The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, January 30, 2009

My 10 Best Albums of 2008ish

by Steve Gajadhar

I’m a music nut and I know some of my fellow CWCers are as well, so with 2008 in the books I thought I’d share my 10 favorite albums of 2008, Canadian or otherwise.

10. “Plan Your Escape” by Hey Rosetta!
CanCon! I just love crackly, boppy, whiney rock. Another album that kind of slipped under the radar, which means it will probably be huge in 2009.

9. “The Baroness” by Sarah Slean
CanCon! Why no love for Sarah this year? It’s like this album didn’t even get released. We listen to this album all the time and I do mean ALL the time. Sarah channels the proudest bachelorette since, well, since ever. My favourite track, “Get Home” is a poignant look at adultery from the woman’s perspective.

8. “Evil Urges” by My Morning Jacket
Great driving music for the Big Island. Musicianship at its finest. This is an album that varies from track to track and yet still seems coherent, a hard feat to pull off. In terms of similar artists, the Fleet Foxes’ album got most of the attention this year, but I’ll take “Evil Urges” any day of the week.

7. “Dear Science” by TV on the Radio
This is what musical genius sounds like. Just when you think all the styles have been hashed and rehashed, along comes this album and shows what a real amalgamation of hashes can and should sound like.

6. “In our Bedroom after the War” by Stars
CanCon! I’ve been a Stars fan for years, and this is by far their best work. It’s nice to see a band get better with each album. “Personal” is one of my favorite ballads of all time. It has a Hemingway-like quality to it in the use of simple words and simple music to evoke strong emotions, in this case loneliness.

5. “Reunion Tour” by The Weakerthans
CanCon! Obviously on my list, I did do a full review of the album a while back (I’m just too lazy to hyperlink to it). John Samson is one of the best lyricists working in music today. At the pace he’s going he’ll soon rival Gord Downie, and Gord saw this coming back in 2004 when he dropped some Weakerthans lyrics at the Hip’s Grey Cup performance: “And I’m leaning on this broken fence between past and present tense.” Although not as good as “Reconstruction Site,” “Reunion Tour” is still a great album and one that is constantly spun in my CRV’s disc-changer.

4. “Parc Avenue” by Plants and Animals
CanCon! What is it with Montreal anyway? I thought Arcade Fire would never be beat, but the race is on!

3. “Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool” by Lupe Fiasco
This was released late December 2007 so I’m including it here as a bit of a stretch, but hey it’s my list! Simply an amazing piece of art, a start-to-finish masterpiece of indie hip-hop. Lupe drops the pop singles like “Superstar,” and “Paris, Tokyo,” but in between he spins a tale about a gangster named The Cool who strikes a deal with the devil and is resurrected as a one armed monster. He also takes a stab at kid soldiers. Give this a chance even if you don’t like rap.

2. “Welcome to the Night Sky” by Wintersleep.
CanCon! Wintersleep won the Juno for New Group of the Year. A 2007 release, I’m including this album because it didn’t get on my radar until last year. Fantastic rocky stuff full of quotidian (I’ve always wanted to use that word) ramblings on life like: “Someday laser beams will cure my sight, negative 5, that’s pretty much blind.”

1. “Vampire Weekend” by Vampire Weekend
I know, I know. Media darlings. Upper crust art school bohemian a-holes, etc. etc. but these boys have talent. A great album and one that also has a track with a line just for us writers: “Who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?” I think I’ll make “Oxford Comma” my doing revisions song of choice.

There are a bunch more albums that deserve to be on my list, but these fit my mood when I put this blog together. Feel free to share some of your favorites, because I’m always on the lookout for something new and fresh. Time to start my list for 2009!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel

by Tricia Dower

In keeping with my practice of not covering something until most everyone else has read or seen it, I highly recommend the 2007 documentary Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel. It won a 2008 Gemini Award for filmmakers Derreck Roemer and Neil Graham. You might have seen the film on TVOntario or at a film festival. If not, you can catch it on Bravo Canada this April 16 at 9 pm EST.

Colin and I attended Victoria’s first screening of it on Monday as part of a homelessness series. Included was a live telephone interview with Roemer after the film in which he talked about how it came to be and answered audience questions. We had visited the Gladstone once for a charity event before the former flophouse became the boutique hotel and arts showplace it is now. I recognized in the film the rough looking lobby with its “No visitors after 10 pm” sign and the dark, uninviting staircase leading to the rooms. Here’s how Roemer and Graham summarize the film:

In 2000, developers purchase the crumbling, century-old Gladstone hotel to turn it from a skid row flophouse into an arts hotspot. They think it's empty... until they meet Marilyn, the chambermaid with a heart of gold; Shirley Ann, the cynical front desk clerk; and a motley crew of residents, including Maryanne, an ex-bag lady with a sweet personality who has turned her room into a toxic zone. The developers come up with a plan: gradual restoration that would see staff and residents remain upstairs while the bar downstairs stocks designer drinks. It doesn't work. Christina Zeidler inherits the mess and is committed to a "business model that includes social change," but the hotel has the last word. City inspectors demand complete rewiring, the boiler blows up leaving the hotel without heat, ceilings leak, walls are crumbling, and everybody's gotta go. Shot over five years with a cinema direct style, the directors have crafted a riveting and extraordinary human portrait of the effects of urban renewal upon the poor and the unintentional roles artists play in the process of gentrification.

The Gladstone Hotel was built in 1889, and still calls itself the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto. Graham and Roemer were regulars at the hotel bar before it became “cool.” They thought it would be interesting to document what was about to happen to the building and the low-income residents who called it home.

The film made me reflect on three things:

How market forces conspire against the disadvantaged: Colin and I paid $1,200 a month to rent a three-bedroom semi-detached house in the Beaches in 1988. Even taking inflation into consideration, there’s nothing fair about Maryanne paying the same in 2000 for a single shabby room with no bathroom in a run-down hotel (and her rent went up to $1500 a month under the new ownership). Because she and other Gladstone residents weren’t mentally and socially equipped to take advantage of better options the owners had no incentive to keep the hotel in good condition and to provide tenants with decent accommodation.

How our desire for gentrification disturbs whole communities of people who don’t fit with a lifestyle of galleries, jazz brunches, lattes and smoothies: Rates for rooms at the Gladstone, renovated and designed by local artists, now range from $125 to $375 per night. (You can see them here.) We’re dealing with this issue in Victoria right now where the city doesn’t want the “blight” of the homeless erecting tents in public parks, yet provides no better alternative than unsafe and unwelcoming shelters.

What the film can teach me as a writer: (1) The filmmakers spent over five years making it, earning sufficient trust from the owners, employees and residents to present with candor and emotion a compelling and dramatic narrative arc. I’m in the beginning stages of a novel right now and trying to develop the patience to allow my characters to trust me enough to reveal themselves and their stories. (2) The filmmakers took an objective approach, presenting the story without overt judgment. Depending on your own perspective, you may come away thinking the owners did only what good business practice dictates, you may find them callous, or something else entirely. It’s a lesson for fiction writers: let your readers come to their own conclusions about your characters and their decisions. (3) The filmmakers started filming without knowing for sure what they would get. They were available and persistent, open to what might come along. The same holds true for writers as we set out to create characters and tell their stories. We don’t know for sure if we’ll end up with something worthwhile but we stay the course and keep ourselves open to the surprising opportunities that might present themselves.

You can see the film trailer here.

Photo: Former Gladstone Hotel resident Maryanne Akulick

Monday, January 26, 2009

If writing were…

...a lunar new-year animal, maybe it would be this year’s representative: the Earth Ox.

We’re supposed to expect stability and dependability, albeit slow progress, in the coming Ox year. Patience and hopeful plodding towards success… Sounds like a typical year of working on a manuscript.

So, happy New Year to all of you who follow the lunar calendar (Jan. 26, 2009 - Feb. 13, 2010); and happy Writing Year, to all of you plodding along on your manuscripts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

About That Trip to Thailand

by Tricia Dower

Here’s news to give a writer pause.

On August 31, 2008, Harry Nicolaides, a 41-year-old Australian was arrested in Thailand and charged with lèse-majesté, the crime of defaming the monarchy. Since then, he’s been locked in a cell with between 50 and 90 other detainees, some violent, some suffering from TB and AIDS, in the Bangkok Remand Prison where toilets are scarce and sleep difficult.

A clause in the Thai constitution reads: "The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action." Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code reads: "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years." (I'm probably in trouble for writing this post.)

Nicolaides was brought to trial, finally, on Monday of this week and sentenced to three years for suggesting in his 2005 self-published book of fiction, Verisimilitude, an abuse of power by Thailand’s royal family. And here’s the kicker: he sold only seven copies of the 50 books printed. If I ever go to jail over a book, I hope it’s a best seller.

The Australian government has asked Thailand to pardon Nicolaides. PEN and Reporters Without Borders also are lobbying on his behalf.

Nicolaides has described his novel as a commentary on political and social life of contemporary Thailand. He says that before publication he wrote to Thailand's Bureau of the Royal Household, asking for their reaction to the contentious paragraph, but he received no reply. Here’s the paragraph:

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives major and minor with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

Although the paragraph refers to a fictional king and prince, the Thai government considers it defamation against 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. (I wonder what they think of Anna and the King of Siam.)

Nicolaides lectured on hospitality and tourism at a Thai university. He’d been travelling in and out of the country on visa runs when he was detained before boarding a flight to Australia. It’s unclear why his arrest came three years after he published the book.

Although I find his sentence unjust, I was surprised at how many people commented otherwise following articles I read for this post. Here's a particularly heartless comment: “No point in whining about Thai law when you are in Thailand. It's a bit like complaining about the electric chair in the USA. Everyone knows the Thais revere their king and that it is against the law to criticize him—except, it seems, Harry. At least he gets his day in court. He could be in Guantanamo.”

Photos: Harry before and after being jailed for nearly five months.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I’m Pregnant!

by Andrew Tibbetts

Whenever I ask myself, “What kind of novel do I want to write?” almost right away I get drawn to a better question, “What kind of novel do I want to read?” The best novel reading experiences I’ve had in the past few years have shared a similar characteristic: the feeling of “Wow! I needed that!”

For example, I needed to read J. M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace.” I’d forgotten that ideas were important in fiction but only to the extent that they are dramatically important to the characters. Fiction isn’t essays. (Nowadays even essays aren’t essays!) Having a character think about male sexual violence isn’t taking it far enough. Having a character’s daughter raped—now you have a novel! There’s ‘knowing’ this and then there’s the palpable experience of the novel where that knowledge comes to life. “Disgrace” doesn’t so much ‘take issues’ that are important (sexuality, property, ageing, family, self-respect, race, violence) and spin a tale from them, rather it attempts to face the things that happen which others take issue with. I call this tenant: events not issues.

Also, with this novel, I remembered that I do not have to agree with what characters do to find them interesting and even likeable. Again, I ‘knew’ this, but after reading “Disgrace” I felt it deeply. Both the father and the daughter are people I wanted to jump into the book and shake at various points. I cal this tenant: fascinating people frustrate.

I put down “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell and felt “I needed that!” If the short story is the medium par excellence to reveal character (Robert Stone’s “Miserere”, Alice Munro’s “Menesetung”, Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.”) then the novel is the place to reveal the interception of character and society. You need a bit more room to describe “a person like that at a time and place like that!” What is impacting on the characters? And what impact do the characters have on the world around them? Think of Heathcliff and Catherine on those desolate moors and of Leopold Bloom on his way through Dublin of 1904 and of Nick Guest in Thatcher’s England. Novels are planted in the world. Even in novels where the setting seems to be an aspect of the character’s own psyche—Kafka, Nathaniel West—we want to know the sensual details of that psychological place and how the character grapples with it. It may be psyche, but it is psyche felt as place. One possible interpretation of “Cloud Atlas” is that it is a novel of reincarnation. Perhaps it outlines the journey of a soul through the rise and fall of different civilizations. Or maybe not. But we get a palpable sense of the character(s)’ timeless spirit interacting with the specific challenges of the time and place in which it finds itself incarnate. The whole tone of the writing changes to reflect the era but also to reflect the dynamic between character and era. I call this tenant: character in context.

Also, with this novel, I remembered that I loved brilliant writing, that I didn’t need prose to be invisible, that I enjoyed a writer’s bravura performance just as I could enjoy a virtuoso’s brilliance in playing a concerto. Style is substance. Charlie Parker’s ‘style’ is his essence. So is Nabokov’s. If this weren’t true, Shakespeare would be a pretty terrible playwright. I ‘knew’ this but the thrill of reading “Cloud Atlas” with its stunning stylistic gymnastics and its dazzling chandelieric construction helped me to know it in my body. I call this tenant: dazzle.

I want to write a novel that flows from these tenants, a dazzling novel of fascinating people frustrating and frustrated with each other and with the time and place they act in and upon. You’d think I’d have ‘known’ that already. However, after spending a little time recalling these two very different novels, I now know it in my body. I have the feeling of my novel. Like a seed planted inside me.

I feel a place and a people and a sequence of events that want to be born. And for the first time in my life, I feel like doing research!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

With a little luck…

By Tamara Lee

When I first graduated university, I tutored students in writing and reading comprehension. The majority of my clients were ESL (English as a Second Language) high school kids. In those days, my business acumen was limited: I posted flyers, potential clients called, and I charged a suitable fee for one-and-a-half hour home tutoring sessions. At one point, two students—brother and sister—became my three-times-a-week meal ticket. They lived in a colossal home in one of Vancouver’s most upscale neighbourhoods. Lovely kids: hard working, respectful, and intelligent. They also practiced violin and piano, took extracurricular classes, played tennis and ping-pong. Their chock-a-block full schedule both impressed and unnerved me.

One week, I became quite ill with the flu and cancelled classes. I spent the week recovering: reading books, writing, sleeping. Upon my return, the students were polite but not quite as attentive. Before I left, the students' mother informed me my services were no longer needed; a new tutor had been hired while I was away. In one fell swoop my personal income was slashed by two-thirds. I was gobsmacked. The mother said, with a smile meant, I suppose, to ease the pain as she quoted an axiom from her culture: “Unlucky in this life; lucky in the next.”

There were many things learned from this scenario, but a lesson in “luck skills” was not one of them.

In contemporary western culture, the concept of luck plays such a small role overall that those who place heavy emphasis on it are often accused of lacking a sense of reality. But I wonder if this position is changing.

In Woody Allen’s film Match Point, Allen explores the thin line between good and bad luck, acknowledging hard work is important, but that it really boils down to luck:

“The man who said ‘I'd rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It's scary to think so much is out of one's control. There are moments in a [tennis] match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win. Or maybe it doesn't, and you lose.”

Throughout the film, each character resolves his or her good/bad luck ratio differently: some who have always had good fortune, seem unaware of luck’s value; those who work hard and find luck are ever-aware of luck’s precariousness. Those who don’t deserve good luck still manage to squeeze it out; those who don’t deserve bad luck lose in all manner of disappointing ways. Allen seems to point out the randomness of luck, and how those who recognize how hard they’ve worked to attain it are the only ones who appreciate it.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell is one of those people who sees luck’s greater role in success. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’d seen the Woody Allen film before embarking on his latest “uncovery” in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. Upfront I will say I’ve not read the book, and am extrapolating the book’s content from interviews with Gladwell I’ve heard and read these past few months, which is essentially this, as Richard Handler summarizes:

“For Gladwell, what is important is that all success is contingent — a crapshoot. Successful people are lucky, born at the right time, the right place and under the right stars and historical circumstances.”

Whatever you may think of Gladwell, with his book will come a widespread discussion of its content, including how much luck has to do with a person’s success.

All this may suggest, then, that regardless of all the work one puts into a pursuit, without luck, a certain set of circumstances, and—maybe—talent, one still may not reach “success.” In order for that suggestion not to put us into a funk, we might recognize this means we as a society need to seriously reconsider what success is or isn’t.

Gladwell describes in his interview with Charlie Rose, a book that follows up on the lives of those who attended the first school for gifted children. The book reveals that none of them had done anything exceptional with their lives. Until you look further and realize that they’re all happy, and possibly chose not to pursue that exceptional kind of success, having seen early in life what pursuing success of that ilk entails.

Another factor in the equation Gladwell writes about is the western world’s essential intellectual laziness—how kids in other cultures (I’m assuming he goes beyond Asian culture in his book) are more motivated to figure out problems, to keep up their studies, to excel. I get the sense he’s saying we in western culture have an underachievement complex. My former ESL client would probably agree, if that newly graduated me were held up as an example of western culture. Thankfully (not luckily), my work ethic has changed for the better.

But the most important idea taken from all of these sources—the personal experience, the film, the social pop philosopher—is that in any society, not providing children with greater educational opportunities, and teens the tools to recognize an opportunity when it is shown them or how to follow up on such a thing, means capable, deserving adults may remain at risk of getting stuck in the realm of “bad luck.” Certainly, learning the hard way has its value, but if we can provide opportunity to those who start out in a “hard way,” everyone wins. With a little opportunity…

Friday, January 16, 2009

Another Kind of Yuletide Log

This post I’ve got a quick tip for all of us writers who can’t seem to find the time to write. You know who you are. Work is hectic, the kids are screaming when you get home, dinner isn’t ready and there’s a pile of laundry next to the bedroom door. You deal with all of it and then, when you sit down to write, you notice that you haven’t mown the lawn in a couple of weeks and the grass is mocking you (admittedly only a problem for my Hawaiian lawn right now).

The tip? Keep a writing log. Whether your goal is a novel, short story collection, or a spiral bound collection of flashes about gardening, a log lets you see your progress and makes the insurmountable task that much easier to mount.

Let’s say you’re working on a novel. A big one. A planned 165,000 word manuscript about the segregation of big city neighbourhoods and the clash of cultures this engenders. Using the word count function of your preferred software you learn that you average 350 words an hour. So if you can find 5 hours a week to devote to writing 5 x 350 = 1750 words a week and that novel is wrapped up in a little under 2 years. Not bad, eh? Get aggressive with your writing time and a 1st draft of your tome could be ready for revision much quicker.

A log doesn’t have to go into detail about the content of the day’s writing (but it can if you want), it simply has to document how many words you wrote that day and a couple of points on where the story was at and where the story wanted to go. That’s it. I can vouch that tangible, reviewable evidence of progress is great motivation. I just started the log thing this year and I’ve gotten more writing done early in 2009 than I did in almost all of 2008. Scary but true. I even entered this blog post into my log: couldn’t think of anything to blog about (again) so I wrote about you, log, and how wonderful and amazing you are and how I’m going to go out and get you your very own notebook so I can start handwriting you and have your pages to rub when I need comforting…

Err, time to go.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rebecca: Compelling Old Cheese

by Tricia Dower

I rarely gravitate toward romantic suspense, but I stayed up way past my bedtime Tuesday finishing Daphne du Maurier’s highly popular 1938 novel, Rebecca. (I don’t like to be too caught up on my reading.)

The story is narrated by an unnamed, impecunious 21-year-old Plain Jane, employed as companion to the idiosyncratic Mrs. Van Hopper. The narrator falls in love with and marries the dashing, forty-something Maxim de Winter, an aristocrat who has been suffering from depression since his first wife, Rebecca, died a year earlier. The new Mrs. de Winter moves into her husband’s estate, the majestic Manderley on the moody, windswept Cornish coast, and must deal with the “ghost” of the beautiful, talented Rebecca and the villainous Mrs. Danvers, Manderley’s housekeeper. The women wear frocks, and everyone smokes non-stop. (Mrs. Van Hopper douses her cigarettes in cups of coffee and jars of thick white face cream. Others flick ashes on the floor or fill giant ashtrays.)

I borrowed the book from the library as research for a writing project and intended only to skim it for relevant bits, but the famous first line hooked me—Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again—and I couldn’t put it down until the dramatic finish. I was captivated by du Maurier’s highly descriptive details and her ability to draw fascinating characters through both narrative and dialogue. (Mrs. Van Hopper is a particular treat and Mrs. Danvers gave me shivers.)

The book didn’t get cheesy for me until about three-quarters of the way through when Mrs. Danvers becomes all too transparent, spoiling my fun. Even cheesier are (a) Maxim’s later confession to his new bride that he killed Rebecca and (b) a litany of Rebecca’s heretofore unknown sins recited all at once. It felt like the last few minutes of a Colombo episode where Peter Falk assembles all the suspects in a room and proves he’s smarter than you. At this point, I lost respect for the book as a literary work, but I was so caught up in the twisting, turning plot I had to see it through to the surprising final paragraph. The Da Vinci Code of 1938, although Rebecca is better written. It rises above its genre, as do Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

After reading the book, I’m left wondering if the cheesy bits were failings on du Maurier’s part, or if I’m a snob when it comes to romantic suspense and its cousin, the gothic novel. I do enjoy mystery, danger, and strong settings. I loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the eerie castle in Transylvania, for example, not in small part because I could glimpse Count Dracula’s humanity and relate to him on some level. On the other hand, du Maurier’s “evil, vicious and rotten” Rebecca seems to have no redeeming qualities (unless physical beauty is a redeeming quality). You can be forgiven for being glad Maxim gets away with her murder; in fact you practically collude with him in it. And the almost too-good-to-be-true way du Maurier solves her plot problems is a letdown after the superb psychological studies she provides of jealousy and regret.

In a 1993 New York Times article, Stephen King said, “Rebecca is a pretty good novel and an excellent piece of entertainment—a book any aspiring popular writer should read, if only for its bravura pacing and narrative control. Critics may sneer, but it's impossible to do this sort of thing unless you have an almost perfect downbeat in your head. Du Maurier had it.”

The book was a tremendous success when it came out and still sells thousands of copies a year. (I’m an envious snob.) But the Wall Street Journal reported that du Maurier wrote to a friend: "You don't know how hurtful it is to have rotten, sneering reviews, time and time again throughout my life. The fact that I sold well never really made up for them."

So, my dear writing friends, what would you rather have: good reviews or compelling cheese that sells?

Photo: Daphne du Maurier

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Want a Tattoo and a Mohawk

My biggest fear is that I’ll get a tattoo that looks like a Calamata olive from afar, or a nicotine patch. I’d like something mean, a la Vin Deisel, or crawling up the neck like George Clooney had in that movie by that director of that movie called Reservoir Dogs. The Mohawk I want messy, homemade, like DeNero in Taxi Driver. And I want muscles to go with the Mohawk and tattoo. And I want to be greased up and riding a Harley nights, week-ends. What? Don’t be looking at me like that. I’m fed up and bored in this skin. That’s all. I want to make noise when I walk as if I’m wearing spurs. I want my cigarettes to stank like only a tobacco farmer would love. I want a pistol like Mel Gibson had in the first movie of that series when he put the barrel in his mouth but just couldn’t do it. I want the gun for that, just so I can play out that scene once a month. I want a sports car with fat, cartoonish, wheels, a sports car that goes grrrrrrrrr at the lights.

So any ideas about the tattoo? There's only a couple months before I hit forty-five.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Last words...

Sometimes you misunderestimated me.
~George W. Bush, speaking to reporters at his last press conference

In case you missed it, here's one of many recaps.

As I look forward to the next four years listening to a well-spoken US president, I admit I'll miss such Bush blunders.

But riding the bus to the work today, overhearing two college football players exchang their brilliant observations on coaches and chicks in what could easily have been a comedy skit on Rick Mercer or This Hour has 22 Minutes, I realized it's almost too easy to riff on Bushisms.

But then, this will be my last chance for such trivial fun. It's been a helluva ride.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

All Blogged Out

by Tricia Dower

I’m being lazy this week. Doubling up. Posting a link to an item I wrote for the “Silent Girl Speaks” blog on my website. I’ve been neglecting it for months in favour of the CWC. (And why shouldn’t I, you ask. After all, a few folks comment, here, if I’m lucky. There, not at all.)

Here, I write about my comings and goings, literary thoughts, and anything else on my mind. “Silent Girl Speaks” has a more narrow focus related to the issues I touch upon in the collection. But sometimes the two foci (is that a word?) intersect. (Can foci even do that?) Like earlier this week when I wrote “Futuristic Fiction,” about the change in scientific projections for sea level rise from melting Arctic ice and how it affected my decision as to what book to write next. I’m all blogged out for the week, so here’s the link.

The marooned polar bear is from the Silent Girl video.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

When the Words Flow...

Feverish creativity hits me occasionally when I’m composing music. Like Sunday night. I got up in the morning prepared for a day of chores, and just while I sipped my morning coffee I thought I’d dabble on an orchestral piece I’ve been writing. Well! I was at it the whole day, never left the house, never lifted a chore-finger, couldn’t even get to bed at a decent hour, themes running through my head, had to keep turning back on the light, firing up the laptop and writing a bit more music. Eventually I got a few winks. In the morning though, the compulsion to compose was still going strong and I whipped off a new section before heading in to work.

I never get that with writing. Writing writing. You know—the stuff you’re reading right here! Whenever I learn about the brain’s heterogeneity—how we have different areas that perform discrete functions—I believe it! My composing brain is NOTHING like my writing brain. (I wrote about this before—I, Veronica; I, Betty; I, Jughead—I know! It just keeps surprising me!)

Music takes me away from the world and I float freely outside time and space. Writing digs me deeper into the world—its little anxieties, its time-bound pressures, its space-crunched realities—there’s always a back and forth between what I’ve just written on the page and a quick check with the real world for veracity’s sake! The only equivalent in music occurs occasionally when I have to look up the oboe in Adler’s The Study of Orchestration because I can’t remember how low it can go when playing softly.

When I’ve got the main work of a story done and it seems good and true, there come a few absolutely delicious revisions where I’m just tinkering with the wording. That’s the closest I get to composing with prose—when I’m juggling commas and words just to get the…music (that’s the only word for it!)…right.

I spent longer on this sentence—“Our mother is still on the lawn, drenched, the plate in her lap a splashing puddle, the red wine between her legs diluted, pink, half rain."—than anything I’ve ever written. It started as—“Our mother is still on the lawn, drenched, the plate in her lap a splashing puddle, the wine between her legs pink, half diluted with rain.” Hours and hours and hours and hours of blissful work. And the really super-freaky amazingly-scary thing is that now that I look it… it’s still not right! I think it should have been—“ Our mother is still on the lawn, drenched, the plate in her lap a splashing puddle, the red wine between her legs diluted, now pink, half rain."—yup, that’s more musical!

Perhaps I’ll take it away for a long weekend and juggle it around some more! Heaven!

And the really super-cool amazingly-joyful thing is that I have an entire book that needs just such a revision. I’m scared to dive in because it might just take over my life. I’ve learned how to manage composing-fever (somewhat) but I suspect I’ll need fresh strategies to tame fresh brainbeasts.

I smell a writing holiday coming!

But unlike the woman in the photo above (lifted from the Guardian's "Five Best...Writing Holidays") I think mine will be taking place in the laundry room. Its all I can afford. (But when you're feverish with creativity, a view is wasted anyway, right? Right? Sigh...)

Monday, January 05, 2009

“…before this dreadful winter.”

By Tamara Lee

The last time I posted, I included a photo of Vancouver in what was its current state—a quaint by comparison photo, given the amount of snow that’s since fallen here in Canada’s Narnia.

For the past three years, I’ve been telecommuting as a freelance editor, so winter woes haven’t much disturbed my daily life. But tomorrow I’ll begin a contract position at The Capilano Review, whose office is situated at Capilano University (nee Capilano College), on the snow-riddled hills of North Vancouver. Tonight, as the snow falls for the 21st day, severe weather warnings are pronounced, road closures continue, and I regularly check the transit and University road conditions.

Meanwhile, fittingly, as this seemingly epic situation unfolds, I’m watching the film The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on the CBC.

Although I’ve read the book a few times, as a child, then as a young adult, tonight all I seem fixated on is how that snow does eventually thaw, and cherry blossoms will again bloom.

So tomorrow, as I trek the treacherous sidewalks at 7 a.m. to ensure I won’t be late on my first day, and wait for what will likely be very long and cold periods for the buses that don’t come, I’ll recall those images of cherry blossoms and imminent spring. And be grateful for the Thermos full of hot tea I’ll be bringing.

(Title quote: Tumnus, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Image credit: Jaki Good)