Doing it Anyway

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I wasn’t sure if I’d write today. I’ve started a new course with Rachel Thompson, Lit Mag Love, which focuses on refining your approach to publishing in literary magazines. I’ve been working on that this morning, with this blog post nagging at the back of my mind.

In the last two weeks, I’ve felt my seasonal depression creeping in. The sun takes a little longer to rise, now; the leaves have all dropped and the hillsides are bare and grey. Some mornings, there is ice on the pond near our house and the woodstove is going almost all the time. I find the days are more work. It is work just to maintain some equanimity: I feel sadness out of nowhere. I acknowledge it and I try not to let it take over my day. I focus hard on engaging with the kids, on coming to the page and writing each day, on going to the yoga class I signed up for, on reading and on stepping away from social media when it’s too much. It is real work to do each of these things.

It helps to have a name for the thing, and a box to put it in. This is seasonal. This is because there is a lack of sunlight. This is not my fault. I will do all of the things that I know might help me: vitamin D, exercise, light box therapy, maybe talk therapy.

I’ll continue to focus on my writing life. Tomorrow I have a FaceTime appointment with someone who is editing my chapbook manuscript. We’ll talk about her suggestions and my hopes for the work. Next week we’re doing another spoken word open mic at the Westminster, and I’ll read some of my new poems. Last week, in Whitehorse, I went to an art opening and poetry reading and connected a little with the very active writing community there. I’ve decided to do that as much as I’m able. Each of these things gives me a bubble of anxiety, a flutter in my tummy that suggests I don’t belong, I’m not good enough, I’m a big faker. I take a few breaths and do the thing anyway.

It’s a strange place for me to be in, and feels quite new: to be fully conscious of what’s happening internally but not to be swept up in its tide. I’m curious but also apprehensive about this new place. Can I let these feelings exist in me and still continue to do the work of living? So far, I am.

For now, the early morning fog has lifted. The sun is shining through my window, warming me. I’m off to get something to eat before the live video portion of my course begins. I hope you’re doing well with whatever life has sent your way.

 

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Purpose and Clarity

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Hello, friends. It’s been a few weeks; the past month has been a marathon for me and my family, but we’ve crossed the finish line and now we’re trying to regain our footing and establish some routine. The farmer’s market is winding down and the brilliant golden leaves are beginning to fall from the birch and aspen. Last night I saw an arctic hare in our yard, its ears and paws already snowy white; the season is changing fast.

School is back in and I’m back to my weekly writing dates with myself. I realized, though, that I wasn’t protecting this time firmly enough before. When I was doing this back in the late winter and spring, I would schedule appointments for hair cuts or a massage, or long, leisurely lunch dates with my girlfriends. I feel a clearer sense of purpose, now, and I realize that those things, while important, have to be scheduled outside of this writing time. This writing time is mine, and it is sacred and precious and if I want to take myself seriously as a writer and poet–and I do–then I have to treat this like my job.

It’s good to feel this clarity, and also scary. I still struggle to tell people I write; even harder to tell them I write *gulp* poetry! But I turned 34 earlier this week, and I’ve decided it’s time to stop dancing around the edges of this thing. I am so grateful to be in a position to be able to really focus on my poetry: my partner is incredibly supportive and keeps telling me “if you want to write, then just write!”; our business makes it possible for me to choose not to work outside of the home; my kids are gaining independence.

It all comes down to me. That’s the hard part, I suppose.

I’m currently doing a revision course called Polish Your Poetry and Prose, with a wonderful editor from Room Magazine, Rachel Thompson, via her site We Are Lit Writers. I recently learned that one of my poems will be published in an anthology about sexual assault, through the University of Regina Press, and that my work has been shortlisted for publication at The Maynard. These things add up, and convince me that I can do this. That I am doing this.

This year I want to finish my chapbook about mothering and PPD in the bush, and begin trying to get it published. This year, I want to write regularly, no excuses. This year, I want to attend a writer’s conference. This year, I want to do more public readings. This year, I will get a proper author photo and print business cards that say “poet” next to my name.

Mostly, though, I will do the work of writing. Showing up to the page, writing new poems, revising old ones, reading, reading, reading, and submitting.

 

Off Track

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We’ve had a hot, dry summer so far, and my pots are suffering for it. I’m great with houseplants, but I tend to let my outdoor plants languish in the sun. I see the flowers drop, the foliage hanging limp over the side of the pot, and I’m guilted into watering. I’m not sure why I can’t manage to pour a little water in each day, but that’s how it is. A few days ago, as I was watering two pots that I was pretty sure were past saving (they came back, though!) I realized this is an accurate metaphor for my writing practice.

As much as I want to make writing a daily practice, I neglect it. I go through regular periods of drought that are not so much writer’s block as they are my own refusal to just come to the page and write. These days, I’m caught between being too busy and feeling like I need dedicated time to draft or polish poems. Once again, I’ve forgotten the simplicity of journaling and freewriting, and I’m telling myself the same old story of “if I can’t have it just right, I won’t have it at all.” That is not how to build a daily writing practice.

Going too long between watering causes plants to go into distress. Most plants can’t thrive if they are constantly going through that kind of stress every few days. This is the same for my writing practice: the longer I go between writing, even writing just a few minutes a day, the harder it feels to come back to it. I start to doubt myself, even if it’s just been a few days. If I don’t keep up some kind of daily putting-words-on-page regimen, I go into survival mode. The new blooms of words in my mind close up in self-preservation and then when I finally tend to them, it’s too late.

A week ago, I was telling myself that this new job was the problem. I’ve started serving in a restaurant 2 or 3 nights a week, and though the kitchen closes at 10, it can be 11 before I’m on the road home. Tack on a 30 minute drive and some time to decompress before bed, and my nights are pretty late. The next day I’m trying to stay engaged with the kids while keeping myself going on a steady stream of caffeine and carbs (which I think cancel each other out but whatever, it gets me through). It can be hard to focus my brain on writing. Or that’s what I tell myself. I tell myself that maybe the job has to go.

But the job makes me feel good. Having work outside of the house is another piece of the puzzle that is my mental well-being. Since starting back to work, I find myself more patient with the kids. I don’t feel so trapped. I like working as part of a team, I enjoy getting feedback for the work I do, and I love food service. The job is not the problem.

The problem is my always waiting for conditions to be perfect before I can let myself write, which, at its heart, is just a load of self-sabotaging b.s.  Thankfully, I’m getting quicker and quicker at wising up to this fact, and maybe someday, I’ll just live it, without any slips.

The problem is also in my hands right now: my smartphone, on which I am finishing this post because the wifi in my office isn’t working. If I approached my writing practice with the same devotion I do stalking social media and news blogs, well, I would probably have a book length collection of poems ready to publish. Or, at the very least, a steady, thriving writing practice.

So here’s to getting back on track, and watering the damn pots before they all die.

 

Dawson Daily News Print and Publishing Festival

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If spring is a slow burn, summer is a bright flash in the pan, and we are right into it: days without rain, the ground dry, a thin and persistent layer of dust settled on everything. It’s hot and busy as locals hustle to make their money, plant their crops, and take in the weddings, concerts and festivals happening almost every weekend.

Last night was the beginning of the Print and Publishing Festival, which was once a symposium held at the same time as the Riverside Arts Fest, in August. Now, all grown up, it is a 5 day festival featuring readings, workshops, lectures, demos, and printmaking. I’m excited to be hosting a spoken word open mic in honour of the festival, tonight at The Westminster Hotel. If you’re in town, I hope you’ll come have a listen or maybe even share your words with us. I’ll be reading 3 new poems and trying to keep a lid on the raging impostor syndrome that’s reared its ugly head in the past few days. Wish me luck!

Book Review: The Break and If There Were Roads

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I somehow managed to read not one, but two books in the last month: a book of poetry and a novel! I’d like to review them both here for you today.

Book Review #1

The book: “The Break” by Katherena Vermette

What it’s about: A Metis woman is up late one winter’s night, nursing her baby, when she sees an attack taking place in “the Break”, a barren strip of land outside her house. She calls the police to report the crime: it takes them hours to arrive, and they seem skeptical of her story. The novel is structured as a series of shifting points of view, all giving the reader pieces of the events leading up to the attack, and the days following it, detailing a history of trauma, healing, and family love.

What I thought: This book is both powerful and heartbreaking. Although the story is set up in such a way as to make it a compulsive read, I found I had to put it down frequently. There is a lot of recounting of abuse, making it very intense and possibly triggering. That being said, Vermette showcases an incredible resiliency in the characters of First Nations women. The deep and constant love that holds these women together is beautiful. I found myself frustrated, though, that they had to be so strong, time and again, in the face of repeated abuses. It made me angry that this isn’t just fiction: it’s a reality for so many, and in that sense, it’s an incredibly urgent and important book.

From the opening pages: “I’ve always loved the place my girl calls the Break. I used to walk through it in the summer. There is a path you can go along all the way to the edge of the city, and if you just look down at the grass, you might think you were in the country the whole way. Old people plant gardens there, big ones with tidy rows of corn and tomatoes, all nice and clean. You can’t walk through it in the winter though. No one clears a way. In the winter, the Break is just a lake of wind and white, a field of cold and biting snow that blows up with the slightest gust.”

Book Review #2

The book: “If There Were Roads”  by Joanna Lilley

What it’s about: The poems in this collection are largely a meditation on place: the places we’ve come from, the places we’ve been, the places we are now. Notions of home, a tension between solitude and connection, and a sweeping geography–from Scotland and England, across Canada and into Yukon, thread through these poems.

What I thought: I really love Joanna’s poetry. She has a way of taking ordinary moments and making them into something special, so that I begin to look at my own ordinary moments differently. Her poems are accessible, too, something I value in poetry. Much of this book resonated with me: from what it’s like to travel alone, to ideas about home and ghosts and animal welfare, and of course, her writing about the north. I often found myself pausing in recognition, her poems leading me deeper into my own ideas about the world.

From the book: 

Bare-faced

She needs large skin
to smear her self back on
each morning after a shower,
smoothing it with her lifeline,
her fingertips, twisting her hand
to reach between her shoulder blades
which are not the nubs of atavistic wings.
They’re the bones that will be most
ambiguous when unearthed,
collapsed onto shifted ribs.
She is a woman in all the right places,
a man everywhere else.
She is brazen, bare-faced.