This is one of those weeks where What I’m Listening To made me think about things. I’ve been endlessly listening to Ola Gjeilo’s Luminous Night of the Soul. Before we hear the piece (it’ll be at the end, as usual, I promise), let’s look at the lyrics. It’s actually a setting of a poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri. Here’s a section:
You give the potter the feel of the clay;
You give the actor the right part to play;
You give the author a story to tell;
You are the prayer in the sound of a bell.
Praise to all lovers who feel your desire!
Praise to all music which soars to inspire!
Praise to the wonders of Thy artistry
Our Divine Spirit, all glory to Thee.
Art in praise of art. How wonderful is that?
It’s neat because this piece is a sequel to one I’ve featured before: Dark Night of the Soul.
One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
It seems to me that a lot of our art—a lot of our creative urgent longings—come from one of three places. Luminous nights, dark nights, and rent-is-due nights. And I think all artists go through all three at some point.
Rent-is-due nights are easy. Those are the projects where you are being offered good cash monies, and you need cash monies, so you agree to do it. You work hard (you’re a professional, after all), you find something in the project to like (hopefully), and then you collect your cash monies and go on your merry way. Everyone has rent-is-due nights. Even my beloved pre-Raphaelites (looking at you, John Everett Millais).
Nights of the soul are about transcendence. Both luminous and dark, those nights are simultaneously absolutely about the artist and not about them at all. They’re absolutely about the artist because they’re nights of the soul: you’re transmuting a very deep and real part of yourself into the work. And they’re not about you at all. It’s about something bigger than you. Not to fall into woo-mysticism, but I do think that art strikes a chord greater than itself. Call it a resonance in the universe if you want.
Luminous nights are just that—luminous, creating with exultation and joy and wonder.
Dark nights—speaking only for myself, that’s when the pain and heartache and grief becomes beauty.
But I do think that these two artistic drives—creating from joy and creating from grief—are mirror images of each other. I think that there is a sort of exultation when pain becomes something beautiful. I think dark nights of the soul ultimately transcend themselves into light.
I like this idea: that darkness and light eventually hit a point where they start looking a lot like each other, something more and greater than either of them.
Which would probably explain why Gjeilo’s piece quotes its predecessor rather spectacularly. 😉
Until next time,
What I’m Listening to This Week
Well, here it is: “Luminous Night of the Soul,” by Ola Gjeilo. The piano and string quartet aren’t just accompaniment here; they participate in the dialogue as much as the choir does.
Favourite moments: the exultant joy at 5:20. And the moment we start musically quoting “Dark Night” at 6:43.
The off-season ticks along—those four months where I pretty much just hermit and read and write and think. Recently, I’ve been reading everything I can about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. You know them. They’re the brash little band of artists that painted things like this:
And they were wonderfully brassy and idealistic and romantic about it all. Honestly, I’m not always sure why I fall down these rabbit holes of research. Usually, it’s because there’s something I need to learn from it. And there is something the Pre-Raphaelites need to teach me, I just haven’t sorted out what it is yet.
So I was reading Wives and Stunners: the Pre-Raphaelites and their Muses (the author gets a little breathless in spots, but it’s rich with domestic detail), and these lines have been rolling in my head ever since:
Generally speaking, it may be observed that what men do is who they are; sculptors are men of mud, frequently covered in clay and sporting a dusty air; scholars incline to the ink pot and often have calluses, if right-handed, on the third finger of the right hand. As for gardeners and the like, no one knows what bunions, warts, and other deformities their work may have induced…
Wives and Stunners, Henrietta Garnett, p. 283
“Ah,” I thought drily, “so that’s why I have terrible eyesight and wrecked shoulders—I’m a writer.”
I can’t tell how tongue-and-cheek she thinks she’s being, but it’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? What [people] do is who they are. Of course, there are a few ways to look at the idea: in the physical sense, and then in a more metaphorical one.
Physically, she’s probably not far wrong. Although it’s easier to see how work shapes us in physical jobs (the only time I had arm muscles was when I worked in a historic kitchen—all that kneading, carrying, and scrubbing…), sitting and typing has an effect too. I’m a writer. I do not always write in ideal ergonomic conditions. As mentioned, my shoulders are in appalling shape. On the bright side, I type really quickly. Countless hours at the keyboard have overcome my poor fine motor skills; at least, in this arena.
So far, all well and good. Now I want to flip it around.
Who people are is what they do.
Generally speaking, writers like words (she says, tongue firmly lodged in cheek). But seriously, if you don’t love language, why on earth would you become a writer? Writers are detail-oriented. They do not give up easily. They are interested in people and ideas.
Of course, some might be saying, “Well, bully for you. I do data entry. That’s not who I am!”
Well, no. But what else do you do? What hobbies do you pursue? Why those ones? What do you do with yourself outside the office? What does that say about who you are?
Now let’s really stretch the original meaning. Who people are is what they do. Okay, so let’s say your boss gives you credit on a project…but actually, your colleague did most of the work. What do you do?
Aha. Now it gets interesting, doesn’t it? What do you do? It depends entirely on what sort of person you are. And of course, this is precisely what builds characters in stories. We all know this. You never tell the reader what sort of person your character is. You show them. Who they are is what they do.
When you really get down to it, it’s a mirroring effect, back and forth. Who we are informs what we do. And then, often, what we do helps to shape who we are.
So. Who are you?
What I’m Listening to This Week
When I lived in New Zealand, maybe a dozen songs comprised my personal soundtrack. Mostly songs about loneliness and the promise of one day returning home. “The Soft Goodbye” takes me right back there. Shivering in my unheated yellow bedroom, working out which direction pointed to Toronto. Walking the sloping footpaths around the Otago campus, nose stinging from the nearby spice mill’s burnt-coffee reek. The rubber mat and fresh paint smells of the student gym; the tiny, tiled locker rooms; the windowless lecture rooms; my legs aching on the staircase to my one class in the geology building, which had fossils and rock specimens displayed in the hallways.
I loved it, I really did—but I was also terribly, terribly homesick, and I think it’s this paradox that’s finally demanding to be processed through my fiction. Home and exile have been themes in my fiction for four years, but they’re getting a little more overt in my treatment of them, I think.
Anyway. Lovely voices, haunting flute solos at 1:39 and 2:40, drums that drive us forward from 2:45 to a triumphant finish. It’s a goodbye…but it promises a return. That was the most important part for me.
So, my sister freaked me out over Easter dinner.
“Yeah,” she said nonchalantly, passing our teenage cousin the asparagus. “I’m twenty.”
“What?” I gasped, nearly choking on my beer (a Dragon Stout—fairly sweet imperial stout from Jamaica—not bad, not bad at all).
“Uh, my birthday was in, like, February.”
“I know,” I sputtered, “it’s just…”
“Hard to think where the time’s gone?” my mom asked, trying to help.
“Sure.” I took a deeper swig of beer than necessary. “Something like that.”
Here’s the real reason it freaked me out: I was twenty when I started working at Black Creek. Well, okay, I was actually nineteen, but I turned twenty within a month of my start date. I was twenty when we podcasted Hapax, when I signed the publishing contract, and when I took off to New Zealand by myself for six months.
But my sister is so young. So are her friends. I can’t imagine hanging out with them. Plus, seriously, it was not that long ago—surely, I wasn’t that small, was I?
It’s a strange thing: on the one hand, I’m still the whippersnapper amongst my friends. Sometimes painfully so. Sometimes-more-painfully-and-more-often-than-I-care-to-admit, so.
On the other—Gavin and I were recording lines for an upcoming Tales from the Archive story tonight. You might recall Gavin: he voiced Brother Gaelin in Hapax and Brandon Hill in “Under Oak Island.”
When we recorded Hapax, Gavin was mostly sending me lines from Nova Scotia, over the winter break. Through the spring, he came over a few times to run more complicated scenes with some of the others. We sat in my living room, using a USB headset mic meant for conference calls, running scenes multiple times, with a different actor wearing the mic each time, because headset.
I had no idea what I was doing. I was making up the whole thing as I went, everything from the directing to the voice acting to the audio editing. And man, in places, it shows. But you know what? That’s how we learned. All of us. There’s nothing like producing/voicing eleven hours of audio to give you a feel for it.
We learned so much. That really struck home tonight, as Gavin sat in front of my Yeti (my third mic, now), pop filter in place. Oh, also, Gavin’s been my roomie for a year and a half – much easier than getting lines from Nova Scotia! We’d moved the laptop because I was worried about its humming (we never would have thought of that, during Hapax), and so I was crouched in the corner, watching the screen, offering direction that actually mostly made sense. It struck home, in a different sense, as I texted Blythe notes on lines for another podcast.
It’s nice to have a rhythm, I thought, vaguely and inarticulately. It’s nice we’ve found our way of working.
I was so nervous to ask her to voice Serafine. So nervous. And now—we’re a team.
It struck home as I bantered on Facebook with Lauren Harris. At twenty, I’d listened to my share of Pendragon Variety. When I first met Lauren in person, she seemed to fall into that “cooler, older, bolder” personality type that seems to crop up in my life fairly frequently. So, I was nervous.
But these distant voices are now my friends. Many of them, I count among my closest. Balticon, Smoky Writers, general shooting the breeze with each other, all of my hops south of the border…it’s made some very, very strong bonds with people who were utter strangers not all that long ago.
Think about it. Four years ago, I didn’t know any of my writer pals. I didn’t know anyone at Black Creek – despite what some people think, I didn’t even know Blythe.
I can’t imagine life without these people, now.
Starting Hapax, we were so young. Unformed, untested: tabulae rasae all around. So much has happened in less than four years, my head spins just thinking about it.
“Yeah,” my sister says, “I’m twenty.” Clearly, this is a stage of life that involves lots of change: some of it epic, and some of it awkward, messy, and painful.
But at the end of it: hopefully mostly epic. I really, really hope so, anyway.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Lack of computer temporarily drove me to writing longhand, and the only thing I can really comfortably write long are notes on plot. So, after a long hiatus, I dusted off my notes for the Victorian Dark Fantasy 2.
Much like its predecessor, this story has a theme song: a piece of music that makes me see things and feel things and grasp the entire novel in a very fleeting and intuitive way.
“The Unquiet Grave” is an English ballad, which means that there are lots of arrangements floating around. I like how driving this one is; I didn’t necessarily expect to. Plus, that voice! It makes me see a character. I’m not sure how she fits in, not entirely, but I’m seeing her in a dim, grotty tavern, striding between the tables as Mairi and Sara gape, not at all sure what to make of her.
“You crave one kiss of my cold lips, but I am one year gone. If you have one kiss of my lips, your time will not be long…”
It may also work thematically. I don’t know. It seems like everything I write turns super dark eventually. Heartstealer had its moments—it was the Victorian Dark Fantasy, after all—but this one wants to go even darker. Not in a horrific way, in a very painful way.
We’ll see. Until then…I listen, trying to hear this character, whoever she is.
I don’t often write poetry. Sometimes I get the odd one, but I almost never share my poems.
But when I do, they become opera arias…
Story time! New Zealand and I adopted each other long ago. I love the landscape, the people, the culture, the history…but when I backpacked around the country by myself, I got a little homesick. To be clear: I had an amazing time, with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I do not regret a single second.
And I also missed home.
So, one day while riding the InterCity bus between towns, I stared out the window at the impossibly green, mist-shrouded hills, and I composed some verse in my head. When I got to the backpackers’ that night, I tapped it out on my phone. Several weeks later, when I came home, I transferred it to my computer.
I liked it. Nothing super fancy or experimental; I wanted something simple. It had an interesting meter, though. The pattern of stressed syllables reminded me of someone running. Which was exactly what I wanted. It captured those nights in hostel bunk beds, staring at the bunk above me and trying to work out which direction home lay. I figured the poem might be interesting set to music (again, that very bare, understated pub song feel), but I don’t compose. Heck, I barely write poetry.
I came home. I forgot about it.
Fast forward to January 2013. I was rewriting the libretto for East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon. Since I was eighteen the first go-round and the performance requirements had changed in the interim, I was mostly rewriting from scratch.
Rose (our plucky young heroine) had an aria. There were some duets and trios, several chorus numbers for the kids. But the White Bear/Prince didn’t really have an aria of his own. I started thinking about how the enchanted Prince would feel: roaming through the northlands, lonely and just wanting to be warm again, waiting to come home…
And a spark of emotion and memory flared.
I dug into my files. I found the poem. It already had a strong meter; I’d already wondered if it would work with music.
Time to find out.
I slipped that poem into the opera almost unchanged (I think I altered the tense of one verb, maybe?). And there it’s stayed. My partner in this—composer Norbert Palej—did a beautiful job with the aria. I didn’t tell him what it was really about, and yet he crafted a lovely piece. The music aches.
Nothing you write is ever wasted. You never know when thoughts, emotions, and memories will reappear to inform your creative work. Save it—because someday, it may find its home.
Cool Thing of The Week
You didn’t think I’d go through all that without showing you the poem, right? I mean, it’s part of an opera now: I think I’ve lost any rights to qualms over sharing it!
I was waiting for the passing
Of the bleak and bitter night,
For the fleeing of the shadows
And the coming of the light.
I was waiting for the dawning
Of the absent summer sun,
And the waiting warmth that spurs me
On the distant roads I run.
I was waiting for the tasting
Of the season on the air,
For the old familiar fires
Breathing smoke upon my hair.
I was waiting for the greeting
And the chorus from the hearth,
For the end to all my calling
From the very end of Earth.
I was waiting for the sighing
When I stood before your door.
I am waiting, and so dying –
Waiting just a little more.
For the past few months, I’ve been doing an experiment. See, after my return from Virginia, my friend Blythe came over…and she had something for me.
“I’ve been meaning to give you this for forever,” she said. “But I forgot, and then you were at Stonecoast, and then you were away…”
It was a journal. “It’s Gonna Be Okay: A journal to reassure myself when I’m overwhelmed by the creeping sense of impending disaster and the all-encompassing fears both specified and vague that colonize my mind, body, and soul, all of which, from the completely far-fetched to the sometimes probable, do me no good to contemplate and in fact make me miserable, and even though optimism may be unself-aware and ill-placed, I know I’ll be happier as a blind fool than as a clairvoyant apocalyptic.”
I immediately burst out laughing, becoming increasingly amused as I read the subtitle.
She knows me far too well.
The journal contains a reassuring quotation on the left-hand page, while the right hand side has space for the date, a section for writing, and a “prevailing outlook” for the day. As it happened, I’d just read Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. As previously mentioned, I’d been struck by his habit of writing prose poems on whatever subject tickled his fancy and diving into his memories like a pearl fisher hunting oysters.
So I decided not to use this journal strictly for its intended purpose. I decided to use it for free-writing instead: unedited, rambling meditations. Okay, maybe there were a few times when I did free-write on something that was making me anxious, but for the most part, I turned to my past. I sought out those details that made me exclaim, “Oh! I haven’t thought of that in years!”
I set myself a few rules. Free-write every day. Fill the page. Tick the appropriate “prevailing outlook” box.
From February 28th to May 16th, I only missed one day. Over the past three months, I’ve stumbled across memories and details long buried, holding them up and examining them.
I had a rainbow-coloured basketball that I won in a Read-a-Thon when I was in grade two. I loved that thing. There was a shared driveway behind our house that I dubbed “the alley,” on which I bounced that basketball until its little bumps were worn smooth. I’d forgotten all about it, until now.
Something that I remember very vividly: three days after my dad died, I went to Black Creek. Not to work, just to escape. I remember when my mom dropped me off, I practically threw myself from the car before she’d even really come to a full stop. I remember that weird crouching run to the front doors, fighting to keep my balance.
Fiji’s reddish-brown dirt. The pixelated neon-green frog in a kindergarten computer game. The sense of unbridled freedom when we “went out for lunch” in grade six. The scent of pines that permeated the fort I made for myself (aged nine) in our garden.
These written meditations have unearthed a treasure trove of details. Maybe some of them will emerge in my fiction, maybe not.
But there’s been another benefit, too. I usually wrote in my journal over breakfast. First it became habit. Then it became necessary: a way to collect myself before facing the day ahead. It usually only took ten minutes to fill the page, but they were ten minutes of peace and stillness, ten minutes when my brain shut up and got out of its own way.
The other cool thing? I just flipped through the entire journal, looking at the “prevailing outlooks.”
They’re almost all positive. There are a few “fingers crossed” ones, but mostly, it’s thumbs-up or a-okay. The only thumbs-down I could find was also the only day I ticked two boxes. That day, I was a-okay in general, but also stressing about something very specific.
That means three months of feeling good. There is definitive proof that for three months, I’ve felt good about life almost every single day. Seeing it concretely like that…well, it’s an eye-opener. In a good way.
I’ve filled the journal now. I’ll keep free-writing anyway, in a new notebook. It’s become a game: what can I remember? What can I dredge up? How specific can I get, how far back can I go? It’s a chance to relive and revisit, to keep myself on track.
And to remind myself: it’s gonna be okay. 😉
Cool Thing of the Week
After prolonged despair that we were trapped in perpetual winter, the unfurling leaves became really noticeable this week. On my walk to the subway each morning, I go up a tree-lined street. The leaves are delicate and fuzzy still, but the street is suddenly green, not the barren, spiky brown it’s been for the last six months.
Give it a few more weeks. It’s only going to get better.
The above quotation popped up in my feed this week. Usually, I don’t pay much attention to these sorts of quotes-and-images, but this one struck me. Maybe because I’m back at the dayjob.
As I’ve discussed many times, I steal places pretty shamelessly. From the dayjob, our Second House shows up in my story “After the Winds” as the heroine’s home; it reappears as the Braes’ house in the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Burwick House also shows up in both stories; the Doctor’s House is the main set piece in another. I fell in love with New Zealand, too. Its impossibly green hills roll through the “text-based interactive online game.” If you look closely, you can spot its caves and long white clouds in one of my Stonecoast workshop submissions.
Call it the historian in me, but I like this notion of things we love living on in stories. In fact, I’m writing a story on similar lines: an alternate Toronto, one which contains everything in this city that was lost, destroyed, or covered up and buried.
It all lives on.
Writers are like sponges that way. We absorb everything around us, often not even aware that we’re doing so, and even we don’t know when, where, or how things will rematerialize. It’s like catching partial reflections from shards of mirror. All of these memories and experiences get broken up and glued back together: rearranged, reimagined, and reversed.
Ray Bradbury wrote about this much more poignantly than I can. If you haven’t read Zen in the Art of Writing, go find it. Even if you’re not a writer, his insights can be applied to most creative processes.
In one of the essays, he asks, “What do you want more than anything else in the world? What do you love, or what do you hate…there is zest in hate as well as in love, [and it will] fire the landscape and raise the temperature of your typewriter thirty degrees.”
So what do I love?
Well, specifically looking at how much Black Creek pops up in the Victorian Dark Fantasy…I love the way the sun sheens off the barn roof on crisp autumn mornings. I love the fallen leaves crunching under my boots, the sharp smell of smoke when the fires get lit. I love the steam that curls along the brewery’s ceiling when we cool the wort. I love the way the loaf pans are all dented along one edge, because that is where the peel jams into them as we remove them from the bake-oven. I love the bleached-bone paleness of the bricks inside the bake ovens.
There is joy in these small details, the little things which, as Bradbury says, “…at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” It’s this notion of “looking and re-looking.” What makes this inn, this farmhouse, this hearth different from all the others?
As writers, it’s our job to find out and explain. If we’re writers in love, then part of us already knows.
Cool Thing of the Week!
At last, I have obtained my own teapot and kerosene lamps. My church does an attic sale every May, which means that every April, I volunteer to haul the goods up from the basement. I salivated over the lamps the moment I saw them two weeks ago, so I was very disappointed when I arrived at the sale and couldn’t find them anywhere…but then, one of the sales volunteers exclaimed, “Oh! You’re the girl! We have your lamps!”
My lovely church ladies had stashed them safely away for me, to prevent anyone else from making off with them. My ladies are awesome.
I’m in an anthology entitled “When the Hero Comes Home 2,” the second volume of the acclaimed “When the Hero Comes Home.” The Hero anthologies (along with “When the Villain Comes Home”) are about what happens after “ever after.” When the journey is over, the battle done, and the hero returns in victory or defeat…well, then what? Can you really come home again?
This theme is close to my heart; I got my invitation to submit only a few months after returning from New Zealand. So basically, the conversation went like this:
Gabrielle: Hey, Katie, do you write short fiction?
Me: Um…I could.
Gabrielle: You know you’re getting an invitation to Hero 2, right?
Me: I do now. (thinking) So, I totally just came home from a long adventure to the other side of the world….
I don’t usually gravitate towards writing short stories. But it’s something I’m trying to do more of, so I was really grateful for the opportunity to write something for Hero 2, especially because the theme was so meaningful to me. In the end, I’m quite pleased with the way my story (“After the Winds”) turned out. Things change while you’re away from home: not just for you, but for the people you left behind. How do you deal with the fact that you’ve all become different people who have grown in different ways, at different rates?
(And my usual rule applies: I’ll shamelessly borrow places (oh hai, NZ!), but nothing else.)
The coolest thing about Hero 2? All the other authors in there. There’s some serious talent here – I work with really cool people. 🙂
So where can you get this wonderful book? Well, it’ll be off the printer and on Amazon very shortly. In the meantime, the ebook version is available early…at a discount!
There’s also a Goodreads page!
And more excitement! Dragon Con is this upcoming weekend, and I will be there, despite the fact that my con preparation looks like this:
Oh, yeah, Dragon Con…mmm, that’ll be fun…
Hey, what day is my flight?
What TIME is my flight?
Lalalala, writing away on a new book…
…I guess I should edit Strix more, because I’ll see Gabrielle soon…
…at DRAGON CON! When is that, again?
I guess I should pack soon.
Where am I staying again?
Oh yeah. Ok. I know where that is.
Don’t I have a confirmation number or something? Hey, when do I need to be at the airport?
What’s my name? Who am I?
If you’re around, come say hi. I’ll have a few copies of Hapax on hand to sell in back alleys. I suspect I’ll be mostly lurking by the podcasting and alternate history tracks (not on any panels, but always looking to learn things!).
See you soon!
For a number of years, I Should Be Writing has been both one of my staple podcasts and an inspirational mantra. Personally, I’ve found it useful in re-directing my focus. Facebook’s hold is a lot easier to break when you can exclaim out loud, “Wait a second—I should be writing!”
It’s a principle we hear a lot. Writing every day keeps you writing, every day. A writer is someone who writes. Write or die. Don’t break the chain. The first rule is write. BIC: Bottom In Chair.
Again, all good ideas. If you’re spending your time on the Internet, TV, and random chores that really could wait a few hours, and getting a few hundred words every few days, your chances of finishing that story/novel/script are about nil.
However, this write-at-all-costs mindset overlooks the fact that sometimes, you really shouldn’t be writing.
I learned this the hard way. Looking back through the archives, I realize that I have been blogging about Strix/The Next One for far too long. This book has taken me too long. Partly, this is because I couldn’t find the way into the story. Partly, I realize in hindsight, I was writing when I shouldn’t have been.
Let’s rewind. Exactly one year ago, I was in New Zealand, starting Strix. I was experiencing culture shock. I was homesick. I was adapting to a new university. I was in a somewhat-difficult living situation. Then I was backpacking, never in one place for more than three days, writing in noisy hostels after being outside from sunrise to sunset.
The book I wrote was not very good.
When you look at how it was written, that’s perhaps not terribly surprising. Of course, I don’t want to pin all of Strix’s problems on the circumstances—realistically, I just didn’t do a very good job—but they certainly didn’t help.
While I was editing Strix, a lot of family stuff was happening. At one point, I was overwhelmed enough to stumble into a priest’s office.
A week after that, my dad died unexpectedly.
And yet, I still tried to edit the damn thing. I gave myself an extra month, ignored everyone telling me to take it slow, and churned out a first pass before fleeing to Virginia for a few days.
My first real, slow sinking feeling occurred when I realized I’d forgotten to include chapter twelve…and my first readers hadn’t noticed.
I sent Gabrielle an apology, and worked feverishly on a new first pass. A few weeks later, I got this DM: “I finished Strix. Can we chat?”
End result? I’m all but starting from scratch. And yes, Gabrielle was absolutely right (I cannot stress enough just how fortunate I am to work with her). It will be a much better book this way, and where before Strix felt like an obligation, now I’m actually excited to write it. And yes, she not only gave me permission to share this, she suggested it.
Hindsight is a powerful tool. Again, I take responsibility for Strix’s problems; I chose to keep writing in the face of advice to the contrary. However, it’s possible that if I had waited, I might not have found myself in the current situation.
Sometimes, it seems like we think we can push through anything, write through anything. After all, suffering feeds art, right? We can write through pain, turn it into grist for the mill, and ignore all stress and exhaustion in the name of our art.
There’s a guilt that builds up around not-writing. It can be blessing and curse: it keeps you writing, but sometimes it creates anxiety over “not being a writer” where there really isn’t cause for it. As regards to turning hardship into story…yes, this can be done. Writing is cheaper than therapy. However, there is a caveat. One of the best pieces of advice that I received (which I nodded at, agreed with, and then promptly didn’t act on) came from my ever-wise friend Blythe:
“You shouldn’t use things until you’ve dealt with them.”
Homesickness in Dunedin and grief in Toronto. Both colour Strix—neither did so in terribly effective ways. Mentally, psychologically, spiritually, I wasn’t ready. And that’s ok. If you are not ready, if you are not able, it is ok not to write. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be writing. It is easy to think in absolutes and hold writing above all else, but it can be damaging, and that hurts the quality of your work.
If you are in great physical or emotional pain, you may not write well.
If you are undergoing major life changes, you may not write well.
If your environment lacks stability, you may not write well.
If you have other major upheavals happening—work, family, whatever—that must be dealt with and require a great deal of energy, you may not write well.
Really, it’s ok. It’s natural, it’s human. But it’s worth recognizing. Know your limits, and know that waiting in the short term may save you lots of work in the long run. Sometimes, admitting, “I can’t” is braver than saying, “I’ll try.”
I’m still not functioning at 100%, but I know that I am functioning well enough, and that my current circumstances are peaceful and stable enough, to try Strix again. For reals, this time.
Best wishes to all of you on your own journeys—and remember to rest, if you need to.
One play that I’d really like to see in its entirety is Carol Shields’s Arrivals and Departures. Once upon a time, when I was a wee teenage drama student, we did excerpts from it in class. It’s a series of vignettes: slices of airport life.
I like airports, better than I like the actual flying part. While I can think of a million ways that flights can go wrong, airports appeal to my slightly neurotic side. Everything has signs, everything is scheduled, labelled, and ordered, and the rules are quite clear. Then there’s the notion of airports as liminal space, in-between space. That concept of the way-station, the passing-through point, appeals to me.
Plus, I write really well in airports.
Over the last year, I’ve been in a lot of airports. So many that when I tried to tally them up, it looked kind of obnoxious, and I wasn’t even sure if I remembered them all, and it just seemed better not to try.
You get good at airports, after a while. You learn their individual quirks, and how to adapt to new ones. You also learn to entertain yourself, which is what I’m doing right now as I sit at yet another gate. And so…
THINGS AIRPORTS TAUGHT ME
– Proximity to outlets is the most important factor in determining where to sit. Sometimes this is the floor. That is ok.
– It is also ok to wear dirty jeans and lug a giant backpack around, even if everyone else has a suit and briefcase.
– Jaffas are not the healthiest lunch, but you will survive. And if it is your birthday, you can eat all the Jaffas you like (yes, I spent most of my last birthday in an airport, but it was Auckland, so I can’t complain).
– I am generally pretty awkward, but I am getting good at whipping out my laptop, finding every last coin in my pocket, and shucking off my coat in no time.
– Sometimes, you know best. I cannot count how many times I have had the following conversation:
- “Ok, dear, come through.”
- “Wait, I haven’t taken off my belt!”
- “You don’t need to.”
- “But it always beeps!”
- “You can leave your belt on.”
- “No, trust me, it—”
- “Come through, dear.”
- Beep. Beep. Beep.
– Everyone has a story.
– Random things distinguish airports. I remember that Dulles has a Starbucks by the baggage claim. Wellington has the weird pay-as-you-go computer terminals (or was that Auckland?). The Island Airport has the awesome lounge of free things.
– Stressed-out, sleep-deprived people are not the brightest.
– The mantra of air travel: I guess we’ll find out.
– Departures is more fun than Arrivals, unless you’re arriving home after six months.
– Window or aisle? is a more revealing question that you’d think.
– Information travels best by osmosis.
– Free wi-fi is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
– Sometimes, looking young and helpless is not necessarily a bad thing.
– Air New Zealand rocks.
– Responding to “Purpose of visit?” with “A science fiction convention!!!” will, in fact, get you weird looks
Time to board!