Monthly Archives: October 2017
Frost has crept into the mornings. At the day job, there are a few hours during which I rely on a woodstove. If there’s no fire, there’s no heat in the building, and there’s really only so long that you can shiver and watch your breath rise dragon-like to the ceiling.
Last week, the woodstove required a fair bit of running around. First, I had to remember to bring newspaper to start the fire, because I knew we were almost out. Then there wasn’t any wood, so I had to go to another building, collect some, and carry it over. Once I’d gotten the wood inside, I had to go find the ash bucket and clear out the oven. Then, finally, I could set about building my fire.
Now, the thing with woodstoves and hearths is that each one is different. You need to know their quirks. This particular stove has a small fire box. That is, it can’t take very much wood, especially not at first.
So I’ve learned to burn just one log at a time, until there’s a good bed of hot coals. Once you’ve got that, the stove will burn just about anything—and quickly!—and the building starts to warm up. But you can’t rush it. If you stuff the box with logs, the fire smothers and you have to start all over.
It takes time to do it properly. Look at how many little tasks comprise starting the fire! It’s been a nice thing about working in a historic setting: this acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes things take longer. There are more steps involved.
It’s especially nice given how preoccupied we often are with convenience and instant gratification. We can pop dinner in the microwave. Summon a car on our phones. Send messages immediately—and see when the other party’s read them. We’re so used to the instant, I think we’ve forgotten how to slow down. We’ve forgotten how to take the smaller tasks in their own turn.
I’m guilty of wanting instant gratification too. Watching more established writers can feel like watching other people tend a roaring fire whilst you shiver in front of an empty stove.
But it takes time to do things properly. As we move through our careers, it’s like we’re all building fires. You can’t just toss matches at logs and expect a blaze. You have to move through the other steps first: writing apprentice pieces, trying new things, failing, getting rejections, getting the first publication, the first good review, the first convention, the first rejection that really hurts…
All the little tasks add up. They’re all part of the process. And so, just as I’m patient with my fire, I’m learning to be patient with myself, too.
That’s the plan, anyway!
What I’m Listening To This Week
Since it’s Halloween tomorrow, all my favourite autumn songs have featured prominently. Specifically, the Souling Song. It’s one of those songs with many versions. I learned slightly different lyrics, but this rendition is good fun too.
Ah, I do love the year’s turning….
I’ve started baking again. During my undergrad, I did it all the time: bread, cakes, cookies, scones. In hindsight, I was pretty adventurous. Then life happened, time slipped away, and it was just so much easier to buy bread from the bakery up the street.
But then a few things happened.
First of all, an old mentor counselled me to stop living in my own head so much. “You are twenty-six years old,” she said. “So go out! Have fun! Do things! Have the experiences you’ll be writing about for the next twenty years.”
She’s right, of course. For the past few weeks, I’ve been seeking out experiences: going to the opera, meeting new people, contracting food poisoning…
And getting back to baking, because that’s always helped me get out of my head.
I mean, it’s physical: from measuring ingredients and shaping dough, to the washing-up afterwards. The motion of my hands—feeling dough, watching egg whites stiffen, all those sensory things—helps shut my brain up. It gives it something else to focus on. Those quiet moments—especially when kneading bread—sometimes give the subconscious enough space to breathe, enough to whisper.
There’s also something magical about baking. You’ve got all these ingredients that are inedible by themselves, but when you combine them the right way and add the right amount of heat, they become something delicious!
And there are baking traditions! Cut Xs in the loaf so the Devil doesn’t get into it. (Also, it lets the heat in. Toss a pinch of salt over your left shoulder for luck, because it’ll go in the Devil’s eye. You need to treat yeast like a guest: give it something to eat, a soft bed, and keep it warm (i.e. make sure you have a fermentable sugar source, don’t shock it by chucking it directly into hot water, and dough rises faster in the warmth).
See…sometimes, if you’re looking for magic, you need to make it your own damn self.
That’s the point of my mentor’s advice, isn’t it? If you want magic, go make it. The old saw about coaxing the muse to the desk holds true…but you don’t want her to find you empty-handed.
If nothing else, you might get some baked goods out of it!
What I’m Listening To This Week
I’m noodling a story with a countertenor in it. Countertenors are males who can sing into the contralto/mezzo-soprano range. It’s a very distinctive voice type: I enjoy them precisely because it’s a little uncanny. There’s something about the vocal quality; you know it isn’t a female voice, despite being in the typical female range.
And then there’s pieces like this. I also quite enjoy Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and this is beautifully sung. But the idioms don’t quite match, so it’s also…unearthly. Which is precisely what I’m hoping for with this story, so there you go. Enjoy!
It is that time again! This weekend, I will be in Ottawa for Can-Con: the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. This is one of my very favourite cons, and I’m excited for stellar programming, good friends, and lively conversations.
What’s my schedule for the weekend? I’m glad you asked!
8:00 pm: Alternate History Live Challenge (Charlotte Ashley, Anatoly Belilovsky, Me, Mike Rimar, and Matthew Johnson)
9:00 pm: The Fantasy Author’s Guide to Beer (Me)
3:00 pm: Writing Games: It’s Big Literature Now (Geoff Gander, Kate Heartfield, M. Elizabeth Marshall, Me Moderating)
7:00 pm: Readings (Me, David Nickle, Kate Story)
8:00 pm: Asexual Identities (Andrew Barton, S.M. Carriere, Dianna Gunn, Kelsi Morris, Me Moderating)
IDK, we should probably get the organizers some coffee and pastries.
In Ottawa that weekend? Come say hi, and hang out with cool people! Also, today is Canadian Thanksgiving, and I am thankful for all of you!
What I’m Listening to this Week
This piece kind of reminds me of high school. But also, it fits the feel/mood/emotion of the novel. I have always loved how the solo voice comes in with the main motif around 2:45—and promptly catches at 3:05.
It all started with that damn table.
We have a table that we use for performances. It’s big. Solid wood. Pretty heavy, but I could shift it myself, which made me proud. “Stronger than I look.” “Wiry muscles.” “I can do it.”
Until suddenly, I couldn’t.
Then I started getting a feeling like standing on the edge of the high dive: pounding heart and shortened breath. Only I’d be reading a book on my couch, Guinness curled at my feet.
“I think you may have a bit of anxiety,” my doctor said.
But that damn table. That damn table kept getting heavier. During shows, my breath control shook like a faulty foundation. I couldn’t switch from sprinting around the stage to strolling on singing. I had a blood test done and got so tired that I crashed a friend’s house to steal a half-hour nap between work and choir.
Most importantly: I couldn’t write. Oh, I’d try. I’d sit down with an outline and a heap of images and an idea of where I wanted the story to go, but the words came out like mud: ugly and thick. I know what it’s like to soar on story, and I was barely crawling.
And so I felt very bad about myself.
I said some not-very-nice things to myself.
I called my mom a lot.
Then the doctor called with entirely unsurprising news. Anaemia. Again. Though my iron stores are not objectively low, apparently I kind of suck at making blood.
But more than that—I think I burnt myself out. Too many late nights. Too little recovery time. Too much weight on my shoulders; too much stress that I’d simply swallowed down until my body said, “F*** you, f*** this, I quit.”
So I made an agreement with myself: a week off. Any previously booked appointments and commitments, I’d do, but nothing else. No writing, no submitting, no worrying about writing. Just reading, music, and early bedtimes. At that point, I was desperate enough to try anything.
We’re nearing the end of that week, and it’s been…hard. In creative and freelance careers, busy-ness is next to godliness. We must always be working. Always eager for more. If we cannot—if we cannot produce, if we buckle under the constant strain—we take it as a sign that our secret fears are true—we are not tough enough for this vocation. We may as well go home.
It’s easy to call shenanigans on that when someone else is going through it. It’s a lot harder when it’s you.
As I’ve said before: in order to have a long, fulfilling creative life, we need to not die in the process. Sometimes that means sharpening the saw. Taking a week off. Getting one’s health in order.
You cannot create if you are dead or dying.
And yes, I’m still working on it. Honestly, the sense of failure is hard to shake. “I did nothing this week! I’m not a real writer! I’m falling behind!” But at the same time, taking time now can save time later on. Along with making the road more pleasant. I hear treks are easier when one has sufficient red blood cells.
So I’m taking care of my creative life by taking care of myself. And pretty soon—
I’ll be moving that damn table, all by myself.
What I’m Listening to this Week
I’ve been listening to this young man for a while: boy sopranos like this don’t come along very often. His voice is doing some really interesting things as it matures. The distinctive treble “ring” may be gone—but it’s getting the unearthly, uncanny quality of a good countertenor (especially in the lower register), and the mezzo notes are exquisite.
In any case, hats off to a very fine musician!