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Friday, April 18, 2014

(re)writing slowly


These are two characters from a project I've been working on for a while now. I was lamenting to my friend Anya the other day about being a slow writer. Or maybe not necessarily a slow writer, but a writer who rewrites a lot of times before she gets it right - or doesn’t get it right, and then keeps on rewriting. It means that I don't often finish something different and new. It means I spend years in the same story trying to carve out its proper shape. It means I get frustrated and disappointed with myself, because why can't I just get it right sooner?

But as I thought about it, I started to see that there are good things that come from spending so much time in the same story. Take the aforementioned project above as an example. I started writing it when my Pa started forgetting my name three years ago. It was the first time I came face to face with the realization that the people I loved best and the place I belonged to most would one day not be mine anymore. This scared me more than anything had ever scared me before and I started writing a story as a way to combat that fear. I was determined to keep these people and this place, to make them permanent so that I would never have to let them go or have them taken away from me. I can still remember where I was when I first jotted down the idea that would grow into this novel: sitting on the hill where my grandparent’s house is perched and staring out at the woods.

Fast forward two and a half years and I am revising that same novel in the hospital room where my grandfather is dying. And it’s there that my self from two years ago, the self who thought she could stop her world from crumbling using just the power of her words, meets up with the girl who is in the midst of that crumbling world and knows the truth: the words aren’t enough. And while that scared, na├»ve girl couldn’t save me from the pain and the grief of watching him die, she did something greater. She saw the chasm and she wrote a story for the girl standing on the other side.

And that would never have happened if I had gotten it right the first time.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

some days aren't yours at all

Like today. It started out with anticipation (I was waiting for my kiln to cool so I could take out my pots) and delight (three books were waiting for me on my desk when I got to work) and it ended with me melting into a puddle of self-pity on my living room floor. That mostly had to do with the fact that my kiln had over-fired, leaving me with these hideous changelings where my beautiful pots were supposed to be.

Most of the time, I can keep my head about me in the face of art-related failure. I’ve had so much rejection that now I just do my work, keep my head down, and prepare for the worst (the worst usually being "no" which actually isn't that bad, in the grand scheme of things). I can still remember the day three years ago when I got my very first official rejection from an agent on a full. She was lovely and kind and so very encouraging; and I cried my eyes out. It stung so much.

Not that rejection ever stops stinging. And maybe you don't even really get used to it. It's more that rejection (when it comes to the business of art) is a reality, so you must prepare for it and learn how to use it.

I’ve been building up my writing armour for years now, but when it comes to pottery, I don’t have much armour. When I've put myself out there with my ceramic work, I haven’t faced a ton of failure. So when all of my precious pots – the ones I spent weeks making and bisquing and waxing and glazing – have to be thrown out, and maybe a shelf or two as well, I don’t have much protection built up. As I curled up in a ball on my couch lamenting the cruelty of the world, I forgot about all the times I’ve scrapped an entire novel (three times now) and started again from scratch. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve heard the word, “no” and “close, but not quite”.

If I were to give up on pottery after one bad firing, what good would that do me? There’s only one thing to do after a kiln over-fires, just like there's only one thing to do when you realize your writing isn't good enough: you learn and push on.

I long so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things require effort and disappointment and perseverance.

(Vincent Van Gogh said that.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Asterion

“The Greeks told the story of the minotaur, the bull-headed flesh-eating man who lived in the center of the labyrinth. He was a threatening beast, and yet his name was Asterion – Star. I often think of this paradox as I sit with someone with tears in her eyes, searching for some way to deal with a death, divorce, or a depression. It is a beast, this thing that stirs in the core of her being, but it is also the star of her innermost nature. We have to care for this suffering with extreme reverence so that, in our fear and anger at the beast, we do not overlook the star.”

-Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

There are so many things I love about the writing of Thomas Moore. He is such a wise and insightful man and the thing that resonates most with me is his insistence on using myths and stories (instead of theories and analysis) to better understand ourselves. He turns the tables on notions of “caring” and “curing”. So often, when there is something I don’t like about myself, I want to eradicate that thing, make it go away forever. Cure it. But Thomas Moore takes a different approach, one that is braver and scarier and more holistic. In Care of the Soul, he talks about pressing into the thing you want to go away, instead of avoiding or exterminating it – because that will never work. Instead, he suggests that at the center of the problem (anger or envy or insecurity or whatever else) is the solution. Lying there in the heart of the beast is the seed (or the star) that needs to be cherished and preserved and brought into the light. The point isn’t to kill the beast, but to listen to it and love it and, in time, learn tame it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

pinch pots

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I have developed an obsession with pinch pots. Lately I haven't wanted to go near my pottery wheel and instead have been pinching out cups. Here are some of the results:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

oldness vs newness

It's finally happened: I've come to the end of my most recent notebook. It hasn't been that long of a journey, really. I started it at Summer's end. But somehow I always manage to get really attached to journals, whether they're in my life for a year, or a third of one. The very last page of this one is a to-do list for the coming months, which is sort of fitting, I think. It's an unconscious refusal to say, this is the end, and instead it says, this is the beginning. A brand new notebook, though? It's ALL beginning. There's nothing to root yourself in there. How do you even know who you are for sure when there's no evidence anywhere? Nothing has been ripped out. The cover isn't worn. All the pages are blank.

I hate it.

There's something so comforting about this:


And something so unsettling about this:


For me, at least. I'm sure there are people out there who love starting new notebooks and journals. I am just not one of them. So. Here I go into the day, bringing my blank pages with me and hoping I haven't forgotten who I am between yesterday and today. Hoping I remember how to start again.

Friday, February 7, 2014

let's not make it harder than it has to be

Aaaah! So impressed with this. It's a new song/music video by Ingrid Michaelson and "an homage" to this song/music video by Robert Palmer. I just... I have no words. And it pretty much speaks for itself, I think.

*bliss*

Similarly but differently, I stumbled across this yesterday on tumblr. Okay. Can I just ramble for a moment? The reason I love this image so much is because it doesn't vilify either side. There's no condescending "if you are a girl and you shave any part of your body then you are participating in misogyny" talk. Neither is there the "if you are a girl and you don't shave you are disgusting and ugly" talk. Both girls have made opposite choices and yet they exist harmoniously and happily alongside each other. MORE OF THIS PLEASE.

That is all.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

writing problems


This always happens. Always, always. I'm knee-deep in a very important revision that might be killing me a little and I just started a mentorship with one of my favourite authors of all time, which means I have two novels and reading homework competing for my attention at any given moment. So what do I go and do as soon as I have a sliver of time? I open up the first eight chapters of a novel I set aside (for the reasons listed above) and proceed to work on it. Because of course.

I think I have a problem.

Friday, January 24, 2014

three things

Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

-from Mary Oliver's poem In Blackwater Woods

This is what art is. It's these three things. It’s not about arriving or being published or anything measureable. (On some days I think it is, but this is actually about something else – it’s not about art.) On my clearest of days, making art is not about being talented or good enough. It’s not even about persevering.

Perseverance. That's a word that's been getting used a lot lately when talking about writing. To be honest, I don't really understand it. Writing is hard, definitely. Absolutely. But it's not something you persevere through - at least, that's not what it is to me. I think maybe it's more accurate to say that publishing or the pursuit of being published is a thing you persevere. (Granted, the making of art is different for everyone and changes over time, so this is in no way a prescription.) For me, writing is more like... like in September Girls when the girls refer to their beauty as their knife. Writing is like that - it's the knife that helps you carve your way through. That's what art is.

Last night, Joe and I went to see the film "her". (This may seem like a tangent, but I promise I'll come back around.) While Joe resonated with the themes of loneliness and depression but ultimately found the film confusing, I found it orienting and resonated with the themes of change and letting go. There's a part in the movie that's lodged itself inside me where one character says to the other:

It's like I'm reading a book... and it's a book I deeply love. But I'm reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you... and the words of our story... but it's in this endless space between the words that I'm finding myself now. It's a place that's not of the physical world. It's where everything else is that I didn't even know existed. I love you so much. But this is where I am now. And this who I am now. And I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can't live your book any more.

I can't help wondering if Mary Oliver's poem and this character are talking about the same thing: life and mortality and the inevitability of things passing. Being alive hurts. It's why we need art - or at least it's why I need it. It's what the knife is for. It's why art is not about making money or getting recognition or seeing your name on a spine - it can become that, but at its purest, art has nothing to do with those things. Art is the way through.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

don't let it end there

I want to talk about blame.

No, wait, maybe I should start here: I loved someone once.

I still love this person – but in a very different way. And after we went our separate ways, I struggled with guilt and shame for a very long time. Why? Because I was convinced that I was the one who broke things. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve come to understand that isn’t the whole truth. And more than this, it’s not about blame. It’s never about blame. Blame is a distraction. It's a poison.

After something breaks (and maybe distance is enforced) your perspective can easily become skewed. This is what happened to me: I took all the blame; I carried the guilt and it bled into the other areas of my life.

Over time (and with the gentleness and love of a good man) I started to see things clearly again. I started to remember that (for me) grace is the only thing that matters. I’m not talking about the kind of grace God gives – or maybe I am, but not exclusively, because as soon as it belongs only to God it’s about power and control and promptly gets used against people (not maliciously, but rather because the nature of ownership is power over). I’m talking about a more primitive kind of grace here. One that belongs to and is shared by everyone and everything. One that is un-ownable and un-corruptable. No one can take the ability to show mercy away from you. In fact, it is quite possibly the most powerful tool you have at your disposal.

Maybe I’m rambling here, but I just wanted to say that if you, dear reader, are someone who has broken something precious and have been blamed and now you wear the guilt like it’s your only attribute – you need to reject that shit. There is always more than one side to every story. And if you take that blame and let it corrupt your life, that’s how the story ends. Don’t let it end there. Especially if you did break something. Especially if it is your fault.

This is the thing that no one ever tells you: It’s okay to be the one who did something wrong. Everyone breaks things. Everyone messes up. The important thing is to not let it own you. It may be too late for whatever happened before, but you can still move forward. And the good news is that the moment you start to show yourself grace, you start being able to show grace to everyone else. And if the world needs anything, it’s more grace.

So. You broke something? You seriously messed up? This is actually the only thing you need to do: Be humble. Be gracious. If you can fix what you broke, fix it. If not, go out and aim to do better next time. I promise you, it will make your life and the lives of those around you so much better and more beautiful.

As this girl I know says, “You got this.”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Perpetua Collins

Lately I've been trying to get myself more familiar with Adobe Illustrator, partially because I need to use it for work and partially because I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

Ahem.

So. I just finished one of my first "commissions" for a friend of mine, James Bow. The illustration is of his main character, Perpetua Collins, a spunky nineteen year old who moves to the big city of Toronto and gets a job as a Night Girl for a company that's not what it seems...


Isn't she splendid?

(You can read more about James and his work here.)