Coffee Shops at Night

I would always do this in Paris (were I to live there) but in Vancouver? A coffee shop at night? To write? But I found one! Here I can drink a sweetened ginger tea and stare at hipsters. Such interesting people! And in between droughts in that activity, I can write.

Writing is so much more magical at night. Words seem meant for each other; ideas seem to fall from someplace important. No sentence is too flimsy at night – it’s emphatic! No character too flat at night – she’s mysterious! I don’t know what I’ve done to my story, tonight, but there is a ghost where there wasn’t before, and my main character changed relationship tactics.

At night, there’s the  concern that one might fall asleep when writing, but also the hope that the series of letters spelled out from a cheek on a keyboard might reveal something worthwhile.



(photo from

I always try and do writerly things when I’m writing (not only when I’m in public), in some attempt at being less inauthentic than I feel. I lay out papers around me, I move too quickly, I twitch. It started (hopefully) as a show, but has become a part of my writing personality. To make it good, I have to be good.


So I don’t know if I’ll drive here every night for $3.50 tea and the admission that I’m not doing anything fun tonight because I brought a computer with me, but I think I’ll come here sometimes, when I haven’t yet eaten a doughnut that day (whoops!) and when I need something different imbued in my text – a ghostly presence, a night feeling.

The Place Where You Are From

Everyone thinks they are not from a place that counts. People think they have to be from New York or Paris to do something. People think they have to go to New York or Paris to do something.

I mean, it’s true, to a certain extent. When I went to Paris, I realized that it’s true. In Paris you feel like you are somewhere where things are happening. You look around and realize that this is a place people make movies and write books about. You think you can’t really be an artist until you move to Paris. You think all artists live in Paris.

Then you read something someone wrote about the place where they are from. And at first you wish you were from that place. Then you realize that everyone is from a place. You are from a place too.

Or maybe you’re from a bunch of places. Even better.

When I first started writing my novel, I based it in Vancouver because that is what I know. I stopped myself at one point and realized that this didn’t feel like a book that could ever be published. I tried to change the setting to San Francisco, or at least somewhere in California.

But maybe I got lazy – I didn’t want to research a place I wasn’t from – and I kept my book in Vancouver. And by doing so I decided I am going to write a Vancouver book. What do I know about Vancouver?

Well, what I know about Vancouver is that I don’t really feel I’m from Vancouver. So I wrote about that. And I realized that the feeling of not being from Vancouver would lead my main character to find where it was she was really from: Cape Breton. This created the main problem of my story: she hadn’t been there yet.

And I knew that she had been on a road trip across Canada. So I told the stories of the places where she stayed a while. I told the story of Lake Louise and the Rockies. I told the story of Moose Jaw, of Saskatchewan. I told the story of the Great Lakes. I told the story of Prince Edward Island. And I told the story of Cape Breton.

I’m still in the process of telling these stories. I’m searching for them, from the land where they take place.

I work with high school students writing their university application essays. They keep wondering what to write about, like they might find the answer in the question, like they might find the answer if they ask it out loud, or if they write down things that are true, aphorisms they’ve heard before. They seem offended, like it’s too simple, when I suggest they write about themselves.

We all think we’re so boring until we try to describe ourselves. We grew out of the land where we were raised; our minds and our hearts did too. It’s only in trying to write the stories that come out of us that we realize we’re any different.

If we all moved to Paris, we’d be great artists, of course, but we’d all be writing something fake, trying to please the others who themselves aren’t from Paris. The stories we love from Paris are from those who have somehow grown up there, who have discovered the place for what it is and have grown it out of themselves. Until I move to Paris and live in it, I won’t be writing my Paris story. I’ll be writing my Vancouver story, my Vancouver story where I dream of the places I might be from.

Changing a Morning Routine

Mornings are difficult because they are so hard to adjust to. You just got to leave the world for five to twelve hours and now you have to go back into it. That is incomparable to most other things. Most things in life aren’t thrown at you after long periods of unconsciousness. Mornings are.

I’ve never been able to change my morning routine. These are the things I would like to do in the morning:

1. Exercise.

2. Eat something healthier than cereal.

3. Write down my dreams

4. Have a coffee at home

5. Watch the news

Thinking about even one of these things in the first few minutes after waking up immediately takes them off the list. I never get any of these things done. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten one of these things done without my now remembering that day as a glory moment. It’s easier not to exercise, it’s easier to eat cereal, it’s easier to forget my dreams, it’s easier to buy good coffee elsewhere and it’s easier to forget about the rest of the world. So every morning, the first thing I do is break a promise to myself.

I’ve given up trying, of course, to do any of these things, because I know the person who is going to wake up tomorrow morning and it’s not going to be the same person who lined up her running shoes the night before. The morning person hates that person. The other morning I tossed a coin to decide whether I was allowed to eat cereal. Shocker: I was.

Now, I do hear great things from other people. Someone told me they get up at 4 a.m. and stay in bed with a coffee marking papers before going for a run at 7 with their dogs. Okay, yes, that sounds wonderful in principle. Countless people in Vancouver exercise in the morning. I bet even in Paris people go to coffee shops in the morning. Lots of people go to work early so they can get off early. People even do the crossword in the morning! Why does this all sound so great right now, but so terrible, so incredibly terrible in the morning?

There has only been one time in my life that I had a plane ticket booked to Paris. I remember when my alarm clock rang. I didn’t even want to go anymore.

I think maybe we’re nocturnal? I don’t get it!

Because I’ve lately been quoting Thoreau, I’d like to share what he has to say about mornings:

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.”

I have never woken up and thought that! Do we all need to build our own cabins on the edges of lakes?

(photo from “Andy the Fly Guy”)

And then, All memorable events, I should say, transpire in the morning time and in a morning atmosphere.”

I will end here with that quote, because if all important things in life happen in the morning and in a morning atmosphere, then I am doomed to approach each supposed milestone in my life with the greatest distaste and lethargy. But maybe what Thoreau is saying is that this list I just made up of 5 things I wish I could do in the morning time are actually the most important things. I might be able to see how that makes sense.

Maybe if I were to take the time to change myself in the morning, to not keep waking up a bad person, maybe that’s the most important thing. Because if I could change myself in the morning, then I could change myself for at least the other sixteen hours I am awake, before I fall back unconscious and reset myself for the following horrible morning.

Good luck, me tomorrow morning!

Late Review #1: Suzuki at VWF

I am a new brand of reviewer, one who reviews late and not very accurately. I went to five events at the Vancouver Writers Fest and would like to review them in backwards chronological order.

On Sunday I saw David Suzuki and Tim Flannery in conversation with Linden MacIntyre at the Stanley Alliance Theatre. I took notes, though it just looked like I didn’t know anything about the environment, which was true. I’d like to share a variety of things that were said.

David Suzuki has written over fifty books! (I mean, that’s probably not true). I felt relief that I wasn’t obliged to buy this newest one. It seemed silly when someone walked by with one.

Tim Flannery was here from Australia. It was announced that he arrived here on Air Canada. He is a scientist, an explorer, a teacher, a journalist, as well as chief of the climate commission in Australia.

Linden MacIntyre is a writer I feel I should know. I listened to a portion of an interview with him on CBC about his new book Why Men Lie. It was about that.

Linden MacIntyre opened the night by saying that every individual is constantly making choices all the time. I thought that contextualized the night nicely, and I felt really proud that I had made a choice to come here and change the world.

Tim Flannery (I just feel more comfortable calling people by their full names, as though they are dolls) added that acting collectively is the great human genius and the great human choice.

Yes, added Linden MacIntyre who understood this: there is great tension between citizenship and consumerism. I wrote this down. Totally! I thought. I underlined.

At several points in the night David Suzuki ramped up the conversation into a fighting frenzy. This got people clapping in agreement after mostly every line. One of these was about how scientists who are saying it’s too late to save the world should shut up. I felt relieved when David Suzuki used the word shit a lot (I feel I say shitty a lot).

All three people on stage on Sunday kept telling me to get involved in the democratic process. By the end of the night I was sweating. I feel like it’s too late for me to start understanding about politics. Because of this, I never attempt to talk about politics, and so fall further and further down some hole I feel represents my lack of knowledge about politics. I turned on the Presidential debate for four minutes last night and tried to do homework at the same time. I turned it off and actually felt proud of myself for watching.

(from Jeff Edwards website)

This night was inspiring the way that gloom and doom with a spot of light in it is inspiring. It was inspiring to be sitting amongst people who knew a lot more than me and wanted to do something with it. It felt inspiring that maybe after I attend this type of thing a certain number of times it will start to make sense to me. It also felt inspiring that I am becoming an elementary school teacher and I can go back and help children find out about important things and eventually make important changes.

A friend of mine who is in my elementary school teaching program walked up to a microphone and asked a question: what change do you hope to see in the education system? Take the kids outside! intoned David Suzuki. Yes, I thought, scribbling that down. That makes sense to me.

Why isn’t everyone reading Walden?

I am on page 77 of Walden and I have so far read Henry David Thoreau’s take on mortgages, fashion, DIY, travel and school. Thoreau published his masterpiece in 1854, but it feels so relevant – too relevant to be so good, so insightful. I don’t know why we aren’t all reading Walden right now.


Walden is the account of a social experiment. Thoreau built a cabin and lived on the edge of Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts for two years in search of meaning in his life. Isn’t that what we are all reading right now? Memoirs of people looking for the meaning of life?

Thoreau is a philosopher of sorts – a trancendentalist. We read his quotes everywhere – on bookmarks and graduation gifts. His school of thought says that man is inherently good and needs to find ways to be independent and self-reliant or else he will be corrupted by organized religion and politics. Isn’t that a lot of what we’re reading right now? Books arguing for the power of the individual?

Thoreau on mortgages: “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.”

Thoreau on fashion: “My tailoress tells me gravely, ‘They do not make them so, now,” not emphasizing the ‘They’ at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates.”

Thoreau on DIY: “Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? … Where is this division of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.”

Thoreau on travel: “This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it, reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once. ‘What!’ exclaim a million Irishmen.”

Thoreau on school: ” ‘But,’ says one, ‘you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?’ I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which he might think a good deal like that; I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?”


I can’t get over how much I want to be reading this 160 year old book right now. It’s exciting to feel that sometimes we can find the answers to the most pressing issues in the oldest, wisest places. I’ve maybe learned something about why people read the Bible: the answers were here, all along.

It might be that Walden caught me at the right moment in my life, and this moment in my life has coincided with the right moment in time.

Me, on mortgages: I am contemplating, in the Vancouver housing market, the possibility that if things go on this way I may never be able to buy my own home. And if by chance I am able to successfully buy my own home, still never own it.

Me, on fashion: As a young woman bombarded by media, I’ve developed a bad habit for spending money on frivolous items, such as the latest clothing and other ephemeral trends.

Me, on DIY: I’m attempting to eat and buy local in order to offset the negative impacts of globalization.

Me, on travel: I am at the point in my life where I’m supposed to travel, but also at the point in my life where I’m supposed to settle down.

Me, on school: I left school last year and am going back this year, all in search of what?

I don’t know why everyone isn’t talking about Walden right now. Then again, this headline was in The New York Times this morning. Maybe everyone is, and I just haven’t been listening.

I Ate a Book!

Not really, but reading fast! So fast!

The Blue Light Project is the latest book by Timothy Taylor, the Vancouver-based author who wrote Stanley Park.

(photo taken from

I will tell you nothing about the book except for this:

I will do a review once I’m done, but I’ll probably just post another Youtube video of parkour.

Timothy Taylor was previously nominated for the Giller Prize  for Stanley Park so I will take this as an opportunity to tell you that as you were busy reading and thinking about my blog posts from a few weeks ago about how I am doing two self-made, self-entertaining challenges where I read a Pulitzer prize-winning book from each decade and also a Governor’s General prize-winning book from each decade, I changed my mind.

I am doing the Pulitzer thing, because I want to read some American classics I haven’t read, but I am a lot more interested in modern Canadian authors. So I am going to choose from the past ten years of Giller-prize nominees (not necessarily winners) one book from 2001 until now.

First up: Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.

Check out an excellently written review of my first Pulitzer book, The Age of Innocence, and then also a series of poorly-written book reviews I recorded in a journal of mine that is on paper not blog.

Anyway, I have to go sit in a hammock and read this thing.

Sunshine Productivity

Everyone in Vancouver is talking about the sun. It just became summer yesterday.

Today I:

-Bought fresh fruit and vegetables and made a salad. The sun is out.

-Jumped off a diving board. I thought, what other day am I going to do this?

-Ran into someone I haven’t seen for a while (talking to someone else I haven’t seen for a while) because we were all outside of Whole Foods and that’s where you go when it’s sunny.

-Went on an extra dog walk. You’re welcome.

Today you:

-Took a picture of something that looks bad in the rain.

-Left work early. Extended your lunch break. Thought to yourself for a moment, what is life really for?

-Tried a new drink on a patio because you decided to be adventurous.

-Did an outdoor activity you heard was good. Sucked at it. Went to bed sore.

(photo from flickr jhencolours2)

Today I:

-Got a sunburn. Tomorrow and for days to come I will look healthier than normal (it isn’t true).

-Drank more water than I usually do. Also drank a beer by myself in the sun, smiling.

-Made a to-do list regarding my book and did it poolside. Maybe it took me longer than it should have, but I didn’t notice time.

Today you:

-Spent the night outside on an impromptu picnic, and though you complained under your breath about how many people were also there, you felt apart of a community.

-Made a decision to do something you’ve been meaning to do for a while. And you told yourself I won’t wait for a sunny day. I will plan it on a sunny day, and follow through.

What did you do in the sun?


Though I try to write classy so as not to estrange my parents, my realistic audience, I’ve come to realize that I don’t write class-y enough. Social class should actually be at the cornerstone of my novel, because running away from the concept of it is at the very heart of my main character. How can I show the heart of my main character if I avoid the thing altogether?

A blog post called “Fictitious Values” on Book Forum speaks of the necessity of class in a modern novel, in which all too often novelists who hide out on university campuses try their best to ignore the issue. Novelists aren’t money-minded people, the article reads, so it is not at the forefront of their characters’ minds either. The blog post speculates on the soon to be ubiquitous Occupy Wall Street novels.

(photo from Mario Tama, Getty Images)

My main character and I share a similar illusion and misunderstanding about money as well. It goes a little like,if I just didn’t have to use it…

Jillian is trying to negotiate being a hippie in a world where hippies just can’t happen anymore. How can one escape real life when real life has pervaded everything?  Where are the convents? The tree houses? Living in Vancouver feels especially frightening. We are in nature, we just can’t get away from the people. Try doing the Grouse Grind, the opposite of a hike.

(photo from Up Magazine)

But where in my book is this money? It’s in the hands of the characters of Jillian’s wealthy parents. Her father owns a fictionally powerful company. Her mother has face lifts. They live in a penthouse apartment on the water in West Vancouver.

Jillian doesn’t want any of this money, or this lifestyle. She sees her sister, who was once a free-spirit like herself, move to Victoria and get a job as a realtor. Jillian sees a dreadful academic future at the university from which she is about to get her PhD. She sees her boyfriend, who wears suits. She doesn’t want any of it. She doesn’t want to join the real world. She doesn’t want money.

But what good is a discussion of money if I don’t show the other side of the class system? What would happen to Jillian if she lets go of her parents’ money and doesn’t get a job she doesn’t want? Where is that example in my book?

My book is trying to show that there is another, outlying choice, outside of poverty, outside of wealth, outside of the middle class. (It’s become obvious I’m writing a book as a form of consolation, of keeping up an illusion for myself.) But can my novel even show a solution like this without completely addressing the question of class, all sides of it?

No, I don’t think it can. I think I need to dissect class and disintegrate it. Jillian needs to escape from something, after all. Hopefully she can.