Thursday, June 7, 2018

Erin Emily Ann Vance : my (small press) writing day

I wake around 7 am, to my partner reaching over for a kiss before he heads to the winery he works as a farm manager and beekeeper. I sleep for anywhere from another hour to another five hours; a hurdle to my writing is my need for seemingly endless sleep.

On a good day, an alarm, or the street cleaners propels me out of bed around eight, and I do my best to resist the urge to check Facebook, Twitter, and email. I am slow in the mornings. I throw on an old tee shirt and head to our kitschy yellow kitchen to make some tea, or, if I'm feeling ambitious, brew some coffee. Sometimes I remember to make breakfast. I stumble into the living room and either sit on the floor, painting in the sun, or read in my armchair by the window. I usually do this for an hour or so, or until I remember the coffee or tea growing cold in the kitchen. If my partner left some jellybeans or chips by the couch I snack on those and regret it later on. I listen to jazz records or true crime podcasts in this time, too tired to un-hunch myself from my book or my canvas on the floor. When I finally have a cup of something warm in my hands (usually re-heated), I stare out the bay windows at the garden in front of our building, then at the river across the street, then at the skyscrapers of downtown Calgary. In the spring, I watch the new blooms and the bees swarming them. I watch the crows play in the trees. If it is warm, I take an old blanket into the front garden and lay in the sun. I will half-heartedly read or doodle until a new flower or an insect piques my interest. I spend a lot of my morning time chasing slow bees with thimbles of sugar water, trying to revive them. When it doesn’t work, I collect the dead bodies and put them in a tin. I often scribble ideas and lines for poems in a notebook or text them to myself while I wait for the vitamin d to do its trick.

After this quiet time, I try to get some of the housework out of the way, avoiding folding the laundry or vacuuming, but always rinsing and drying the recycling and making sure the wine glasses are clean for dinner. Again, I listen to podcasts while I tidy the house, sometimes finding myself staring open-mouthed into space, or rushing to my office to write something down that has struck me as a detail for a poem. I trim the plants while I listen to gruesome details of serial killings or the origins of folk tales. When I have opened all of the windows (not an impressive feat- most of them are so old they don't work) and watered all the plants, and tidied things enough so that I can focus, I settle in to work. I will either sprawl out in the living room, covering it with books and papers, retreat to the bed and type slowly but consistently, or sit in my office.

I recently took time off of work to focus on my writing (mainly my MA thesis). For the last six years, since I began university, I held multiple jobs in addition to being in school full-time. On top of that, I’ve held committee and volunteer positions. This break from work and doing a million things at once has been challenging: on one hand, there are few things better than waking up, making coffee, and spending an hour either painting or reading before the real work starts. On the other hand, I am so used to a day where every half hour is accounted for in my day timer that this change of pace is a shock to the system. I used to work 6+ days a week, now I work part of three days. Sometimes the motivation to write is nowhere to be found, and I jump from poetry to fiction to blogging to editing to ink drawings to mixed media collage to yoga and back again. 

I usually drift into reading for a bit and then go back to writing, before I go for a walk or a jog. Our neighbourhood is small, and it reminds me of the small town I grew up in. To the north are houses and hills, to the south are skyscrapers and the Bow River. Our neighbour has a fantastic collection of garden gnomes, and trees are everywhere. There are about four Little Free Libraries that I frequent on my walks, dropping off and picking up books. I like to wander past the houses and imagine the lives of people inside. Most of my writing day, in truth, is spent daydreaming, eavesdropping, and casually spying on the neighbours. 

A mid-afternoon bath is often when I get the most writing done. I crawl into our claw foot tub (not as glamorous as you’d think- it is stained in places and the ceramic is chipped) and place my laptop on the bath shelf my father made for me. I try to balance all of my “need to” writing with things that want to be written: for every paragraph of an academic paper I write a few lines of poetry. For every article or solicited piece I work on a short story. If I’m stuck I’ll work on Bernstein’s experiments or find something to black out.

Unlike most writers I know, one of my favourite things to do is edit. I have a massive document of first drafts of poems on my desktop, and every day I try to fix one up so that I can add it to the document of poems ready for submission. Perhaps the only organized part of my life is the way I approach submitting my writing. I have spreadsheets, folders, lists, and calendars. Submitting and editing feel like the real work, and after working as an archives assistant this structure is immensely appealing. My moments of self-doubt are plentiful, but with one look at my spreadsheet of current submissions know that I am nothing, if not persistent.

A writing day doesn’t have to involve sitting in front of the computer for eight hours. It doesn’t have to be scribbling in a notebook in a busy café. It can be catching up on sleep when your husband has the kids, so that you have the energy to spend an hour before bed working on your novel. It can be going for a run to clear your head so that the endless chatter quiets long enough for your poetic voice to come through and write a poem. It can be depression chaining you to your bed and texting yourself an idea for a poem in between naps. It can be your anxiety forcing you to clean every inch of the house until you are frantically scribbling down an idea that formed in the dish grease splashed up your arms.

A writing day, to me, is any day that I persist and any day that I remain curious. A writing day is any day that I assert to myself or the world (in whatever way that may be) that I exist and that my voice matters. A writing day is any day that I can walk back from the grocery store and stop to admire the way that tiny white blossoms on ivy look like huge dew drops at 7pm on a dry day.

Erin Emily Ann Vance’s work appears in journals such as Contemporary Verse 2 and filling station. She was a 2017 recipient of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artist Prize and a 2018 Finalist for the Alberta Magazine Awards in Fiction. She has work forthcoming in The Occulum, Revue Post, and The Blasted Tree. Find her at and @erinemilyann on instagram and twitter. 

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