I often quip that the reason short stories are so well received in Canada is because we are used to a short growing season. Although with a large garden at my home in Ottawa and gardens spread over three acres in Osceola (about 115km northwest of Ottawa) and volunteering to work in the peony gardens at the Central Experimental Farm on Thursday mornings, I have come to realize that the gardening season is longer than most people realize.
All this digging in the earth and constant weeding, weeding, weeding, simply interferes with allocation of writing time. At least, my creative writing, which is mostly poetry and occasionally short stories. I still manage to crank out articles and press releases for various newsletters and societies for which I volunteer any time of the year. I can do this quickly and with little thought as I worked in communications for a good deal of my career and learned to hone this skill. All this is to say that my season of scripting, weather dependent, extends from late October to late April. A typical day is getting up between 7 and 8, having a large cup of strong tea and a light breakfast and then fire up the computer and hitting the keyboard.
When I retired, I thought: Great I will have all the free time to write. When working, I had only the evenings and weekends, so I would schedule that time as I could for writing. I learned to shut out the noise and distractions of family home life. But being freshly retired, it was so easy to procrastinate: Oh I will work on this tomorrow. (“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow”, as Macbeth utters in his soliloquy.) It took me about a year finally to say to myself: Buckle down and get to work. That means not going onto e-mail or other social media distractions, not answering the phone and staying focused on the task at hand.
Although sometimes I start off in the morning with writer’s block or trepidation on whether I will write anything, once I start working on a poem, which often starts with a line that springs to mind, the creative side of my brain comes into force and lines take shape as an initial piece. Once I have a draft, I look at what it is attempting to say, what its central theme is. I sit at my computer and let my imagination go. I play around with words and phrases that relate back to that strand. When I wrote by hand, a thesaurus was always close to hand. Now I simply use that mechanism on the computer, along with the Encarta Dictionary. I freefall among the information there. Sometimes a word I am looking up will trigger in me other words, different images. I also Goggle and let my imagination roam randomly. This is the part of writing that I love. It is a puzzle I am slowly piecing together, shaping, polishing and bringing to the surface.
I work solidly until 11:35 – at least until the snow flies, which demands 11:15. I leave for a noon-hour fitness class. Riding my bike or walking the 2km provides me with time to mull over what I have worked on that morning. Once in fitness class, I cannot workout and explore things creatively. But when I am heading homeward around 1:15, back on the bike or walking, I immediately slip into that meditative, inventive state.
I have a light lunch and usually a 20-minute nap. One thing about creeping decrepitude, i.e. aging, is that energy levels suddenly flag through the day. But once revived I go back to writing until early evening. Night time creative writing rarely happens as I find I am mentally exhausted. I need a break from the wave lines humming in my brain. However, as a news junkie, I don’t mind. I am addicted to the evening news and The National to keep up on the absurdity of our modern political world.
I do frequently use a moving office. This is when I take the Greyhound bus or Via Rail train to Montreal to visit my son and his family. Lady Gregory, the Anglo-Irish poet, playwright and activist, once wrote that she found the forward motion and rhythm of the train stimulated her creative process. Bringing my iPad or laptop with me on the transport gives me an excellent tool for writing. I have two and a-half hours of solitude and arrive at the Central Station in Montreal with one, sometimes two drafts of poetry. The return trip allows me to work on the draft(s) as I wend my way back home. Or even, the beginning of another poem. I will fashion these in the days to come.
I do have an office I use at home and when I am in it, the world is shut out. Mind you, my office is not pristine and uncluttered. Being a Virgo, I do favour order. However, my office is a refuge and even though every day I swear to myself that I will clean up or straighten up the paper that accumulates, I never seem to get around to it, except occasionally when I can no longer stand it. My office, like my poetry, is a work in progress. And anyway, the magical writing of poetry is much more fun than shuffling, filing or shredding paper.
Being retired, people often ask me why I do not go south as a break from winter. For me, this is the season of creativity. There is a certain security in being homebound, among familiar things. Yes, Ottawa winters can be cold, snowy and way too long, but they also offer the option to hunker down indoors and fuel the creative fires. If I were in a warmer climate, I would want to be out and about exploring that country. I simply prefer to be home and free to dig around in the ingenious allotment of words.
Blaine Marchand's award writing has appeared in magazines across Canada, the US and Pakistan. He has been active in the Ottawa poetry scene since the 1970s. His chapbook, My Head, Filled With Pakistan, was published in November 2016. He is currently working on his seventh full-length collection, Where You Dwell, and a collection of short stories, Nomad. Poems have recently appeared in the League of Canadian Poets’ Heartwood anthology, the forthcoming Mansfield Press’ Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology and Lummox Press’s Tamaracks: Canadian poetry for the 21st century.