I’d like to tell a story.
About a year ago, I was heading to a Christmas party when I learned that Six Stories, Told at Night had gotten into the Toronto Fringe. That’s a story I’ve told before.
This is a Christmas party with lots of (choral) music-types. Fantastically nerdy conversations abounded. After a few pints, a friend and I were talking in the hallway about Toronto’s two big Christmas shows—Handel’s Messiah and the National Ballet’s The Nutcracker—and how many people tend to be a “Messiah” person or a “Nutcracker” person, and—
“Hold on,” quoth I, “what if you combined them?”
“The music of Messiah,” I continued, flush with possibility and good ale, “and the story of The Nutcracker!”
My friend giggled.
“But who may abide the nut of his cracking?” I sang. Then, to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus, “O Nutcracker! O Nutcracker!”
We giggled some more and eventually I went home, and that should’ve been the end of it.
Except that in the morning, it was still funny. New words to “There were shepherds” dripped from my fingers easily enough. And for a few months, I poked at the idea again and occasionally threatened to put this show on.
“It wouldn’t be too hard,” quoth I (so innocent, then!). “You just need a piano and people who know Messiah.”
On and off, on and off, I wavered back and forth. And then Blythe had the brilliant idea of using it as a fundraiser for Gangway! Theatre Co., and we were off to the races. For the first time, I seriously considered what I needed:
Quartet of soloists
Thanks to awesome, dedicated friends…uh, we got all those things. Yes, certain parts were harder than I anticipated. Like my poetry, my parody seems to prefer spontaneity—sitting down to a keyboard and messing with Messiah for realsies was less footloose and fancy-free than I expected. Also, as I learned with Six Stories, there are always tiny maddening logistical things that crop up like black flies.
Will it be funny? I mean, I think it’s funny. The choir thinks it’s funny. People outside a cross-section of classical music nerds?
This was an anxiety-making moment over the last week.
But we’re doing it. The hilarious drunk idea has become a real show, hitting the Comedy Bar mainstage (945 Bloor St. West), November 13th at 9:30 pm. And I’m proud: I’m proud of the musicians, proud of my friends, and proud we got this sucker to the stage. We actually went for it.
Comfort ye, my people. For unto us, Nutcracker comes!
What I’m Listening to this Week
But of course…
I’m not even quite sure where to start. It’s been a time. It’s also been a week since I moved from my beloved little garret, and we are…settling in. Kind of. Change is hard, change to my home environment harder still. I do not do well when I’m uprooted.
(Sidebar: which is why I’m amazed that people can routinely move between cities, provinces, and countries. It’s like…how? How do you transplant yourself somewhere completely new, where there is nothing familiar? I’ve only done it temporarily, and I am not keen to try it again anytime soon.)
But we are getting there. Guinness has become braver in his explorations. I vacillate between “ahhhhhhhhhhhh” and “wait this isn’t so bad and I specifically chose this neighbourhood because it contains ravines and many of my friends.” For now, I hold out hope for an eventual triumphant return to Little Italy, because…well, I can’t really do anything else.
And the office set-up is really quite cute. That’s my stable point, too. As long as I have a solid place to do my work, I can handle quite a lot else.
With all this change, though, something has helped immensely. Apologies, as this was cross-posted to Twitter, but I think it’s worth repeating here.
I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who regenerations. Not full episodes, mind you. Just the regenerations. In doing so, I’ve noticed a rather helpful pattern.
It happens after something big
The Doctor doesn’t just regenerate willy-nilly. S/he regenerates after some big adventure, some massive outpouring of effort that would usually result in death.
I mean, in a mythic sense, the Doctor does die. The Doctor constantly dies. And the Doctor is constantly reborn.
The lead-up hurts
But anyway, regeneration happens after something monumental. The Doctor is almost always wounded. S/he is almost always in pain. Sometimes, s/he is alone. And so we usually see the Doctor stumbling around the TARDIS, knowing that regeneration is inevitable but still attempting to fight it off, just for those last few moments.
This is the hard part: the letting go of the old self.
The Doctor sets his/her house in order
Sometimes the Doctor makes a speech for his/her successor. This is where everyone cries. This is where we find out what’s been really important to this iteration.
This is when s/he puts his/her old self to rest. The chapter closes.
When it finally happens, after all the lead-up, all the inexorable steps, regeneration is violent. There’s fire. Explosions. The TARDIS gets damaged. It is not a pretty, gentle transition. It’s like the phoenix conflagrating.
It’s that thing where a lot of small changes build up until there’s a MASSIVE change.
A new adventure starts right away
But then the music changes. Humour ensues. There’s very little time spent mourning the old Doctor—we hit the ground running right away with the new.
We’re onto the adventures only the new Doctor could have. And the Doctor always wears a specific face for a reason; it underscores his/her personal arc. The universe needed the War Doctor at a very specific time; it needed Smith’s off-kilter gregariousness just as much.
It’s okay to be in pain. It’s okay to be wracked with upheaval. This is the stumbling-around-the-TARDIS phase. There may be a big explosion of light and sparks soon.
But that’s okay.
That’s when the adventures really begin.
We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.
– Eleventh Doctor
For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about cycles a lot. The dance of creation-stability-destruction, the phoenix and its ashes, the Doctor…
2018 has been a rather more tumultuous year than expected. But I’m excited to see what subsequent chapters bring.
This song is ending, but the story never ends.
What I’m Listening to this Week
I’ve used the composer Brunuhville for writing playlists before. It’s all very epic-cinematic-fantasy music. To the surprise of no one, this one also touches on the idea of cycles, of falling darkness leading to dreams…
It never rains, but it pours! As you may recall from last week, we’d just finished with the Toronto Fringe and Readercon. The last few days have been mostly about recovery, but also plunging headfirst into new projects and deadlines.
(We did find out that Six Stories, Told at Night was shortlisted for Best of Fringe. While it would’ve been nice to perform it again in August, the forced break may be a blessing in disguise!)
Also, I’m officially into my last two weeks in the garret before Guinness and I move into our new hobbit-hole.
Amidst all this, I did something pretty frivolous.
While I was out, I saw this amazing houndstooth cardigan. Now, clothing doesn’t usually hold much interest for me. But when I fall for certain pieces, I fall hard. That was the case here: love at first sight.
Beautiful as it was, this cardigan was more than I’d usually spend on a single piece. And I just came back from Readercon. And I spent a lot at the Fringe tent all last week. And I can’t even wear it until fall. And I’m moving to a new apartment.
But it fit so well and it was so me. And I’m trying, you know, to figure out what I actually want, what I actually like—as opposed to what I think I should like. As we’ve been saying for months, this is a transition time, the chaos after a long period of stability.
So you’d better believe I bought that cardigan.
Caveat that I don’t ordinarily condone retail therapy. But also—sometimes, you’ve got to be frivolous. Sometimes you need to embrace the things that are so you, because they don’t always come along very frequently. (Besides, I’m usually pretty responsible with my money.)
In any case, I then did something very practical: something that also felt very me-affirming.
Oddly enough, it also had to do with clothes. I have a pair of boat shoes that I love. But the insoles were badly damaged, and they were covered in dust, and the leather was dry and desperately wanting some polish. So after far too much procrastination, I got new insoles. I cleaned them; I polished them with this special “nourishing” cream.
And they look much better. I feel much better, because I like these shoes, and I prefer when they look good. It’s another case of taking one tiny step in a direction that feels more right.
So there you go: one frivolous thing, one practical thing, both of which brought me joy. Of course, writing this post feels a little frivolous too. Cardigans and shoes—what’s that got to do with anything? With writing, with art?
Because I’m fumbling forward in all parts of my life, and these were two very small, very concrete steps in the right direction. There’s going to be a lot of missteps over the next while. I know that. But these two tiny things? These I got right.
What’s bringing you joy? What steps are you taking towards yourself?
What I’m Listening To This Week
I saw Wicked with my family this past week, and goodness, that musical has aged unexpectedly well. The political undercurrents have become sharply poignant—and current events are shining light on new subtext. (It’s about silencing certain groups and fake news and construction of false narratives/images, right?)
In any case, “Defying Gravity” always makes me emotional, but it’s punching especially hard right now. No, you’re crying.
Just you and I defying gravity,
With you and I defying gravity,
They’ll never bring us down.
Whooo! Toronto Fringe Festival! We’re well underway with performances of SIX STORIES, TOLD AT NIGHT. Reactions thus far have been great—and it’s such a treat to see these characters and this Otherworld come to life onstage. And of course, there are ~150 shows all across the city to check out. The sheer amount of talent staggers me.
Seriously, there’s a lot of emotion here. We’ll have a good chat when Fringe finishes next week.
I’m ducking out of Fringe to attend ReaderCon!
I’m so excited; I really wanted to go last year, but scheduling didn’t permit. When I realized that it overlaps with Fringe, I thought, “Well, of course it does.” Then I figured I’d just find a way to make both work. Because why not?
So I’m not staying through the whole convention. The plan is to fly in Thursday, spend all of Friday, and then fly home Saturday evening, in order to close out our last show on Sunday afternoon.
No big deal.
And I have my schedule!
Friday (12:00 pm)—Consent Culture in Fiction
Me, Teri Clarke, Maria Dahvana Headley, Hillary Monahan, Victoria Sandbrook
Friday (6:00 pm)—Stonecoast MFA Readings
Peter Adrian Behravesh, Me, JR Dawson, Julie C. Day, Emlyn Dornemann, James Patrick Kelly, Erin Roberts
Saturday (2:00 pm)—Alternatives to Romance
Me, Elaine Isaak, Nicole Kornher-Stace, John P. Murphy, Patty Templeton
It all sounds very exciting! And it’ll be great to dive back into writers and prose after a week of theatre. If you’re around, do come say hello. Looking forward to this con, shortened though it must be!
What I’m Listening to This Week
First, I absolutely love referring to the day of resurrection as “That Great Getting’-Up Morning.” It’s also got that emotional, rhythmic style spirituals revel in. And I think it might’ve sparked a story idea.
Hey pals! It’s the end of June, and you know what that means!
Obligatory birthday post!
Yes, yes, my birthday isn’t until Thursday (Turning 27! Whoo!). But next Monday brings us awfully close to the Toronto Fringe, so I figured I’d squeeze the birthday philosophizing in today.
So I’m going to be honest. This is a time of intense transition and transformation. Home, work, life -everything has felt the effects. My solid ground has turned to shifting sands, and quite frankly, it’s terrifying.
You see, I’m the kind of person that set down roots. Deep roots, intense roots. I build routines and systems. When those get disrupted – when I’m uprooted, when the patterns change – I feel terribly discombobulated. It’s almost like I use those roots and routines to anchor myself. When too much changes too rapidly, it feels like I’ve been cut loose on endless ocean.It feels like drowning.
Perhaps that’s an apt metaphor. Look at the symbolism water carries with it. Water is chaos, the “formless deep.” Water is death.
Water is also a womb, All life springs from the ocean. If we’re going to broaden the metaphor, mythology is filled with a descent to the underworld – or the ocean’s darkest places – followed by death and rebirth. From Inanna to Jonah, for the true self to be born, death must happen first.
As wiser people than me have said, transformation is a kind of death.
So much talk of death for a birthday post! But that’s where stories and mythologies are useful. They give form and the illusion of narrative structure to a universe that has little of either.
(To be clear: we’re only discussing death on a metaphorical/archetypal level here.)
Looking at my past birthday posts, there’s a constant refrain. I didn’t feel fully-formed. I knew something was missing. Something was immature, unfinished. I knew I wasn’t yet myself, not entirely. It was a caterpillar phase, I guess.
And now –
Now, I think this is the formless deep. And that word “formless” strikes me pretty hard– life certainly feels formless at the minute! This is the chrysalis, the underworld, the chaos and destruction at the end of a long cycle of stability.
But from all of that…from all of that, new life always springs. As uncomfortable as transition is, I really do think it’s bringing me closer to the person I really am. And I think the lessons from earlier in my twenties have laid a solid foundation for finding that KT. De profundis, right? “Out of the depths” has always been a personal motto of sorts.Now we see it in action!
I’m still hopeful about the year ahead. When I’m not fretting, I’m actually quite excited. We’re getting closer to…to whatever it is, this thing on the horizon. A new chapter is starting. We just have to get there.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Choir gives me many things…and I greatly appreciate the music it brings me. The right piece tends to find me at the right time. My voice does not fit spirituals easily, but it is some of the most comforting and viscerally emotional music I’ve heard.
It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? Last week was March Break, which meant that I spent daytimes performing in an interactive mystery…and my nights madly writing something on deadline.
I got a wee bit tired.
But hey, we’re here. It’s done. This interactive mystery has really been a story that’s taken five years to tell, as subplots from different years built upon each other. It’s been an incredible experience and unlike any storytelling/scripting I’ve done before.
It’s also time to say goodbye to this arc. And goodbye to actually performing in it.
I have mixed feelings.
On the one hand—oh my goodness, it was so much fun. It was improv and it was playwriting. In a funny way, it was chaos theory. Mostly, it was playing with the visitors and with each other. Our main (anti)heroine—Miss Moriarty, sister to the nefarious professor—is a wonderful example of Blythe and I riffing off each other. Like light reflected in doubled mirrors, the character passed back and forth so that she truly is a joint creation.
Other characters kind of emerged from nowhere and never left, and we grew to love them, too. A whole cast and world emerged. How incredible is that?
There’s something on the wind. It’s time to move on. This fits with the general rhythms of this year so far. Things are starting to happen; my energies are flowing in new places. Six Stories, the Prophecy Foretold and A Canticle of Light go up within six weeks of each other. Other theatre shenanigans wait in the wings. (See what I did there?)
It’s scary, of course. In any field, it’s so easy to stay in the shallows. It’s comforting there. You know the pond; you know the fish.
But eventually, that starts to become the problem.
It makes me think about why we say, break out of our comfort zone. It’s never ease out, withdraw from, slip gently through. It’s always break out, or step out—purposeful, definitive actions. They’re actions that you have to mean. You can’t do them by accident.
What else can I do? Where’s the next blank space on the map? What’s the next dragon?
I’m not entirely sure. That’s the scary thing, in all this. But I just think—if we don’t try—if we don’t stretch our fingertips to their utmost—if we stay at the surface and ignore the deeper water—
What are we missing? What parts of ourselves we will skim right over? What could have been? For me, that’s all scarier than taking a leap of faith. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, right?
Besides, I remain a steadfast optimist. When you leap, the universe tends to leap with you.
What I’m Listening To This Week
“Dinogad’s Smock” is a very, very old melody. The first two minutes are a lovely lullaby—the counting and spoken sections after 2:15 twig something in me. It’s a little uncanny, and incredibly beautiful.
Greetings, friends! So after some early flailing, the Beer Magic Novel seems to have kicked into gear. It’s about 16k at the moment and I can feel the momentum building (I miss it, when I’m not working on it). BUT it also hasn’t yet reached the critical threshold of, “I’m pretty sure this novel’s not gonna die,” so that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
For indeed, it is mid-December! It is time for all the yearly wrap-up posts!
Without further ado:
Some Things I Read and Loved in 2017
(In roughly the order I read them.)
Green Grass, Running Water—Thomas King
I’m only counting fiction here, but I read this shortly after King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. And I’m glad I read them in that order: King’s meditations in the latter helped me appreciate the former even more.
I loved the voice in Green Grass. I loved the blending of conventional novel structure and oral storytelling principles. It’s funny and honest and heartbreaking, and please just read it.
Strong, sassy women and hard-luck, hard-headed men, all searching for the middle ground between Native American tradition and the modern world, perform an elaborate dance of approach and avoidance in this magical, rollicking tale by award-winning author Thomas King. Alberta, Eli, Lionel and others are coming to the Blackfoot reservation for the Sun Dance. There they will encounter four Indian elders and their companion, the trickster Coyote—and nothing in the small town of Blossom will be the same again. . . .
Kiss of the Fur Queen—Tomson Highway
This one—we start with champion dog-sled racer Abraham Okimasis, and then follow his sons from early childhood to adulthood. It’s immersive and beautifully written and painful—and again, I’m head-over-heels in love with the voice, particularly that of eponymous Fur Queen.
Champion and Ooneemeetoo Okimasis are all too soon torn from their family and thrust into the hostile world of a Catholic residential school. Their language is forbidden, their names are changed to Jeremiah and Gabriel, and both boys are abused by priests.
As young men, estranged from their own people and alienated from the culture imposed upon them, the Okimasis brothers fight to survive. Wherever they go, the Fur Queen–a wily, shape-shifting trickster–watches over them with a protective eye. For Jeremiah and Gabriel are destined to be artists. Through music and dance they soar.
The Stone Angel—Margaret Laurence
Do you sense a theme here? The Stone Angel gets assigned to a lot of high school English classes. Mine missed it, but I’m glad I waited until adulthood. Basically, Hagar Shipley runs away to the woods and remembers her life—and pals, it’s devastating. Laurence’s characterization is superb. And it’s those little, tiny details that hit with the most weight.
In her best-loved novel, The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence introduces Hagar Shipley, one of the most memorable characters in Canadian fiction. Stubborn, querulous, self-reliant – and, at ninety, with her life nearly behind her – Hagar Shipley makes a bold last step towards freedom and independence.
As her story unfolds, we are drawn into her past. We meet Hagar as a young girl growing up in a prairie town; as the wife of a virile but unsuccessful farmer with whom her marriage was stormy; as a mother who dominates her younger son; and, finally, as an old woman isolated by an uncompromising pride…
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter—Theodora Goss
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this novel. It’s a well-curated collection of Victorian literature’s girl monsters. On one level, it’s a terribly fun romp. On another, it’s a very intelligent dance with Victorian literature. Of course, this is all up my alley.
Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.
But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.
When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.
A Green and Ancient Light—Frederic S. Durbin
I picked this up from the library on a whim. Early on, it says: “I won’t tell you my name or that of the village where I spent that spring and summer when I was nine. I won’t because you should realize there were towns just like it and boys just like me all around the sea…”
It’s a vague world, and yet complete. In a nutshell: boy, grandmother, and faun try to both protect a downed fighter pilot and find a long-lost door into Faery.
When I finished, I could only think, “This one is part of me now.”
It was that kind of book.
Set in a world similar to our own, during a war that parallels World War II, A Green and Ancient Light is the stunning story of a boy who is sent to stay with his grandmother for the summer in a serene fishing village. Their tranquility is shattered by the crash of a bullet-riddled enemy plane, the arrival of grandmother’s friend Mr. Girandole—a man who knows the true story of Cinderella’s slipper—and the discovery of a riddle in the sacred grove of ruins behind grandmother’s house. In a sumptuous idyllic setting and overshadowed by the threat of war, four unlikely allies learn the values of courage and sacrifice.
Bonus Short Story: “The Last Sailing of the Henry Charles Morgan in Six Pieces of Scrimshaw (1841),” by A.C. Wise.
This story is told through the registration notes that accompany museum artifacts; in this case, six pieces of scrimshaw. Look, I work at a museum. I’ve read these notes. Wise nails them. It’s an inventive form of storytelling and it is wonderfully, wonderfully creepy. This is the winner of the 2017 Sunburst Award for short story—and it’s easy to see why!
And that’s all I could fit into this one post! What about you? What did you read and love this year?
What I’m Listening to this Week
Oh my goodness, I’ve been obsessed with Purcell’s “Cold Song” this week. Actually known as “What Power Art Thou?” it’s from the King Arthur opera. This is the point wherein Cupid wakes the “Cold Genius,” or the spirit of winter.
Look at the way the vowels punch the same note repeatedly. It should be a half-note or whatever, but it’s been split into repeated eighths—because he’s creating the effect of shivering!!!!
I love it. I’m so down. I want to work the emotional resonance into a story somehow.
It was late 2011, and I was at a Thai restaurant with Blythe and my old roommate Gavin, discussing how we’d produce Hapax-the-Podcast. At some point, conversation turned towards the museum, and their nighttime Christmas celebrations.
It got too busy down in the brewery, according to Blythe. It was really a two-person job, those nights. But no one else was Smart-Served, so.*
*SmartServe = certification you need if you want to sell/serve alcohol in Ontario.
So I was twenty—and I wanted to look cool—so I said, “I’ve got my SmartServe.”
It was meant to be a one-off. One night, help out, thanks and see you. But from the moment I stepped into the brewery, I fell utterly and completely in love with it.
When I was a kid, I did what my parents called “deep dives.” For months—years, sometimes—I’d delve into various pet passions, but way more intensely than you’d expect.
Wolves, man. I knew absolutely everything about wolves.
Ancient Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty.
The Phantom of the Opera.
I was that seven-year-old walking around the ROM’s Egypt collection taking notes on a clipboard. And you know what? I think I’d almost forgotten how happy I was just learning. Drinking in knowledge as quickly and deeply as I could, for no other reason than—it caught my interest.
Looking over the past few years—I think beer was the last thing I dove into just because.
Oh, I’ve had other interests. Remember last winter, when I was all into the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood? That was awesome, but I wouldn’t characterize it as a “deep dive.” I read some books and watched some documentaries, but I don’t know nearly everything.
And I know an awful lot about the nineteenth century, particularly 1800s Toronto. But there’s a slightly mercantile edge to that. I really enjoy learning about them, but half my mind is always storing away tidbits for later use in day-jobbery or writing.
It’s less spontaneous. Less innocent, somehow.
Learning about beer served no obvious purpose. I just liked it. Learning about it made me happy.
After that first night in the brewery, I did what I always do: I wandered off and buried myself in books. For eighteen months, more or less, I learned everything I could. When a regular spot opened in the brewery, I was waiting.
I wrote a blog. I sampled a lot of beers and developed my palate.
Beer became my thing.
But I didn’t just learn the difference between ales and lagers, IBUs and SRM, Vienna malt and Fuggles hops. In the brewery, you had to lead tours and guide tastings. Gregariousness was the order of the day. You had to set strangers at ease; keep conversation going; think on your feet.
But something else happened, too. Have you guys noticed, beer is a hot topic right now? For the first time in my life, I knew about a COOL THING. I had this vast storehouse of information that people actually wanted. And I was becoming confident enough to share it effectively.
Then beer crossed over into my writing life.
I often think that the skills I’ve learned at the museum and at conventions reinforced each other. Panels are like stationary tours; tours are like a moving panel. And I figured out something very cool:
Beer is an excellent party trick.
Many people like beer. Many people have favourite beers. Many people know enough about beer to hold a conversation. For me—still shy, under it all—it’s a brilliant ice-breaker. Like Concerned Children’s Advertisers said in the early nineties, “Everybody’s got a thing!”*
*Canadian Nineties Kids got these PSAs on TV. If you have not heard the jingle for “Don’t You Put it in Your Mouth,” you have not truly lived.
I keep coming back to the joy I felt, all those hours I ploughed through histories of brewing and beer style guides. Back then, beer wasn’t anything professional. It wasn’t a party trick. It wasn’t even my thing. Not yet. It was neat, and that was it.
We all need passions like that, I think. Loving something for no obvious reason, pursuing our own interests down rabbit holes. It adds depth and richness to our lives, the way love always does. I think sometimes we’re reluctant to pick things up just because – we can’t justify the time, we don’t see how it’s useful, we’re afraid how it might reflect on us.
But we never know where it will all lead. After six (!) years of studying beer, I know my life would have been much poorer without it.
Everybody needs their thing. What’s yours? 😀
What I’m Listening to this Week
There’s quite a lot happening in “The Gallant Weaver.” I could go on about the soprano lines echoing each other, or the beautiful solid chords in the lower voices, but I’m also exhausted, so have a listen for yourselves!
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.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in Toronto’s green spaces: the ravines, the parklands, the rivers. Partly, it’s novel research. But also, it’s keeping me grounded. Rooted, if you will. (Terrible pun. Sorry, not sorry.)
Over the past few months, I’ve realized something. When I move through the urban streetscape, it’s a very visually oriented experience. Yes, traffic rumbles and horns honk and the stoplights all have auditory signals, but I’m mostly relying on my eyes. And it goes without saying that this is my experience: someone differently sighted will have an entirely different way of interacting with the city.
But in the ravines and along the ponds, I rely on my ears much more. Rustling leaves and sudden splashes, birdsong and squirrel yells—that’s how I put together the thousand tiny dramas unfolding all around me. Sight comes later: you hear a plaintive warbling, then spy the baby bird in a hollow tree. Catch the whisper of a cattail blowing the wrong way, then notice the frog chilling in its shadow.
Really, though, it’s all the senses working together. Except taste. As lovely as the ravines are, it’s probably not a good idea to lick anything you find in them. Digression aside, the trees become a sort of tapestry around you, with eye, ear, nose, and touch all working together to create a living, holistic picture of what’s happening.
It humbles you. To become part of that scene, you need to become part of the scenery, too. And so, you must become quiet. You must become still. You must get outside your own head and worries and actually notice the chipmunk and squirrel staring each other down in the branches above.
I’m not articulating this well, but—it’s like moving from first-person to third-person. We aren’t the centre of the universe, in the woods. We’re one more drama, one more set of noises. And when you start to let go of all the preoccupations—when you actually listen—the details start emerging more and more quickly, like stars coming out in the evening. First one, then another, and another.
Lurking frog. Dragonfly landing on water lily. Fish cruising in its shadow.
And it occurs to me that writing can be the same way. Writing isn’t about us, the authors. It’s about the stories. But I think, like people blustering through the woods, scattering birds and breaking branches, we sometimes get so caught up in ourselves that we can’t hear what the story is doing. We can’t become part of it because we are so focused on ourselves: the Writer.
So we need to become quiet, still, and get outside our own heads. Actually listen to the story: that sure little voice inside, persistent as birdsong.
For me, if I can get into the headspace I find in the ravines—calm and open, joyful and humbled—I think the writing should start to pick up. I hope so, anyway.
What I’m Listening to this Week
“Jauchzet dem Herren,” by Heinrich Schütz. We’re doing it in choir soon, but it’s been in my regular listening rotation for a few years. I like double-choir pieces, where one choir answers another or follows the first like a round. Seeing how they fit together is immensely satisfying, and you get this super exciting building effect from the echoes.