On Writing

Spring Equinox Reflection

I’m sitting at a high table in a Tim Horton’s. I’ve been meeting with writer friends at different locations. We talk, we vent, we emote, we write. My clothes smell like coffee. And community. 

Happy Spring! Happy New Moon! It is a lovely time of year, even though Mama Nature is still a bit wobbly with the transition, I can feel Spring in the air, can see it in the greens, in the buds, hear it in the birdsong which is back with a delightful dedication. 

I get giddy thinking about summer. Her hard heat. My skin is yearning for the sun’s blanket of warmth. I go outside to walk, to run, to inhale and it helps with the changes. 

I’m feeling a new shift inside. It has range. Some days I feel terrified and desperate, my patience like a toddler reaching for that cookie on the counter but she’s just not tall enough – yet. I swim in I Don’t Know every day and sometimes I’m strong and happy to do laps, but other times I’m struggling and drowning feels like a strong possibility. 

I am struggling with value and confidence, with purpose in relation to making money (or not), and even though I’ve been very good at keeping each morning from 9-12 open for writing, it is extremely difficult for me to write. 

The voices in my head are still telling me all the things I’m doing wrong, wack-a-mole-ing my ideas like a buzzed teen at a traveling carnival. Am I ‘allowed’ to write this? This question steps to the forefront so often, I’m used to it, but it still takes solid effort to just let it be and write around it. 

There are many things (opinions? beliefs?) that I want to write about, to say out loud, but I am still afraid and caution keeps my fingers from sharing or my mouth from speaking out. Indeed, my writing ‘voice’ is uncertain, shaky and shy. 

But it’s also pulsing and, on some days, totally empowered and strong. I can write on these days. And the can’t-do-its sit back and witness with sly smiles on their faces. 

When I think about outcome, about publication, about post-publication marketing, touring, sharing…I pretty much wanna vomit. I think that’s a sign that I’m just not ready for that part of the writing life. And, seeing as I don’t have any forthcoming publications (she laughs), there’s really nothing to worry about in this regard, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. 

It’s one thing to believe I can’t get published. It’s another thing to believe that if I can, I won’t be able to handle the sharing part. I would love to get published again. A book of some sort. Yes, I still dream of winning awards or placing in a writing contest. I am still submitting when my courage motivates me to do so. But the whole process of submitting and the hope of getting published lives in my shadows. 

I was poking around in the Canada Council for the Arts portal. Checking out deadlines for grant applications, reading about literary grants and scrolling through guidelines. The boxes. Oh the boxes. How do I identify? What boxes can I check off? What boxes do I not? 

Nothing excites the Bully in my brain like those boxes. Though the Bully has been quiet, it lifts out of its darkness and shines a bold light on the boxes. White. Heterosexual. That’s all, the Bully cackles. That’s enough, the Bully points at my chest. Take your privilege and go away, the Bully spits. 

Oh identity! Oh self! Oh voice! Oh purpose! I have responses for the Bully, of course I do. But they are not for here. Not for out loud. 

So it’s a constant hike-around, the Bully, the Shadows, the sticky traps that pull my heart and soul out of the purity of the creative work. 

The truth, and this is not just ‘my’ truth, I feel brave enough to say this bit out loud, the truth about being creative is that art transcends, digs out of, climbs above, the tar of Bully vitriol, of identity boxes, of grant applications and awards. Creativity does not live in validation from anyone or anything beyond the heart and soul it communicates with/from/for. 

Creativity lives in the shadow and the light equally. It exists purely for its purpose – to express love through imagination. Inside this love is everything human and not. It is the spectrum of emotional ability, and how the imagination can reflect, bend, tear, swallow, explode and envelope our experiences of reality. Whether it is ‘real’ reality or a reality we make up. A made up reality feels real, doesn’t it? 

We are a collection of vessels that house the same inner landscapes. And each vessel’s purpose is to love. But we all know that love is not always present in the conception of a new vessel. That what we can do to each other, to our vessels, and to the sanctity of our inner landscapes, can literally kill us. I can’t explain what motivates war, any deep kind of hatred, and why, after thousands of measured years in time, our free will still expands into polarizing, violent conclusions about what our vessels look like and how we choose to connect our vessels with other vessels. 

But this is where art lives. In the truth of this. Art asks why. It asks why not. And once it is created, when it is shared, this is when the danger or the delight blooms. If you write and never share your words, are you still a writer? If you paint, and never share your paintings, are you still a painter? How does identity connect to the action of creative pursuits if those pursuits do not live beyond the notebook, the canvas, the mp3? 

If we are policing our freedom to respond to art in unconditional, authentic, well-intentioned ways, what is that doing to the creator, to the art, to the community, to creativity’s purpose to express love through imagination? Is it too complicated to boil down the process into this core? 

When I pray, does my love not reach out and exist in the world on some level? Does it matter if I pray to Mary or God or goddess or Love or time or hope or doughnuts? How can intention and purpose not be part of the equation for art? 

These are the things I think about. And more. I still worry like it’s an olympic sport. About the planet. About my health. About my family. But worry, oh bless her hopeful dedication, is not active. It feels like it is. It feels like worrying is making a difference, changing things, getting shi* done. But it is not. If I worry about the thing, the thing doesn’t get done, does it? The thing doesn’t change or heal or go away. The thing doesn’t get to be accountable or take responsibility for what it is. If I worry that I’ll never get published, I am not writing. If I am not writing, there is nothing to try to publish. Add a batch of fresh guilt in the mix, and the body, the vessel, begins to lose its ability to move, feel and live love. The imagination slumps and sorrows. 

I still don’t know what my creative purpose is…at least, not like I did Before. I miss the writing room, something fierce. This missing has recently swelled up. I think it’s the weather. The soft sunshine, the smell of spring on the wind. I miss opening the front window and hearing the birds and the leaves and the dogs and the students, the sweet symphony of Willistead Park. I miss the space, the art, the mugs, the coffee, the books…I miss the surprise of writers or walkers knocking on the door, walking in, eyes wide, smiles wider…giving stickers and granola bars to high school students hungry for attention and safety. I miss how I always felt completely safe in that space. I miss the sacredness of what we created there together. I hold it inside me with great love. 

Having said that…feeling what I’m feeling, I do not regret my choice to close the space. I do not regret letting go of the sacred things inside that I spent a lifetime collecting. I love knowing that it is all being loved in some way in some other space. I love having the memories and the mansion in my soul that holds all the goodness that we shared. I do not regret my resignation as poet laureate. Regret doesn’t live here for the choices I made. I made them with the love and integrity and dignity I felt at that time. 

But the work of ‘community’, of creating workshops and classes and offering my time to writers to talk, learn, edit, share…attending literary events and supporting other writers in the community working their arses off sharing their words, published or not…It’s like there’s cement in my legs and chest and when I think about offering a workshop or attending an event, the cement hardens and I feel…stopped. It’s silly, I know. I’ve been teaching and collaborating and sharing a love of words with writers for decades…how can this ability just…feel so foreign? I’m trying to figure this out. 

I know it is related to my confidence. To the way I value myself, my time, my skills. There are parts of me that feel like I’ve never done this ‘writing’ thing before…and facing the keyboard/screen…facing other writers…just feels terrifying. If I let myself think about this at all…I get very, very frozen. And I have to really jump inside my brain and take a good look at all the parts who are gathering there to offer their ideas about who I am and what I should do. It is a busy place in my brain. And I’m learning how to recognize the parts, giving them names and trying to give them enough attention to make sure I really am that part in that moment…or if the part is rooted in something deeper, like a fear or a narrative that isn’t really ‘me’. 

It can get complicated, indeed. And all the brain-part navigation takes energy. Sometimes I have the energy and the parts that want to write kind of barrel in and smoosh all the others to the sides and I can write with the passion and abandon I know I am capable of…but other times, I can’t. 

So I’m learning ways to work with the voices. For example, I have about 100 pages of writing that I typed up on my old Brother electric typewriter. These pages need to be put into my laptop. If I’m struggling with ‘new’ writing, I can go to these pages and transcribe, often with a fairly good edit in the transition. Or I can do research. Or I can watch Judy Blume in her MasterClass and learn and get ideas and motivation from her. Or I can write something like this…

Any kind of creativity in my life is essential. It is invigorating. It is motivating. And being gentle on myself when the narrative that ‘writing is the most important creative thing you do, V’ takes the loudest voice…well, that’s a daily occurrence. 

My eye is doing amazingly well! I’ve been on steroids since November. I am now in a very slight weaning stage. I really do not want to be on this drug one second longer than I have to. So, I’m really hoping that my auto-immune flare up is really over and as I lessen the amount of medication I take, my eye will still see/function properly. The side-effects are more manageable. I don’t know if it’s because I’m taking less or because I’m just used to it now. Or both. 

I’m still dealing with the Demon Woman. She’s been a part in my brain since I figured out I had a body and that body could be labeled and compared to other bodies. (so like, 4?) I really want to fit into this sweet pair of faux suede pants, so I’m cleaning up my food intake and exercising in an attempt to fit into them. This means losing weight, and though I promised myself I’d get off the ‘lose weight’ train, I’m back on it and also telling myself that it’s not just about the weight, but feeling better, making healthy choices and being energetic and joyful so I can love my family, friends and self. Also, I’m turning 45 in May and for some reason, this feels like a really good goal to fit into the pants…and then the subsequent bathing suits in the summer (!). I do wonder when I’ll look in a mirror and not do a double take…and wonder, who in the hark hell is that?! I hear a woman in her 50s gets to this point…menopause will be done. And I’ll get back in control of my body…goodness, a woman in her 40s is something else. Yes, I’m writing about it! Hell yeah. 

My morning praying and meditation ritual is going well, though if I miss a day or decide to pray/meditate later, I let it be okay. I’ve upped my exercise game and am running again. Or walk/running. The warm weather is super motivational – so, um, come back, sunny warm days! 

I’m watching lots of tv/films. We saw every nominated film for award season. The hubby and I are watching ‘Shrinking’ on Apple. It’s written by the guy (and other amazing writers on the team!) who writes for/stars in ‘Ted Lasso’, Bret Goldstein, which we are also watching as season three was just released. I’m watching ‘Dear Edward’, also on Apple…and it’s a right cryfest each time I watch, but I’m needing the release. We also watched ‘Bad Sisters’ – what a show! (I can’t remember where that is streaming…) Our go-to shows for comfort are The Office, New Girl and Modern Family. 

I am curating the next member’s anthology for the Ontario Poetry Society. Super excited for this opportunity! And, I got a poem published in Arc Magazine’s 100th Volume! Wowowowo! This is a big deal for me as this is one lit mag I’ve always wanted to be published in! Thank you, Arc! 

Our Art Kitchen podcast is going well. We’re very close to finishing editing our third podcast with another one in the can to edit after that. These both should air in April…or sooner. It is a pure joy working with Karen and interviewing our incredibly talented creative guests. Yay!

In the reading department, currently I’m doing research on Mary Magdalene. I’m reading: The Magdalen Manuscript by Tom Kenyon and Judi Sion; Mary Magdalene The Way of the Rose by Ishtara Rose; and Mary Magdalene: Hidden Illumined One by Theodore J. Nottingham.  

I reread ‘Deenie’ by Judy Blume. It was as amazing as I remembered. I’m reading ‘Still Life’ by Sarah Winman. I’m still reading ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman. And, I’m also reading (!) ‘Wintering’ by Kate Moses. All of these books are incredible and clearly show my wild brain and its inability to stick to One Thing AND FINISH IT. 

This – the FINISH IT bit, is also at the core of my current creative struggles. Manuscripts take time to write. A long time. And there’s a part of me that’s like, uggggghhhhh, who has that kind of time? But, then the other part says, um, you do. You’re on sabbatical, woman. Sheesh. Still another part says, who’s hungryyyyyyy? And the voices clang and my brain vibrates and the battles ensue. Ooph. Can’t leave out this voice, get over yourself. You have a home, food, clothing and you’re safe. Stop complaining and do the work.  *I don’t know why this text is suddenly darker than the text all around it? *

Can I get a yikes up in here? 

Also, a laugh and a squeeze? And a kitchen dance? Thank you. 

There you have it. Nearly 3000 words of reflective update from me, the ‘writer’, the healing writer, the changing writer, the wild-brain writer, the quiet writer, the scared writer, the silly writer, the procrastinating writer, the light writer, the dark writer, the swollen-from-drugs writer, the running writer….and on and on. 

Friends, thank you for your time and energy. I hope you’re finding your way. For all of us, I hope we remember how sacred we are. Be kind. Give love. To ourselves. To others. 

And one more thing…I am doing my first in-person reading post-The Thing That Happened, on Saturday, April 22, 2023 in St. Catherine’s. I’m soooo nervous. But also…excited to share the stage with such extraordinary writers. I will be reading from ‘thimbles’, which is a gift in itself. Thank you, Eva Tihanyi for this really special opportunity! Since I’ll be so close to Toronto, I will be visiting some friends who I haven’t seen since pre-Covid. Should be a fine, fine time.

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