Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Healthy … and wise. My writing day : Maria Meindl

Last week, I was working on a story about a character who’s a writer. I tried to describe how she feels when she’s not writing.

Life begins to seem unreal.

I begin to question the purpose of everything I do.

I ended up deleting it all, in favour of an ominous throw-away line. My character’s apocalyptic state of mind felt unwarranted. And who would care, anyway, with all that’s going on in the world? I decided if the reader didn’t get it, no amount of explanation would help. Just now, I realize if I’d said the same thing in relation to a morning cup of coffee, it would have worked fine.

Which brings me to the start-time of this blog entry.

5:00 a.m.

The opening three notes of the CBC news surge from the strategically placed clock-radio. I dash across the room and turn it off. Then I have a choice: crawl back into bed or get up and write. There’s a bit of pious self-talk in the order of: That novel will not get written from your pillow, and – most days – I find myself standing at the kitchen window, flipping the switch on the kettle, celebrating yet another triumph over Morpheus.

I’ve been doing this for three years now, starting when I realized I would spend another decade with an unpublished novel in my drawer if I didn’t. Getting up at five makes the difference between … here, let me try again: life making sense, and life not making sense. I once heard Orhan Pamuk say that writing fiction is a secret source of happiness. I may not be in his literary league, but I’m definitely in his personality type. Getting to spend a couple of hours in an imaginary world (even compulsively removing and replacing commas in that world) feels like immense bounty, to me. It wasn’t always this way (see futile attempt at description, above) and it’s so NOT this way for many others. So, I appreciate every second of it.

But I have a body and I have a brain and I have sleep cycles. It’s not always easy. There are days when that alarm feels like an affront to my very being, and exposing my eyes to the computer’s light sends a painful ping! all the way down my spine. Writing may be a calling, but it sometimes feels like the wrong kind of late-night call from Mr. Very Wrong.

So, I treat my mornings with the precision of an athlete, trying out various methods of waking up clearer and better prepared in less time. Last night’s screen time, or dinner, or wine consumption don’t make much difference. For a while, I cast a murderous eye upon the clock radio, thinking I might replace it with a new-fangled device that mimics dawn, but CBC is kind of sacred. I favour less mechanical solutions.

Lately, I’ve been drawing on a source I use for teaching my movement classes: 19th century acting manuals – specifically the breathing exercises. I’m probably doing them all wrong, but they make me feel great. The computer has not been hurting my eyes so much; I don’t have to use the thesaurus function as often, and I’ve even been waking up on my own, without the help of those three familiar notes from CBC. It remains to be seen whether the protagonist of my next novel will be obsessed with Mr. Very Wrong. But I suspect she’ll have her mind on loftier matters.

To quote the venerable Genevieve Stebbins:

“ … every particular molecule of the air we breathe is animated by a vibratory motion of its own constituent parts; it is, in fact, an invisible musical instrument complete in itself, ‘the tremors of which, when they impinge upon the nerves, produce in us the sensation of heat.’ Heat is a solar energy, and in this energy is the sum total of purely physical life. Apart, however, from those purely physical elements of the atmosphere, the air we breathe is charged with nature’s finer and more ethereal essences – magnetism, electricity and celestial ether.

Genevieve Stebbins, Dynamic Breathing and Harmonic Gymnastics, Edgar S. Werner and Company, 1892 p. 8

Maria Meindl’s first novel, The Work, is being published by Stonehouse as we speak. She is also the author of Outside the Box from McGill-Queen’s University Press, winner of the Alison Prentice Award for Women’s History. Her essays, fiction and poetry have appeared in many publications including The Literary Review of CanadaDescant and Musicworks, as well as in the anthologies, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die and The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood. She has made two radio series, Parent Care, and Remembering Polio for CBC Ideas. In 2005, Maria founded the Draft Reading Series which specializes in unpublished work by emerging and established writers. Maria teaches movement in Toronto.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Catherine Lewis : My (Small Press) Writing Day

Most days, I don’t actually write in my writing room at all.
Yes, I have a writing room. It wasn’t always a writing room; it was once my solarium, containing nothing but a broom and a dustpan. Today, it’s an overstuffed home office, with three bookcases filled with books, wineglasses, expensive scotch, moderately-priced scotch, and dishes we registered for but haven’t gotten around to using. And a plain white Ikea desk. With two 27-inch monitors on top, bought for my software development career, years before I attended my first Creative Writing classes in 2018. Under the desk, sits the computer I built myself in 2013. At the computer parts store, I bought an orange-coloured case, a motherboard, hard drives, and a bunch of other parts to connect it all together. The first time I pressed the Power button, I was stunned that it booted up, that the whole thing didn’t go up in flames.
This is the computer I’m typing this out on right now.
But this isn’t where I write most days.
Most weekdays:
Roll out of bed. Make myself presentable by corporate standards.
Rush out the door with headphones on and a book in hand, because when am I not running late or reading?
Read a few pages at my transit stop. Or journal on my iPhone in iNotes: the place for first drafts sometimes nearing a thousand words before I move them to Microsoft Word.
Squeeze self onto public transit.
Stop reading once it’s time to dash into the terminal for the SeaBus commuter ferry, until all that’s left is the last ramp onto the SeaBus and I finally make it on board.
I plunk myself down on a SeaBus plastic seat, pull out my MacBook from my backpack and open up my laptop.
This is when and where my writing day officially begins.
Always a twelve-minute sailing time. No stop to miss. Guaranteed timed writing sprint. Never any delays once I’ve boarded. The SeaBus never has any equivalents to the subway’s “The SkyTrain is being held due to a medical emergency. Please stand by.”
The clock is ticking.
Wait for iNotes to synchronize from my iPhone to my MacBook. Any words I typed out on my iPhone this morning magically appear on my laptop.
If I’m working on a class assignment, the Word document’s still open on my laptop. I frantically append words on. Or edit words out, so as not to choke up my classmates’ printers with “Why is Catherine’s workshop submission so long?”
Glance up. The other side of Burrard Inlet is still far away. I’ve got this.
Keep frantically typing. Or editing.
The other SeaBus terminal starts to loom larger.
One final frantic burst of typing, getting one last idea out before it is swallowed up by my workday.
Fellow commuters start to don their backpacks, lining up to disembark.
Whoosh! I hear, as the SeaBus doors open. Shoving my laptop back in my backpack, I rush out, trying to not be the last to disembark, usually failing at this.
Make my way over to the office.
All morning, I work at my software development job, which means attending team meetings, discussing business requirements, and writing and testing computer code.
Forty-five minutes before lunch: At my office desk, I start grazing upon the lunch I brought, eating while working for the next forty-five minutes.
Lunchtime: Promptly leave my office desk, MacBook in hand.
If it’s warm and sunny, I head to a local park. With sunglasses on, I plunk myself down on park bench seating, crack open my laptop, and write.
But this is Vancouver, where sun and warmth are confined to a brief window between Victoria Day to Labour Day.
So, the rest of the year, I wander around my office building at lunch, plunking myself down on some comfy seating on a random floor where I don’t know anyone. I once did this on a floor where I did know some people, coworkers who stopped to talk to me on a day when I had class assignments due, on a day when I didn’t really have the time to talk to them, but still talked to them anyway. I’ve avoided that floor since.
And so, on another random floor’s hallway couches, I crack open my laptop, getting out as many first-draft words as I can, or editing out as many later-draft words as I need to, before I press “Save” and head back to my office desk.
Unless, unless a poetry submission is due that day.
In which case, out the office door I go, finding a quiet spot outside my office building to read my poem or my set of poems out loud twice to make sure that they just sound right, before pressing “Send” and heading back to my office desk.
On the SeaBus evening rush home among my fellow commuters, I put my headphones on, whip my laptop out, and tune everyone out for another twelve minutes of writing or revising.
And then I spend my evening either at a writing class, a literary reading, or a dance class.
If after getting ready for bed, I’m still half-awake, I then plunk myself in bed in pyjamas, crack open my laptop to write, and try not to fall asleep with my laptop still open.
Sometimes I even succeed.
If after getting ready for bed, I’m miraculously wide awake, then I might make it to my writing room that night after all.

Catherine Lewis is a Chinese-Canadian poet and memoirist born in Hong Kong and raised in the Scarborough and Vancouver areas. After completing a BSc at UBC and a diploma in IT, she has worked as a software developer in the Vancouver area ever since. Having recently revived her dormant love for writing, she will graduate from the Writer’s Studio certificate program at Simon Fraser University this fall. Her work is published in emerge 19.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Mikayla Ruppe : How I Write

My writing has a schedule of its own. I have never set aside a specific time to write, but prefer to let inspiration drive me. I can never force creativity or ‘just sit down and write’ - writing has never been that easy for me. In the past, this way of writing often made me wonder if I really should identify myself as a ‘writer’ because I often go for long stretches without writing a single word (not counting academic essays). I still have trouble calling myself a writer, but I’m growing more comfortable with it as I venture deeper and deeper into the literary community.

I always carry a little black notebook with me, where I write anything that comes to mind - fragments of poetry, song lyrics that I’m loving at the moment (usually by Florence and the Machine), or something that someone has said to me that I found inspiring. The notebook basically holds my heart in written form, and I’m not sure if I will ever show it to anyone, but I like looking through it sometimes and reminding myself of where I’ve been and where I am now. I also write a lot of poetry in my phone when I can’t get to the notebook in time (I once wrote a poem standing at the bus stop in a snowstorm). 

Most of my poems come to me in places that hold a lot of memories or comfort. For the past few years, that place has been my school’s campus. There is a little coffee shop attached to one of our academic buildings that I often find myself writing in – it’s definitely become one of the places where I can be most creative.  

It’s been really hard to write creatively for a while because of the never-ending stream of academic essays that comes with being an English major. Although I love writing essays and analyzing literature, time for my own projects has become limited to mostly ideas floating around in my brain that I hardly have time to get down on paper. This term I’m trying really hard to set aside time for myself to be creative and write for my own enjoyment, but it’s difficult to schedule my bursts of inspiration.

Along with my poetry, I’m currently attempting to rebuild a novel I’ve been working on, and I have a couple of personal essay ideas that will eventually be written. Writing is a slow process for me and I’m learning to be okay with that. 

Mikayla Ruppe is pursuing an undergraduate degree in English Literature and Rhetoric with a minor in Gender and Social Justice at St. Jerome’s University (affiliated with the University of Waterloo). She is a long-time intern and volunteer with The New Quarterly. She loves reading pretty much anything, drinking coffee and listening to her record collection. Mikayla lives in Waterloo, ON, and hopes to travel to BC for graduate studies in the future.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Kersten Christianson : Writing in the House of Fall

This early morning hour is the poet’s hour.  My house is shrouded in blue black darkness.  I note that my house is the only one in the neighborhood whose lights are illuminated at this hour, in this storm on a Sunday morning.

The sudden descent into autumn offers me the false promise that I suddenly have more time to write.  Such fallacy!  By trade, I am a 25-year public high school English teacher.  Not too many weeks ago, another school year commenced.  Summer is a wildly abundant time to write:  No meetings, alarm clocks, schedules to speak of.  But weekends throughout the school year are especially poignant, focused. The weather, more extreme; their use and planning, more intentional and paced.

My writing room is a sacred, functional, creative space.  It overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  My neighbors are gracious and allowed me to have the tall Sitka spruce and yellow cedar limbed to open the view. In this room, my late husband and I put down a blue pine floor together and stained it with Minwax, Mosaic Blue.  Like me, it has become scuffed, distressed, worn and ragged around the edges.  The room houses my art supplies, rubber and ink, the poetry books consumed during and since my MFA years.  It is filled with raven art, family photos of our three before we became two, 20 years of We’Moon datebooks.  The windows are filled with hanging crystals, bells, windchimes.  Prisms catch and dance on sunny days and pattern the floor much like the rain does the windows now.  There are non-twinkling twinkle lights hanging from the edges of shelving adorned with broken bits of bright and colorful glass, some of the bulbs are extinguished.  The stout oak desk is covered with ephemera:  washi tape, oracle cards, stones, beaded doodads, a writing muse of part-raven, part-woman sculpted and fired of clay, correspondence from friends near and far, the $41 summer Petro fuel bill, my favorite pens.  It is here I wrote my first collection of poetry, Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017), followed shortly thereafter by a chapbook, What Caught Raven’s Eye (Petroglyph Press, 2018).  It is here, second summer in the making, that a new collection begins to emerge.

This morning, the offshore gale settles in, rattles the roof, sneaks in through the gaps around the door.  I pussyfoot down the stairs so as to not wake my sleeping teen daughter, sidestep the dogs and the cats to French press the coffee.  Candles flickering, National Public Radio chattering softly against the wind, I mentally assess the writing to-do’s of the day:  Daily writing (a poem, some journaling), a letter or two, a blurb for a long-distance poet friend on the cusp of publishing two collections whose titles chase the colors of red and yellow, a flip and read through the latest issue of Orion, of Slipstream, advancement in Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, the consideration of a blog update, the cover reveal of the fall issue of Alaska Women Speak on various social media platforms.

All I know is that when I write, I can slip away from one moment’s reality into the reality of another, the writing craft.  My MacBook Pro is my go-to tool of choice, be it at this desk or what I call the “thinking chair” in the living room.  Next to the Mac, a softcover, paperbound journal, this one sporting a moon face.  It is a makeshift collector of writing ideas in which are gathered one-liners, interesting words, informal research, lines overheard, an occasional phone number or message.  In weather nicer than this, I’ll write using the Notes function on my iPhone while on the go.  Sometimes, the app Voice Record Pro as I walk coastline or trails busting out haiku and tanka that I count out on the fingers of one hand while recording onto the phone held by the other hand.  But those walks won’t happen today, not in this weather.  No, this foul-weathered day will offer breaks of a different sort:  refill the water bottle, warm up a bowl of chili, play Chuck-It down the driveway with the dogs for a leg-stretcher, take time to view the patterns and colors of leaves newly dropped from their trees, load the dishwasher, clean the bathrooms.  These are the bursts of busy that allow for the breathing space and even inspiration to write beyond without boundary.

Recently, I reread a chapter from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones:  Freeing the Writer Within.  The chapter, “Writing as a Practice” offers insight into Goldberg’s own writing habits, including her personal goal to finish a notebook a month.  She enters this writing space without regard for margins, expectations or even traditional form. In turn, this practice offers her  a “psychological freedom and permission” to simply write.  In an earlier chapter, she suggests using inexpensive notebooks, which further allow her greater room to fill the void with written word, ideas and language traveling the spark of mind to hand to pen to paper.  I eyeball the stack of my own unfilled journals that reside on the shelf, await their day of scratch and use.  Why not now?  Why not give them the chance to join those already filled stashed away in a storage cubby for a longtime-from-now read, or a someday bonfire?

As I mentally checkmark each item off my list for the day, I relish again that it is the weekend; that in autumn the darkness lingers late into the morning, but returns again in short hours by late afternoon.  I celebrate my writing space that is one-part eclectic, another magic, and that even I am learning again how to push life back into the leeway.

Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, Alaskan. When not exploring the summer lands and dark winter of the Yukon, she lives in Sitka, Alaska. Kersten is the author of two books of poetry:  What Caught Raven’s Eye (Petroglyph Press, 2018) and Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017).   She is the poetry editor of the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Julene Tripp Weaver: Typical Writing Day

My life does not uphold a typical writing day. Days escape, there are work appointments, phone calls, household tasks, cooking and assorted herbal tasks (I’m a herbalist), and condo Board responsibilities; so my best time to write is at night, I’m a night owl. I free write in my journal sitting in a cushy rocker with a table of books next to me, my notebook, a good pen, and a pencil. I write. I read. I get inspired. I pause and stare out a big picture window at the darkness. I’m on the second floor in a condo that my partner and I bought in 1999. This safe space provides me with a sense of security. A base.

My computer is a MacBook Pro laptop. When I move writing from my journal into my computer, I craft and edit. My desk moves from sitting to standing; when I remodeled my office I wanted flexibility and movement range.

I live with a chronic illness; which means my life revolves around staying healthy. I’m not a coffee drinker, so if I need a lift my choice is chocolate (theobromine) or matcha to fuel my writing, but it's best for me to drink non-caffeinated teas.

When mulling over a piece, if I wake up with fresh ideas flowing I go to my journal. I’m in a monthly prose writing group that has been meeting since 2003. Their feedback motivates me to move into my work in new ways; their questions inspire me to understand deeper and expand, to explore how my writing impacts, and how I can bring across what I am trying to express.

Whether I’m working on a poem or prose, I read my work out loud. Words on a page are meant to be heard, it assists my editing to hear the song of each piece. I’ve made a few recordings, and found using a headset clarifies word flow: colloquialisms come clear, it's easier to catch mistakes or find ways to revise a poem when my voice channels my words into my ears.

Since AWP (March 2019) I'm writing a hybrid memoir titled ‘Medication Journal.’ It tracks thirty years living with HIV and my survival. This new writing is in the tradition of Audre Lorde's Cancer Journals, I studied with Audre when I did my undergraduate in Creative Writing in the 80s. My third poetry book, truth be bold—Serenading Life & Death in the Age of AIDS, published in 2016, was frightening because I came out as a long-term survivor (LTS). There is still a lot of stigma around HIV.

In the 90s I wrote thirty-five articles for a health column. In 2002, I studied with Tom Spanbauer and his Dangerous Writers. From his work I've written much prose about my teen years. My concept of this work has evolved, first I called it creative nonfiction, now it feels more like memoir. Tom writes “Roman-à-clef, a term that applies to a novel in which actual people or events appear with invented names.” There are many scenes in my writing, and the amount of pages and words in prose writing overwhelms me because I’m a poet, used to text on one to two pages.

A pending project is to form my next poetry manuscript, to find an arc and organize the poems I’ve written over the past several years. This needs devoted time. The past three years have been nonstop busy, dedicated to promoting truth be told; it was nominated for a Lambda, won the Bisexual Book Award, and four Human Relations Indie Book Awards. I've traveled to do feature readings, did a two-night Long Term Survivor show at Gay City, presented at a psychology conference, and led writing workshops titled “Giving Our Health Word Power.” In New York City a professor who heard me read asked if he could teach my book in his class at LIU-Brooklyn, Art Inspired by the AIDS Epidemic! Yes! What a great honor to have my words taught alongside David France’s book How to Survive a Plague. It was exciting to Skype with the class answer their questions and read a couple of poems. This summer I learned a panel I was written into was accepted for AWP2020 in San Antonio. Soon I have to figure out the logistics for that trip.

My website has a blog I call News, where I note and track my readings, workshops, events, and publications. These events add to how I spend my days. A mix of sending out, planning, writing new work or a blog, editing, jumping back and forth between poetry and prose.

Time away from daily life would be ideal for projects like organizing my next poetry book or finishing my memoir, but I find it hard to break away and competition for residencies is stiff. I've been to two, but mostly I make the best of my home space.

This spring, June 2019, a writer friend and I started a montly reading series for poets and prose writers, we also feature a musician. Held at the Café Racer in Seattle, we call it Word Chaser @ Café Racer. This has added to my tasks: organizing, inviting writers and musicians, advertising, and promoting. The cafe is a great location with a stage, a sound system, a podium and a microphone. The hope is these tasks will become easier with time and the arrangement with the cafe will continue.

Thank you for asking me to outline my illusive typical writing day.

Julene Tripp Weaver is a psychotherapist and writer in Seattle. She has three poetry books: truth be bold—Serenading Life & Death in the Age of AIDSNo Father Can Save Her, and a chapbook, Case Walking: An AIDS Case Manager Wails Her Blues. Julene worked for 21 years in AIDS services. She is widely published in journals and anthologies. A few online sites where her work can be found include: RiverbabbleRiver & South Review, The Seattle Review of Books, HIV Here & Now, Mad Swirl, Writing in a Woman's Voiceand in the Stonewall Legacy Anthology. Find her online at, on Twitter @trippweavepoet, on Instagram @julenet.weaver.