s someone who gets that sometimes just doing one simple thing that’s actually achievable can make all the difference.

Here’s his post. Subscribe to his blog. But first, do the dishes!

Day trip to Edgemont Village

I’ve lived in the Lower Mainland for a very long time, minus a few escapes, and I’ve never been to Edgemont Village. I’m not sure how that’s possible but there you have it.

The North Shore Arts Crawl gave me a reason to visit. I strolled the two street strip and learned that 80% of business owners in the village are women.  I stopped into 32 books, a great little bookstore/giftshop, and dropped by Trims, a romantic oasis of seasonal home decor owned by mother Marlene and daughter Morgan. I might not seem very romantic but I do have a weak spot for those really romantically-decorated small businesses with flowers and mannequins and bunnies and chicks.  Their artificial flowers were exquisite.trimsmall

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From there, I backtracked to Lonsdale and the seniors centre, with the cheesey name of Silver Harbours, behind the rec. centre. Elders were weaving, throwing on the potter’s wheel, creating hooked rugs, and small personalized hand bound books.weavingsmall

boundbookssmallpottershandssmallI kept going down Lonsdale to the school district building with its beautifully carved First Nation’s door by an artist whose name, unfortunately, I didn’t write down. It leads into the hidden Gordon Smith Gallery.

There was no avoiding Robert Chaplin who was selling his books in the gallery and conned me into holding up some sign that says something about breaking some world record which I still don’t understand.

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He grabbed the first book, read it to me out loud at warp speed, and then when I got into it, I joined him for the second one, Delicious Chicken Soup, which he created with Michelin chef Andrey Durbach. As his infectious enthusiasm drew me in,  I performed with him reading out loud in unison. I have no problem calling him a whirlwind creative force even though I only spent about 15 minutes in his larger-than-life presence.  RobertChaplinsmall

Apparently he holds the Guinness Record for publishing the smallest book.  Minus the cash I wasn’t planning on spending for books I didn’t need to buy, I headed to the back room and had a nice chat with Warren Oneschuk who paints vintage trucks that he finds derelict all over B.C.  I love, love, love old trucks. The patina. The history. The country. Think Clint Eastwood in Bridges of Madison County.

From there I stopped into this endangered building on West 1st Street, full of nooks and crannies, where some amazing artists have found their studio space and their community. I was blown away by the work of Dene Croft and Kiff Holland.  The building was surrounded by big holes in the ground and looming cranes, ready for another condo development. Ho Hum.   I caught this view from the top of it looking across to downtown.studiowindowsmall

The last stop was a fashion designer, Fariba Mirzaie,  and her studio Gabbeh, where her one-of-a-kind fashion masterpieces are created hour upon hour at her sewing machine. The juxtaposition of that plain white plastic sewing machine with the beautiful fabrications she’s able to create from her mind, and the machine, is what struck me as I stood in the small space in awe of her art turned fashion.

It was a fabulous way to welcome spring.