Sundog snippet: Writerly events and an update on the construction

Kim FahnerOn Thursday, I went to see my friend Kim Fahner read her poetry at the Open Studio Showcase. Along with Kim were all three of Sudbury’s Poet Laureates, past and present (Roger Nash, Daniel Aubin, and Tom Leduc). Richard Van Camp was MC and storyteller for the evening.

A couple of people signed up for the open mic and added some much needed estrogen to the line up 🙂

The theme of the evening was Identity.

Today, I took a trip out to our Chapter’s to visit with Mat Del Papa and Lisa Coleman-Brown, who were selling and signing copies of Creepy Capreol. While there, I met with fellow Sudbury Writers’ Guild members Renny De Groot, Scott Overton, and Irene Golas.

Mat and Lisa

I an odd turn of events, a gentleman asked the table to watch his collie, fittingly named Lassie, while he dodged over to Kelsey’s for lunch.

. . .

In destruction construction news, the blasting is over, the rubble is cleared, and they’ve torn up all the old paving on our driveway.

SatOct18b

I think they need to move the storm drain and reconstruct the curb before they get the retaining wall started. The hold up with the driveway appears to be the mass of clay around the water shut off valves, which must, of course, be excavated and replaced with proper fill (otherwise, they’ll just have to redo things next year when the frost heaves all that clay again).

Nu is doing well. Phil and I are getting used to the VetPen, but I won’t have further news until Nu has her next glucose curve on the 30th.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print, people.

See you all on Tipsday!

Sundog snippet

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NEOVerse

One of the contests I entered while I was struggling through grad school was for the League of Canadian Poets.  Through that competition, one of my poems was selected for publication in the 1997 (W)rites of Spring.

I read at their gala (with Valerie Senyk, Roger Nash, Sonja Dunn, Katerina Fretwell, and others) and subsequently submitted my poetry to Dr. Laurence Steven, who was now the proud owner of Your Scrivener Press.  He accepted my work and along with the work of two other northeastern Ontario poets, Monique Chenier and Natalie Wilson, he published NeoVerse (1999).

It stood for northeastern Ontario verse, but in a way, it was the beginning of a whole new life for me creatively.

I traveled all over the north giving readings that year: North Bay, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, and Parry Sound.  Due in part to my reading activity, I was invited to participate in an event in Caledon called Word Harvest, where several other poets were performing.

Thanks to the publication of my poetry in chapbook form, I was able to become an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets.

Also around that time, I was writing articles for the Sudbury Arts Council (SAC) in the Sudbury Star, after having served on the newspaper’s readers board for a term; I wrote interviews for the Laurentian University Alumni Magazine, and articles for Georgian Bay Today.  GBT didn’t last long.  The way I was to be paid was to sell advertising to local retailers.  I was not then, nor am I now, a salesperson, by any stretch of the imagination.

I put together a few workshops for elementary and high schools, and even one for the Manitoulin Writers’ retreat.

I was also putting together Web pages for the Huntington University Library and for the Art Gallery of Sudbury.  This was the old-fashioned (ha!), type-your-tags-out-in-Wordpad, HTML Web pages.  Eventually I adopted Microsoft FrontPage.

I started to write reviews for the Canadian Book Review Annual, took another short-term contract at the Cambrian College Library, and then two of my Laurentian professors contacted me with an offer of employment.  It would only be a part-time contract, but I could be the executive assistant for an organization called ACCUTE, the association of Canadian college and university teachers of English.

There, I developed another Web site, published the quarterly newsletter, and helped to coordinate their annual conference.

My first year with ACCUTE I did the crazy and auditioned for Theatre Cambrian’s production of Hair.  It was hard work.  Dancing, singing, and acting.  It was also one of the most fun, most amazing experiences of my life.

How about you?  Was there a time in your life when you became creatively fecund? What happened?  If you’re blogging about it, link through in your comments.  I’d love to see what you’ve been up to 🙂

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The Windsor years and what they really taught me

Last time on My history as a so-called writer: I found awesomeness at Laurentian University 🙂

I should have just kept writing.   

Unfortunately, I was still insecure about my craft and all of my friends were either heading to teachers’ college, or graduate school, or had already left.  So I thought it was the thing to do, something that had to be done to show that I had “the chops.”

Still living at the mercy of events, I applied to UVic, UNB, and Windsor.  Victoria rejected me outright, New Brunswick said that they would accept me to their academic program, but not to the creative one, but Windsor said they’d take me, so that’s where I went.

Phil was still completing his degree in computer science at Laurentian, so I was on my own.  We took a trip down in August apartment hunting and I signed a lease for a year for a room in a house that was within a five-minute walk of the campus.

I started off filled with hope, but struggled.  My courses in research and methodology, the Pre-Raphealites, and the new Canadian writers were great, but early Canadian women writers was a bomb and because my primary interest was in writing genre, the creative writing part of things did not go very well either.

I even tried to resurrect pieces of the novel idea I conceived of at Guelph, but a very dim view was taken of my fantasy.

I was nearly shamed away from my novel.  It wasn’t worthy.  I wasn’t worthy.  I kept on being asked questions like, “You have this character smoking.  You know that tobacco wasn’t discovered until Europeans reached the New World, right?”  It was all about historical detail.  But my fantasy world isn’t this world, and its history has little to nothing in common with the real world.  “But you just can’t go picking and choosing what you want from history …”  Why not?  Seriously.  What’s to say that I have to write my fantasy like a historical novel?  If I wanted to write historical fiction, then I would.  But I don’t.  (At least not right now.  I have this idea though …)

Therein lay the difficulty.  Submitting two to five pages of my novel at a time wasn’t allowing anyone to really get into the story.  Things would just get to a point where they were developing into something interesting, and then everyone would have to wait until the next week.  Momentum was lost and most of my classmates felt nothing but contempt for my chosen genre.

A lot of comments focused on the impossibility of what I was writing.  “She couldn’t survive what happened to her.”  “That defied the laws of physics.”  My characters are heroes in the epic sense, though.  Their survival hinged on the fantastic nature of their gifts and talents.  They have to be “bigger than life” in order to merit their place in the overall plot.  And magic does defy physics.  Actually, my magick has its own physics (more on that in a future world-building post).

Fantasy, especially the high, epic fantasy that I like to write, is all about the impossible.  I wasn’t trying to straddle the improbable but plausible line that defines most science fiction.  (Although I have an idea or two in that direction as well …)

I tried other stories and genres:  A YA fantasy about a girl whose figments turn out to be real; a post apocalyptic tale featuring a male protagonist; poetry; more traditionally literary short stories.  With the exception of my poetry, my work was largely panned.

My classmate, Laurie Smith, got me involved in the Wayzgoose reading series and some of my poetry was published in the Wayzgoose anthology.  I became editor of Generations, the student-published poetry anthology, and tried my hand at presenting a paper at the ACCCSAL conference (speculative fiction).  So it wasn’t a complete bust.

I have to admit though, with respect to the idea that would become Initiate of Stone, that my characters had no character.  They were merely vehicles to move the plot, which was also evolving at the time.  Theme was also a work in progress.  Still, by the time I was finished at Windsor, or rather by the time Windsor was finished with me, I was well and truly wounded.

My advisor at the time, Alistair MacLeod, did not hide his dismay regarding my choices, and to his credit, I’m sure he was doing his best to guide and support me.  He praised my poetry, and I’m certain that if I’d chosen to move in that direction, we would have gotten along swimmingly.  As it was, the presentation of the work I chose to do, confused him at best, and disappointed him, in the most tragic of senses, at worst.

He was a mentor, a writerly father figure, and his dismay was hard to take.  I was still tender then, and I retreated in defeat.

I’ve talked a lot about teachers, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  You may get the idea that I dislike them, but I don’t.  I’ve had as many positive and supportive teachers as I’ve had teachers that just didn’t understand me, and it’s a matter of timing and circumstances as anything else.

What I took away from my experience at Windsor, though it took me years to discover, is that a teacher’s job is to teach.  The teacher may not agree with the way in which the student wants to apply their knowledge and experience, but that should not be the issue.  Even if the teacher believes that the student is only setting themselves up for failure, it is not the teacher’s responsibility, or even right, to deny the experience of that failure to the student.

Instead, what the teacher should do is his or her best to impart the skills that will enable the student to meet that failure and learn from it, rather than being crippled by it.  If the teacher has such strong reservations that he or she feels that they can honestly not discharge their duty to the student, then she or he should refer the student to someone who can.

It’s not too much to ask.

Mind you, the student should stand up for herself and demand the help she needs.  I still wasn’t very good at confrontation and fled at every turn.  What happened at Windsor was my fault more than anyone else’s.  I have to take responsibility for my poor choices.

I took a year off and once again tried to sort things out, but I was badly damaged.  I worked at both the Huntington and Cambrian College libraries and subsequently became unemployed.  I was entering contests again though and won several, in short fiction and in poetry.  I participated in more readings, and more writers’ groups.

With Kim Fahner, I embarked on what might have been a foolish enterprise: a poetry journal.  The aptly named … like lemmings … only lasted 2 years.  The name was more about the editors than about the poetry, but I’m sure you get the idea.  Kim and I moved on to bigger and better things after that.  It was brilliant while it lasted though.

Then Dani Harris, a former student of mine (I was a Graduate Assistant at Windsor—doesn’t every grad student teach?) let me know that there was a new professor in the English department, Di Brandt.  With Dani’s encouragement, herself and excellent poet, I registered for another year and determined that this time, I would succeed.

I found a new mentor, but I still couldn’t bring myself to trust her fully.  My experiences in writing to that point had only taught me that editors, friends, and teachers couldn’t be trusted with my work.  They’d also taught me that the stories I wanted to tell weren’t the stories that should be shared with anyone.

So I compromised and chose stories that I thought I could tell, that I thought would be accepted.  That was my problem though and not something that I would overcome for some time.  My stories were all of young women finding their way by means of dream, and spiritual quest, and damn good friends.

The one risk was a story that did cross the line and tread into the dreadful world of fantasy.  Initially presenting with obsessive-compulsive disorder and insomnia, my protagonist developed precognitive dreams and telekinesis.  It was the one risk I couldn’t refuse to take.

I wrapped the collection up in shamanism and called it Whispers in the Dark.

Di Brandt was the teacher I needed .  She encouraged me and saw me through to the successful completion of my master’s degree.  For that, I will be forever grateful.

As you might be able to guess, my next great teacher in life was Di Brandt.  With her assistance, I conquered my fears, defended my thesis, and completed that chapter of my life.  I also met Miriam Toews, a friend of Di’s and author of the Governor General’s Award-winning A Complicated Kindness.

Was there a time when you cut and ran?  Did you rally and fight back?  What did you learn from the experience?

Grades seven through twelve

Art became a kind of salvation for me.  I wasn’t the best, but I was good.  My art teacher said that I was a colourist, and I had no idea what she meant, but I was nonetheless flattered.  If I did know what a colourist was, I might have been even more flattered, because I still liked comic books and graphic novels.

I also started guitar lessons.  I was never quite comfortable with the instrument, but again, I was comfortably mediocre.

I kept on writing and entered a student poetry contest I didn’t place in.

My first attempt at public speaking was lost in a fit of giggles.  My speech was on winter camping, and the best way to keep warm while you slept was to sleep without clothes–oh my!  My classmates enjoyed the effort though, and graded me highly for the entertainment factor alone 🙂

A guest speaker came to my grade seven class.  Unfortunately I don’t remember who he was, though I believe he was a journalist.  I guess you could call it my first workshop.  I wrote a supernatural murder mystery in one sitting and read it out to the class.  I really got into it, dramatizing the voices and everything.  Though empowering, I felt a little like a freak.

Grade eight brought more luke-warm success with a few of my stories read out in class.  My teacher’s final report of the year called me apathetic, however, and I had to fight to get into the advanced level classes in high school, despite having the grades to be so placed.  Just because I’d rather be in a book than in class …

I was bored.  I’d do the work I was supposed to do in class, then pick up whatever book I was reading at the time.  My instructors would approach, I’d show them that I was done, they’d advise me to do my homework, so I’d do that, and pick up my book again.  Then, I’d be advised to work ahead.  I hated school then.  Extra study was the last thing I wanted to do.

None of my writing was ever given into the dubious custody of any of my classmates.  I was even cagey with Margaret and took every well-meant criticism to heart.

I can’t remember exactly when, but I caught the Dungeons & Dragons bug.  Margaret’s Dad got her the Player’s Handbook, and shortly thereafter, we picked up the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual.  We started to attend the weekend meetings of the Sudbury Gaming Club at Cambrian College, and eventually tried out other games.  I was a dedicated gamer well into my 20s.

Suddenly, I had another group of people I could consider friends!  And none of them knew me from school.  Bonus.  We went to concerts: Headpins and Helix, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister …  I was a burgeoning head banger in those days.

When high school hit, with my part time job, boyfriends, and everything else that came with it, my writing started to take a back seat.  I became interested in the visual arts again.  I still wasn’t the best, but I was better than some, and I did well enough.

I didn’t stop writing.  I kept on dreaming and I kept on writing down my dreams.  I have several ideas-in-waiting from those days.

Emotional drama, serious illness, and the death of my grandmother kept me unstable, and unable to see clearly enough to commit to what I loved.  Heck, I couldn’t even figure out what that was …

Also enter into my life great teacher number two, Ms. Chapman.  Her classes instilled in me a passion for literature that while slow to kindle, saw me through the rest of my academic career, such as it was.

Chronologically, what happened next was my first year of university.  You can get that bit of detail by reading How it all started in my Work in progress category.

I’ll pick up the tale again next week with Laurentian University.

High school did not constitute the best years of my life.  Really, I kind of hated it.  My saving grace was Margaret.  Despite all the relationship crap and growing apart that always happens in the fraught teenage years, Margaret remains one of my best friends.

How did your high school years affect your development as a creative person?