Veronique Darwin

Archive for the ‘Literary Events’ Category

45 Minutes is All

In Literary Events on November 9, 2017 at 7:53 pm

45 minutes is all it takes me to be a writer. 45 minutes a day in my study lets me live those other parts of the day with a calming secret, a persona I can revert to when the job and the stress become too much. I am that, I can say, pointing to the study. That I go to it every day makes it live on in me. Do I live on in it?

All day, does my ghost sit typing at the keyboard, the cat reaching for my fingertips, wanting to gnaw on them to clean me? Does the dog play with the bone behind, do the autumn piano sonatas ring out, even when I am not there? Does the voice whisper quietly, the wine slowly empty, the day get checked off on the index card, over and over again, every 45 minutes, while I am not there? Because it certainly feels that way when I return.

There is meant to be something special about places. Everyone knows but isn’t there probably a moment where you discovered it, too? I am trying to teach through place-based education, allowing children to learn about their world through the place where they are, and all that comes with that: care for nature, for community, wonder and connection and exploration. But do I really write through place? More than I meant to. More than I thought I could.

I keep writing Rossland. I thought when I left Vancouver I could write Vancouver, but is it that a heart dwells somewhere and you move to that place to pick it up and take it with you somewhere new? Because I’ve found a writer here in Rossland, in my study, and she seems to be me.

45 minutes a day, 100 days. A combination of a challenge given and a challenge taken, a house bought and a house lived in, a dream set and a dream set upon. I’m doing it. I’m doing it every day.

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Follow Me Down

In Literary Events on April 26, 2017 at 5:51 pm

Follow me down the rabbit hole, in which I write half a sentence of this new novel then emerge for air. Follow me as I ask questions like “Can she speak to seagulls?” and “What’s new on Facebook?” Follow me down the rabbit hole as I get sucked up in a world I am unfurling out of the thinnest recesses of my privacy. Follow me down!

What is exciting about this novel project is that I have a blog called A Novel Journal and my large fan base has been missing me desperately since I moved to the more doable and likeable craft of short story writing. They have been asking themselves where I have gone and my answer is nowhere! I am still dwelling in the doubts and whimsies of the artistic process as a useful avoidance of the creative process itself!

Follow me down as I illuminate for myself the joys and tribulations of sitting on a couch or armchair and pecking mainly at the middle line of my keyboard, expecting greatness. Follow me down.

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Is the burner on?

In Literary Events on October 16, 2016 at 9:52 pm

When I ask myself whether the burner is on, whether my hair straightener is still plugged in, or if this time I’ve found a way of burning down my house in some more creative fashion, what am I doing? The thought, once it has appeared, has no way of disappearing unless I confirm the absence of the imminent danger. I must return home to check that I’ve locked the door. I must check my work email to ensure there is no one angry with me. Without addressing the concern, I cannot go on with my normal day. Everything becomes trivialized and pales in the shadow of this looming, certain life-crisis. Once I’ve ensured the danger is not present, for a brief moment I feel like I am floating, like I have been given a second chance and all before me is a clean slate. Then it begins again: another ambiguity, another mole to whack down.

When I create an anxiety for myself, is it really just a way of avoiding being present in the moment? I lose track of life, as I focus in on the distant enigma; all my energy leaves this plane to that one. My heart rate rises, my breathing thins, and I problem-solve all manners of addressing the question. What I don’t do is focus any energy toward addressing the anxiety.

I cannot rest comfortably in ambiguity, and that must be the root of the burner, of the hair straightener, of the work emails and the ever-flowing news feed on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Every time I sense there might be the possibility of something I don’t know about going on, and there is some clear way of me knowing the answer to that question, I take the bait. By attacking the ambiguity, I’ve convinced myself that ambiguity is wrong.

I had a revelation driving yesterday, thinking of the ovens at the school that me and my students had all left on after baking our apple pies. I remember checking each and every one, but did I really check them properly? No, I convinced myself, I checked that the burners weren’t on. But we only used the ovens! The revelation that followed came from some place deep inside of me I don’t yet know but I sense is a God. It told me (in fewer words): what if instead of fighting the unknown, I turned my sword toward the anxiety?

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What if I breathed through every moment of unsureness, worked my way out of it, even made sure to be more mindful each time I real-life turned off the burner or the hair straightener? What if I was simply a more thoughtful person to those around me at every moment? Then I could train myself to react less to the feeling of distress by attacking the reliability of that feeling.

Because how often is the burner actually on? Marc Maron, a great podcaster and comic I listen to who talks often of his anxiety, just recently started his show triumphantly with “This time the burner actually was on!” Mine never has been. The burner is not the problem. I know, because the second I check it I convince myself I didn’t check it well enough. That is often even the nature of the burner: when I check my email, a moment later after I checked it a new message might have arrived, so I must check it again. There is no end to the worry. What needs to be addressed is not the worry, but the worrying.

Life, as far as I know it, seems to be full of ambiguities. I need to be comfortable with that. I need to live with not knowing, and be confident that when I do know something, I will be able to deal with it. And I think the more I leave brain space open to address each moment as it comes, the more I will realize that even when you didn’t leave the burner on, someone else might have, and it’s all about how you react to it. Life is sort of like a game of whack-a-mole but in slower motion, wherein the moles are rational people you know and problems you can solve rather than insatiable subterranean mammals with beady eyes, as they seem at first glance. And maybe you shouldn’t have a hammer.

Cooking and Not Cooking Recipes

In Literary Events on November 5, 2015 at 11:08 pm

There was a time when I said: “Why cook a recipe?” I said it for many reasons… I didn’t want to, I didn’t know how to, and I thought that maybe to be a good cook one had to not use recipes. I was trying to be a master chef and I hadn’t even cooked a recipe. Maybe I’d made cookies. But I felt like I should be able to just stir fry something, and that this should be enough to sustain me. And wouldn’t it be better, I thought, to stir fry and really know how, then to busy myself going out and buying a whole list of things just to come back and make them into something that probably wouldn’t even work?

I was wrong, of course. Cooking recipes is what cooking is. Recipes are just the product of someone who cooked something and wrote it down. Did I not know this?

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So I started doing it. It is still a pretty big thing for me. I look up a recipe for, say, a stir fry, and I read it over a few times (not carefully) and then I check what we have and I go to the grocery store and buy the things we don’t. I usually have to walk around with my cell phone at the grocery store to convert between grams and pounds and Google questions like “Is bok choy big?” I was doing this grocery store bit so successfully the other day that a man asked me if I sometimes made fried rice and if I do, what do I put in it? I said I did (I’ve never, but it sounds so simple, I must have) and I told him maybe some zucchini? He winced. That would be a bad choice. I asked him what he normally puts in it. You know, the usual, he said. He named a few things. Eggs? I asked. Oh yeah. Then I pointed at the bell peppers. Maybe a red pepper? I suggested. Oh! His eyes widened. Oh yes.

It maybe isn’t in the recipe that one feels the magic. It is in the addition of the bell pepper, the extra dash of spice or the replacement of some ingredient with some other that is where cooking begins. And once a recipe has been repeated so many times, with various successes, maybe one becomes a cook by default, if the noun is just a reflection of the verb. Because with recipes I am cooking, and without them, I find it hard to.

Now I wonder where writing plays into this. Because I know that I don’t want to follow a recipe. I don’t want to write a murder mystery or an acrostic poem. I want to actually be a writer. But writers write. And when I’m playing with a novel for four years wondering about the consequence of a look shared between two people across a bar, and whether it’s a bar or a restaurant, and whether his name is Gil or Hugo, and whether she is 28 or 29, then the novel isn’t getting written. And there are (I believe!) other people who have written novels. Those are the recipes. They’ve written them down. So maybe the step toward writing isn’t writing, really—isn’t diving into the process of putting words in whatever order on paper—but reading. Maybe reading is the recipe to writing. And if you read enough, so that the recipes get engrained in you, and you know how a stir fry works (and tastes, and looks), then you can do it yourself, adding and changing and getting the flavours all right in the way that works for you. Just don’t use a zucchini in your fried rice. We all knew that.

Not Quite Ready to be Forwarded to an Editor

In Literary Events on October 28, 2015 at 8:51 pm

I’m trying a thing where I send out short stories to people at literary magazines and contests and they send me back (in their minds) the message above. And I go, that’s great, thanks, I’m not ready either! And we are all in agreement and then I cry a little bit and think to myself “If only, if only,” THEN I’ll quit my day job, as though getting one short story published is the start to a burgeoning literary career, though it is, in a way, or at least it’s closer than a lot of other things.

I’m writing sad little stories about sad people saying sharp, quick-witted things to each other in different ill-described settings. I began to read the short stories of Lorrie Moore and Mavis Gallant and Miranda July recently and this seems to be what I like, so why not? The saddest story about the saddest, quick-witted lady, who is maybe mid-thirties and undergone a divorce? That is the feel of the story that is on the tip of my burgeoning fingertips. It is the story that is Not Quite Ready to be Forwarded to an Editor.

I have also begun taking baths, unsuccessfully preparing a fire in the wood stove and voraciously reading articles in which I am not interested in The New Yorker, as though the articles are vacuums and I a piece of dust. It sounds idyllic, no? It is idyllic, because in reality those things I do (bath, fire, New Yorker) are in my spare moments, which are fractionally one forty eighth of my day. The rest is volleyball practice, marking, reading about photosynthesis, listening to children slash young adults, shouting about expectations, running up and down stairs and adding paper into the photocopy machine because I seem to be the only person that does that. So the bath thing? That isn’t often. But that is me. The bath thing, the fire thing, the New Yorker vacuum thing: that is me, living my life. The teaching thing, that is a great thing, but that is not me, that is not me living my life.

I kind of have to say that to myself to keep myself alive. Because I am working so many hours in a day that I don’t want to tell it to you because I can remember when I worked at Crema and I counted out an eight hour day and measured how that was one third of my life, how every day I was spending one third of my life serving different people the same thing over and over again and THAT was depressing to me then. So don’t make me count the hours. Because I will and it will be like, fifteen, and then my stories, they will get sadder, and the women older, and the divorces more numerous and the things they say less witty, but not on purpose.

This blog, I reckon, Not Quite Ready to be Forwarded to an Editor. But I am not either. So.

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Yoga Talk

In Literary Events on December 10, 2013 at 10:28 pm

I go to yoga seldom enough to miss it when I am not there: sometimes twice a week, sometimes twice a month, sometimes every twice month. I miss it because I feel my abs deflating and I feel an intuitive pull towards child’s pose, which is really just lying down on one’s face. But what I realize, every time I “arrive on my mat,” is that I haven’t missed the yoga talk.

It’s a jargon that grates at me, maybe because of its recent mainstream appearance on  lunch bags or because of something more. I think it’s a feeling of being on the outside,  wanting to be in.

I’m sure all resident doctors feel this, all aspiring baristas and apprentice sorcerers. Everyone wants to be at the point where they can use the jargon without feeling they’re faking it. There’s probably always a moment where one tries to distance oneself from it by mocking it. A resident mocks the doctor for the nickname he gives a scalpel, or whatever. But there’s probably also always a moment where one tries it out for the first time, feeling the absurdity roll clumsily of the tongue: “It was nice practicing next to you today.”

I go to so many of these yoga classes and at the end, and at the beginning, and all the way through, I wonder how these teachers can be faking it so bad. They surely don’t actually want me to tell my neighbour one gift I will be giving someone for Christmas, (for example, the gift of my time)? They surely didn’t ask me to run around the room and hug people? They surely didn’t mean that this class was going to be focused on passing energy to someone else by holding in my pelvic floor muscles in mulabanda?

Then there are moments where I hear someone who isn’t. Where I hear a teacher who has so honestly connected with the talk. And I wonder if it’s just me who is the problem here. Maybe yoga isn’t my way of being, my way of seeing the world.

There is one saying on that unmistakable, ubiquitous Lululemon bag that bothered me so much for so long but has since become my favourite saying. It reads: “Don’t let what is most important give way to what is least important.” At first I thought it so shoddy, so simplified and common. But the saying has popped into my mind at several moments, enough to let me know I’d been moved. When I’m driving and I want to check a text message, I tell myself to not let what is most important (my life and others’ lives) give way to what is least (emoticons). I read it off a yoga bag but I made it mine.

I’m finding it hard to sit through 90 minutes of someone else’s yoga talk, but I am learning to tune it out. And then once in a while I hear gems. And maybe they touch me because you feel it, or maybe they touch me because I’m feeling the same thing, right then, but that connection seems to be what I’m there for when I go to yoga: some other reason, some  higher reason for stretching my muscles and opening my heart.

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(from livewellwomen.wordpress.com)

I Am the Worst

In Literary Events on September 14, 2013 at 8:45 pm

It’s the biggest error of a young diarist: believing that it is interesting to write a diary entry that begs the reader to forgive the writer for having been “bad,” for having forgotten a commitment, for having been too busy or too normal not to write in their diary every night before bed. And bloggers do it too, because bloggers are just kids writing in diaries but with bigger audiences (an audience). But how embarrassing a diary entry it makes, when read months later, as still the most recent post. Where does there exist a more outright proclamation of laziness?

And I am the worst. The worst of them all! I have been doing nothing but work (work work, not writing work!) for two weeks. After writing a novel in three days and thinking that would help me continue (and not give up on) writing while teaching. After once telling someone that I would probably write for 90 minutes before school and 90 minutes after. After imagining a life where a job and writing were mutually inclusive.

I am, of course, not the very worst. I understand that these were the first two weeks of school and the first two weeks of my teaching career. But then I think about how in life I have given up on so many penpals. And that there are still so many unanswered messages in my Facebook inbox because I forgot Facebook is a viable means of communication and not just where I look at what weddings you went to and read your hashtag run-offs from Twitter. I am becoming bad at making time for writing, and that’s almost the only realm of writing that I am any good at!

But I talked to my students about my writing. And I’ve had them write in their journals every morning. And I am reading a book. And I went to a writing meeting in Whistler. And I dream. And I stare at people too long in public. And I wear this long blue skirt. And when people ask me about my writing I don’t admit I’m not doing it. And then I’m doing this.

Writing Elbows

In Literary Events, My Writing, Teaching on September 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I did it, I wrote a novel in 3 days. I held my elbows at my side and I wrote a novel for 3 days straight. At the 2.25 mark (1:00 on Day Three) my elbows gave out. They hurt! I blamed them then I kissed them better. Then the day stopped. My document was stuck at 83 pages when I so badly (so badly!) wanted it to be at 100.

I wrote a story about a girl that ended up being a little shallow (17 pages shallower than I thought). It took place in one day! How much of a worthy-of-a-book life transformation can you have on that one day that will make a book worth reading? Less of one than I thought. Or at least I kept telling myself to back off because I didn’t want to appear corny. I didn’t want to accidentally write a young adult novel without meaning to! What would that say about my level of intellect? My soul?

So I added a subplot. I knew about this one already (it was in my outline). It was the story of her parents meeting at Woodstock. I didn’t know anything about Woodstock, really, so I tried to tell their story through feeling (through what I imagined was the feeling of Woodstock).  And that was okay, but it was short, because feelings are fleeting.

Overnight Sunday and early morning Monday, I began planning a new subplot. This one was the story of homeless people living in Powell’s Books (this one day takes place in Portland). However, instead of homeless people, I just created one homeless person, and I told the stories of his three great loves. This got me no further than 83 pages because love is fleeting.

What I loved about this contest was its absurdity. Everyone on Twitter shouting at each other, shouting at empty rooms: Why am I doing this? What am I doing? I loved going places that weekend (because I somehow made it to an outdoor concert and too many coffeeshops) and wondering whether people looked at me and knew what I was doing (or were interested). They didn’t; they weren’t, but I liked the secret I was holding, like I was in some cult in which we write a novel in 3 days.

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(from http://annieneugebauer.com)

It’s what fiction writing is, some weird cult. You do that? Who else? Actually, I sit alone and do it, but I know some people…

One very big highlight was being interviewed by CBC’s Canada Writes about my preparation and afterwards about my experience. It was neat to appear on a website I look at often and to somehow feel validated, even before the experience happened. I love committing to hard things, knowing that all that matters is I committed.

I started teaching the day after I finished my 3 day novel. My back and my legs hurts but my elbows have stopped hurting! I love the sharp contrast: here I am alone; here I am with so many kids so full of energy. The experiences better one another, and I am better for committing to both of them, however hard and crazy a commitment that may be.

Preparing for a 3-Day Weekend

In Literary Events, My Writing, Teaching on August 24, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Next weekend I write a novel in 3 days. Not this novel! I’ve been working on this one for 2 years. Three days to finish it would be ridiculous. But a whole new novel? No problem! I speak of the 3 Day Novel Contest, something I didn’t make up. It’s a thing! Click on the link! I’m paying money to do it!

My mindset going into it is one of naive confidence, something I’m hoping to cultivate for my first year of teaching, which starts the day after I finish my 3-day-novel. It’s a frame of mind I’m actually trying to cultivate in all areas of my life.

I spent a weekend by a pool in the middle of summer. I kept cannonballing into the pool, telling myself before I took the leap: this is you jumping into everything.

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(from http://www.hiren.info)

I know that for my first day of teaching I need to look like I know my stuff. I need to have the right amount of desks. I know that for the 3 Day Novel contest I need to have an outline. I need a main character with a cool name.

But there’s something else I need for both these journeys, something so much more important than anything already mentioned. I need to be absolutely crazy! I need to go feral. I need to trust my instincts before my tired, sketchy, rigid mind. I need to keep doing cannonballs even if no one’s watching, even if I’m paying thirty-five dollars to sit alone all weekend writing something that will undoubtedly have such poor grammar.

But that’s what it seems to come down to. I need to keep doing what makes me happy, in the strange, clumsy way that I do it. It’s only then that I’ll find the things I’m looking for (or what I didn’t know I was looking for, but happened to find). If I don’t whisper maxims to myself before jumping into a pool by myself, then I’m not being me! I’m not putting all of myself into it. And what better thing to teach, to write about, then the feeling of power that comes from giving it all?

The Reading Fad

In Book Club, Literary Events, Literature on August 15, 2013 at 10:57 pm

I admit I walk around carrying a book in my  hand more than I used to, though I used to read more than I do now. I admit I don’t read as many classics as I should, but I always name classics as my favourite books. I admit I bought glasses that make me look like I’m reading and I get shivers in trendy used bookstores. But I will not admit that I am a part of this new trend called reading.

I’ve had a few different people lately tell me they are reading a book out loud as a couple. That’s great! I wish I was in a couple in which we read books out loud! But it also seems to signify something: is reading a becoming a novelty?

When someone walks by me wearing a Great Gatsby tee-shirt, I’m usually pretty sure it’s not an English Lit major. Why would someone who studied English feel the need to wear a tee-shirt announcing they like books? They decided that already, probably early in life, and it has since been their identity.

Second question: why am I so defensive of books? I didn’t write any of them! Maybe I’ve read more than some people, but I’ve also not read most of them, and I read them pretty poorly.

But books are my thing. They are a thing for people who don’t have many other things. But someone who rides a funny-looking bike and sketches and, like, has a horse, already has so many things! You can’t take books too!

So I propose this: we just all keep reading. Don’t stop when the other member of your couple has moved on to partner yoga (even though that’s so last year). Just keep reading until it stops becoming a trend. Until you missed the next trend because you were so busy reading.

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(from crazetees.com)

Until you become a real smoker, not just one who smokes at parties, you don’t know all the downsides of the trade. You don’t know that you slowly lose your eyesight. You don’t know that there are some books that will plague you, consistently looming over you to get you to finish them. And even if you’ve seen the Dracula movie and you read all of Atlas Shrugged except for the 100-page-long speech by John Galt, you know that one day you will just sit there, miserable, reading those two books instead of whatever book is on everyone’s tee shirt.

And it will become a part of you (not every book you read, but the fact that you do weird little things, like accidentally buy two copies of the same book or bring ten with you on a trip) and you will never stop reading, because it’s the best trend ever invented. It offers a way of seeing the world and of seeing yourself: through words, beautifully arranged, on these little sheets of paper you carry around in your hand for everyone to see.

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