Sunday, December 30, 2018

Brianna Ferguson : The Flaneur and the Faculty Member

As a twenty-something undergrad with a near-clinical obsession with the Virginia Woolf drama The Hours, I was obsessed with the idea of The Writer. To be seated beneath an open window with a hand-rolled cigarette and a flask of whatever, scribbling the whisperings of some unseen muse into the ratty pages of a leatherbound notebook was the only future I wanted.
Hurtling towards graduation with few prospects, I switched my dream from shut-in to flaneur. Not a flaneuse--the modern, feminised form of the street-roaming, life-tasting miscreant--but an honest-to-goodness flaneur. In the style of Oscar Wilde I was going to spend my days wandering cobblestone streets writing poetry about the city and getting day drunk. Soaking it all up and writing it all down was to be my career: sampling everything, saying yes and putting my name to the results--that was it. Anything else meant selling out.
Now, years later, I am a highschool teacher in a small town. I’ve got a few minor publications under my belt, but I’m sober almost every day and the roads aren’t cobblestone but dirt and horseshit. What writing I do get done during the day comes about in fits and bursts between marking papers and planning lessons. At times, while supervising detention or overseeing a makeup test, I can squeeze out a few lines, but they tend only to reflect the busy noise of my day with little room for comment or poetic embellishment.
That’s during the day, though.
By night, it’s a different story.
Having lived in a small Vancouver apartment before moving to the Shuswap, my fiance and I had no room for a dining table. Thus, we learned to live life without a table. The only flat surface we had for pasta eating, card playing, writing etc was a black pressboard end table from IKEA (retail value $10). Upon this table we lived our lives, and so, when it came time to move, rather than cram it into the dumpster under our mattress (sorry, Mr. Landlord), we disassembled it and brought it with us. It is on this table that I write my words down in the evenings in front of the TV. This table has held beer, snacks, feet, bills, laptops, typewriters, knitting balls, cat’s asses, almost everything except schoolwork.
Seated before the TV--my electric fireplace flashing away beside me--I have a choice or two to make. Most people would counsel against watching something while writing due to the extremely distracting nature of other people’s voices, words, faces etc. But I say, while that may be the case for many, it’s different for me when I’ve got a pint in hand and a movie so familiar I could recite every line with my last two brain cells. Thus, I have a few background movies that have become as necessary as tea and armchairs are for most writers.
If I’m in a poetic mood, I opt for either The Bridges of Madison County, or Kill Your Darlings--the former, due to Francesca and Robert’s shared love of Yeats (in between affair-having) and the latter because of the still-in-school, discovering-the-world, devil-may-care, free-wheeling attitude of young Ginsberg towards jazz, sex, and all things poetry. With either of these movies on the screen and one beer (no more, no less) in my system, I can focus. It is in the initial twenty minute sweet spot (after pressing play and cracking the beer) that I’m at my most productive and my least distracted. Good writing can absolutely take place on either side of this, but it’s there as I drink that first beer and see those intrepid people on the screen going after the lives they want that I’m at my most productive.
Poetically speaking, anyways.
If it’s fiction I want, I throw on that tried-and-true favourite, The Hours. Virginia may (according to the movie) be a space-case housewife, but my god is her heroine ever worldly. Woolf’s much-referenced Clarissa Dalloway wanders London meeting writers, travelers and other big minds of her day, dodging suicide, depression, attraction--it just goes on. With Nicole Kidman’s Virginia staring into space and mumbling sentences around her lumpy cigarettes, everything I write feels profound--again, within the confines of those first twenty, beery minutes.
When the second beer is cracked and the concentration is gone, I usually descend into a game of Minecraft to let my mind wander. In Minecraft, money doesn’t exist and every street can be cobblestone. It’s while flaneur-ing my way through Minecraft that I get my best ideas.
Around midnight, I go to bed. I plug my phone in and lay down, and just as I’m drifting off to sleep, all the ideas from the Minecraft session suddenly crystallize in my mind. I lean over the bed and start typing on the Notes app on my phone, and by the next day I’ve got something to think about at work.

Brianna Ferguson is a teacher, poet, and short story writer living in the Shuswap. Her writing has appeared in magazines and anthologies across Canada, The U.S. and Great Britain. After earning her B.A. from UBCO in 2016, Brianna wrote for Vancouver Weekly while earning her B.Ed from UBC. She is currently working on a book of short stories.

Friday, December 28, 2018

My Writing Day: A User’s Guide : Jennifer Wortman

1. Get out of bed.

2. Seriously, get out of bed.



5. Get yourself and the kids ready for the day and take the kids to school. This will require about two hours but will feel like two days. If your husband isn’t home to help, it will feel like two years.

6. Return home. Consider the day’s workload. Feel immensely grateful you work from home on a flexible schedule, then remember the pitfalls of working from home on a flexible schedule. Write an enormous to-do list full of items you won’t complete because your work-work will distract you from your other work and vice versa. The items you won’t complete will include such frivolities as paying overdue bills, calling someone to fix the sink that’s been broken for months, and making doctor appointments to address various maladies.

7. Time to write.

8. Check Twitter.

9. Seriously, time to write. If you don’t write now, the work-work and other work will take over and you’ll never write. (EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON blah blah blah…)

10. Check Facebook.

11. Sufficiently demoralized by Facebook, write. Depending on the length of your to-do list, write for as little as ten minutes or as long as three hours. Only write for three hours when your to-do is list is huge and you meant to write for ten minutes. Only write for ten minutes on the rare day when you have three hours to write and suddenly find you have nothing to say. This writing may include typing and deleting the same sentence many times, rereading pages you’ve already written many times, and composing pages of literal nonsense.

12. Time to work-work, which may include one or more of the following: teaching creative writing online, proofreading books, and editing manuscripts. Think about how much writing you’d get done if you didn’t have to work-work, then realize that if you didn’t have to work-work, you’d likely spend much of the day huddled inside a great pit of despair.

13. After work-work, engage in a flurry of activity, such as doing as little housework as possible, picking up the kids and inadequately attending to their needs, doing more work-work, reading manuscripts for a literary journal, submitting manuscripts to literary journals, catching up on a small bit of what got shunted while you wrote and work-worked, etc., bingeing on Netflix, playing Two Dots, and scrapping plans to cook dinner to hit up the taco truck, sometimes all at once.

14. Get the kids to bed and enter the halcyon post/pre-writing-day phase, which may include reading, through which you simultaneously motivate and discourage yourself by imbibing the work of superior, more successful writers; more Netflix bingeing or, as you like to call it, “plot studies,” because you suck at plot and the shows you watch, though often sucky at many things, excel at plot, allowing you to pretend your compulsive TV watching will improve your writing; more writing, usually poetry or weird shit befitting your half-asleep state; sleeping, during which your unconscious mind might weave a writing-worthy dream or spit out an answer to a writing problem, thus giving you something to do when you wake up at 3 a.m. in an insomniacal panic; going back to sleep, if you’re lucky, so you can make it through the next writing day.

15. Get out of bed.

16. Seriously, get out of bed!

Jennifer Wortman is the author of This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love., a short story collection forthcoming from Split Lip Press in spring of 2019. Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in Glimmer Train, Normal School, The Collagist, Hobart, DIAGRAM, Monkeybicycle, PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Collapsar, Juked, and elsewhere. She is an associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Find more at

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Typical Day (using the traditional Korean timekeeping method) : Ann Y.K. Choi

A Typical Day (using the traditional Korean timekeeping method)

Hours of the Rabbit (5 am – 7 am): My teenage daughter’s betta fish that she named Halfmoon, is almost four years old and lethargic. It takes me a few seconds to find him behind some plants. When he swims out, I turn on the tank light. I make coffee.   

Hours of the Dragon (7 am - 9 am): Doris Day(!) is singing over the PA system before O Canada and the announcements.
“What is this?” A student in the halls asks.
Que será, será. A song from the 50s,” I tell her.
            “What does that even mean?” I’m not sure if she’s confused or annoyed.
“Whatever will be, will be,” I say. Now that song’s stuck in my head.

Hours of the Snake (9 am – 11 am): I’ve been invited to deliver a workshop on writing children’s books. This is my third meeting with these grade 11 students. To add a touch of fun, I’ve divided them into five groups to play a game. They’ve named themselves Cream Puff, Snowflake Candy Cane, Milk Boom, Rainbow Jelly, and Joker.
I ask questions like How can you tighten this sentence: ‘He started walking toward the door’? Hands fly up and someone answers: “He walked toward the door.”
I’m basking in their energy and relieved that they’re getting into something as dry as condensed writing. Forty-seven questions later, Team Cream Puff and Joker are tied!
Final tie breaking question: True or false: The standard length of a children’s book is 32 pages and under 1000 words. Team Joker answers incorrectly: “No.” Team Cream Puff cheers. Sometimes, I really miss being a classroom teacher.

Hours of the Horse (11 am – 1 pm): An impromptu meeting with a vice principal brings me up to speed on a student I’ve been working with. The VP discloses that Children’s Aid and the police were involved. That was three weeks ago. I’m frustrated to be kept out of the loop. It’s not intentional, I know. So much has been happening lately; getting through the months of November and December is often exhausting.

A guidance counsellor pokes her head into my office as I’m eating my cafeteria-made butter chicken and rice. She’s looking for a student who left a math class. I haven’t seen the student but offer to help search. I run into some students I know are skipping. “Go to class,” I tell them.
“You don’t see us Miss,” they say. “Remember ‘Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.’” They laugh. I taught them the story about the three wise monkeys when they wondered where the ‘see-no-evil monkey’ emoji had come from. They know I love the monkey because I was born in the Year of the Monkey.

Hours of the Sheep (1 pm – 3 pm): I’m back walking the halls but with a different student. She suffers from severe anxiety. Rather than sit and talk, I’ve discovered that walking with some of my students helps. Some are hesitant but I tell them that science backs me up. Movement releases endorphins which helps us feel better. We’ve circled the third floor six times before I ask her if she’s feeling better. “Que será, será,” she says. And again, the song plays in my head until I settle back at my desk. I’m responding to emails from classroom teachers about a grade 11 student who just arrived in Canada. I understand their frustration – the semester is almost over and the student’s language skills are low. Because I used to be an ESL student, I’m more sympathetic towards our ESL families than most teachers. If some of my colleagues only knew just how difficult adjusting to life in Canada could be …

Hours of the Monkey (3 pm – 5 pm): A committee meeting after school goes on way too long. I’m into the Hours of the Rooster (5 pm – 7 pm) when I pull into the parking lot of the Galleria, a Korean supermarket. I grab ready-to-eat kimbap and soft tofu soup. In line, I look into the shopping cart of the white couple ahead of me: hot pepper and soybean paste, tofu, frozen mackerel, anchovy stock, bean sprouts, king oyster mushrooms, ginger, and cabbage. It hits me - they’re actually cooking Korean food at home. They’re more Korean than I am, I think, which amuses me.

Hours of the Dog (7 pm – 9 pm): My daughter and I are eating Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream and watching The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Big Bang Theory. Everything’s on PVR so we skip the intros and commercials.

Since our washing machine broke a couple of weeks ago, I’ve discovered the therapeutic side effect of handwashing clothes. The mild scent of soap settles my mind as the warm soapy water and fabric against my hands soothe my spirit. This is the one time I don’t want music in the background. Once relaxed, I tackle what I like least to do: endless school-related paperwork. I also have emails I still need to return.

Hours of the Pig (9 pm – 11 pm): My editor wants a third part added to the novel I’m working on. “There’s something comforting about that number,” she said. “We’ve come to expect that things happen in threes.”
            “What comes in threes?” I ask my daughter.
“Three little pigs, bears, and billy goats gruff. Three Musketeers, Three Amigos, and the Three Stooges.”

I wonder: What’s my 18-year-old female runaway protagonist thinking as she visits Seoul for the first time in 1925? The country is under harsh Japanese occupation. Does she sense any imminent danger? My thoughts turn to the three words I’d heard earlier: Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.

I start typing: PART III ….

(I sleep part way through the Hours of the Rat (11 pm – 1 am), Ox (1 am – 3 am) and the fierce Tiger (3 am – 5 am), considered to be the Monkey’s mortal enemy!)

Ann Y. K. Choi’s debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was a finalist for the Toronto Book Award and One of CBC Books 12 Best Canadian Debut Novels of 2016. The story was inspired by her experiences working and living above her family variety store in downtown Toronto during the 1980s. For the past 18 years, Ann has been an educator with the York Region District School Board. Her debut children’s book and new novel will be released in 2020. Her website is and Twitter is @annykchoi.

Monday, December 24, 2018

My (Small Press) Writing Day: Joshua Gillingham

5:30 AM: My phone lights up, a luminescent glow amid the otherwise dim bedroom. It broadcasts a cheerful tune, a melody that over time has come to incite a Pavlovian-style response: time to get up. Put on my gym shorts. Eat a banana. Clean the cat litter. Make the bed. Grab a water-bottle. Follow my wife down to the car.

5:50 AM: Drive through the rain, the wet black pavement like a trail of shadow.

6:00 AM: Arrive at Crossfit. Stretches, sit-ups, push-ups, deadlifts, burpees, rowing, wall-balls, handstands, thrusters, running, squats, kettlebells, pull-ups; whatever the work out of the day demands. Sweat. Release. Relax. The hardest part of the day is done.

7:15 AM: Hit the shower. Steam soothes sore muscles and all that sweat rinses down the drain. Honey-scented shampoo and herbal soap . Now I feel human again. Grab a quick breakfast, usually a slice of the quiche I make on weekends.

7:30 AM: Out the door. I live right on the water so it is a short jaunt to the pier. I walk along the harbourfront past sleeping sailboats, wheezing seagulls, and the occasional frolicking otter to my writing spot, a cafe by the name of Javawocky.

 7:45 AM: I have my coffee. I am in my usual spot in the back corner with a view of the harbour. Right now I am querying about my first novel so I open the list of publishing houses and agents that I keep on my Google Drive. Twenty five submissions completed. Five rejections so far. One interested response. I pick another off the list and start researching, writing, and filling out their submission requirements.

 10:30 AM: I have sent the submission. Maybe I’ve done two. If I have time I take a look at my website and follow up on any social media interactions. Today I check over my notes for an interview later in the week with a mythology podcaster from Scotland. Then I follow up on a guest article I wrote for a small publisher in the States. A public library in Alberta has accepted one of my Maritime poems for a public short story project. Small victories.

 11:30 AM: Back at home. File the coffee shop receipt to claim on taxes. Sweep. Vacuum. Laundry. Clean the bathroom. Cleanliness may be next to godliness.

12:30 PM: My partner is home on lunch break. Maybe I’ve made something, but today it’s just Annie’s Mac & Cheese. She’ll be excited anyways; it’s hard to beat an old classic.

1:30 PM: Time to work on my novel. Or keep recording demo tracks for the band. If I’m writing I’m at the table; if I am recording guitar and vocals I am at the desk. The two cats silently observe my creative ritual. Maybe I accomplish a lot. Maybe I don’t. Progress is progress.

4:30 PM: Start making dinner. We’ve already meal planned for the week so there is not much to think about. Should be ready in about an hour.

5:30 PM: Dinner. Conversations over the meal about the day: my wife’s work day, the submissions I sent in the morning, anything new and exciting.

6:30 PM: Work is done for the day. I get a text: friends are meeting up for board games at White Sails, the brewpub just down the road. It’s December but I only need a light jacket or a wool sweater. I do love the West coast.

7:00 PM: Board games at White Sails with a few friends: lawyers, teachers, nurses, small business owners. We may be the leaders of tomorrow, but for today we’re just young professionals, i.e., millennial hipsters who aren’t broke. First things first: 16 oz of Abyss Brown Ale. Last week the game was 7 Wonders. This week it is Dominion and E has brought a new expansion. Attempt a new strategy. It fails. The second one works, almost. So close. Still time for one more beer.

9:00 PM: Home. An early start means an early end. Time for bed so that I can do it all over again.

Joshua Gillingham is a Canadian author from the scenic coastal city of Nanaimo, Canada. He is a published and recorded Celtic and Maritime music lyricist and performs with The Ugly Mugs. In his debut novel The Gatewatch he weaves the mythic elements of Norse mythology and the geography of the Canadian Rocky Mountains together in a gripping adventure tale about young troll hunters who must save their homeland from a wicked Troll-King. He draws from the historical translations and modern adaptations of Norse mythology and Icelandic sagas to craft a story that is distinctly northern. His tale of bravery, courage, and cunning has the flavor and feel of a story told long ago amid the depths of winter within the warm fire-lit halls of ancient Scandinavia.

Discover more at Joshua’s website (, through The Gatewatch Facebook page (@TheGatewatchNovel), or on Twitter (@JoshMGillingham).