Friday, January 24, 2014

three things

Every year
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.


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."



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.