About Change

In September I’ll be joining the MFA program at Guelph-Humber. MFA programs can be contentious and they’re certainly not for everyone, but for me, an MFA always meant time. Time to write, think about my writing practise, and get some teaching experience.

A busy bed

A busy bed

I’ve always balanced money-work with writing-work and for the past two years, money-work has taken up a lot of my energy. It feels like a gift to have the next two years dedicated to writing* and working through all the sticky, ugly, complicated stuff of life that I can’t stop thinking about, like plastic-permanence, sex, and inherited trauma.

I’ll be working on a novel and maybe even a small poetry collection too. I want to try something new with the novel form and step outside my comfort zone. In the past year I’ve started to feel the familiarity of the short story, which is a good and bad thing. Familiarity means I know how to write a short story (finally) but it also means it’s time to feel stupid again. The space of a novel is intimidating. I’ll be learning how to meander with purpose. In a short story, everything matters. In a novel, you get to take your time. A novel is more forgiving, but that’s not to say you can get lazy and superfluous. I’m learning to meander as I work through the first part of the new manuscript.

More change-not-change happened in my non-writing life, and Chris and I got married on August 18. We were skeptical about having a wedding, being the anxious over-thinkers we are, but did our best to throw caution to the wind and do something just for the fun of it. It was difficult for us but we survived and it was worth it. I’m so glad we did it. It was small, just 50 of our closest family and friends, with an immediate family only “signing of the documents.” I’ve never felt so loved.

An exercise in frivolity

An exercise in frivolity

This Friday, Chris and I are headed to New York for the museums and dive bars and to eat as much pizza as humanly possible. It’s time to take a time out from everything and reset for what’s ahead.

In other news, Cracker Jacks for Misfits will be launched at the Burdock Music Hall in Toronto on October 9. More details to follow.

* The world being what it is, I’ll still be money-working. If you have any copywriting or content needs, drop me a line and perhaps we can do something cool together.

Things Are Coming Together

“Run fast, stand still,” from Zen in the Art of Writing is some of my favourite writing advice ever. I’d be lying if I said I read the thing from cover to cover, but that chapter title stuck with me. In my own mind, I’ve distilled it down to something more like “Run fast and stop,” the whole idea being that writers must write like animals in the wild, sprinting like mad until they put their head up, look around, and see where they’ve gotten themselves. At least that’s how I digested it. Sorry if I missed the point, Ray.

I’ve been in running mode for a while now, not just in writing but in life. It’s nice to finally look up and see where I’ve gotten myself. I’ll be at a festival this fall (more news to follow) and I’ve booked a few other readings and appearances for October. I’ve had my head down, and when you haven’t stopped for a while, seeing the progress of the thing can feel abstract and impossible, but now, hard work is starting to pay off. The great mystery of promotion is starting to click. It feels good.

Behind the Scenes: Book Trailer Production for Cracker Jacks for Misfits

Someone once told me that as a writer you have to be okay with being lonely. They said this as a kind of warning, like “You know you’re going to be lonely, right?”

I love to be alone. In fact, when Chris is away for work or on set a lot, he tends to return to a rather isolated and weird version of Christine. I get lost in routine, doing the same thing everyday, interacting humans only when necessary. When I’m on my own, I spend most evenings pacing the apartment, talking to June (who is a dog) about whatever problem I’m trying to solve in a story, while eating hummus on crackers and chickpeas out of the can. Heaven.

So yes, working and being alone suits me. I tend to think of loneliness as more of a baseline state of being, rather than a feeling to drown out with noise. Not being lonely is more like icing on the cake. Delicious but decorative.

I’m very much used to working alone. Yes, workshop has been crucial for my growth and I could never do the work of an editor (praise be the objective eye), but at the end of the day, when I get my notes and feedback in, I have to do the job of fixing a thing and making it work. I get to make the big decisions and the little ones too. And this is something a writer has to do on their own. No one can hold your hand and tell you you’re making the right call. You have to figure it out for yourself.

A sneak peek of Jake things.

A sneak peek of Jake things.

When I decided one aspect of the publicity I’d undertake for Cracker Jacks for Misfits would be a series of short book trailers, I knew I’d need to find someone to hold my hand through the process. I’m not a filmmaker, I don’t know the first thing about gear or organizing a shot list or and I’m not a visual storyteller. Lonely writer, remember? But I’m drawn to the small, isolated, and often overlooked interactions and moments in our lives, and I think the book dwells on the highly physical. A book trailer always felt like the right way to promote this particular collection of stories.

Chris is a filmmaker. We started meeting, formally meeting, back in November to hammer out a plan for a book trailer, which quickly became, under Chris’ vision, a series of four book trailers, each one focusing on one of the main characters and sections of the book. We pulled sections from the book for each character and Chris started building scripts around them.

For the first time, I had to trust someone else to tell the story of my characters. Chris is one of the few people who has read an early draft of the manuscript and has seen the evolution of the book, so it felt like a natural fit. He knows the people of CJ4M well because he knows me well and has watched me move through the experience of telling their stories.

I put the entire project in his hands. We continued to meet, while he developed a shooting schedule, secured gear (thank you Luke!), and scripted elements that connected with my words, with my intentions, fully.

The messy business of collaboration.

The messy business of collaboration.

We shot the majority of the trailers over one weekend. It was nonstop, grueling work, mostly for me, with my soft writer’s hands and 9pm bedtime. I should say, I made an exception and pushed bedtime to midnight for the sake of the project.

From watching the footage, Chris did some truly beautiful things under a serious time crunch and with a shoestring budget. And at the end of it all, when we were exhausted and all used up, the result, and talking about the result with Chris felt more substantial than decorative icing. I feel like we’re going to do some good storytelling together. It turns out, collaboration isn’t so bad after all.

We also shot an interview where I talk about CJ4M! This was all Chris’ idea, and he thought having me talk about the book on camera might help with promotion in general. It’s nice to be able to offer people a sample of you talking about a thing when you’re begging for airtime to, well, talk about that thing.

I owe extra thanks to our friends Luke, Aoife, and Ruby for their help.

More content to come. The next step for our video project is to work with my sister Amanada on creating some abstract piano texture for sound design. What else is Family Day weekend for?

Until next time.

No Resolution

I know I said I'd be posting about book publicity work next (and I will, stay tuned), but other happenings have derailed my sense of direction a bit. 

Is it just me or was that one tough December? To those of you who survived relatively unscathed, well rested, and well fed, good on you. To those of us who came out the other end dragging unearthed childhood baggage and a two-week hangover, it's time to take care of ourselves. 

I don't really deal in resolutions or self-improvement, but I do care about mental health. I'm trying to speak more openly about my continued work with depression. I find, more often than not, I end up sharing with people who have struggled too. 

Winter is hard but this one started out harder. What set me off this year was an unplanned night of socializing at the start of the month, followed by a week-long bought of the flu. And then I took two weeks off from work. I was so much looking forward to my time off, but I (like many writers, I think) work best in a routine. I don't handle unplanned, unstructured days very well. Illness, phone calls, long afternoons spent chatting aimlessly on couches with family, this is where I struggle. How do people manage it? I'm not really sure. I'll take any advice you've got.

It was a holiday of strange thoughts and laboured eye contact. I have all the tools at my disposal to not be depressed. A loving family, a supportive partner, medication, routine, and exercise. I have apps and notebooks and therapists and people to check in with. Still, I found myself dragged down this past month. 

So here's what I'm working on to help myself get up and out of bed in the dark months of winter as a sensitive writer type of person, who falls rather short of perfect (and is trying to be okay with that):

1. No drinks, no smokes. Live clear minded for a while. 

2. See your friends and family. The depressive likes to hide to mitigate exposure. The world is risky, debilitating to the depressive. I will say: choose your associations wisely when you are fragile. Cultivate a reasonable sense of order. For instance, I prefer to have people over to my apartment when I'm not feeling well, rather than meet out in the world. 

3. Insecurity is kind of forever. You'll always feel like an idiot when you are paid a compliment. Any kind of perceived win will never be enough. You'll always have to live with this.

4. Be around the dog(s). They are the only thing that makes sense sometimes. That's just fine.

5. Read, if you can. Read Women Talking and French Exit. These will remind you of what kind of a writer you want to be. This will make you hopeful. Hope is good. It’s the opposite of depression.

Loath to Travel

I've been traveling a lot this year when I should be writing. There, I said it. It's hard not to feel guilty.

It started in Banff in February, then Charlottesville for work in April. In May, Chris and I were in Victoria for his sister's wedding and in July I went to Barbados to visit with old friends from high school. Last weekend I was in Prince Edward County and in a few weeks I'm headed to Montreal for a wedding. Luckily, after that, there's nothing else in the calendar. 

I don't mean to sound ungrateful for all the time spent with family and friends away from home. I've written before about how tough I find travel. Being on the go and away from my routine is difficult. The last few months have forced me to be more protective of writing time than ever. They've also forced me to be more forgiving of myself. Any other type A writers out there struggling with perfectionism? I'm a zealot for routine, often in ways that make me hard on myself. Swinging in and out of structure is difficult to say the least. 

If I'm honest with myself, between work, rewrites and new material, 2018 is probably my highest word count year ever. And I've gained other things from all those trips. When you take time off, you sacrifice quiet, introspective time for a bit of adventure. For nature and hikes and seeing things you hadn't before. For conversation and working on your intense fear of flights. On the plus side, I'm finally starting to get over that fear of flying (falling) and airports (crowds).  

In whatever spare time I can find, I'm trying to focus on old work, new work and refining career type things. Sorry to be so abstract, there will be news coming soon. 

Banff Centre: Heaven for Writers

I'm just finishing a 10 day residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. To say this place makes working easy would be a vast understatement. I've made leaps, connections and choices creatively that I don't think I would have come to, or had the guts to come to, working at home.

Over the past year, for any number of reasons, I've had a hard time finding dedicated time, space and solitude to write. I'm grateful to the Literary Arts program for taking me in here in the Rockies. The Centre has provided me with a quiet place, supportive facilities and, above all else, time. Time to move at my own pace, to structure my day however I see fit. Time to mull it all over and eventually make tough decisions in the service of my project.

Leaving here will be bittersweet. I accomplished what I set out for myself when I left Toronto but I'll so miss this kind of writing freedom. Not to mention the long winter hikes, the mountains, the air, the snow and the wildlife. 

I won't talk about what I've been working on (just yet), so in the mean time, enjoy some photos of my adventure, shot on iPhone 8 and the Fujifilm X100.  I'm not the best photographer, but with scenery like this, its not hard to take a good photo. 

Early morning hours in my room. 

Early morning hours in my room. 

Where an Elk came from. 

Where an Elk came from. 

A view of the very grand Fairmont. 

A view of the very grand Fairmont. 

Campus at sunset.

Campus at sunset.

Favourite spot on campus. 

Favourite spot on campus. 

The very cool Jeanne & Peter Lougheed Building. 

The very cool Jeanne & Peter Lougheed Building. 

Some good mountains. 

Some good mountains. 

What to do after a hike. 

What to do after a hike. 

Misty mountain top. 

Misty mountain top. 

Obligatory travel selfie. 

Obligatory travel selfie. 

A 2017 Wrap Up and Exciting Things to Come

Fall flew by this year and was filled with busy days at home and at work. Home is where I'm writing these days, and I've been keeping up the schedule I envisioned when I started working full time last April with relative success. Even just an hour a day after work makes all the difference. Small sprints during the week so by the time Saturday and Sunday roll around, I'm primed and ready to jump into more intensive, thoughtful hours. I think it's about keeping the work at the top of mind and not letting things get pushed to the background. The stuff of life, those real world aches and pains, traffic on the way home, a burnt out light bulb, an empty printer cartridge, it all seems to be working against you sometimes, getting in the way of what you really want to be doing. 

But I survived and have a better sense of how much time and space I need to write. That's why I applied to the Banff Centre this fall, and I'm excited to report I'll be attending for a 10 day residency in February. Most of all, I'm looking forward to the time. What will I be working on? You'll have to wait and see. 

I'm currently reading The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neil, a book I picked up this summer at the Eden Mills Writer's Festival where I got to read in the emerging writers' set, the Fringe. It's taken me a while to get to because I got caught up in some true crime (my absolute favourite of the genres) as well as a large book gifted to me my Chris' dad, An Affair of Honor by Richard Marius, an epic about a double murder in a small southern town. 

On another note, June is sweeter than ever this time of year, and is especially affectionate when it gets cold out. We're staying cozied up inside. Stay warm. 

My Summer Reading List

Just in time for #BookLoversDay, here's what I've been reading this summer. I started off with some tried and true Murakami. A coworker recommended Patrick deWitt and I loved his work so much I think I'll pick up Ablutions as well. These days I'm getting into true crime and making use of my local public library.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Fun House by Alison Bechdel
Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Undermajordomominor by Patrick deWitt
Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Who Killed These Girls by Beverly Lowry

Next up...

Angry White Men by Michael Kimmel
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule


Summer Books

Hey everyone, thought I'd share what I've been reading this summer. Lots of inspiration in the likes of Mary Karr and Heather O'Neil. Really glad I stumbled across Mary Karr especially. She was featured on an episode of Dear Sugar Radio and I thought she was whip smart and a compelling voice. The kind of person you want to sit down with and talk to about writing. 

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips 

Lit by Mary Karr

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neil 

Birdie by Tracey Lindberg 

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle 

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Just cracking East of Eden at my partner's insistence. I watched Matilda a couple weeks ago. It's funny how formative those library and books scenes were for me as a kid. Like when she's pulling that wagon full of books home. I remember that being important to me. 

 I'm looking forward to autumn and everything it brings. Sweaters, books and cozy cups of coffee. 


One Year of June

About to celebrate our one year anniversary of picking June up from the Caledon Animal Shelter. Also, got a new camera for more work with YP.ca. Canon Rebel, great for a beginner like me. Look at this potato. 

Getting Better

It's been almost a year now of being cooped with with rewrites. Nothing but The Book. And I have to say my checklists have gotten me through this more than anything. I'm a meticulous planner. I schedule my days to the point of compulsion. A bit from today's list: walk June, Naomi + Marce goodbye, 2 job apps, update website, blog post, YP fam friendly dining, walk June, walk June. 

I've always been a schedule kid. I still get upset, to this day, if my routine is disturbed (a response I'm trying to mediate with equal parts "spontaneous fun" and "chill the fuck out"). I feel comfortable when I know what is coming up and how I'll spend my time. And I find, most of all, that it can be soothing to look back at the end of a week and know that I'm one step closer to being a better writer.

A couple years ago, I was wracked with anxiety about wasting my time, worried that I would never improve on my craft. I was tortured by every hour I spent without my notebook or computer. I was seeing a psychologist, a really thoughtful young woman, who noted that I appeared to be "spinning my wheels." She suggested it might do me some good to track what I actually did in a day. At the time I was working a corporate gig three days a week and nannying two days a week, constantly scrambling for spare hours to fix a story or rearrange a poem. To scribble out lists of nouns and verbs. I was using my planner, to fill out appointments and log work hours, but not really to track my writing. So, at my psychologists gentle suggestion, I started filling out detailed time sheets of what I did in a day. And every week we would review these lists. I was surprised to see how many actual hours I'd dedicated to writing. They were substantial blocks.  

Today, I can worry about The Book, about time, the process, whatever, but I can always look back to last week and see that I've taken a tiny step forward. Sometimes I stay still for days or weeks. Sometimes I get stuck on the same 1,000 words, reworking them over and over. Sometimes I feel helpless. But eventually, I move forward. Today I'm grateful for agendas, for scheduling and compulsion. For seclusion and quiet and moving just as slow as I need to.  

Dear Reader

I'm in the home stretch of my funding period. Last week I printed off a full copy of the manuscript and sat down to read it. Now I'm in the midst of a re-write. I used to be so afraid of starting over, of pulling everything apart and excavating my work. But while I was reading through the book, I felt hopeful. I could see what needed to be fixed and how. It didn't seem so impossible, so bleak or ill defined. I have an idea of how to finish this project. And even if it ends up in a drawer, or filed away on my hard drive, I think I'll have learned something. And for now that's enough. 

I'm also gearing up for a winter full of writing for the Yellow Pages. I'll be sure to share the interesting bits a long the way. For now here's a shot of my desk in the afternoon. I try to get out of the house to work in the mornings. Mostly for a change of scenery. To sit down with a coffee and get the brain moving. But in the afternoons I'm back at my desk. Here it is.

Hiding Out and Endings

Hey People, 

I'm hiding out in our apartment this week. I received some funding from the Toronto Arts Council to finish my book, so I've taken some time off regular life to focus on my ending. I've spent the better part of the last two years writing about the same people and places, but I feel our time together is running out. We're close now. 

Here are some more pictures I took this summer. Two hideouts and an ending, I think. 





Public beach

Public beach