March 2009

When I was linking to The Gargoyle for the last post, I found a bit on the Amazon page where the writer, Andrew Davidson, talks about his process of becoming a writer. 

Any writing teacher will tell you you’re supposed to read everything you can get your hands on.  But he says doing that just made him write like the writer he was reading at the time,  “word raping” he calls it.  He worked hard to find his own unique voice.   Here’s an excerpt but read the whole thing if you have time:

While in Japan, I entertained myself by writing and, having already mangled poetry, short stories, stage plays and screenplays, I thought it was time to give a novel a shot. A strange thing happened: I found that I don’t write like other people when it comes to novels—or at least, none of which I know. It’s true that I’ve read comparisons of my novel to a number of other books—The Name of the Rose, The English Patient, The Shadow of the Wind—but I haven’t read any of them.

I read something else about Davidson – he’s from Winnipeg, a small Canadian city not known for being a literary hotbed.  And he was sending the manuscript around to publishers and got detailed feedback from one editor who assumed that he’d ignore the feedback and just go on to the next publisher, because that’s what most writers do. 

And instead Davidson did a full edit of the 500+ page manuscript, incorporating the editor’s suggestions, had it bound and sent it in again.  Can you imagine having the faith to do all that work when you have no idea if it’s going to pan out?

But it did for him, he got the million+ dollar multiple language/country book deal.  Which is really impressive for a first novel.  Or any novel, really.

Yesterday I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED video where she talks about the pressure of writing something to follow her last incredible success, Eat Pray Love.  She said everyone loves to tell her it probably won’t measure up and how terrifying that must be.  But it sounds like she shows up to do the work anyways.   The video is 20 minutes, but totally worth it.

She suggests that maybe our genius is outside of us so it’s not all about us toiling alone in frustration trying to produce something interesting and then hitting the bottle when it fails miserably.  She says that maybe we can only work with the genius we’re handed.   Maybe our genius has good days and bad too.  Maybe our muse needs to step up and take some responsibility as well.   I like that.  My muse can start by taking responsibility for the grammatical errors in this blog, I’m busy finding my unique voice ;-)

The bottom line seems to be   – find your voice even if it means not following the rules.  Find a medium, even if it means mangling them all.  Do the work.  And be kind to your genius and share responsibility for the results.

I just finished reading The Gargoyle and loved it.  It has stories within a story – good stories too.  And it has a supernatural bend but never takes that part too seriously.  The main character is a cynical old cuss right ’til the end, and I respect that in a main character.   The plot, in broad brush strokes, is about him spending time in a burn ward after a car accident and this chick, Marianne, shows up and starts telling him stories about their “history” together.  

So he’s trying to figure out which particular mental illness she has but is also starting to develop a connection and feelings for her.  On Christmas Day, right before he’s set to get out of the hospital, she brings in a huge feast for everyone to enjoy and he says this about love:

I once knew a woman who liked to imagine Love in the guise of a sturdy dog, one that would always chase down the stick after it was thrown and return with his ears flopping around happily.  Completely loyal, completely unconditional.  And I laughed at her, because even I knew that love is not like that.  Love is a delicate thing that needs to be cosseted and protected.  Love is not robust and love is not unyielding.  Love can crumble under a few harsh words, or be tossed away with a handful of careless actions.  Love isn’t a steadfast dog at all; love is more like a pygmy mouse lemur.

Yes, that’s exactly what love is: a tiny, jittery primate with eyes that are permanently peeled open in fear.  For those of you who cannot quite picture a pygmy mouse lemur, imagine a miniature Don Knotts or Steve Buscemi wearing a fur coat.  Imagine the cutest animal that you can, after it has been squeezed so hard that all its stuffing has been pushed up into an oversized head and its eyes are now popping out in overflow.  The lemur looks so vulnerable that one cannot help but worry that a predator might swoop in at any instant to snatch it away.

Marianne Engel’s love for me seemed built on so flimsy a premise that I assumed it would come apart the moment we stepped through the hospital doors…..but this Christmas Day had shown me that Marianne Engle’s love was not feeble.  It was strapping.  it was muscular, it was massive.  I thought it could fill only my room in the burn ward, but it filled the entire hospital.  More important, her love was not reserved only for me; it was shared generously with strangers….

I used to live above the Trident Bookstore when it was on Argyle street and often when I came home from work I’d feel a Book Urge and I’d go in and browse.  They sell used and off-price new books so it’s like book shopping and bargain hunting all in one, two of my favourite shopping pursuits. 

There must be a reviewer or book blurb writer in town who sells all theiur manuscripts to Trident.  Either they’re padding a measley income, or trying not to get overrun by books with plain paper covers.  I picked up an ‘uncorrected proof for limited distribution’ of Heart Steps: Prayers and Declarations for a Creative Life by Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way fame and it’s been a fave. 

It’s one of those books that I dip into when I need it.  It offers short bits, some God-oriented, some not.  Some on specific issues, some general.   I’ve folded over page corners of ones that grab me because when I’m feeling like crap, it’s those same ones that speak to me every time.  

It’s not about trying to go from wallowing in my pathetic-ness to skipping down the street full of pollyanna-ish platitudes.  Even if I thought that was a good idea, good luck.  My goal is more about allowing the bits in the book to remind me that there *might* be meaning in what’s happening in my life.  That I *might* have what it takes to survive whatever’s going on.   That I *might* be able to trust that things will work out. 

And then if I can find that scrap of hope then maybe I’ll stop doing dumb self-sabotaging things that make life worse, and maybe even make things a little better.  Even if the tiny shift is just in my head, in my outlook, in my perspective –  that’s the best place to start.

Here’s the one I liked this a.m.:

The Universe Funds Me With Strength

In times of adversity, I remember I am strong enough to meet the challenges of my life.  I am equal to every situation, a match for every difficulty.  Sourced in the power of the Universe, I allow that power to work through me.  I meet calamity with strength.  I have stamina.  Rather than draw on limited resources, I draw on the infinite power within me that moves through me to accomplish its good.  I am fueled by all the love, all the strength there is.  Loving strength melts mountains.  I am ever partnered and supplied by universal flow.  Knowing this, I do not doubt my strength.  I am strong and secure.

I read an article on Bif Naked’s fight with breast cancer and her new album.  How do people who are going through chemo do things like record an album?  I’m sure I’d be lying in bed watching soaps all day feeling entitled.  But maybe not. 

I love her ‘tude about the whole thing.  There must be so much pressure to fit your illness into a little box so people can cope with it, most of us are just so uncomfortable with it.  Like it’s catchy or something.

I like how she says that everyone expects you to have an epiphany when you have cancer, but you are who you are, cancer or not.

She mentions on her blog that one advantage of losing your hair is the money you save on brazilians.  She also says it’s a good thing her husband is an ass man :-)

Gretchen’s post about venting anger and how feelings and actions go hand-in-hand got me thinking.   Because I grew up in a family that was firmly-committed-to-not -expressing-the-icky-emotions  and anger was at the top of the verboten list. 

And my own relationship to anger is wacky because I’m a Taurus, and if you have any of us in your life you know that we calmly wander about the pasture chewing our cud.  But when we finally notice that someone has stabbed a spear in our hiney and is waving red stuff in our face, then watch out honey, you’ve got a 1000 pounds of cheesed-off bull snorting bad breath in your face.  It takes us a while to get there but once we do We Are There.

And I know it’s hard for people to handle.  They’re like – so you’re finally pissed off at this annoying thing I’ve been doing for two years??  And we’re like, yeah, we’ve finally had enough – *Stop now*.  My goal is to get better at noticing I’m annoyed so that maybe I can bring it up at the 1 year mark.  That’d be an achievement.

I went out with a guy for a while who came from a much more expressive Mediteranean family than my own totally WASP-y one.   And he taught me a lot about anger because in his family you didn’t hold back.  They had the hollering dish-throwing kind of exchanges. 

Not to say I was comfortable with that but he did teach the value of a good rant.  That’s not the same as telling someone in detail why they suck and why you wish to god you’d never met them and other things you’ll regret later because you’re mad.  I’m talking about a good rant about why you’re pissed.  And it can be to anyone really, or anything because the bathroom mirror or just wandering down the sidewalk mumbling can work too.   It’s about getting some clarity.

Because I’ve found that digging into my own anger can be really useful.  I’m someone who can put up with stuff *forever*.  Sometimes more than two years.  If it’s not killing me, heck, why not continue to put up with it?  So my anger is a way for me to finally see that, by golly there is a spear in my butt and it’s time to change something in my life that is seriously not working.  A good rant clarifies for me where I stand.

Anger is also the best way to deal with our hot buttons because it’s easy to forget you have any when life is good.  Hot buttons?  Me?  Noooo.  And then bang, someone wacks one of yours and as you’re ranting you say – gee this sounds familiar!  And you realize this is that big gaping pothole you fall in pretty regularly because of x or y belief or pattern and now you get to look at it fresh in hopes that one day you’ll learn to walk around it and stop spraining your ankle.  And your relationships.

 The Buddhist folks talk about feeling the feeling and then letting it go.  But knowing I’m pissed off and feeling my blood pressure rise just isn’t enough.  I also need the mini-steps of understanding and processing it too and *then* I can absolutely let it go.

Here’s an example.  I go to the grocery store before work recently on a Friday.  I’m hungry, I haven’t had coffee, I’m tired, but dang it, I’m going to get this task done so I don’t have to think about it for the weekend.  I can cook and bake non-stop instead.  There’s hardly anyone around, which is I why I love going at that time.  

I’m in the baking aisle looking for muffin cups.  I cannot find the damn things.  I’ve left my cart mid-aisle and am just wandering back and forth looking for their hiding place.  I’m convinced I’m not seeing them because I’m not seeing straight anyways.  

An old guy comes up to me and says, “is that your cart with your purse in it?”  I tell him “yes”.  And he goes on to regale me with a sermon about how I should not be leaving my purse in the cart because the world is an evil place and someone is just about to come around the corner and run off with it because you know, the minute desperate guys get out of jail the first thing they do is head at 8:00 a.m. to the grocery store to look for muffin cups and errant purses in the baking aisle.  Ok I’m embellishing.  That’s not exactly what he said, but that is my rant about what he said. See how fun it is?

And I was so Not In The Mood that all I wanted to do was tell him where to go in the nastiest of terms.  And I stopped myself because as lousy as I was feeling, I do not need that kind of karma on my head. 

It’d be one thing if he was killing kittens in the baking aisle but he really did believe he was “helping” me even though it made me believe that my purse to his head would be the appropriate response. 

So I said nothing.  I walked away and found the muffin cups in an aisle with the aluminum foil baking stuff (of course!).  And I was really angry.  It bugged me all morning.   Why can’t cranky old guys just leave me alone?  Do I have “helpless female dying for morning harassment” printed on my tshirt?  Why couldn’t I have found *something* to say to him in the moment that I could live with afterwards? 

Then later that morning it came to me,  how I *really* wish I had responded.  After his sermon wound down, I would have sidled up to him and gotten into his personal space and said, “sooooo you don’t think that if some asshole stole my purse that I wouldn’t sprint after him?  Throw him to the ground?  Crush him to the floor with my fat baby belly??  Cause I most *certainly* would.” 

And if he didn’t look terrified I would have offered to practice on him, since he was the only one in the aisle eyeing my purse.  Or maybe I’d laugh conspiratorially so he wouldn’t think I’m the desperate one who just got released from prison.

When I came up with this scenario I had a good chuckle to myself, and *then* I was able to let the whole thing go and get on with my day. 

Once I found alternatives other than being silent or venting in total anger at the guy, I could make a commitment to stand up for myself in a way I could feel good about.  Hopefully I’ll get another opportunity.  But then again, now I don’t need to leave my cart, I know where the muffin cups are. (more…)

I was an early tooth kid.  I had all my adult teeth and a mouth full of braces by grade 5.  By the time I was a teenager I had nice straight teeth and had to find other ways to look like a gawky freak (frizzy perm and bad clothes?  Done and done).

Angus has gotten the early tooth gene from me.  He’s 4 and lost his first one last night.  It’s been wiggly for a while and after dinner he was moving it around with his finger.  I was really grossed out and trying not to show it and hoping to god he wouldn’t ask for help.  He said “ouch” a couple of times and then out it came – a tiny white tooth in his hand, a tiny bloody crater in his mouth.

We had to find something out to put it in so it wouldn’t get lost under his pillow.  We found a film canister and put a label on it.  We had to take pictures of him grimacing to show the hole in his mouth. He looks mildy insane but the grandfolks will love it.

And we grown-ups then talked amongst ourselves about what kind of cash the tooth fairy puts out these days.  I got a quarter when I was a kid, so what does that relate to in inflationary terms now?  Honeybunny and I decided on a toonie and at 10:00 last night I slowly pulled the film canister out from under the pillow, under his head and replaced it with the coin.

This a.m. he proudly shows me the toonie and tells me about the tooth fairy visiting.  And then he says something about driving a car onto the ferry and I realize he has no idea what a *fairy* is.  He prefers books about cars, trucks and pirates. 

He thinks we’re talking about the boats that haul people and cars across bodies of water.  He thinks a boat came into his room in the night, took his tooth and gave him money.  Isn’t it crazy all the stuff that kids have to figure out?  The best part is that it didn’t give him nightmares.  My kid’s such a maritimer, I love it.

I say, “oh no Gus, a tooth fairy is a fairy, like the small girls with wings?  Kinda like a dragonfly?”

And he gives me this stare that says, “ohmygod I hate it when she hits the crack pipe before her morning coffee.”

So I turned on the computer and googled some pictures of fairies.  He was cool with the bug-like girls.  Hopefully as cool as the ferry that he thought visited in the night.

I found this blog, Woolgathering, recently.  Her name is Elizabeth Perry and she posts simple paintings and drawings every day and recently celebrated her 1500th post.  I can’t imagine doing anything useful every single day for 1500 days, she inspires me. 

She, like me, grooves on that quote “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” Here’s what she says:

Will power doesn’t count much. Delight does. Find something that delights you enough, and you will keep doing it anyway. Even on days when the biggest obstacles are your own expectations.

So my wish is to keep finding the delight. To have the chance to be present, slow down, and pay attention for a moment. Every day.

A small treat.

Another breath.

Another drawing.