Monday, September 23, 2019

Natalee Caple : My Writing Day

Author’s Note [addendum]: I have one deep regret about my new book of poetry. My incredible queer non-binary child came out to us after the book went to press and so the pronouns are all wrong. I regret, I hate, that I committed Casey to public memory as different than they are because I am so grateful and thrilled with who they are. I am so lucky and happy with my kids.

As a feminist writer it is a crazy embarrassing to admit that my writing day has always been stolen and assembled from the times and spaces I share with other people. I worry sometimes that secret even from myself is the fear that I don’t deserve space just for me. In my earliest days I shared a computer with my partner and I wrote short stories twice a week when they were swimming. I am quite sure that I never demanded time or said, you will have to wait, this is my time. My next long term semi marriage needed an office to themselves and I said I didn’t, but it really was not an option to share. I wrote on my laptop sitting on the red IKEA couch whenever they didn’t need the TV. I spread my papers out on the floor and the cats moved my pages around. Now, married a final time with two teenage children, there is a trick with my life I am learning to do. I could have my own office in this house that we bought when we moved to St Catharines so that I could take up my job at Brock as a professor who teaches Creative Writing. I originally set up a room in the basement as my office but it filled with toys. So, I set up a standing desk in a corner of the family room but a giant stuffed panda kept lying on the treadmill. Sometimes the Panda wears my clothes. Filling the cracks in my feminism, I remind myself I have an office at Brock University, but it isn’t a space where I feel safe and relaxed enough to get lost and that is what I need to write. Some writers need crisis and some need privacy I need movement and connection. I write in my head when I am swimming or walking or reading — and then I grab some tool to record the writing. When the writing is going well I write all the time. This makes me a very annoying person to watch a movie beside. To write I have to first put stuff in — it’s input input input output. So, when writing my feminist Western I would get up and watch a Western film and record the fragments of ideas that came to me watching. To write my recent book of poetry I filled myself up with other people’s poetry and then I wrote the poems those poems wrote in me. I might start by copying out all the lines in a book that start with the word “I” as I did with the poem, “Life of Gary” for Gary Barwin. Then I see something there, a character emerging or a riff about loneliness that rises out of nouns — a certain repetition of sounds or of water imagery and I sculpt that until it is my poem — the poem that describes the other poem to me, the experience of reading and connecting and then being differently after contact. I try to share my work with Casey and Imogen, my kids, so we take research trips on pirate ships and they offer ideas about monsters and storms. I never have a “day” where I write or a schedule where no one can talk to me. I just exist, writing beside people, picking up books and putting them down and picking up my computer and putting it down — capturing ideas for fragments of dialogue or a description of a ship. I might say, what do you think of this way of faking your own death? While we fold laundry side by side. Hmm, says Imogen, I think it has been done before. Mom, says Casey walking down the stairs, I think the monster should have big jaws and a lot of eyes and three arms on either side and a big muscular tail that it moves it through the water. I write that down and think, I miss Pris, I miss my grandmother, what if two of the pirates were more like them, one glittery and ambitious and the other raucous and mad for children. What if those two pirates staged a play together, a comedy, to entertain the crew one night under a super starry sky at sea?

Natalee Caple is the author of nine books of fiction, and poetry, and the co-editor (with Michelle Berry) of an anthology of author interviews and fiction by Canadian authors. Her work has been nominated for the KM Hunter award, the RBC Bronwyn Wallace Award, the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the ReLit Award, and The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Her latest novel, In Calamity’s Wake was published in Canada by HarperCollins and in the US by Bloomsbury. The novel in translation was published by Boréal and has been sold separately for publication in France. Her new book of poetry, Love in the Chthulucene/Chthulucene was published by Wolsak and Wynn in Spring 2019. You can find it anywhere that sells fine literature!

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