Wednesday, December 31, 2014

deconstructing 2014, one goal at a time


You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare. – Georgia O’Keefe

My absolute favourite time of year is here! I know there are some people out there who think new year resolutions are silly things, but I love them. In fact, they're pretty much all I think about these days. But before I make new goals, I always revisit my old ones to see if there's anything to be learned from them. This year, I've decided to do that "out loud". So here they are, my old 2014 goals:

#1 Decrease My Internet Usage

This is pretty much as vague as goals get. Sure, it's a good idea. But it's not a good goal. And I'll tell you straight up: I did not achieve it. At least, not in any concrete, measurable way. What I should have done is broken this goal down into smaller chunks using questions like: When can I use the internet? When can I not? Which forms of internet use are acceptable and which are not? (Email, for example, is obviously more important than Facebook.) So. I'll need to revamp this goal for 2015.

#2 Enrol in an Art Class

A decent goal, and one that I achieved because it's easy and because I was taking it with a friend which made me extra accountable to it.

#3 Apply to HSTA's 15 Week Intensive Ceramics Program

Another easy goal with the added bonus of being pretty specific. There weren't a lot of steps involved in this one. I simply went on the OCAS website, applied, paid, and got accepted. The harder part was moving up north (away from friends, work, family, Joe and Yonder, my favourite restaurants and cafes, everything I love, basically) and working my ass off in a studio in the middle of the woods for 15 weeks. That in itself was a huge accomplishment, and I learned a lot. I think my biggest lesson was that Kitchener-Waterloo has become my home, whether I like it or not, and instead of dreaming of other places I want to try living in, I should focus on "blooming where I'm planted".

#4 Design a Line of Functional Pottery

This is not a very good goal only because I didn't break it down into smaller tasks. I did have some specifications (I wanted this line to be loosely connected to a novel I've been working on) but I had no action plan. In spite of this, I did achieve it and you can see the results here.

#5 Apply to Shows With My Pots

This is a vague (and therefore unhelpful) goal. I think you can see it's unhelpfulness in the result: I only applied to one show and got invited to two others. They were all very "comfortable" shows - shows I've done before or shows where I had a guaranteed in. So I'm revising this goal for 2015 to make it more challenging.

#6 Buy a Pretty Bike and Ride it EVERYWHERE

This is totally a shallow goal. You can see it in the wording. I'm clearly way more interested in the look of a bike (and the look of riding a bike) than I am in the actual work and commitment involved in being a cyclist. However, it was a big deal for me. Bicycles and I have a complicated past and I wanted to get over my feelings of "not being enough" that I associated with them. So. I did buy a (very pretty) bike and I did ride it. But I did not ride it everywhere. A better goal would have been "Buy a Pretty Bike and Ride It to Work" or "Buy a Pretty Bike and Ride it Four Times a Week". Something specific.

#7 Sell Novel "X"

This is a terrible goal. It's terrible because selling novels is not something I can control. All I can control is the writing and revising and putting myself out there. The infuriating thing is, I know this is a terrible goal and yet I insist on putting it on my list of resolutions every year. So. I resolve to not put it on my list for 2015 even though I want to.

#8 Revise Novel "Y"

This is not as terrible as the last goal, but not a great goal either. Mostly because it's vague. However, it is completely within my control (unlike #7) and I knew I would be revising this novel within the confines of a mentorship, which meant someone else would be keeping me accountable to it. And I did achieve it - twice in fact. (And in the midst of revising Y twice, I also substantially revised X twice, so really, I accomplished a ton of writing in 2014, which is something I'm happy about.)

#9 Draft a New Novel

Not a great goal. Did you guess that? Obviously it's not great because it's vague. I did have a specific novel in mind, one that I keep having to put on the back-burner due to revisions on X and Y, but I made no concrete plans to tackle it. However, in the midst of revising two other novels (and undergoing a very intensive ceramics program) I did manage to write a lengthy short story that I'm pretty proud of.

#10 Save Money to Pay for HSTA

Yet another vague goal with no action plan thought out. It sort of happened anyway, but only in a roundabout way. The reason that I'll be able to pay off my student loan is because of the money I made from the shows I did while I was in school. So in a way, the completion of one (albeit vague) goal (#5) aided in the completion of another (also vague) goal (#10). So I will take it.

In Conclusion...

Obviously I still accomplished a lot of my goals in 2014, despite their lack of specificity. I think that's partially because I wrote them down and revisited them throughout the year, and partially because they weren't particularly challenging. With that said, there are a lot of things on this list where if I hadn't of written them down, I'm not sure I would have accomplished them. So I still think my list (as vague and easy as it was) kept me accountable. This next year, though, I resolve to make more specific, more challenging goals! I'll write about those in my next post.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Handmade Market


I'm gearing up for the Handmade Market this week. Here's a selection of pottery I'll be selling:






Friday, November 7, 2014

Mishima

Mishima (also known as Inlay) is the process of carving into the clay at the leather-hard stage and filling in the carved space with contrasting slip, clay or underglaze. It is probably my favourite decoration technique since it's more conducive to illustration and narrative. Here is a series I'm currently working on, which is inspired by a novel I've been revising for quite a while now:






Monday, November 3, 2014

Art Walk

This Saturday from 10-5 I'll be exhibiting at the Frederick Street Art Walk. Here's a sampling of the work I'll have for sale:


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Two Shows

The first is the Frederick Street Art Walk on November 8. The second is the Handmade Market on November 14-16. You should come visit!

In the meantime, I am running out of room to fit all the pots...


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Daisies and Strawberries

“it is a serious thing / just to be alive / on this fresh morning / in this broken world.”
- Mary Oliver (Invitation)


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mistress of Pinch

I'm making pinch pots this week. Lots and lots of them. Hopefully I can show you why soon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

surface design


This week's focus is on surface design and it is my favourite of favourites. Our big project for the week is to design a motif and carry it through four plates using four different methods. The image above are my four: Sgraffito, Printing (with a hand-carved stamp), Resist, and Mishima. My favourite parts of this week have been getting to be more illustrative (with the Mishima and Sgraffito) and trying out different applications of underglaze. I've never used underglazes before and I get butterflies just thinking about them! They're so versatile.

There are more photos in my Flickr photostream, if you're inclined to look.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

a tribute to wildness

The path I take to and from school is lined by wildflowers and tall grasses and reeds. Since I spend an hour walking it everyday, I've become obsessed. My sketchbook is full of Aster and Chicory and Queen Anne's Lace, among others. I have dried milkweed pods sitting in the top of my locker and bunches of wildflowers whose names I don't know hanging all around my bedroom.

Most recently, they've made their way into clay. I did some tests this weekend for new pendants that I'll be selling at the Frederick Street Art Walk and the HandMade Market in November:

Bisqued pieces being glazed and drying in the  sun.

Just out of the kiln and all strung up.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Raku

We successfully completed a Raku firing yesterday. Here are my tea bowls:



I am mighty pleased with them. And by that I mean I can't stop crooning over them. To see more photos of the whole process, go here.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Haliburton School of the Arts: Thoughts on Week One

When I was trying to decide whether to come to Haliburton, I couldn’t find anyone who had blogged about their experience in the ceramics program. So I’m going to try to do that a little bit here, over the next few months, when time and energy allows for it. If you're reading this because you're interested in the ceramics program, I'm going to talk a little bit about what brought me to Haliburton School of the Arts and then go into what my first week looked like.

The first time I applied to this program was six years ago. Back then, when I told my extended family, they asked me why. Why would I study ceramics? I answered: Because I want to. I've never forgotten the response. With something very much like a sneer, one particular family member said: "Well isn't it nice to be able to do whatever you want." I was struck by those words. No one defended me, so it must have been true: I was foolish and selfish and entitled. Needless to say, I didn’t go.

Six years have passed and in those six years I've come to terms with the selfishness required to make art. The foolishness. The entitlement, even. This year especially. In the aftermath of my grandfather’s death, I realized that I too am going to die one day, just like he died, and in light of that glaring truth, I have to do what I have to do.

And before I move on (in case you, dear reader, need to hear it): No one will give you permission. You are the only one who can do that. So if you want to make art, make art. No excuses. If you want to move 3.5 hours north and study ceramics 12 hours a day, figure out a way to do it. There is always a way. And don't listen to the naysayers. Take that volume dial and turn it all the way down. And then go and do the work that's calling you.

Okay, back to business:

When I was thinking of applying to this program, I asked a few people I knew who’d either been through it or been through one of the other arts programs at HSTA. The word that kept coming up was “intense”. I didn’t really know what that meant or how seriously I should take it. But that’s definitely the word that sums up this first week: INTENSE. And while it’s sometimes stressful trying to juggle everything (flipping your slabs every ten minutes so they don’t warp while finishing up your lidded box before it gets too hard while being called over to watch a demonstration of the project you need to start and finish by the next day and also knowing that somehow you also need to wax and glaze your pots because there's a firing tomorrow…) the hours fly by because you are so absorbed in the work.

This week our instructor was Michael Sheba, and quite honestly, if all the other instructors are as knowledgeable and as good at teaching as he is, it will be a dream come true. In just five days I have learned SO MUCH.

These are what my days look like:

I wake up at 6am. By 6:30 I've scored a table at this little donut shop next door (it’s the only coffee shop that’s open earlier than 9am, which is when classes start) and everyone who goes there is a regular and seems like they’ve been a regular since 1970. Everyone except me that is. I tuck myself into a corner and write every day until 8am. I do this because I need to; because while I'm here to make pottery, my writing is important to me. So I carve out time where I can.

At 8am I return home, pack my lunch, and set out for school. It takes me 30 minutes to walk to the school, which is exactly on the other side of the lake, in the middle of a forest. Honestly, my walk is one of my favourite parts of the day. It is the perfect start and end to the intensity sandwiched in between. I love my walk to and from school. Haliburton is incredibly beautiful and I soak it all in.

Head Lake, Haliburton

Classes are from 9-5 everyday. But I’m there so much longer than this and I usually work through my breaks and my lunch. From Tuesday to Thursday the studios are open until 9pm and while I first thought this was optional, this week has proven otherwise. Studio hours are necessary. Saturdays are also studio days and sometimes classes happen on Saturdays too, like this week for example (we're doing a Raku firing tomorrow).

The nice thing about the ceramics program is that you can’t take your work home with you. It has to get done in the studio. So home time really is down time – even though I don’t get much of it. (And the nice part about not getting much down time is that it leaves no time to feel homesick.) When I do get home, it’s almost dark and this is when I Skype with Joe. Often while eating dinner. Which is usually cereal. I love this time of the day because even though we're far apart, it feels like we're coming home to each other, checking in with each other. I try to Skype with Yonder (my dog) but he doesn’t quite understand the concept and whenever I say his name he looks towards the stairs instead of the screen.

Last of all, just before falling asleep, I read. This week I'm reading through "Tiny Beautiful Things" by Cheryl Strayed. Her letters are just short enough that it's easy to read a few before getting too tired and yet they're so rich and wise that I leave the page feeling like I've read so much. I keep going back to one of her letters in particular, especially this part:

"If there's one thing I believe more than I believe anything else, it's that you can't fake the core. The truth that lives there will eventually win out. It's a god we must obey, a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees."

And that is all I have to say for today.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

in the studio

I'm taking an online pottery course this summer and this week we're making footed platters and wall tiles - for the purpose of learning new surface techniques. Here are some process shots, taken in my studio:

Slabs waiting to set up. 
Leather-hard tiles about to be covered (to keep them from drying out).

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Writer Blog Hop

These four questions have been circulating the internet for a few months now in the form of a "Blog Hop". It's basically tag for writers who blog. So, I'm answering them here and tagging two lovely writers at the end who will answer them in turn:

What am I working on/writing?

Right now I’m undergoing a mentorship with an author I really admire and rewriting a fantasy novel. This is my third rewrite and the story has changed pretty drastically since its first incarnation, written four years ago. It's about a dragon hunter whose father will cancel the odious marriage he arranged for her if she can kill the First Dragon – a task so dangerous, no other hunter will take it on.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

This is kind of a hard question to answer. I’m in various stages of working on three novels and all three are very different from each other (dreamy/poetic, fast-paced/epic, urban/edgy), so talking about how all three are different from all the other books in my genre? I'm honestly not sure how to do that.

Why do I write what I do?

Well this is an easy question to answer. I write what I do a) because of questions that I'm grappling with, b) as a way to push back against the world’s hard edges, and c) because I want to see the world I know and love reflected back to me.

Example a) I write about characters under forgetting spells because I watched my grandfather slowly forget everything and everyone he ever loved. I listened to people tell me that the man he'd always been was gone and yet, if I looked hard enough, I could still find hints of him. I wrote to answer the question: If someone forgets themselves and everything they love, are they still important? Are they still who they've always been?

Example b) I write about characters who believe that their deepest, truest selves are deficient because that’s what I believed (and sometimes still believe) and because there are plenty of others out there who believe that about themselves too. So I write to challenge this notion.

Example c) I write about characters who are just like those I live and love and laugh with but who I can't easily find in the stories I crave. I want stories to be fantastical, but I also want them to be truthful. I want to see the world I live in reflected in the stories I love.

How does my writing process work?

My writing process has changed a lot over time. With the first incarnation of this novel I’m rewriting, I started at the beginning, had a vague sense of where I wanted to go (a few key scenes throughout the story) and just wrote towards those scenes. The problem with this was that I didn't really know who my characters were, and they ended up feeling very flat. Rarely did they initiate action. More often they were just reacting to things that were happening to them.

With the most recent incarnation (and this is largely due to my mentorship) I started with the main character first (her history, wounds, etc) and only once I had a grapple on her did I start in on the story, loosely plotting it out with her at the forefront. This has given my character more depth. It's also changed the way I view plot - instead of just letting things happen to my character, now the plot exists to challenge her and it forces her (through her actions and choices) to move the story forward. It's a lot harder than the "just start at the beginning and write to the end" method, but it's given my story so much more depth and life.

I assume my process will change more over time, too.

And now I am tagging Anya Monroe and Andrea Brame. Go forth and check out their answers!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Viable Paradise XVIII

So. This happened on Friday:


If you're unfamiliar with Viable Paradise, it's a week-long writing workshop that takes place in the Fall on Martha's Vineyard. N.K. Jemison is a former grad. N.K. Jemison!!! Ahem. Anyways. Needless to say, I'm over the moon.

But that's not the thing I really wanted to talk about. What I wanted to talk about was how, over the course of that day, I went from feeling like I was a fraud, that my writing was utter garbage, that my goals were completely unrealistic and silly, to feeling like maybe I'm actually doing okay.

The morning started at 5:30am, which is when I bike from my house to job #1 and bake my little heart out at Cafe Pyrus. It was just as I was leaving Pyrus to bike to job #2 (Words Worth Books) that I got an email saying that the writing contest I'd submitted to months ago had chosen it's winner and nine finalists... of which I was not one.

It's funny, but after getting so much rejection throughout the years, I've learned how to shrug and keep going. But this year has been a particularly hard one, filled with loss of loved ones and hard work that hasn't amounted to anything and also: I'd been up since 5:30. So I was ill-prepared for the soul-crushing feelings of failure. My day was ruined and it had barely even started. I still had to bike across town and work a whole shift at the bookstore.

I was miserable, on the verge of tears all day, and the only thing that got me through was the fact that I had a campfire with friends to look forward to at the end of it. It was there, at the week's end with my friend Ruthi taking orders for how everyone wanted their marshmallows (golden or burnt) and Joe playing the guitar and this pretty lady wanting to play that I put aside my feelings of inadequacy.

Which is when I got another email: the one at the beginning of this post. And suddenly, the world opened up and I could breathe again.

The creative life is strange like that.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

enough

Let me get this right out of the way:

I am afraid of bicycles.

It's true. I fear them with a mighty fear. Not the way I fear cars or guns or cancer, mind you. Those things can kill you and they evoke a very primal, panicked fear in me. The fear I have for bicycles is more subversive than that. It hides just below the surface. It's the kind of fear that's tied up in failure, in not measuring up, in not being enough.

Okay, so clearly I have some baggage around bicycles. You see, I used to date a guy who was a cyclist as well as a runner. He was good at biking and running... and pretty much everything else. Anything he put his mind to doing (and he put his mind to doing a lot of things) he did and did very well. (And he was only ever kind and humble about it, by the way.) Which was why I liked him. But it had implications for me.

I was constantly in awe of him. He was always doing something interesting or going somewhere interesting and after awhile it seemed to me to be in his blood, this constant need to be in motion, to do exciting things. Me, though, I liked to sit still. In fact, everything I do well (writing, reading, daydreaming, baking, drawing, claying) requires being still or staying in one spot for long periods of time. I started to define us by our opposite natures: him always in motion, me always still. And because of other baggage, events in my past that go further back, I came to think of his motion as ideal, and my stillness as a lack.

That relationship didn't last, but the thing that did last was this: the bicycle was a symbol of everything I could never be. Because when I was biking, it was always with this boy - who was faster, more confident, more skilled than I was. When I biked, there was always the pressure to keep up combined with the knowledge that I was slowing him down. So that's how I saw myself whenever I was on a bike: Less than. Not enough.

I was telling my bike-obsessed friend about this and he looked at me and said, "It sounds to me like you need to get back on that horse." And at first I was like: You do not understand! This is deep, scarring stuff! The bicycle is a symbol of my inadequacies... and on and on like that. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if maybe I was just making excuses. I mean, what if I could get back on that horse - er, bike? What was the worst that could happen? (My mother would say: You could be hit be a car and die! My mother is adorably neurotic like that.) So a few months ago I bought a bike. And then I did a brave thing: I started riding it.

Now when I bike, I go at my own pace. I decide which route I'm going to take. If I'm nervous about riding on the road, I don't; I walk my bike on the sidewalk instead. If I'm tired and need to slow down, I slow down. If I'm unsure about something - about gears or tires or whatever - I seek out answers. I'm redefining my relationship with the bicycle. And while I'm still afraid (the cars! the intersections!) it's not the same fear anymore.

Now when I bike, it's about reclaiming something that I let define me as less than. It's about being brave - but not too brave, because I need to leave some bravery for tomorrow.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

back to it


There was a time not so long ago when I made my living through pottery. I loved it. My mornings were spent walking to my studio, which was in a building full of artists and art enthusiasts, not to mention lots of potters. I could structure my life how I wanted. If I wanted to sleep in, I slept in and worked late. If I wanted to write in the mornings or afternoons, I could. I was my own boss. And I loved it.

I made most of my income from doing shows: art shows, indie craft shows, music festivals. This meant a lot of long days (and long weekends) not to mention driving vast distances to get to those long weekends. I loved it... for a little while. And then I started to get burned out. I was doing a lot of shows and the thing about shows is that they're often a bit of a gamble - especially one you've never exhibited in before. Will it be worth it? It's a question that constantly goes through your head. Sometimes it is worth it. Sometimes it isn't. And while I loved this part of my job - the uncertainty, the vast distances and new places, the mad rush to get everything ready - it ended up burning me out.

In the end, though, it wasn't actually the shows that made me stop and take a break. It was the work I was doing. I made the same things over and over again - because people loved and wanted them. Because they were dependable. But after three years of mass-producing (by hand) the same designs, I was sick of them. And there was a nasty little voice in my head that said this was all I could do, these trivial little things, over and over again. I wasn't a real artist. I was just pretending to be.

Looking back now, I think part of the problem was that I was writing a ton, which meant that all my creativity and drive went into my writing while my ceramic work took a back seat. Ceramics was my living, my job. I forgot that it was also my art practice. It was something that had once been life-giving. So I leaned on my tried-and-true designs and saved all my creative energy and drive for my stories. And the part of me that loved pottery shrivelled up and died.

So I stopped making things out of clay. I didn't go near my wheel or my kiln for a year and a half. And then last fall, I started to get this itch. My hands were hungry. Writing is my truest love, that's for sure. But my hands have always needed to make things. And my hands were craving clay.

So, slowly, this past winter, I've been easing myself back into it. At first, I didn't let myself make any of the old things. Only new things. I let myself doodle new designs in my sketchbook, and then I took those designs and transferred them to clay. It's been strange, becoming reacquainted while in the midst of baking, bookselling and writing. The thing that once took up all my time I now have to make time for in the midst of early morning baking shifts, bookstore shifts and novel revisions - and I actually think that's really good for it. It forces me to honour it, to choose it. And art always gives back to you what you commit.

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.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

killing your darlings continued

Not so long ago, a dear friend of mine and I were at a party sitting on a couch filling each other in our lives. When I told her about the thing most prevalent in my life right now (a novel revision) she asked me what it meant to revise a novel. So I attempted to explain it, and in the midst of my explanation, she said, "I don't think I could do that." She was referring to the part where I take the thing I love - for example, my most favourite scene - and cut it out. Just like that. (I talked about this process a bit here.)

And yes, it's a very hard thing to do! If I really wanted to, I could leave that thing I love where it is. Even though it's weakening the narrative, it's my novel and I can do what I want. But because I've done this before (I've scrapped an entire novel and rewrote it from scratch, never mind just one scene), I know what can happen when you trust yourself and this process.

This is what can happen: in getting rid of the good and beautiful thing you're clinging to, a thing that you want to keep despite it ruining the things around it, you open yourself up to something even better, more beautiful, more profound. By cutting that thing you love, you make room for a stronger story and you allow yourself to fall in love with something better. So yes, you don't have to cut out that thing you love. But if you don't you'll stay where you are, stuck in a narrative that only half-works and never quite knowing how much better it could be.

After I explained it this way, my friend said, "So, it's just like life."

Yes.

Definitely.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

lost and found

The thing I love most about keeping a blog is I can go back and see where I was exactly one year ago. I suppose this is true for things like keeping journals too. But the thing is, I’ve never been good at keeping a journal. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go intending for it to be a journal, but it always ends up becoming something else - mostly, this crazy mish-mash of random thoughts mixed with grocery lists mixed with (sometimes crossed out) life goals mixed with bits and pieces of stories and sketches and doodles and drawings. Mostly, it’s full of ideas that strike in the middle of the day or night, character quotes or descriptions, the rushed writing down of scenes before they slip away. I’ve come to accept this – that I will never be one of those neat and tidy journal keepers. The ones who write the date at the top and proceed to fill up the pages accordingly. I’ve tried to be that person and I have failed.

Moving on.

So. Blogging. The thing I love about blogging is that I can go backwards in time. Like just now, I clicked on January 2013 and was reading through old posts and remembering that this time, one year ago, I was lost. Or if not lost, then certainly on my way to getting lost.

I was working at a job that I really loved. I loved getting up in the middle of the night before everyone else was awake to bake bread. I loved the feeling that came with the shelves going from empty to full on account of my own two hands. I loved it. I may do it again someday. I most likely will.

But it was all-consuming. Getting up at 3am and coming home at 1pm and then going to my other job left me exhausted. I had no time, and even when I did have time, I was too tired to do anything other than sit on the couch and read comic books. I was writing, but only barely and wearily. I couldn’t go home and visit the people and the place I love most. I wasn’t doing the things that made me happiest, the things that filled me up and gave me my life back.

So, in an attempt to fix everything, I applied to Sheridan for their Illustration program. Looking back now, I really think this was my cry for help – I knew something wasn’t working, I knew something was missing, and I was trying to fix/fill up the hole. I got accepted to the program in March of 2013 (something I still can’t believe and am still really, really proud of). In April I quit my job at the bakery and started working more at the bookstore. I spent months recovering, getting my energy and my motivation back. And then, at the end of the summer, I had to make a decision. It was probably the hardest decision I made in 2013. I decided not to go to Sheridan. I did it because I knew that my truest love was writing and that starting an art program was just another way to push it aside. So I declined my acceptance and I made a vow to put my stories first and foremost.

From then on, I wrote. I wrote a lot. It’s not that I wasn’t writing before - I actually revised a novel 3 times between January and August, but that’s another story entirely. I wasn’t writing anything new, though. So I took a deep breath and I wrote a first draft of a novel I’d been wanting to finish for a long time. After I finished it, I set it aside and started yet another revision of that other novel. (Welcome to the world of publishing, where 9/10ths of writing is revising! Huzzah!) But it doesn't end there. At the beginning of December I started writing a third thing which I have just today put aside because revising two novels and working full time is quite enough, thank you very much. That third thing will just have to wait its turn.

Altogether, I wrote approximately 150,000 words last year in novels. That might sound like a lot, but when I look back, it feels like very little. It feels like I wasted a lot of time, actually.

And then my Pa passed away. This was a blow. I can’t even express what exactly it means for him to be gone because I think I’m still grappling with it. The weeks leading up to his death and following were probably the saddest, most difficult time of my life. And this might sound strange, but I think the loss of him has both sharpened me and softened me at the same time. I’m no longer so afraid of death (I’ve spent the past five years terrified of it). And I’m more determined than ever to do what I need to do. I miss him. And I'm determined to keep him with me in everything I do.

So I guess I’m not lost anymore. In fact, I really feel like I’m the opposite of lost.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

on this first day of the year


but if you lift your eyes, I am your brother
and this is all we need
and this is where we start
this is the day we greet
this is the day, no other.