Blog Out

I think I have more black outs than the average person – not faintings, but moments where I forget myself. I am always in the process of remembering something that feels long forgotten: oh, I have a blog. Oh, I’m a writer. Oh, I am in the middle of talking to somebody. I wake up every morning waiting for some kind of list to fall over my memory: this is what I am doing today; this is who I am going to be.

I’ve started sitting on a block for five minutes every morning, fulfilling a New Year’s Resolution to meditate. For most of the five minute I think about things. This isn’t meditating. Meditating, yoga people keep telling me, is about acknowledging and then calming down my thinking. It’s about acknowledging that I have thoughts and then dismissing them. At first I thought this was ridiculous: I am my thoughts! Then I was told explicity: you are not your thoughts. It’s taken me a long time to come to grips with that.

It’s taken me a long time to come to grips with that because sitting on a block and thinking for five minutes every morning is actually useful. I am able to decide things, like today I will be nice. Today I will move with control. Today I will speak what I mean. Today I will have confidence. Today I will breathe.

Then there are some mornings where I stop thinking. I sit there and I’m not sleeping but I’m smiling, and I’m looking up at something that’s either the sun or the rainclouds through my window, and I am not worried that I was either a victim or a perpretator in three different dreams about shooting the night before, and I’m not worried about how I have to go to the bank, and I’m not counting down seconds until Reema Datta stops singing.

I’m just sitting there and I’m taking four seconds worth of breath in and four seconds worth of breath out and I’m completely aware of who I am and what I’m doing that day because I’m just me and I’m just going to be here.

Book a week

I’m trying to read a book a week, but a book a week really puts a book into perspective. I’m spending a whole week on this? I’m only spending a week on this?

Last week I read Dubliners by James Joyce. The problem was it was short stories. I read two. That’s not a book a week. That’s one short story every 3.5 days.

This week I’m reading The Town That Forgot How to Breathe by Kenneth J. Harvey. Since I had never heard of it before I started to read it, it felt like a waste of a week. I will finish this book and still no one will have heard of it? Then I read something – a blog post I got linked to through the New Yorker‘s book blog “Page-Turner.” It was a blog post someone made about things their professor (the writer Max Sebald) had said in class. One thing that stuck out:

Get off the main thoroughfares; you’ll see nothing there. For example, Kant’s Critique is a yawn but his incidental writings are fascinating.”

This very creepy book I’m reading about a small town in Newfoundland where people literally forget how to breathe is not Kant’s other book, but I get it. I’m reading this book because it’s going to tell me something that not everyone knows. I am also reading it because I’m reading Maritime books, preparing for the moment where I go back and know everything there is to know about the book I’m writing about Cape Breton.

My book club meets tonight. We are always just sitting there itching to go home and read. Why is that books are such an enjoyable thing, but something we just want to get done? Why do we have bookshelves to show off the quantity of what we’ve read, when we could just endlessly borrow books from a library? Why do we have websites where we collect books like Pokemon cards? Why do we spout names of authors and their books like we are all so aware of the classics that we keep lists ready in our head?

Miss Auras by John Lavery, depicts a woman reading a book.from
Miss Auras by John Lavery, depicts a woman reading a book.

I hope that I haven’t misunderstood reading. I really like doing it, I swear I do. But still I make resolutions like I don’t do enough of it, and I join clubs about it like I need support. Books are a big part of my life, but when did I decide that having a lot of books means having a lot of life?

I think it was when I decided that to be a writer I needed to have read everything. I ignored that being a writer had come from being a reader. I ignored that I read before I went to school, that there’s pictures of me as a baby staring fascinated at books. (See my “About” page). I forgot that there are too many books to read. I forgot that it’s more important to read than to think about reading.

Losing It and Keeping It

This year I made 15 more New Years resolutions than I usually do. This allowed for a lot of sidebar resolutions to sneak their way in, and for a lot of important resolutions to get lost in the mix. It also allowed for a lot of personal improvement.

At 20 days in, things are getting serious. It takes 21 days to form a habit. Tomorrow is the test: will I wake up and meditate? Will I write something every day?

A quote attributed to Rumi says that the first place you have to look in order to change is at what’s stopping you from changing:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

I figure, then, that by having examined all the places I need help, I have opened a path to change. That’s almost enough.

I’ve examined this: lately I feel like I’ve lost my writing, or my feeling of being a writer. I’ll spend hours or a whole day forgetting that I should be writing. Other things fill up space, they fill up time, if what’s important isn’t central. I need to make writing more pillar-like, more in-my-face. How can I do that?

If I carry an open notebook with me everywhere.

If I introduce myself as a writer first and a student/teacher second.

If I speak in rhymes and sing always in poetry.

If I distance myself and look at you like a character.

If I realize writing is all around me.

If I see the beauty in this very moment, and the last.

If I promise to devote myself to my craft.

If I remember that writing doesn’t always just mean writing.

Paying attention might become all that matters, in the moments when I don’t have the time to give as much as I can to writing. When my book needs to sit, when my mind needs to rest. I need to pay attention to the fact that writing is all around me, is a part of who I am, and that not writing on the 19th day doesn’t mean I won’t on the 21st. And that maybe 365 days into this year, writing every day will be an unthinkable thing not to do.

Scenic Time



I’ll often go through whole periods of my day in narrative time. I could describe to you what happened, but I wasn’t really there. My novel’s first draft was mostly in narrative time, like I was just telling you about the story rather than telling it.


I learned the concept of scenic vs. narrative time in the writing workshop I took this past summer on Denman Island. It provided me with words for the distinction I had felt but never been able to fix because of my lack of words to understand it. Scenic time or narrative time: we either see something happen or we don’t.


I recently looked at the beginning of my friend’s novel about his grandfather. I sensed that he had written the way I had initially: he had skipped over the description of important moments because he wanted to get to the next important moments. I shared with him the terms I had learned and he sent me a second draft. I couldn’t believe how clear and effectively narrative time turned to scenic. It was as though each moment had exploded into a story. I could see so much more.


When I miss a moment in my day because I wasn’t paying attention, I think that’s a missed opportunity at a story. I’m narrating my life instead of living it. Writers like to do that, forget about life because there’s so many stories to tell about it.





Kids Who Were Into Reading

Today I read a children’s book with my grade three class and told them we had to make up the story. It was a book that, of course, allowed for that: illustrations and sentences that only suggestively went with them, the way The Mysteries of Harris Burdick did.

I was obsessed with that book growing up, because it contained the most stories ever. Every time I looked at an image and the sentence next to it, I could make up a new story. I hid the book outside my bedroom every time I borrowed it from the library: it haunted me, the ability to create the scariest of stories.


“Under the Rug: Two weeks passed and it happened again.”

(from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, Houghton Mufflin 1984)

The book I read today was far less scary, and in French. I first hid the sentence, to see if the kids could make a story out of the illustration. Once they had come up with several reasons as to why a man was looking into a smoky sewer grate, I revealed the sentence: he thought he saw an angel. Everyone was stunned: we can be that creative?

Even more fun was the fact that each page was alliterated like an alphabet book. First Alex Algodon did something with a lot of A-words, then Bernard Boulet. The kids started predicting the names of the next people, and what it was they might be doing. One girl stood up to show what tap dancing (“claquettes”) was, and another led the class in The Sound of Music’s “Do Re Mi” to show others what the word “mi” was. It was so fun to hypothesise about what these characters were doing with students who weren’t afraid to hypothesise wrong. It was so great to see students so excited about reading.

Most people I know who are at university have a common excuse for not reading: I read for school. If we at university, wise as we are, think reading is something we do for school, what do you think students in elementary and high school, when learning to read is the thing, think about reading outside of school? And if you spend your first twenty-two-ish years not reading because you’re reading too much for the sake of school, what are you going to be like when you turn twenty-three? When no one cares whether you read?

I have thus concluded that school has too much reading. A larger percentage of school reading should be fun reading, but mandatory fun reading. If up until the age twenty-two everybody was forced to read for fun for at least half an hour a day, what excuse could you use when you’re twenty-three? I’m tired of reading for fun?

Reading is my passion because I love words. I get that others don’t love reading because they don’t have the same strange obsession as I do. But reading should be so much more than the words: it’s images, it’s meaning, it’s inferences and rhythm and relationships. Reading is everything that’s missing in bad television. It’s like opening Christmas gifts.

I think we forget that kids love silent reading. It seems ridiculous to an adult, the idea that little students and teen-aged students might have to sit at their tiny desks and look down at a book for half an hour every day, but to the kids I have observed, it’s FUN. It’s engrossing. It’s a passionate thing.

When you read you put a bit of yourself into a book. To understand it, you need to let the content pass through your body. When you do so, the book becomes your own. It’s something kids innately understand and get excited about: I built this book. It’s mine.

How to Write a Novel in Pieces


I feel like a lost a friend, but the friend just cut her hair and stopped communicating with people. She still has a complex inner-life, I assume, but she’s been really out of it lately and though I feel bad for her and I sort of want to see her, she’s just too much work. And then I’d have to apologize. And she has all these problems I forget the nature of and this new boyfriend who I can’t figure out.

My novel has been on a stand-still for months now after a one-year passionate love affair. I’m back at school and ignoring it. Then again, I feel it’s living on without me, because every time I return to it it seems to have evolved.

I’m trying my best to figure out the formula for how to work at a novel when I don’t have time for a novel. How am I supposed to write a novel in pieces of twenty and thirty minutes? How am I supposed to write a novel that has fallen into disrepair?


(from Wikipedia)

First, I think I have to acknowledge that my novel is a living thing. It’s not being led by me anymore. I created it and it’s constantly living in the sinews of my body. It’s living in notes on the backs of store receipts and in endless disjointed notebook entries I try to convene under the header “Journal of a Novel.” It is living in this blog and it is living in it chapter documents I open up and write notes on, like I am God and my novel must listen.

I tried a strategy today I would like to name flashwriting, because it happens quickly and it resembles writing. It’s all about going into one moment in my book and writing about it, all the while forgetting there is a book that exists around this moment. It’s about creating a book out of images. If I created two thousand beautiful postcards, because I had two thousand periods of twenty or thirty minutes in which I wrote, then that’s almost a novel.


Another strategy I’ve been doing is larger, an all-encompassing strategy. Unfortunately, this method involves direction – a compass – and I only have this kind of confidence on certain days. It’s a clear-sighted method of editing, where I rearrange chapters, write out scene plans for scenes that were already written but suck, where I see things in ways that suddenly seem obvious.

This is the beauty of leaving my novel aside – it falls into pieces, yes, but sometimes those pieces scattered out in a new way show me something I didn’t know before. Before, I knew nothing, so anything is always an improvement.




I draw eyes on the margins of my papers. I’m afraid it’s all I know how to draw. I fear any other type of doodling. I might write words on scrap papers, poetry in my sketchbook, but drawing scares me.

When I was young I was very good at drawing people. So I drew people. Over and over again. I drew the same girl hundreds of times, dressing her up with different hair dos and clothing styles. I drew people standing in a line to represent characters in the books I was reading. I was maybe the least creative drawer ever.

And I’ve never been able to draw an animal.



I remember the day I got over my fear of doodling. I was sitting in a friend’s apartment and there was music on and his roommate was there. We were all undeniably in our own ways trying to be hippies and out-creativity each other with our skills on the harmonica and our ability to choose the right album to play and the cheapest food to eat.

Someone must have started doodling and so I did too. I created  a page of doodles out of coloured markers. I told everyone, as I was doodling, as I was entranced in something my sister and I call “puzzle talk” but that I’ve lately heard defined as “flow,” about how afraid I was to doodle. When I was done I held my drawing up to the light and assessed it. It had all the markings of a doodle: random patterns and a certain laissez-faire attitude. I eyed the two others suspiciously, but they weren’t the least interested in what I had created. That was when I knew I had successfully given up my phobia enough to let my hand draw without my brain getting in the way. I had doodled. I checked something off my list that night, as if it’s that easy to get over fears.

I took a life drawing course last year. I felt like I had been transformed minutes into the first class. I let the charcoal be an extension of my carefree arm and I just drew shapes and lines and curves of the body. I fell into a process I was used to. It felt safe. I realized drawing had become like writing. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I hadn’t really learned how to draw: I still draw eyes on the margins of my page. That same girl keeps popping up, with big eyes and a disproportionately skinny body.

What had happened was that for months leading up to my drawing class I had dedicated myself to writing. I had learned to write, or I had learned how to give myself up to writing, and this had helped me with my ability to draw.

Last night I had a dream I could play the guitar. I couldn’t really play the guitar, but I felt I was playing the guitar. I knew that if someone asked me to play a C-chord (is that a chord?) I wouldn’t be able to do it, but somehow I had fallen so deep into the guitar that I could just make music from it.

I’ve learned how to be creative through writing. Though I’m pretty sure that nothing else will ever grip me or come easily to me the way writing does, nor will I ever work as hard in anything or achieve as much as I will in writing, I will still be able to be creative elsewhere because writing has taught me how.

I still doodle in words, because words are my thing. But if I had to sit down in a hippie’s apartment and doodle with him, I could.