Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ellie Sawatzky : MY WRITING DAY

My day begins with an alarm at 6:30 A.M. A dark studio apartment, garden level (a.k.a basement).

I take the bus to work, across the Burrard Street Bridge, the sky slowly lightening. I work full-time as a nanny in a downtown highrise. It’s a job that fell into my lap sometime last summer, one that was meant to be temporary, but became somewhat permanent by a stroke of luck or misadventure, depending on how you look at it.  

I eat breakfast at work with the baby. Make coffee. Make more coffee. My view is of the North Shore mountains, fog rolling off the snowy peaks, seaplanes flying into and out of Coal Harbour. There’s a co-op building across the street, its balconies littered with strange assortments of things—parts of bicycles, dead plants, a clotheshorse, a pool noodle, a Persian rug, a Twister mat. How many hours of my life have I spent staring at these things and wondering? Sometimes people appear in the windows of the apartments and we look at each other, and I think about that Leonard Cohen poem, “I Wonder How Many People in This City”. I wonder how many go back to their desks / and write this down.

While the baby plays, I spend 40 minutes or so in the crook of the sectional couch with my laptop, answering e-mails and updating my blog, IMPROMPTU, a series of writing prompts.

I have my own writing prompt assignment to finish today. Tonight I’m performing a poem at Mashed Poetics, an evening of spoken-word-and-music mashup. Here’s how it works: a famous rock ‘n roll album is selected; a band learns the songs; poets are asked to write a new poem based on an assigned song from the album; poets perform in between the songs. Tonight’s album is Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty. My song assignment is “Feel a Whole Lot Better.”

I put the song on now, and dance with the baby.

We do yoga together. The baby has mastered namaste prayer hands and three-legged dog.

Afterwards, I pack up the stroller and we go for a walk to the park. The baby ignores the slide and swingset and spends a solid 30 minutes picking up leaves and placing them delicately in puddles.

When we arrive back home, it’s lunchtime, and then naptime.

With the baby asleep in the other room, I return to the crook of the couch and listen to “Feel a Whole Lot Better” through my headphones. Full Moon Fever is an album that stirs all kinds of feelings in me. It’s the soundtrack of my childhood, the first album my parents bought to play on their new sound system when I was 2 or 3 years old. Nostalgia rises up in me like a living thing. This particular song is about heartbreak, as so many songs are, and it’s about moving on and feeling better. I have a new understanding of heartbreak these days; this adds another layer to my listening.

With the song playing, I make some handwritten notes in fine-tipped black Sharpie in a full-size spiral notebook. This is how I get into a “poem brain.” Then I open my laptop to work on the poem that I’ve already started in a Word document, rearranging lines and images. I give it a title, “Another Breakup Poem” (what else?).

The baby wakes up.

I used to think that I needed full days of pure, unstructured, uninterrupted time, in order to get into a writing headspace. One of the things I like about this job is that it actually allows me time to write. It also forces me into a structured schedule, and it forces me to use my time wisely. This is something that, presumably, most writers who are also parents or caregivers figured out long before me.

I often feel anxious about being a nanny. Nannying pays better than any writing-related job I’ve ever had. Even so, it’s not a job with a secure future, and I can only afford to live in Vancouver because I’ve lived in my rent-controlled studio apartment for 5 years. The work itself can be lonely, mind-numbing, and frustrating. I would never have chosen it for myself—I’m not even sure I want children of my own. But it seems to have chosen me. And for right now it feels all right. I’m grateful to be able to pay my bills. I’m grateful for the writing time.

I head home from work at 4 o’clock, back over the bridge, the sky almost dark again. At home, I print off a copy of my poem, put on my best Tom Petty-inspired outfit, and head back out the door for a night of poetry and music, and for right now it feels all right.

Ellie Sawatzky is a poet and fiction writer from Kenora, Ontario, currently based in Vancouver. She holds an MFA from UBC’s Creative Writing program, and her writing has appeared in Room, The Dalhousie Review, Little Fiction, Prairie Fire, FreeFall, Arc, and elsewhere. In 2017, she won 1st place in CV2’s Young Buck Poetry Prize, and was awarded runner-up in both the Thomas Morton Memorial Prize and Room’s Poetry Contest. Her poetry chapbook, Rhinocerotic, was recently published by Frog Hollow Press. She writes a blog of writing prompts called IMPROMPTU at

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