Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Joseph Cassidy-Skof : My Day of Writing, For A Moment…

Morning is inviting for a moment:
quiet tranquil lighting for a moment.

Nothing is as dead as my savasana
while daydreams are biting for a moment.

headwaters reciting for a moment.

Cell phone throned Kubota orange, making hay.
A pastoral knighting for a moment. 

Humming Highway 7A to Siri.
Fourteen parts air igniting for a moment.

Half-hung wallpaper and window casings
but four walls uniting for a moment.

A flurry of punches above my weight
seize with type-bars fighting for a moment.

Wielding limp shovels under Northern Lights
as if expediting for a moment.

Words/worth living for a day of writing;
my day of writing, for a moment.

Joseph Cassidy-Skof’s poems have appeared in journals, agendas, and workbooks such as Moleskin, Quo Vadis and Hilroy. He was recently published in broadside form by Peterborough’s bird, buried press. Joseph is an English Literature undergrad at Trent University Durham, and lives in the hills of Scugog with his wife, Jesse, and their newborn son, Ellis.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Alex Manley : My Typical Writing Day

I’m not sure if this exactly counts as a typical writing day for me, since I’ve only done it about a half-dozen times, but each time has been so enjoyable that I feel like it’s become my de facto writing day of choice.

I’ve discovered over time that the primary thing holding me back from getting a solid chunk of writing done at any given time is my tendency to waste time on the internet if left to my own devices. To circumvent that, I’ve figured out a way to hack my own brain, in a manner of speaking, to wring the most writing possible out of it.

I’ll first get coffee with a friend (typically my close friend Sruti, with whom I love to have long, involved chats about writing, publishing, and the state of my emotional self) at a coffee shop near my alma mater, Concordia University (typically Café Myriade on Mackay). After a few hours of that, I’m left both well-caffeinated and full of thought.

Then, after we say our goodbyes, I’ll set up shop on the seventh floor of the university’s main building for a period of several hours. The place is well-lit and ventilated; features a good amount of table space and lots of outlets for chargers; outside of peak parts of the school year, mostly empty; and, most importantly, has a wi-fi network I can no longer access.

It’s also in a part of town that’s far enough from my apartment that I’m not tempted to leave until I’ve made the whole trip worth my while. Once I’m there, I’m in it for the long haul, and there’s no wi-fi for me to goof around on. All I can do, at that point, is write. So I do.

Alex Manley is a Montreal writer. A graduate of Concordia University's creative writing program, he was the winner of the 2012 Irving Layton Award for Fiction. His work has appeared in Maisonneuve magazine, Carte Blanche, The Puritan, Powder Keg, and the Association of American Poets' Poem-a-Day feature, and his debut poetry collection, We Are All Just Animals & Plants, was published by Metatron Press in 2016. You can learn more about him at alexmanley.com

Friday, January 26, 2018

Anita Dolman: My (small press) writing day

Other than a few poem edits and this essay right here, I haven’t had a small press writing day in months. But I did draft this essay on a Saturday in October, and am still amazed that I had the two hours:

My partner, also a writer, works weekends in retail, so we brought him to work this morning, then spent two hours shopping for parts for my son’s Hallowe’een costume before grocery shopping. I hate buying ready-made food, because I hate wasting money, and every time I do, I picture my retirement and any leaves to write again before then drifting further and further away into the future, but on Saturdays, my son and I go to Metro and buy a couple of wraps for $5 each, because its been months since I’ve been able to manage making and cleaning up our own lunch on a Saturday, since it’s the same day I do all the errands and cleaning and make dinner, preferably one that makes ….

[Sorry, had to stop to teach my son how to colour with pastels so he can colour the cardboard coffins we picked up this morning. I also reminded him, though too late, unfortunately, to wash his hands after experimenting with them, so now his art supply box is decorated with streaks and marks roughly the size and shape of a nine-year-old’s fingers.]

… lots of leftovers so our lives are easier later in the week, then pick my partner up for the end of his day before we all have dinner, clean up and, this Saturday, do some of the Halloween decorating so my partner can be here for it, although first I’ll have to dust the house so we can set out the decorations. I admit I’m putting that part off because I resent how it represents my absolute failure as an adult and a woman that I regularly let the house get this dusty when we don’t even live out in the country where I could make excuses about open doors and blowing sand. I am trying not to also resent the friend who asked me last week if our cat’s asthma diagnosis “could maybe be from all the dust?” I feel it would be rude of me to consider her rude when she is, after all, right about my failure here.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite an artistic flair for self-pity, my life’s not any harder than that of any other writer, or, at least, any female writer with other humans relying on her, that I know of. And my depression and anxiety probably aren’t any worse than those of the many women and writers I ….

[Sorry, had to help find a way to clean chalk off of cardboard.]

…. know of either, though I admit I’m probably still emotionally exhausted from the months of caregiving and worrying earlier this year as my mother was dying. That said, my latest medication does seem to be relatively more effective in keeping me from falling too far into the abyss when it comes. It also has the added bonus of restoring my libido after years of it being crushed by the avalanche of previous little pills, not that there’s any time to do anything about this new …

[Sorry, had to give tissue-related advice.]

…. resurgence, but maybe it will add to my creativity, because I really do plan to go back to writing after I finish the final edits of this anthology of other writers’ work I am co-editing, which am honestly extremely excited about, even though it took much more time than I’d expected, but it was probably a good distraction from the dying and the being overwhelmed and, of course, the abyss that still slides open beneath me at the most unexpected times.

But you asked about my small press writing day. And today, though it doesn’t, of course, include writing, it has included waiting for emails back from a couple of small reading series who have been kind enough to invite or agree to have me to read. My kid played while I updated my submission tracking sheet to account for the rejections that came in this week, and I remembered, finally, to find some sort of postcard to sign and put in the copies of my book my publisher is giving away on Goodreads this month. And as I write all this I realize this post is the longest thing I’ve written in ages and I might even post a link to it in the writing support group I’m part of on Facebook, since their shared misery helps keep me sane and it seems only fair to reciprocate when I can.

And all of this list of things I have managed to do reminds me what I’ve thought for some time is the most personally important part of small ….

[Sorry, colour-advising break.]

…. press writing, which is to support each other, at all stages: before, during, after and in between writing. Online, in the articles, posts and tweets I read to remind myself I’m a writer during breaks at my day job, I see so much crushing guilt, especially from female writers. It’s in response to the enormity of the chasm between the expectations (often our own, driven into us from all angles of society) to not only be perfect in filling every, single one of our many roles, but to be seen by others as filling these all perfectly, all of the time, while also, to our own standards, writing at the top of our game, and as prolifically as possible.

[No, there is no way to change pink back to white, son, but your timing is interesting and there’s a lesson you could take from what just happened here…]

But if you’re a small press writer (or a painter or a woodworker or a costume designer) who probably won’t write (or paint or build or sew) ….

[Sorry, had to turn the lights on throughout the house; the dark can still be scary, no matter how slowly it comes in.]

… again for a day or a week or a month or who knows how long, it is not a failing.

Let me say it again, for both of us: We have not failed. Holding it close will not kill it. Alistair McLeod wrote and published so little, really, but what he did was bloody brilliant and he refused to be pushed for more. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and Gwendolynn McEwan (and so many others) pushed and were pushed, and their work was spectacular, but they broke or were broken in the meantime.

The very idea of economy and of value itself (human and financial) is based on the inherent good of productivity. But I am no one’s factory, and neither are you. Maybe you can write through it all, thanks to gadgets and good planning, or through funding and support, or the emotional labour of others. Maybe your bootstraps are just stronger than mine.

But, if you do not write, or build or make anything, today, I promise I won’t hold it against you, if you don’t hold it against me. I believe you when you tell me you will make it work, eventually, and when you need to. Carol Shields waited for all of her children to be in school before she started writing in earnest. Maybe your next eventually, or mine, won’t even be long from now. It could be in a week or two. Or maybe it’s a decade away.

I’ve got a poetry manuscript and a bunch of fiction to work on when I resurface. Right now, I’m being called ….

[Just wait a minute, kiddo; I’m almost done.]

…. away, and the cars are rushing by the house in a steady stream of humans needing to be somewhere else, and the cat is wheezing from an asthma attack, and I have to find somewhere to move the pile of 30 books from the coffee table before I can even start to dust, and I haven’t even thought about starting dinner yet, and I am definitely not going to manage to write another blood word today, but I HAVE NOT FAILED.

There are words out there that are mine, I …

[Gaa! Well, at least I learned today that soap and hot water do wash pastel off a dining table, if combined with enough scrubbing.]

… have made things, I fundamentally need to make more things, and because the depression has neither killed me nor made me stronger, I can and I will make more art.

Not today, of course. Today, I wrote this. I’m going to be puffed up with pride about it time I’m searching for the rest of the Hallowe’en decorations in the crawl space, answering my son’s questions about the costumes of the past.

But later, tonight, I’ll also check Facebook and Twitter. I want to be sure the rest of the writers I know can make it to their next book, too.

Anita Dolman’s debut short fiction collection is Lost Enough (Morning Rain Publishing, 2017). Her poetry and fiction have appeared in journals and anthologies throughout North America, including Canadian Ginger, Matrix Magazine, On Spec, Grain, and Triangulation: Lost Voices. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, and was a finalist for the 2015 Alberta Magazine Award for fiction. You can follow her on Twitter @ajdolman.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Joshua Weiner : a writing day

I've been asked if I'd like to write about my writing day, and I've accepted the invitation. So now I'm having a writing day about my writing day.  Sunday, 8:45 am, I've slept too long.  My younger one, in high school, is still asleep upstairs--3 hours, at least, until he's up.  I've moved through a series of mild thresholds to get to my notebook: stretching; making coffee; talking to Sarah about her morning so far, writing--a novelist, she's been at it already today for many hours.  Now she's left with the dog, and I've faced down the Sunday New York Times Book Review, which only includes two books of poetry in its end-of-year round up of 100 "notable" books.  Why do they even bother?  You know none of the editors has read either of them.  A typical writing day might start with a little abject fury.  Given the current political crisis in the U.S. under Trump, it's difficult to even look at the book review after the front page.  (At 54, I still read newspapers out of habit).  I fill the coffee cup, leave the kitchen, head upstairs.  I'll have a few hours here at my notebook, at my desk, writing this piece I'm now writing, or turning to some German language drills (always humbling), reading others' poetry--new stuff mixed with touchstones (also humbling)--with a minute here & there to refill my cup.  10 am.  The little routine is like a path I follow through familiar woods at the end of which is a pond.  I've gone quietly to the pond, and have dropped my line in.  Every morning I get there, it's the same, but as the line unspools and finds its depth, the pond starts to change shape and size, becoming a lake, a sea, a puddle, a lake, etc., its dilation rapidly shifting in random sequence.  I'm waiting now to feel a strike from something below the surface, some kind of tension in the line, a vibration that travels to my fingers.  I may try a different spot, cast out beneath a willow that shades one area of the water's placid-looking surface (really a site of innumerable micro-tensions and imperceptible events), or out to a log, or a bed of lily pads, or someone's old bike that, out of spite or revenge or boredom, got the heave-ho, its bent wheel poking up like the back fin of a metaphorizing fish.  Even if I'm called away from the pond, my fingers stay on the line, a part of my mind alert to the slightest tension or vibration.  The tension I'm waiting to feel, though, is not outside me, but inside, where the pond is; some inchoate affective tension that, once felt, must be played carefully in order to set the hook and get the poem finally on the line.   What sets it?  A few phrases; a key image; a redolent word; a memory released; something that makes the tension more acute, that begins to define it as source and subject.  Sometimes the tension comes from reading poetry, from the build-up of energy palpable in the body, generated by cadenced sequences of good sounds.  Once there, on the line, the poem seldom slips off.  Once there, I'm never not working on the poem.  The key is to get to the pond in the morning and put the line in; otherwise, it's difficult, almost impossible, to start a writing day; I have to wait then for night.  This morning, what set the hook was the image of the line itself, resting on my finger and stretching out towards the water.  10.10 am.  Now, at the pond, with something on the line, I turn away from all other poems.  Only the need to prepare to teach might pull my attention to writing by others, and I will put it off as long as I can.  10.30 am.  Now I feel the poem (or, today, this piece of writing in front of me) coming to the surface slowly, the tension is there, but not the resistance--I feel a tug now and again as it turns back towards home depth, the unarticulated unknown.  But once I can see it below the surface, though it hasn't broken through, it hangs at that level, maybe swimming side to side.  It isn't trying to throw the hook.  We're in connection with each other now, more intimately, more quietly; it's as if the poem wants to see me as much as I want to see it.  11.00 am.  I can do some chores, leave the house without leaving the pond.  I play the line and work on the poem in my head.  I come back to my desk and notebook.  12.00 pm.  A couple more hours.  Now it's 2.00 pm.  The rest of the day will take over: family, exercise, meals, scheduling the coming week.  But my writing day is still happening.  I may duck out and steal another 30 minutes, or 10, or just two.  I am in suspense, waiting for the sun to set, for the family bedtimes to arrive, to release me fully back to the pond.  I'm a night fisher, too.  And in the moonlight, shapes shift, grow monstrous, diminutive, seem to disappear and return changed.  I'll be there till I start to dream, half asleep, before packing it in.  1:00 am.  Those are moments often of little breakthroughs, of the poem rippling the surface--jottings, a new word, a crossing-out.  They are a source of happiness, maybe with luck on the way to joy.  Now Sarah is back, 2:15 pm, the dog has found me, and my writing day has started well.  I will follow it into the dark.  But before that, a Christmas tree, an omelet, a walk, a conversation with my son about his history paper, gutters to clean, laundry to fold.  Disturbances of emotional weather may be weathered; well-laid intentions laid-up; commitments distorted with frustrating results.  Or not.  The day started with real rain, but now the sun is out, it's alarmingly warm for December.  One wonders what it could possibly add up to, one writing day after another, given the situation.  But then I feel that tension, and there's only one release; the function of an organism trying to take it all in while simultaneously in a feedback loop with itself.   This psychic idyll of a writing day at home is made possible by teaching, by the existence, for me, these days, and for a long time now, of a university system; and within it, the humanities (so called); and within that, the studio art programs, including writing programs, that hire faculty, and so forth.  It is privilege, no doubt; and it is also a privilege, discrete, vulnerable, under reactionary attack.  The tension of a writing day includes the tension of that awareness, and the wish to keep finding new ways to create opportunities and support for others to have their writing days.  There are many ways, obviously, to do it, and some that are not so obvious; and many of them are outside that system, or remotely tangential to it, or antagonistic towards it.  If I didn't have my job, would I still have my writing days?  I like to think so, but maybe I'm just flattering myself.  During the physical laboring of a younger body, when I punched the clock, I also had my writing days, which I also fought to have; but with an older body, how easy would that be?  How long can such things last?  How many days like this one will there by for our kids, should they also desire to have such days?   I am thankful to rob mclennan for helping me have this day of writing.

Joshua Weiner is the author of three books of poetry, including The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish.  He is also the editor of At the Barriers: On the Poetry of Thom Gunn (all from Chicago).   His most recent book, Berlin Notebook, prose about the refugee crisis, was published by the Los Angeles Review of Books (2016), and funded by a Guggenheim fellowship.  His poems and essays have appeared in Best American Poetry, The New York Review of Books, The Nation, The American Scholar, The New Republic, Brick, Threepenny Review, and elsewhere.  He teaches at University of Maryland, and lives with his family in Washington D.C.