I was just looking out the window, wondering if I could summon the energy to write something, anything, when I noticed:
There’s a tree outside with buds on it.
That, friends, warms the cockles of my heart.
Spring is coming, for which I am incredibly grateful. Partly because I missed spring last year: I left Canada in the middle of winter, arrived in NZ at the start of autumn, spent winter down there, arrived back in Canada at the end of summer, and have since gone through another fall and winter.
It reminds me of the Monty Python Holy Grail line: “And winter gave spring and summer a miss and went straight on into autumn.”
Ironically, considering the tendency towards pathetic fallacy in my writing, it really has been a long, hard winter. The last few weeks especially, things have been so heavy, cold, and grey.
With a few exceptions, of course…
But spring is coming. It’s almost like I still have seasonal jetlag, as though once the snow melts and the sun shines, once there’s that fresh scent on the breeze and you can practically feel things sprouting and taking root…then, it’ll be like a reset button that gets me on a more even keel. Not that I think warmer weather is the answer to everything, but it can only help.
The signs are there. I worked last week (which, coming in the middle of the Essay Apocalypse, was both highly necessary for my own sanity and also a terrible idea), and even though it snowed, when the wind shifted just right, you knew.
We’re well into Easter music at choir, and after four years, Easter hymns are triggering the same seasonal expectations in me that Christmas carols do in December. They feel like spring. They feel like things coming back to life, things rejuvenating (and yes, I do appreciate the symbolism there).
For the first time since a very lonely night somewhere in the South Island, I wrote a poem.
The days are growing longer and warmer. The ice is melting. There’s still a ways to go, but maybe, hopefully, soon, it will be patio weather.
First round’s on me.
Sometimes people ask me how much of life shows up in my writing. I never find this question easy to answer. After all, I write fantasy. It’s all made up, right? How much life and research goes into that?
Imagine you’re making a cake. You start with some recognizable ingredients—eggs, butter, milk, flour, sugar—and then you change some of them. You separate the eggs, or cream the butter, or chuck some chocolate chips in on a whim. Then you mix them all together, and suddenly, it’s hard to tell where one ingredient ends and the next begins. And then, you throw it all under high heat, and when it comes out, it’s delicious and totally does not resemble the elements going in….although you’ll certainly notice if a cake is lacking sugar. Likewise, you’ll notice the chocolate chips, or extra spices, or what have you.
Writing is kind of like that.
Take a lot of different things. Change some. Mix them together. Let them react and transform. See something very different come out—with maybe a specific flavour distinguished here or there.
For me, it’s always interesting to see what gets chucked in. Writers are like kleptomaniacs at a grocery store. Random ingredients somehow end up in our mental baskets, and they sometimes get used in unexpected ways.
Looking for firewood in Australia one afternoon, our guide showed us how to knock over small, dead trees. In the current draft of Strix, three of my characters work together to knock down small, dead trees. At the time, I didn’t think about the experience as fodder for fiction. And then it was, and it was exactly what I needed. Kind of cool.
Likewise, I have a short story in the February issue of Black Treacle Magazine, wherein I shamelessly riffed on Black Creek (with the important caveat: I shamelessly riff on places, not people).
Likewise, the numerous times I’ve smiled at the delightful children’s doodles scrawled across my choir music wound up in Hapax—Praeton likes the random sketches and notes too.
Of course, sometimes you don’t know things, which requires research. I’ve never been flogged. Nor am I a celibate priest in his fifties. Nor have I ever gone for days without water. My list of Google searches would likely leave a few people scratching their heads.
And then, the magic of fictionalization happens. I guess that’s like tossing everything in the oven.
Assorted bits and bobs go in, and the results aren’t always predictable. Random bits of life that you don’t necessarily think about until the moment comes, and it just fits. Really, it’s just a reflection of the old saying, “Write what you know.” Write what you know, but watch it become transformed as you change it to suit the needs of the story.
For a while, I thought about not doing a New Year’s post.
With my loss still so raw, and the grief only now really hitting, I have rarely been happier to see the tail end of a year. Except then, I got to thinking. Taking the entire year into account, 2012 was too big to be ignored. It was a year of immense growth and opportunity: from backpacking through the South Pacific, to meeting (and befriending!) some pretty incredible people, to strengthening friendships back home, to publishing and podcasting, to discovering where “home” really is for me.
Like I said, a big year.
It was a year of heights, of suddenly finding myself on mountaintops (literally and metaphorically) and wondering how on earth I’d gotten there. There was a LOT of good in 2012. It’s important to remember that: that oftentimes, I was stunned by how happy I was.
2012 started with a bang, but it definitely ends with a whimper. Some of my personal dreams came true this year, but so too did some of my nightmares. I had tears in my eyes as I stood atop Mt. Victoria and finally gazed across Wellington. I had tears in my eyes as I stood in the cemetery.
From one extreme to the other.
But it’s no longer 2012. My Twitter-pal (and one of the charming hosts of the Roundtable Podcast) Dave Robison recently said something about New Year’s being just another day, that we can make changes any day of the year.
It’s true, but I think the start of the year is a good time to take a breath, to mentally prepare for those changes and plans.
2012 was a great year, writing-wise. I’m optimistic 2013 will be even better. Frankly, I have a better idea of what I’m doing. Graduating means I’ll have more time (as was helpfully pointed out to me, my “day job” will really be just that—something on the side, a daytime diversion as I put my energy into writing). Oh man, when I think of all those hours spent reading articles, going to class, and writing essays…I’m so excited to put that time into fiction.
As I start putting the shambles of my life back in order, and figure out how to live around this huge, gaping hole, I’m more grateful than ever for what I have. I have some pretty awesome people in all parts of my life. Tired and sad as I am, I’m actually kind of cautiously hopeful for 2013. It feels like 2012 was a build-up, December was a breaking point, and 2013…
Well. I guess we’ll find out.
I’m a worrier. Always have been, as far back as I can remember. Those “what ifs” can get vicious. And so, one of the most important things I learned while travelling is the ability to say, “I guess we’ll find out.”
Will I have enough time to make this connecting flight? I guess we’ll find out. What if I miss it? I guess we’ll find out. Would they send my backpack without me? I guess we’ll find out.
However, IGWFO only works in situations over which I have absolutely no control. When I’m stuck in traffic, when I’m travelling, when I’ve done everything I can, it is brilliant for stopping the circular, racing thoughts (oh hai, anxiety).
There is nothing I can do. I guess we’ll find out.
But, if I have even the slightest bit of agency, all bets are off.
What if Hapax-the-Novel flops? IGWFO doesn’t work here. This particular flavour of worrying is almost a really bizarre optimism. If there is any possible way at all that I can actually do something, you can bet my brain will seize on the chance that maybe we won’t have to find out.
So, what if Hapax-the-Novel flops? OMG we need to do more promoting – what else could we do, who else can we talk to, OMG are we doing enough? Are we doing too much? Not enough? What if we – what if people – what if – what if – what if….
Ah, what if: the writer’s favourite question.
But in all seriousness, it’s good to distinguish between things that I should worry about, and things that I really can’t worry about. Three separate accidents on the bus route that takes me to work? Nothing I can do. Book coming out and now we need to drive sales? Yep, I can do things
to help that.
It’s not perfect. But in twenty-one years, it’s the best thing I’ve discovered for managing my own worrying.
So. How will the next few weeks and months go?
I guess we’ll find out.
In my now-distant past as a camp counsellor, my default names for children were “Bud,” “Sweetie,” and “Kiddo.” Before you learn a kid’s name, when you’ve forgotten a kid’s name, or when the kid’s name is on the tip of your tongue but you don’t have time to say it because they’re waving scissors around right now, any one of these is better than “Hey, you.”
There is a point to this, I swear.
When I was biking to choir this evening, I saw a kid take a tumble on his skateboard. He was up pretty quickly, but his lip was quivering, so I slowed. What came out of my mouth was not “Bud,” “Kiddo,” or even “Hey, you,” but rather, “Hey, mate, are you ok?”
The kid was fine, but it drove home a certain point: it took me less than a week to lose whatever trace of a New Zealand accent I picked up. The words, it seems, stay longer.
I’d already noticed this. At work, a visitor commented excitedly on my use of the word “wee,” exclaiming, “Wow, you even use old-fashioned words, too!”
Smiling and nodding seemed easier than explaining I’d spent four months in a region of New Zealand mostly settled by Scots.
There are others, as well. I confused someone recently by talking about “judder bars” (speed bumps). “Chuck it over there” is just as likely to come out as “Toss it over there.” I still cross the “carpark,” not the “parking lot.” Even in The Next One (which, remember, was written entirely in the southern hemisphere), I see words that make sense in context, but that I probably wouldn’t have chosen a year ago.
Equally interesting to me are the words that have fallen away. It is “laundry,” not “washing.” I take out the “garbage,” not the “rubbish.” Halloween will bring copious amounts of “candy,” not “lollies.”
And just to tie this rambling somewhat into writing, think about characterization and dialogue. Vocabulary and word choice can be used to show all sorts of things: age, background, social class. I think travelling helped me “hear” myself better—I still can’t hear what’s so unique about the Canadian “out and about,” but I’ll admit that “sure” and “sorry” sound different. Being more aware of voice makes it easier to try new ones; given the way The Next Next One is shaping up, this could get especially interesting.
Anyway, that’s my musing for the day. Incidentally, I was also given a pretty awesome opportunity. I’ve written a guest post for Philippa Ballantine, author of The Books of the Order, The Shifted World series, and co-author of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. It should be up sometime tomorrow, or soon after. Check out her site (and books) here.
Although my career goal has always been “author,” rather than “historian,” it seems that the following words are my catnip:
So, when I heard about the historic, recreated nineteenth-century mining village that is Shantytown Heritage Park, I knew I’d be making a stop in Greymouth. Greymouth is a town of about 10,000 on the West Coast of the South Island. That makes it considerably bigger than Fox Glacier, which my bus driver described as a “township” (with a total of two streets, even that felt optimistic).
Regardless, Shantytown is the reason I didn’t make a trip straight from Fox Glacier to Nelson. So imagine my dismay when I discovered that the shuttle to Shantytown doesn’t run in the winter, and a return cab would be about $70. At 12 km outside of town, it is just too far to walk. Luckily, my hostel is awesome (PLUG FOR NOAH’S ARK BACKPACKERS). Not only did they look up a route for me on Google Maps, they lent me a bike.
Biking in downtown Toronto forces you to become fairly fearless, but I white-knuckled my way along the main road, spending most of the trip muttering, “On the left, on the left..” While I mostly managed to avoid veering right (except whe I was really startled or stressed), I still pulled into Shantytown with a soft, “I didn’t die!”
Shantytown itself was fine. There was a decent assortment of buildings, including a church, a jail, and a school, and the Chinatown area was actually really well done. That being said, the lack of interpreters was depressing. It was awfully lonely wandering from building to building, glancing over artifacts in silence. In the “hospital,” I met a young New Zealand couple who felt much the same. “I wish there were people to tell us what we’re looking at,” they said. “Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of old stuff.”
Luckily, the hospital had many of the same instruments as the Doctor’s house at Black Creek. Also lucky: Doctor’s is one of my favourite buildings, and probably the one I’ve been in most.
I was warned this day would come….
So, after a little impromptu interpretation of another museum’s artifacts, I walked around some more, rode the steam train, and then biked 12 km back. I’m glad I went, even just to reaffirm that what we do is important. Living history museums only work if there are, you know, living people in them…
Ah, well. Nelson tomorrow, and then onto Wellington for a third and final time.
Sorry it’s been a while. While I have been lucky with internet lately, it’s been the “check email, check facebook, oops, out of time” kind of internet.
Luckily, there is free internet here in Kerikeri (which is the northernmost town I could get to on the intercity bus system), hence this post.
Without further ado…
10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking
10. You actually do sleep a lot.
I’d been preparing myself for six weeks of poor sleep, anticipating drunkenly stumbling roommates, roommates that wanted to read at 2 am, and hard beds.
Actually, in many smaller towns, there’s not much to do when the sun goes down, and most people have been out sightseeing all day, so many people turn in early. Add sleeping on long bus rides, and I’m clocking more hours than I have in years.
9. Hostel parties don’t always happen at hostels.
Some of this may be due to my selection process: I was careful to pick “quiet” hostels. Still, most of the time, people who want to go drink don’t stay in the hostel. They go to bars, leaving things relatively quiet.
8. “Clean” and “dirty” are not absolute states, but a spectrum.
Clothing is never just “clean” or “dirty” (nor are you, for that matter). There is a spectrum ranging from “washing-machine clean,” to “I washed it in the sink clean,” to “it still smells ok clean.”
You don’t want to know about the gradations of “dirty.”
7. Internet is everywhere, if you know where to find it.
I thought I’d be mostly disconnected while travelling, but I’ve been able to check things pretty consistently. Most hostels have internet for a price, some have it for free, and you can find it free around cities: in libraries, cafes, and the random “hotspots” in Auckland.
6. You read a lot.
I love the book exchange system in hostels. I love it so much, I may do a separate post on it. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve plowed through several novels already.
5. Kid rules still work.
Remember when you were a kid at a function with lots of adults, and a few other kids? Typically, the kids get sequestered in a basement or rec room and a movie is thrown on. How do these kids, who have never met each other, coexist peacefully?
Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be loud. Play nice.
People slip into movie lounges, watch, and then slip out again. As long as they follow the above rules, no one ever minds.
4. Backpacking is like a constant frosh week.
Ah, frosh week, that magical time when people are so desperate for friends, they’ll talk to anyone. Solo backpackers are the same way. Eye contact made? Instant conversation!
3. Fight Club was right. They are “single serving friends.”
Nonetheless, you know you’ll probably never see them again. While random conversation provides enough social contact to keep you on this side of sanity, it doesn’t last long.
2. Always, always ask for student rates.
This is less in regards to hostels, and more for general travelling. An adult ticket to the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower is $28, which feels like a lot. A student’s is $18, which feels much better. A student ticket on Wellington’s cable car is $1. The only catch is that you do need an ID. I have two, from Toronto and Otago. Since the latter is a New Zealand university, I’ve been using it to avoid hassles. Thus far, I’ve been so glad to have it.
1. You develop a rhythm.
A new city every few days, no longer than three nights in a bed, constantly changing people? How do you develop a rhythm?
Get into town; find the hostel; drop your stuff; locate the supermarket, i-Site, and library; sightsee; write; sleep; wake up early; sightsee; write; sleep (repeat until departure); get on the bus…
And do it all over.
And there you have it: 10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking, or, 10TNOTMAB. 😛
So, I’m twenty-one today.
No big deal.
This is certainly one of the more…interesting birthdays I’ve had. As I type this, it’s actually five days before my birthday. I’m sitting in a hostel in Picton, NZ, taking advantage of free Wi-Fi to write this post in advance. When it actually goes out, I’ll be in Fiji, having spent most of my actual birthday on a plane.
As much fun as it is to look ahead, birthdays are also a good time to look back on the past year. When I turned nineteen, I mostly remember being excited to turn twenty, because it seemed like it would be a big year.
It certainly was.
I found a home.
This was the year I moved out of res, and into my own place. I love my house. I can’t repeat that enough. I love my house, and I had two of the best roommates ever. Pranks, adventures in Christmas tree decoration, James Bond, Donkey Kong, extravagant cooking, a spare room (that is huge for student housing – we had so much space, there was an entire room we didn’t know what to do with)… I’m the kind of person who needs a safe place to come home to every day. This was the year I found it.
I found a job.
In May, 2011, I was kicking myself. I had decided not to return to my summer job as a camp counsellor, but I couldn’t find another job to replace it. Thankfully, my uncle offered to take me on at his restaurant.
Then I got the call.
I had applied to be a Theatre Programmer at Black Creek Pioneer Village, but had assumed I hadn’t gotten it. Turns out their timelines were different than I expected. I was in.
Oh. My. God. Best. Job. Ever.
I spent last summer running around as Peter Pan and Anne of Green Gables, while working at the restaurant on my days “off.” The people, the history, the actual work itself… I loved it so much that at the end of the summer, when my contract expired, I went to my boss and said something along the lines of, “I love it here. Can I please stay?”
She said yes.
While I’m in school, I can only work on-call through the fall and winter. But that’s ok. I found more than a job, I found a happy place. What’s more…
I found my groove.
I admit: I suck at the work-life balance thing. Through the fall, I was working two jobs, attending choir and Quidditch practices, and taking a full courseload. I was sleeping maybe five or six hours a night. Often, the only social time I got was during two-server shifts at the restaurant, or on long bus rides home from Black Creek.
But I was so happy. I was so, so happy.
I might not have seen them much, but between my roommates, my uni friends, my choir ladies, and my coworkers at both jobs, I had good people in my life. I was exhausted, and stressed, and oh-so-slightly burnt out, but I hadn’t felt so good in years.
I found a publisher.
In November, I had the idea of podcasting Hapax. After all, I had six weeks between my last exam and my flight to New Zealand – what else was I supposed to do? In December, I heard that Dragon Moon Press was holding an open submission period. I hemmed and hawed, and finally submitted Hapax on Christmas Eve. I didn’t tell my voice cast until the request for the full. Even then, I cautioned them, “It’s a nice ego boost, but probably nothing will happen.”
They liked it. They wanted to publish it. When I first read the email, I had been battling a stubborn cold, and was so sick, and so drugged up with cold medicine, I couldn’t be entirely sure it wasn’t all a Nyquil-induced dream.
After a flurry of emails and phone calls, I spent two hours walking around and around Trinity Bellwoods Park, trying to process it. Six months on, and I sometimes still have difficulty believing it.
I found an adventure.
But I couldn’t just stay in Toronto forever, playing with podcasts while my friends went to school. In February, I flew to Dunedin for a six month stay in the Land of the Long White Cloud. I’d planned this trip for a ridiculously long time, but all the planning in the world doesn’t really prepare you for life in a new country. It’s been detailed on this blog, but let me say – it’s exceeded my expectations in almost every way.
Otago was fun, but it was time for me to see the rest of the country. The South Pacific is a big place, and I’m so excited to be exploring the edge of the map.
And… that was my twentieth year. My thanks to all of you who made it so special.
I have about an hour’s worth of internet here in Taupo, so I thought I’d spend some of it updating here, since my internet in Fiji next week will be really, really patchy( maybe expect not to hear from me at all).
To get to the North Island, I took the ferry.
Prior to this, my only ferrying experience had been the Toronto Islands Ferry. So, I was envisioning passengers crossing the Cook Strait on hard, wooden benches, stamping their feet on corrugated metal decks to stay warm, and occasionally running into a cramped, dingy washroom.
It wasn’t like that.
The Interislander Ferry I took could fit about 500 people and their cars (as opposed to the ones without cars, which fit a few thousand). I never did figure out how many decks, but at least five. There were multiple bars, a playground, and a cinema. Instead of hard benches, the seating areas had padded armchairs clustered in quartets, with tables between.
As I took my seat, I was gloating. “I get to do this voyage again in July!”
I was at the front of the vessel, and since there was an observation deck overlooking the nose (bow, I guess, if we want to be all nautical), I spent the first part of the voyage out there, gaping as we cruised by the ridiculously green Marlborough Sounds.
When we hit open waters, I retreated inside for some writing time. But then, it hit.
I never get seasick. Not that I’m on boats that much, but still. What’s more, the seas were light, and I was on a floating airport lounge.
After curling into a tight ball failed to cure anything, I grabbed a “travel sickness” bag and went back on deck, hoping to get some wind on my face and the horizon in view. All that happened was that I got cold, and very nearly lost my gloves overboard.
Eventually, I fell asleep out of sheer misery, and only woke up when we entered the Wellington Harbour, and the waves turned into ripples.
And thus, my glorious arrival on the North Island.
After four months, it’s time to say goodbye to Dunedin, and explore the rest of New Zealand and the wider South Pacific. My term at Otago has been unlike anything I could have imagined. I’m highly impressed that all of my profs learned my name (it was also slightly unsettling… I hadn’t realized how accustomed I’d grown to the anonymity of U of T). I’m far more grateful for U of T’s resources. I like that Otago gives exam topics/questions in advance. I learned that I really, really like the bike lanes and public transit around the St. George campus in Toronto.
But I think I’ll present an overview of the past four months in the form of a list. Here is… Dunedin by the numbers.
1.70 – Price of a Learner’s Cone at the Rob Roy Dairy
60 –Estimated average age of the jazz quartet that plays the Robbie Burns pub
4 – Ascents up Baldwin St (incidentally, the steepest street in the world)
3 – Expeditions out to the peninsula
240 – Minutes of walking before we gave up and accepted that we were stranded on the peninsula
2 – Shots of espresso in a Long Black
3 – Sandman books in the Dunedin Public Library’s collection (that I found and borrowed, anyway)
0 – Times I got bored of seeing the Southern Cross
5 – Classes this term
4 – Bank branches guaranteed not to eat my card
90-120 – Minutes spent in the Good Earth Café every Café Sunday
3 –Photo requests from friends back home
2- Photo requests accomplished thus far.
(Lost Count) – Times I’ve nearly been run over
5:30 – Awakening for the ANZAC Day Dawn Service
3 –Nationalities living under one roof
1 – Ring to Rule Them All
1000 – Highest I can count in Māori
18 – Recommended inside temperature in degrees Celsius, according to NZ Health
6 – The actual temperature in our kitchen
9000 – Words written for essays
1 – Wild penguin sighting
16 – Most books I ever had out from the library at one time
251 – Pokémon officially recognized in this flat (sorry, but if it came after GSC, it doesn’t exist to me)
182 – Approximate age of a wonderfully massive and craggy tree in the Botanic Gardens
(Too high to count) – Times the creepy robotic self-checkout kiosk voice has chirpily reminded me to “Please place item in the bagging area!”
15 + – Weeks to switch my instinctive “default” from right to left
4 – Amazing, challenging, wonderful months
Thanks, Dunedin. Let me summon my very best Māori and say “Ka roto koe i taku ngākau, e noho ana.”
You’ll always have a place in my heart.