“When I read your book…”-Richard Wagamese

It’s a quiet, gray Tuesday. And without anything to say here today by me, it seems appropriate to pay respect and honour this incredible writer, Richard Wagamese (1955-March 11, 2017).

.A short video of him accepting the Matt Cohen Award in 2015. Have Kleenex nearby.

 

The Writing Life in 5 minutes

photo by gayle mavor

Hi kids,

Thank you to the three writers (plus me) who participated in Write for 5 this week. I must admit, I read all your pieces more than once (What a burden. They’re so long!) in order to decide who I wanted to give a book of mine to with a note. Who doesn’t love to get something other than a bill in their mailbox?

I liked the tone that was captured by Sue Goldswain in her short piece. I loved the idea of two little girls dressing up their grandmother when they visited her at what we have to guess might be an assisted living home, “plopping the shocking pink and yellow sombrero the size of a small planet,” on her head giving her some playful fun in a life that is dictated by others’ routines. And then the woman examining the photo more closely and having it remind her of her mother when she was “fed up to the back teeth,” afterwards.

I was captivated by the story written by Jo-Anne Teal because right after it began I wanted to know why this girl was stuffing clothes into her knapsack in a way that there would be no evidence on the outside. Then, as she got past her yard she began to run.  I was immediately transported with her along that run. Where’s she’s going?  Why didn’t she stop when her jeans got soaked? Why is she in such a hurry to get to school when she “still hates chemistry”?

I loved the idea of her doing something completely unexpected. Ripping off her jeans and tossing them on the bench because she was wearing tights, and then having the older woman join in her defiance, sick of struggling with her broken umbrella, letting it go to the bench as well. Then the ending still keeps us hanging on, wondering about the mystery of which journey this young lady was going on. She wasn’t going to school after all. Was she running away? Was she just skipping class? Was she going to the mall? Was she meeting someone? Where was she going? I want to know.

The story stayed with me as I was falling off to sleep. I was thinking how great it was that that story was told in a way that would never have arisen in my own imagination and how great it is that our minds, so unique,shaped by our experiences have that wonderful possibility of going in such vastly different directions in response to a single image.

I know Jo-Anne submitted her story after 9 p.m. but it was my favourite. So, I’m not going to be a hard ass. I have to go with my favourite. This week she’s my choice.

I’ve decided I must name the book I’m giving away, even though it will ruin the surprise for the receiver because I want to be sure people know I’m really sending people books. I stood in front of my bookshelf for a while and then chose, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. The back cover describes it as a kind of spiritual Strunk & White, a small and brilliant guidebook to the landscape of a writer’s task… Last week’s book giveaway was Breathing the Page by Betsy Warland.

Happy Monday for anyone following along.  Next Write for 5 starts, as always, Saturday morning, March 18th  at 8 am.  Please join in.

Week 3: Write for 5 right now

photo by gayle mavor

photo from Creative Commons CC0-public domain

If it’s Saturday morning, it must be time to Write for 5. Or not! This is Week 3 of doing this and I’ve so enjoyed reading the writing of those writers who have taken the time out of their hectic schedules to sit themselves down and courageously face the blank page and screen.

If you’ve participated before, you know the routine.  If not, here are the guidelines:

·         I post a photo (or two) here at 8am on Saturday morning.

·         You look at the photo(s) above this blog post.

·         You take as much time as you need up to Sunday at 9pm

·         When you’re ready to write, set the timer for five minutes.

·         When you’re done, you post your results in the comments.

·         Do I ever look at what I’ve written and change a few words, and fix it slightly? Of course. I wouldn’t want you to put up what you don’t feel comfortable sharing. But perfection is not the goal. Heck, it’s not even possible. Five minutes. That goes FAST. But that’s the challenge and for me, that’s the fun.

·         Form is open: poetry, CNF, Flash fiction. You decide.

·         After it’s over, on the following Monday, I’ll let you know whose writing touched me in that moment in some way. Usually, it’s in a way that I’m not always able to define as to why. Then, I choose a book for that writer from one of my books and mail it to them. It’s an awesome way to cull my books, and to give someone a nice surprise.

Good luck. Give it a try!

PS: I probably won’t be posting my own response until Sunday morning. No time this Saturday. Very thankful for the scheduling feature in WordPress.

I’m sleeping with Susan Musgrave, and writing advice

photo by gayle mavor of a book by Susan Musgrave

Amal Alamuddin gets to sleep with George Clooney.  Ellen DeGeneres gets to sleep with Portia de Rossi.  I get to sleep with Susan Musgrave.  Let me explain.

I went to make my bed yesterday which entails merely throwing the duvet cover in place and I found this book. It was upside down.  My first reaction when I saw the book there was, Jesus! I’d actually slept on it. I’m  sleeping with Susan Musgrave. That made me laugh. And then the very next thought I had was, oh thank God, I can manufacture something out of nothing for tomorrow’s blog post. No offense to Susan Musgrave. I don’t know who she sleeps with, if anyone  but clearly it’s not about her.

My third thought was about how much writers, or maybe just writers who have yet to be published in book form, can’t seem to get enough of hearing about the writing process. Even though most writers eventually realize that there isn’t really any other writer or anyone else who can tell them how to write what they’re trying to write.

Only you can do it. Writing is a bit like dieting. There’s no magic bullet. You want to write. Sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. But first it helps to have something to say. And that’s the hardest part.

I can’t even explain what it is about reading about another writer’s process that is so appealing. It’s like the self-help genre for writers.  And I know I’m not alone in this.  If I was, nobody would ever show up to writing workshops, festivals or readings and there wouldn’t be an entire industry built around it.  

I think it’s akin to reading horoscopes. It’s not like you actually believe yours but there might be something in there one day that will make all the difference to your day, if not your life.

Fully aware that their process isn’t mine, and that it won’t ever be mine, that doesn’t ever stop me from devouring what published authors and the newest flavour of book that just received acclaim have to say.

I can’t even count how many talks, readings, festivals, workshops, and even a writing program or two I’ve been to. Might it be possible that I just nodded off when one of them provided the Holy Grail of writing advice and if only I hadn’t nodded off, I would have realized that they’d just slipped in the one bit of writing advice that was going to crack everything open and suddenly I’d have some story come to me like I was channelling J.K. Rowling?

No! Not going to happen. Let me rephrase that. It could happen but not because of listening to anyone else.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t educate yourself about writing, and all the elements that go into how to knock the socks off storytelling. That’s different. It’s the difference between research and research that looks as if you’re trying to rewrite, oh, I don’t know, THE BIBLE! 

Anyway, I just thought I’d admit that I’m as guilty as you are in devouring every morsel of writing advice and I’m sleeping with Susan Musgrave’s book written in 1994, Musgrave Landing, Musings on the Writing life, and with a photo to prove it.

Guilty as charged!

PS: I enjoyed the book. She’s funny!   Oh. I almost forgot. You can join in and Write for 5 with me and one or two others this weekend. What’s it going to take for me to get you in the mood?

Taking time, making space to Write for 5

Harbour House Echinacea Salt Spring Island

photo by gayle mavor

When I first heard that maybe you might want to cultivate some sort of practice for getting ready to write, I balked at that idea. Perhaps because I come from journalism training, one of the best parts of that experience for me was writing to deadline and the best part about that is that it was almost always just a day or two away from deadline so there was no time to get precious about this writing thang. Sit your ass down. Get that story done!

Creative writing however is a different process. I think it may have been Besty Warland, way back in January 2012 who taught a one-day class when our cohort was first beginning in The Writer’s Studio who described the benefits of preparing to write. To be honest, I can’t actually recall the details of what she said, and it’s not important. It’s more that I remembered something about it and when she said it the concept made a lot of sense.

She wasn’t advocating that you put on your lucky red underwear, get your rabbit’s foot in your pocket, walk around the apartment Zen monk style three times clockwise and one time counter clockwise. That’s not what she was talking about. It was mainly about creating the space, physically and psychologically, where you would be receptive to the idea that now it was time to write and you could mindfully focus on that time, and that things weren’t distracting your focus during that time.

It was a time that you took for yourself for this specific purpose on a consistent basis so that you were setting a marker not just for yourself but for others as well.  You must act like a writer because if you were writing, consistently, you were one. Publishing is a different animal.  I expect this making space and taking time is even more important if your life abounds with children and a partner.

I don’t have too many rituals. I don’t need them. I like flowers, a small vase of flowers to gaze at absentmindedly really appeals to me. Some order in my immediate vicinity is preferable.  I have more trouble getting down to focusing on anything if my apartment reaches a level of messiness that is disturbing to me. Let me just say that the bar for that is mighty low.  If I can’t make coffee in my Bodem because yesterday’s grains and coffee are still in there and yesterday’s dishes are all over my two foot space of counter (which they often are) then those realities start nudging their way to the front of my mind and bug me. Although, I’m proud to say, I’ve gotten better at letting that go. Yay.

I’m telling you this because it’s already Thursday when it was just Monday, like 24 hours ago, wasn’t it? That means there are only two more days until the next Write for 5.

Yesterday I popped the book I chose for Elaine Guillemin, from last week’s Write for 5 into the mail. I’d rather not say which one because if she looks at this blog, I want it to be a surprise, but maybe she’ll let us know when she gets it.

I’m going to keep going with Write for 5 for a while, so if you are at all inclined to participate, it’s a very short chunk out of your weekend some time between Saturday at 8 am for morning types and 9pm on Sunday.

I feel, based on doing it for just two weeks, that even that tiny bit of writing generated from the exercise sparks interest in getting back to my more substantial writing, in a way I didn’t believe it would but has.

Get your writing space tuned up for the weekend and join in.

The poetry of mac and cheese

from Food Babbles blog: http://foodbabbles.com/jarlsberg-macaroni-cheese/

Up at the ungodly hour of 5am on Sunday morning, I began reading the food issue of Room magazine, savouring the blissful silence at that time of darkness, and I suddenly got this craving for the perfect Mac and Cheese recipe (which I don’t have) because I almost never eat it.  Then after reading some great pieces in this food-focused issue 40.1 (Psych Ward Grub by Lucas Crawford, Snap Dragon by Sylvia Symons, Your Body the Fire by Rachel Jansen), I felt the urge to write a poem.  It left me wondering what the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe might actually be. I found one at the bottom, after my poem, but no guarantees it’s the ultimate.

Mac and cheese love

If it’s going to snow in Vancouver in March (for God’s sake)

I need to find a perfect macaroni and cheese recipe,

buttery smooth and steaming into existence a non-existent family.

Don’t forget the wieners.

Call forth childhood

when we’d eat them handed to us

by a fat man behind the meat counter,

blood specked phonetics on his white apron.

We’d pop the wieners round, packed firmness

chewy and fun inside our mouths,

my brother and I grossing each other out,

we’d open wide

revealing the gnarly, half-chewed mystery bits

when our mother wasn’t looking.

 

This time, maybe I’ll use white cheese, not cheddar

Snow Geese, not crows

clouds, not cream,

hold the gull droppings,

oregano as evergreens

parmesan, not pigeon

and finish with a delicate, breadcrumb topping,

like brown birds dotting a frozen lake from a distance.

 

I’m thinking now back to the time I made my version from memory

for you (lacking)

and you were mad

because (I now realize), you were actually hungry, the

way most of us never are any more (in the West)

for a good

meal, (with meat),

subtle flavours requiring conversation to identify,

the kind of dishes you’d always concoct for my visits

on your two-burner hot plate,

you, Jamie Oliver, you.

Nothing like what I had plated, something

to turn your nose up at

as if my making such a thing,

(suburban, mundane, less-than),

meant I didn’t love you the way

you’d imagined I did.

 

And with that, it may (not really) have been worth getting up at 5 am yesterday.

Check out this blog for their recommendations for making amazing homemade mac and cheese or if you’re holding out on me, and you already have the very best mac and cheese recipe, tell me what I have to do to receive it from you, point me in the right direction.

May your week be full of culinary surprises (in a good way)!

Writing for 5: Week two writing prompt. Join in!

photo by Renaud Camus, Creative Commons, click image for details

Thank you so much for dropping by,

Welcome to Write for 5 week two. This is how it works. I post an image and we write for five minutes and then post our results in the comments up to 9pm on Sunday.

I decided to stick with just one image this week (above), not three like last week.

Take as long as you like to look at the bed above with that beautiful light on the pillows. When you’re ready to write, start your timer.

We have up until 9pm on Sunday, Mar. 5, to post what we’ve come up with but go ahead and post whenever you feel like it.

Our writing can take any form: poetry, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, experimental or erasure poetry, dialogue or whatever you like. Go for it.

If you have any questions, I’m going to be away from the computer most of the day but I’ll get back to you on Sunday morning. Let me know if you have any technical issues with posting.

I am so looking forward to reading what you come up with so don’t be shy.

And as I said yesterday, someone will get a book sent to them from me with a personal note for participating.

Thanks for playing. I hope you enjoy it!