Recently in the writerly life

Greetings, all!

Here we are, at my last pre-NaNoWriMo weekend post.

I’m going to recap some of the writerly events I’ve attended in recent weeks and mention a thing or two that will be happening in the nearish future.

First, we’ll be going back in time to September 28 and the Latitude 46 fall launch. One that evening, five authors were reading from their works.

LiisaKovala

Liisa Kovala is a friend from the Sudbury Writers’ Guild and she was launching Surviving Stutthoff, her memoir of her father’s experiences behind the death gate.

Also launching books that night were Sudbury’s Roger Nash, with his nineteenth poetry collection, Whazzat?, Rod Carley from North Bay, Hap Wilson from Rousseau, and Suzanne Charron with the second edition of Wolf Man Joe LaFlamme: Tamer Untamed.

The event was held at Ristorante Verdiccio, and it was a delightful evening.

Last weekend, October 21st, I attended the launch of Kim Fahner’s fourth poetry collection, Some Other Sky, which was held at St. Andrew’s Place in downtown Sudbury.

Kim not only reads, but she also sings, and she usually has The Wild Geese perform Celtic music before, during, and after.

Next weekend, November 2-4, I’ll be attending Wordstock Sudbury.

On Thursday, I’ll be at a poetry reading by Emily Ursuliak, Tanya Neumeyer, Kateri Lanthier, and Kim Fahner at One Sky, followed by the festival opening, and then a dramatic reading of Kim’s play Sparrows Over Slag.

On Saturday, I’ll be attending Merilyn Simonds’ masterclass on The First Page and then Nathan Adler’s masterclass on Writing Speculative Fiction.

Torvi

Phil and I will also be visiting our new puppy, Torvi 🙂 She’s still a few weeks from adoption age, so we’re bringing a blanket and toy out for the pups. When we do adopt, we’ll be able to aid the transition with the smell of momma Mocha and a familiar toy.

Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday will be posted this week, but after that, I’m getting to puppy prep and working on Playing with Fire. I’ll see you after the writerly masochism that is NaNoWriMo!

As ever, be kind, be well, and stay strong, my friends. The world needs your stories!

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Lessons learned and takeaways from my European adventure

Over the weeks since my return and interspersed with monthly updates, I’ve been recounting my European adventure. Now, I’m finally ready to talk about the benefits I’ve gained and the things I’ve learned from the experience.

Muse-inks

Planning and preparation are important

I committed to the Writing Excuses Retreat and WorldCon in early February. It could have been January, but I was hesitant because of the expense. Ultimately, it was a confluence of events: WXR doing a Baltic cruise—they usually cruise the Caribbean, WorldCon being in Helsinki, my desire to visit the country of my ancestry, and the fact that I could do all that AND get in some quality first time tourism at the same time as I continued my professional development as a writer.

Once I committed, I was hip-deep in making the travel arrangements. WXR had their own travel agents and I was able to get a great price on a return European flight through them. All of the cruise arrangements were made through the travel agency.

They facilitated the registration for the cruise, the booking of all the tours at each of the stops, and the issuing of all electronic travel documents.

I made my own hotel booking and, with very little back and forth, I was able to secure the convention rate for my extended stay.

While I attempted to make my additional travel arrangements through the travel agents associated with the cruise, they were busy enough handling the details for the cruise. I’d noticed that the Canadian Auto Association, of which I am a member, was promoting their European travel services. I decided to make the remaining arrangements through them.

There was much more back and forth, but by staying on top of the email thread, I had my flight from Hamburg to Helsinki booked, my rental car, and my bus tour to cover the days in between the cruise and WorldCon.

I went to the airline sites and to CATSA to help me with my packing. My thought was to travel light and only have my carryon luggage and my (fairly large) purse. I reviewed my itineraries for the flights, cruise, and the schedule for the convention to plan out, in rough strokes, where I’d have to be, when.

I was as prepared as I could be by the time I left, but while planning and preparation are important, they aren’t everything.

I still suffered panic attacks in the week leading up to my trip. I still had to deal with ongoing anxiety during the flights—not because I’m afraid of flying, but because I was afraid that despite all my planning, that something catastrophic in terms of making my connections, delays, or other uncontrollable elements (weather) that attend travel would render my planning useless.

Fortunately, none of that happened.

Travelling alone is empowering

Because so much is out of your control when you travel alone, you quickly realize you just have to put on your big girl (or big boy) pant(ie)s and git ‘er done.

Anxiety serves no purpose in these situations and, frankly, can’t be indulged. Yes. I wrote that. Anxiety, in some situations, is an indulgence. It’s an indulgence of imbalanced or malfunctioning neurotransmitters, and not easily managed, but it’s still an indulgence.

I have a friend who lives with obsessive compulsive disorder and its attendant anxiety. I invited her up for a short visit that, because of its brevity, was highly structured (I guess planning’s a thing with me). In the ensuing whirlwind, she didn’t have the time to perform her particular rituals.

Months (it might have been years) later, she told me how that visit had changed her. It was concrete evidence that even if she couldn’t indulge her OCD, that the things she feared would happen, didn’t. It was a breakthrough for her.

I travel alone all the time. I drive down to Ottawa, to Toronto, or to other cities in southern Ontario to train for my day job. I attend writing conferences, conventions, and workshops alone. Some of these have been across the country, or in the States. But I’d never been outside of continental North America before. In a very real way, I had never been more alone.

After the pre-departure panic attacks, though, I progressed straight to a semi-fugue state during travel. I was completely in the moment. I had to continually check my itinerary to make sure I was making progress to the next queue, or boarding, or whatever, because it was too tempting to slip into a place in which I wouldn’t care if I got anywhere at all.

Though I spent my waiting and flight time reading or watching movies to keep myself distracted, I wasn’t really forming solid memories of these things. I felt like a deer in the headlights most of the time. It was a test of endurance more than anything else, but I didn’t have a panic attack for the duration of my trip.

A little bit of that disconnect from reality followed me throughout my journey and reasserted itself for my days of solo travel. I was more in control once most of the uncertainty was behind me, once I’d reached the Atlantic Hotel in Kiel, for instance, or embarked on the cruise ship, or checked into the Sokkos Presidentti.

During the retreat itself, I had to be intentionally vulnerable, painfully honest, and resist attempts to make my work, accomplishments, or failures—essentially me—sound better, less devastating, or more professional than they were. It takes effort to do this when your body and brain is used to preventing you from doing these very things. It’s very liberating.

And, as my friend Kim told me, it’s also empowering. I can be authentic and the world doesn’t end. People still like me. I can be honest, and my tribe (writers) will support me.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts about this trip, the experience is still changing me. I’m a creature of habit and change is slow to come.

It was bucket-listy

When I started to attend conferences, conventions, and workshops, I started to set goals. Attend  Ad Astra. Check. I’ve now attended three. Attend the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Check. Attend When Words Collide. Check. Attend Can-Con. Check. Attend WorldCon. Check.

When I started to listen to the Writing Excuses podcast, I became aware of their writing retreats. Initially, they were held at Mary’s parent’s house. Eventually, though, they became more ambitious and the retreat took place on a cruise ship.

So I put that on my list of writerly goals. The Baltic cruise was special, though. The Writing Excuses cast will likely not be doing something similar in the near future. I could have made it even more bucket-listy by attending the German castle tour that followed the cruise, but I had to draw my financial line somewhere.

Still, to attend a writing retreat on a cruise ship, in Europe, and to be able to see some of the world in addition to developing my skill as a writer? As they say on the credit card commercial, that was priceless. It was the perfect storm of opportunity.

Travel and experience are critical parts of becoming a better writer. You have to push your limits, get out of your comfort zone, to make a breakthrough.

Ask and you shall receive

I left on my trip with a couple of personal goals in mind aside from travelling Europe and participating in the cruise.

Again, as I’ve mentioned previously, I have been having increasing difficulty with creative burnout. I wanted to see if I could get some practical advice and solid strategies for identifying and addressing the underlying reasons for this.

K. Tempest Bradford and Emma Newman were particularly helpful in this respect. The path they’ve lit the way to is one I’m still walking. I’ll have to devote another blog to this in the future, once I’ve sorted more of it out.

For now, I’m easing up on the writerly goal setting. I’m making room for other entertainment, down time, and self-care. I’m not so obsessed with heeding the siren song of production (moar!). I’m working on understanding that what I can get done is enough, that I am enough, and that reminding myself of the reasons I chose to write in the first place (love!) take precedence over external validation.

The other thing I was looking for was something that I’ve been trying for a couple of years to get in place, a mentor, editor, or some other form of support to help me get to the next level, so to speak, in my writing. I’ve tried to get a situation in place, but often personalities, interests, or skill sets have not meshed.

I’ve also been a part of many informal writing groups in real life as well as on line over the years. Again, personal goals, interests, and skill sets have not meshed. Or the methodology has been, in my opinion, flawed. Focusing on the first X pages or chapters doesn’t result in appropriate feedback, and feeding chapters, or sections, to readers over months or years isn’t necessarily productive either. Neither approach allows the reader or critique partner to get a feeling for the whole story, which I think is critical to feedback that results in improvement.

By the end of the cruise, I’d expressed interest in a full-novel critique group. Over the course of WorldCon, connections were made and things were firmed up. Starting in January of 2018, there’s a group of us that are going to give it a shot. I have hope and expectations, but not so many, nor so high, that they will be easily disappointed 🙂

One thing that I wasn’t expecting to receive was the excellent advice of Thomas Olde Heuvelt on how to develop and maintain a creative life plan. I’ve been setting writerly goals for years, but they’ve been primarily one-dimensional and focused on production.

Thomas’s advice to let the over-the-top, blue-sky, dreamy goals inform your overall writing goals and to include holistic life goals, like health—physical and mental—and financial, in the plan helped me to realize how much wellbeing I’ve been leaving out of my goals in recent years. He also recommended having a five year plan in place, subject to change (life does have a habit of intervening).

My European adventure was truly a life-changing experience, in many ways.

I’ll have to let you know how everything works out, but as many of my takeaways were things I’m going to be implementing over time, the results may be a while in coming.

Next week, I’ll be devoting some time to Kim’s launch of Some Other Sky and my presentation for the Sudbury Writers’ Guild on Fantasy (yes, the topic is wide open—it’s going to be fun). After that, I’m going to be participating in NaNoWriMo and taking a month-long blogging break, except for the Thoughty Thursday coming out on November 2nd.

I’ll catch everyone up in December with another bonanza October/November next chapter update. There are also going to be some writerly events coming up in November, including WordStock Sudbury and a possible Gail Anderson-Dargatz workshop with the Sudbury Writers’ Guild.

There will be more writerly goodness coming up.

Until next I blog, be kind, be well, and stay strong, my friends. The world needs your stories.

Playing tourist in Finland, part 2

My European adventure resumes on the morning of August 8, 2017.

After breakfast, I started my tour of Helsinki at Kiasma, the museum of contemporary art. Though I will attempt to describe the exhibit, the installations must be seen to be appreciated. I will say this, though: my mind was blown.

kiasma

The theme of the exhibit was how social media is changing what it means to be human. There was one installation which included poetry generated and read by a neural network. There were videos documenting the lives of fictitious social media celebrities, stories detailing the impact of social media on identity, physical installations of monitors and wiring which spoke to how our perception of the world is affected by social media and how computer waste pollutes the environment and endangers workers who sort and extract precious elements from hard drives and other computer parts.

I emerged from Kiasma in a kind of daze to be confronted by a peaceful and small demonstration by young refugees who didn’t want to be deported.

I had been told that the Hop-on, hop-off bus tour stopped at Kiasma. It was on the map the desk staff at the hotel had given me. I couldn’t find a sign anywhere near the museum that would indicate a stop, though. I waited, thinking that I could flag down the bus when it did stop, if it was anywhere near.

The driver of the first bus I caught up with informed me that there were two hop-on, hop-off bus tour companies and that my ticket was for the other one. He directed me to the proper stop, and I crossed Mannerheimintie to wait again.

I was understandably confused (and not a little frustrated) when, upon boarding the second bus, I was again told that my pass was for the other company. Once more, I crossed the street and waited.

Thankfully, the third driver accepted my pass and gave me the proper map and a set of headphones.

 

By this time, it was again after noon and having caught the bus near the end of its route, it wasn’t long before we passed Stockman’s (the Finnish equivalent of Macy’s or The Bay), the Esplanade (a lovely park and Market Square leading to the waterfront), and stopped at Senate Square. The next tour would depart in 20 minutes.

I took advantage of the stop to take a few pictures and try to find a public bathroom.

Another toilet story for you 🙂 Most public bathrooms in Helsinki are pay per use. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right change to access the one I found. I didn’t have the time to have a meal and use a restaurant bathroom, and so I scouted around until I found what looked to be a free public bathroom.

Let’s just say that in the future, I determined to have two and five Euro coins on me at all times. Enough said.

FerrisFlyTour

The two and a half hour hop-on, hop-off bus tour took us past the Uspenski Cathedral, ferris wheel, heli-port for flying tours, and the Market Square (again) and then down the peninsula. We passed the Olympia Terminal, Mannerheim Museum, Kaivopuisto Park, and through the Eira neighbourhood, featuring homes with Jugend, or Art Nouveau, architecture.

We then made a detour down to both cruise ship terminals to drop off passengers. Continuing the tour, we passed the flea market, the Tennis Palace, and the Natural History Museum on our way to the Rock Church, so named not only because it is made entirely of bedrock, but also because of the concerts that take place there due to the awesome acoustics the Rock Church affords.

We zipped on past the Sibelius Monument, the Tram Museum, Olympic Stadium, the Botanic Garden, and Linnanmäki Amusement Park and Sea Life Helsinki, before swinging by Töölö Bay, the National Opera House, Finlandia Hall, the National Museum, and the Parliament building (under construction) until we once more arrived at the Kiasma stop.

While I got to see all of these landmarks, I didn’t feel that I’d have time to hop off the bus and see anything, as the tours stopped running at 4 pm and I didn’t want to get stranded. I stayed on the bus until we once more reached the Esplanade, where I got off, had a stroll, and booked a discount ticket (thanks to the bus tour) for the boat tour of the archipelago for 4 pm.

I had time to grab a late lunch, see the inside of the Uspenski Cathedral, and shop for more souvenirs at the Market Square before the boat left the dock.

The boat tour was great. I sat on the upper level (and got a sun burn) so I could take pictures of all the things. We went most of the way around Suomenlinna, the sea fortress, which is actually five islands connected by bridges. It had everything, including its own church.

Suomenlinna guards the Gulf of Finland and Helsinki. The sea fortress was built because of all the naval warfare in the area. The main channel through the area was even protected by huge chains which would be used to prevent ships from passing (like Game of Thrones and Vikings).

paddleboarders

Paddle boarders–look, ma, no life jackets (!)

We cruised by islands used for recreation (camping and hiking), public beaches, summer homes, and many year-round residences. There were lots of sail boats, cruisers, and even a sea plane, which again reminded me of home. There’s at least one resident on Lake Nepahwin that has one 🙂 They fly right over our house when they take off.

zoo

The animals were camera shy.

Before we returned to the dock, we passed Korkeasaari, the Helsinki zoo. It’s on its own island and is the most northern zoo in Europe.

After the boat tour, I walked back to my hotel by way of the Esplanade, where I caught the end of what I think was a koto concert. There were two performers plucking large, solid-bodied harps. It was lovely, regardless.

When I got back to the Presidentti, I decided to try their “pop-up restaurant.” In the summer months, they offer an evening meal. It was quite good, though not as drool-worthy as Kaarna.

Overall, my two days touring around were just enough for me to get a taste of Finland, and to make me want to return in the future.

Wednesday would be the start of WorldCon, and that I’ll save until my next instalment, after next weekend’s next chapter update.

Until next time, be kind, be well, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

Playing tourist in Finland, part 1

Before I get into my continuing European adventure, I have a more recent misadventure to relate.

Last Monday, when I returned from work and turned on my computer, I was greeted with a message: hard drive failure imminent!

I consulted Phil, and we proceeded to start up. And the computer promptly shut itself down.  So, though he’d had a full day of techie work, my man went out to get me a new computer (he considered a hard drive, but the transferring the data might have taken longer than the existing drive had remaining).

I managed to complete an emergency backup of my recent documents and pictures without another random shutdown and I had my full backup from earlier in the month. Hint: back up your stuff people—it saved my Canadian bacon!

I was mostly functional by Tuesday evening, but with a new computer, there was all kind of update hell to get through. An hour and a bit of HP updates Wednesday, followed by another couple of hours of Windows updates on Thursday, and then uninstalling the crap I didn’t want, like McAfee.

I only sorted iTunes out as of Saturday and the fix isn’t perfect. I have to do a proper export and backup of my music library once I have it completely restored. Apparently saving the iTunes folder isn’t enough.

Needless to say, I’m a bit behind. Hence the late “weekend” post.


And now, Back to Kiel, Germany.

Sunday, August 6th was a casual day. All I had to do was take a shuttle bus to the airport in Hamburg and catch my flight to Helsinki, via Stockholm, at 2 pm.

My roommate for the night in Kiel had to leave at ridiculous o’clock to catch her train. She was among a number of cruisers who were taking the German castle tour with Mary Robinette Kowal for the two days between the cruise and WorldCon.

I had other plans.

I had made my travel arrangements for this leg of the trip through the Canadian Auto Association. The flight, rental car, and bus tour of Helsinki. Any Canadian travellers with a CAA membership? They’re awesome. And they’ll help you wherever you’re headed.

After a leisurely breakfast, I broke my last large Euro bill so that I’d have the proper amount to pay the shuttle bus to Hamburg airport. I caught the bus at 11 and arrived in more than enough time to get my boarding pass and … yes, queue up for the flight.

The flight itself was fine. Unfortunately, the continuing cruise crud made the journey excruciating. My ears were too clogged to pop properly and none of the tricks—chewing gum, yawning, nose blowing, holding your nose and blowing—worked.

HelloHelsinki

But I landed safely and the greatest part of the pain was relieved. Fun fact: they play bird song in the Helsinki airport bathrooms.

MyHotel

Outside, I grabbed one of the waiting taxis and asked to be taken to the Sokkos Presidentti. This is the hotel from the outside, and directly across the street was a Zoological Institute with these two (yes, those are giraffes) having tea on the upper balcony and this one moose standing guard below. I felt at home already.

I checked in and asked the desk staff about finding the rental car place the next day, and about finding the bus tour the day after. In the elevator, I saw that the floors were all named. I was on the eighth, Tranquility, but I could have been on Sisu, or The Fairytale Forest (!)

hotelfloors

My room was more rustic than tranquil, but I’d made it to Helsinki and wanted to rest up for my next two days of adventures.

In the morning, I grabbed my usual European breakfast, bacon, eggs, muesli, and fruit, with coffee and juice. It sounds like a lot, but I was feeding my cold and needed energy for the day ahead. That day was the day I was going to find Marttila, Finland!

An old railway becomes a pedestrian (and bicycle) underpass. Commissioned graffiti. And that green? Geraniums. Smells peppery and awesome in the morning, or after rain.

Despite the directions of the desk staff, it took me over an hour to find the car rental place. When I checked in, I confessed my doubts that I would be able to competently navigate out of and back into the city.

Without a pause, the lady at the counter rebooked me for the airport location and advised me which train to take to get there. The people at the train station were very helpful, too.

This first journey out to the airport, another traveller sat across from me and shared her adventures. She was an American and I have to confess that I don’t remember her name. I’m horrible at remembering names. She’d been laid off with severance the year before, and decided to see the world.

At the airport, I found the car rental counter and got the keys to my car, actually a crossover. I can’t remember the makes or models of cars, either. But it was white and clean, and comfortable. I spent a few minutes chatting with the two young men there. I’d Googled the directions, but wanted a back up.

They gave me a map and marked out my route, and I was off. Sort of. European vehicles, even automatic ones, are sufficiently different from North American ones that it took me a few minutes to figure out that I’d even turned the car on. They’re all hybrids.

And the stick shift is different, too. There’s no park. And the gears are in the opposite order to NA cars. But after a little trial and error, I had it down and pulled out of the airport and onto the highway (!)

Once on the highway, I relaxed. Driving soothes me. And once out of the city, the landscape reminded me so much of northeastern Ontario, I could have been driving on the 400 North. Except for the tunnels.

There were a lot of rock cuts where the granite had been blasted away, but, I guess there were criteria. If the rock was so high for so long, they’d tunnel through rather than blast. So there were seven or so tunnels and at least one of them was several kilometres long. Call me a troglodyte. It was amazing.

MadeItToMarttila

I turned off the main highway onto smaller and smaller roads and, eventually, I found Marttila. The land around the town was all farmland. It reminded me more of some of the towns on Manitoulin Island. I saw what might have been a school, or a library, a grocery store, where I stopped to pick up some snacks for the road and ask if there was a place to eat and maybe a restroom I could use … ?

More wandering around and I found the little lunch place where I had a Panini and coffee. I tried to explain what I was doing there to the girl behind the counter. I’m sure she thought I was crazy.

I’m sure there was more to see, but I did want to get back to Helsinki for supper, so I reversed my search on GoogleMaps and navigated back to the airport. The train ride back was uneventful and I talked to the desk staff again to get a recommendation for supper.

She sent me to Kaarna.

KaarnaLounge

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything more delicious than reindeer sirloin. I’m drooling just remembering it. And Kaarna paired all of their entrees with tasty bevies. The Tin Soldier cider they recommended enhanced the flavours perfectly.

ReindeerSirloin

And that’s where I’ll leave you for this instalment of the journey.

I really thought I’d pack more into this post, but there you have it.

Next weekend—and it should be on the weekend, this time—I’ll cover my tour of Helsinki. Then, it will be October, and time for my next chapter update. I’ll resume with my WorldCon experience the weekend after that.

So stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Until next I blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

Muse-Inks: Weird mood stuff

So here’s the (first) thing: I’m freaking out inside (about my upcoming trip), but I’m trying not to freak out. I’m so excited I can barely stand it, but … if I let either of those two particular cats out of their respective bags, I won’t be able to function.

And I have to function. I have to be able to work. I have to be able to write. I have to be able to do normal, day to day stuff like laundry. And I have to be able to organize my shit and pack for the trip. Which, of course, loops me back around to freaking out.

Can I tell you that all this restraint is exhausting (and not have y’all think that I’m a whiny baby)?

Anxiety is real.

I may appear calm. I may speak quietly. I may smile.

Meanwhile, my heart’s beating a hundred miles an hour, I feel like I’m having hot flashes (and I’m of the age when some of them may be legitimate), I’m dizzy and feel like I might faint, and sometimes my extremities go numb. All of these reactions are the result of adrenalin release. Though I’m not actually experiencing anything that justifies fight or flight, my anxiety triggers the hormone cascade.

It also messes up healthy sleep, which means I’m perpetually tired.

Most of my effort centres on remaining clam. If I can prevent the cascade from happening in the first place, I’m good. So at the day job, I’m laser-focused until breaks and lunch and then I dive into one of the several novels I have on the go and I immerse myself in words.

I avoid talking about the trip, because that, in itself, can be a trigger. I can’t be rude, though, and once the topic comes up, I try to focus on the practical, the logical, the real. I’m not always successful. And once my anxiety kicks up, I can only ride it out, go for a walk to burn off some of the nervous energy, or focus on my breathing until my hands stop shaking.

An anxiety attack passes. That doesn’t mean it’s not hell while it lasts.

So, yeah. That’s the first weird mood thing going on.

The second is introspective weirdness.

I’ve written before that I used to dream vividly when I was young. I had nightmares and night terrors, somnambulism, and somniloquy (talking in your sleep). I’ve had out of body experiences, near death experiences, and other experiences of the universe that would be considered uncanny.

I’ve delved into meditation of various stripes, wicca, and European shamanism.

From my mid-twenties into my mid-thirties, I was what I would call a seeker.

After all the reading and the research and the exploration, I ended up settling on the uncertain ground of the agnostic. My experience of the universe defied definition. I didn’t want to force-fit it into a category. I let it be what it is, tell me what it wanted to, and I’d respond accordingly.

The problem is, as I get older, I’ve heard, or felt, those universal nudges less and less. And I don’t know what the cause is.

Have I, like Susan Pevensie, outgrown my sense of wonder? Recent events have led me to believe that this is not the case. Am I close enough to where I need to be that I don’t need those universal nudges anymore? Possibly, but why do I feel so … lost, then? Have I shut down my intuitive side? Again, it’s possible, but how can I tell?

I’ve been working on the assumption that all of the uncanny stuff has channelled itself into my creativity. This part of my life continues to blossom, but it’s a flower in a private conservatory. What’s the point if no one gets to see it?

I guess that’s what everything comes down to. I know what it is I need to do, and I do it. I write. I study craft and literature and story of all kinds. My life revolves around that central principle, sometimes to an unhealthy extent.

To date, however, I haven’t been able to produce a lot of objective evidence of the work that I’ve done.

I know that the writing is its own intrinsic reward. I will still be writing for the rest of my life, regardless of what does, or does not happen. I just keep missing, or messing up, opportunities to get my words out there, or my efforts proceed without significant results.

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The universe seems to be out of lessons. I need to find another way forward.

Maybe my big Baltic adventure will provide some answers.

In the meantime, I’m going to make the effort to remain open, to recognize a universal nudge if I get one, and to act on it accordingly.

There you have it: I suffer from mental illness (depression and anxiety), and I have an unorthodox view of the universe. Maybe one leads to the other? Or coaxes it along? Who’s to know? Unless the universe is interested in sharing … ?

I shall leave you on that ambiguous note.

This is my last weekend post until after Helsinki WorldCon.

I don’t know how active I’ll be on social media, though I’m sure I’ll be posting a scad of photos 🙂

As ever, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

Muse-inks

Muse-Inks: Still striving for balance

Greetings all you writerly people!

July is off to a good start. My plan seems to be working. By focusing on one revision and one short fiction project, I’ve been able to get back on the horse, so to speak.

On Thursday evening, there was a special meeting of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild to attend, so I took that night off revision and writing, but made up for it on Friday.

I’m also busily drafting my next piece for DIY MFA. Like the last one, it’s going to be a bit long, but I have a strategy that will hopefully keep it manageable and leave me with material for a second post on the topic. Stay tuned 🙂

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good week for quality sleep. I guess I have to take the bad with the good.

Looming (less than 3 weeks away!) is my great adventure to the Baltic. Yes, early, early, on the morning of July 27th, I’ll be flying down to Toronto in enough time to find the Air Iceland kiosk, get through customs, and board my flight to Hamburg, via Reykjavik.

The Writing Excuses Cruise will be visiting Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallin, and St. Petersburg, with tonnes of writing workshops in between, from July 29 to August 5. Then I hop a short flight from Hamburg to Helsinki on the 6th, rent a car to run up to Marttila (yes!—isn’t that awesome?) on the 7th, tour around Helsinki all day on the 8th, and then take in the amazing that is WorldCon from August 9 to 12 (it runs to the 13th, but my return flight takes off early that day … ).

It’ll be my first time outside of continental North America. I’m excited and nervous, and, let’s just be honest here, scared out of my wee gourd. I know I’ll have a fabulous time. This is a bucket-listy kind of writerly adventure, after all, but iz still escared.

I’m not afraid to fly, or of the plane crashing, or anything like that. I’m afraid that I’ll miss one of my connections, and therefore the cruise, altogether. I’m afraid my boarding passes, which, to this point, are all virtual, will not materialize, or that my embarkation form for the cruise won’t arrive. I’ve received confirmation that some of the forms were late. I should be hearing about my embarkation form soon.

Oh, and did I mention? I’m going by myself. Sweet baby Jesus.

I’m getting jittery just writing about it.

Went out for dinner with a dear friend, Kim, on Friday night and she says the trip will empower me. I don’t doubt it. But I’ve travelled on my own before. Just not such a big trip so far away with so many moving parts.

In other news … we’ve been enjoying the fruits (and vegetables, and herbs) of our labours. The strawberry harvest is just about done, and the raspberries are about to start. Friends have been dutifully decimating the rhubarb, and we’ve been harvesting greens for salads and sandwiches. And lots of herbs. Chives, parsley, lemon thyme … We’re almost overrun by the sage. And our beans are starting to climb the trellis.

GardenJuly

I’d show you the patio garden, but I haven’t finished weeding it yet and so it mostly looks like purple clover. *blushes*

Inside, I’ve been enjoying my orchids. I have no idea how, but I’ve managed to get two plants to flower. I’ll take it 🙂

OrchidsBloom

That’s it for this week in the writerly life.

Next week, I think I’m going to do a series discoveries post, just to shake things up a bit.

In the meantime, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories 🙂

Muse-inks

Muse-Inks: A week in this writer’s life and more lessons in vulnerability

Greetings, writerly folk!

Fun stuff first.

On Tuesday of this past week, the Sudbury Writers’ Guild held its annual picnic on the lovely patio of one of our members 🙂 This is the first year in … several, that we’ve actually had a picnic outside. In recent years, because we’ve paid for the rental space, we’ve held the “picnic” in our regular meeting room.

Though the point is to get together and socialize before our summer break, it was nice to enjoy the lovely weather we’ve had recently.

Also on Tuesday, my latest column for DIY MFA went live. It was on time travel. I kind of gravitated to the topic because one of my works in progress deals with time travel, in a way, and so I’ve been researching the various theories. I’m kind of proud of this one. I’m proud of all of them, really 🙂

On Wednesday, I took part in the quarterly DIY MFA call. Gabriela has a number of new columnists and interns. It was great to get in touch with everyone and meet all of the new additions to the team.

Thursday was the final meeting of the Canadian Authors Association CanWrite! sub-committee prior to the conference. That’s next weekend, and will necessitate a brief blogging vacay. Just for the weekend. Curation will go on as usual 🙂

Then, just today, I participated in my first urban hike, a cooperative event put on by the Rainbow Routes Association and The Greater Sudbury Poet Laureate, Kim Fahner. The poets from the Sudbury Street Poetry Project were invited to accompany hikers on a downtown route which visited the various businesses and organizations where our poems were posted.

PoetryHike

We paused to read our poems at each location, and chatted between. Just after my stop at NISA, it started to drizzle, and then to rain. We ended up at the Farmer’s Market and the drumming circle performing there, where Louise Visneckie crashed the performance and read her work with drum accompaniment 🙂

As I mentioned last week, I was courting burnout and so, I decided to take a break from writing and revision for a while.

In the meantime, writers have continued to post their thoughts about writing every day, especially if the writer has a day job. Even for writers who work on their craft full time schedule days off. It’s important to give yourself space.

What I discovered this week is that even if I’m not writing and revising, I’m still writing and revising. I carry a small moleskine with me all the time and I made a number of notes on my various works in progress. Even when I’m not writing, it’s where my heart and soul live.

This weekend, Phil and I are also pupsitting for Phil’s sister.

Buster

Isn’t Buster a lovely boy?

So, I’d thought that, perhaps, I’d get back into the habit this weekend, but I have to put the final SWG newsletter together, and I think I might defer until Monday.

I’ve been considering giving myself a regular day off. Perhaps Friday.

I am feeling better, though. More centred.

Another reason for this is that I’ve continued to listen to Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability sessions.

Stuff I’ve learned:

I’m addicted to shame. I said this last week, but now, I want to unpack that statement. When things go to shit, it’s always my fault. I don’t think, “It’s unfortunate this happened.” I think, “I’m a bad person because I let it happen/couldn’t stop it.”

That’s the core difference between guilt and shame. In guilt, you’re accountable, you take responsibility but, because it’s the action that was thoughtless or hurtful, you can take ownership and change your behaviour. With shame, it’s not the action, but the actor, who is thoughtless or hurtful. It’s much more difficult to change behaviour when the story you tell yourself is that you’re hardwired that way.

I live in a continual state of low expectation because it’s easier than getting excited about things and being disappointed.

You can’t love anyone else more than you love yourself. This gets people’s backs up, but it’s true. If you don’t have compassion for yourself, how can you ever show it to others?

I overshare as a defence strategy. Brené Brown calls it spotlighting. I don’t know if I do it consciously, with intent, but I’m very open with some parts of my life, sometimes with people who might be classed more as acquaintances, than as friends. It makes people back off and confirms my bias that I’m a bad person. I’m not worth knowing.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all this new insight. Yet. I now know that I have these issues and I’m learning some strategies to address them. I’m just not sure how I’ll get from point A to point B.

Mindfulness and baby steps. Like anything else, it’s a matter of patience and practice.

I also think I’m going to start gratitweeting. Blame Brené Brown and Kim Fahner, who is half way through her second year of the daily gratitude practice. I’m not sure when, but I think it’s a way to bring the good stuff to mind. It’s too easy to take those things for granted, and then you can too easily slip into hopelessness and depression.

I don’t expect the transformation to be immediate, but I do expect that it will help me manage my mood.

As always, I’ll keep you informed.

As I mentioned, next weekend there will be no post, and the weekend after will be July 1st (Canada Day!) and it’ll be time for my next chapter update.

Until next I blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong.

Muse-inks

Muse-Inks: My day at Graphic-Con and the struggle for balance

Greetings, writerly peoples!

Before I get to the meat of this post, I’ll give you a little update on the writerly happenings of the week.

This past week, there was just one. The Sudbury Writers’ Guild booked a table at Graphic-Con, which was held at the Sudbury Arena, Saturday, June 10th. While it’s not a huge event as comic cons go, it was big for Sudbury.

Fandom was well-represented. There were cosplayers, LARPers, gamers, table top gamers, RPGers, comic fans, art fans, and television and movie fans (Degrassi actors were in attendance). And there were readers.

SWG co-chair, Andy Taylor, committed to be present for the full day as this was our first year booking a table and he wasn’t sure whether it would be worth it or not. Liisa Kovala helped out from opening to noon. I helped out from noon to 6 pm, Clay Campbell walked over after his CKLU radio show and stayed through to 7 pm, Liisa returned to finish off the day and help Andy pack up the table, Kristan Cannon had her own table (right beside the SWG table), and members John Jantunen and Sabine Gorecki stopped by and hung out for a while. It was a team effort 🙂

GraphicCon

Andy took this picture just after Clay (Rincewind) and I arrived and before Liisa left (noonish).

We had on display various books by Guild members, including a few copies of my wee poetry chapbook, NeoVerse. We sold just about one of everything (well, except NeoVerse—I didn’t expect poetry to be a big seller, though there was some interest), sold out of Creepy Capreol, which our other co-chair, Mat del Papa edited, and sold five of the SWG anthology, Sudbury Ink.

Sales weren’t the purpose of our booking the table, however. Reaching out to the writing community in Sudbury was. In that respect, the table was a total success. We had 19 people sign up to find out more about the Guild. We’re going to try to get together in late June for a special meeting for these individuals. If the timing doesn’t work out, we’ll at least send them a copy of our June newsletter to give them an idea of who we are and what we do.

Which leads us to balance

When I got home from Graphic-Con, I was pretty much bushed. Phil had the moms over for BBQ, but afterward, I decided to forgo my usual Saturday post.

Work/home/creative balance is a recurrent issue for me.

As a writer with a day job, I’ve chosen to devote nearly all of my non-work, non-sleep time to writing. Thus, a lot of other things go by the wayside. Physical fitness, family and social events, friends, support of artistic and professional organizations and events. Still. I can’t shut all of that out of my life. So, I try to squeeze it all in. Therein lies the rub.

When I can drag myself out of bed early enough, I do yoga or other exercises in the mornings. When the weather and other commitments permit, I walk home from work. I spend time with Phil and with my mom. I volunteer for the SWG and for the Canadian Authors Association. I try to get out and do something creative and soul-feeding in the community.

I try to get out and garden, or use my summer office. I try to keep the house clean(ish). My standards have fallen significantly in recent years …

I also try to write or revise my novels and short stories daily, keep up with my blog posts, keep up with my commitments to DIY MFA, read, study my craft, improve, attend writing workshops in person or online … and it all takes its toll.

Add to that my persistent issues with depression and anxiety which I must manage carefully, and a myriad of aches and pains that only seem to multiply the older I get, and there are times when I have to step back.

Phil’s supportive. He does the cooking, the groceries, the heavier household chores, and the renovation on his own. He knows my writing time is mine and, except for the odd hug or kiss—we need a fairly steady supply—he leaves me to do my thing. He doesn’t insist on coming along (he hates travelling and would just be miserable) or that I stay home when I have a conference or convention to attend. He listens when I have to blow off some frustration about work or professional obligations. He’s learned, for the most part, not to try to offer solutions. I’m very fortunate.

The heady rush of positive feeling and energy that returns with the sunlight in spring gives way to my first bout of burnout around this time every year. The second battle with burnout usually hits in the fall. This is why I have usually tried to take a self-funded leave from work every 18 months or so, May into June and then October into November.

It’s how I’ve managed my physical and mental health.

It’s been two years now since my last self-funded leave and the continual issues with our pay system at work have meant that I’ve had to defer my plans to take a leave yet again. I won’t be able to manage much longer if I can’t get a leave this fall. I’ve pushed through before, but never longer than two years. I used to work part time when I was in the call centre. That’s probably a better long-term strategy, but this next leave will involve a new pup as well, I don’t have enough leave aside from the self-funded to house train a pup.

I’m hoping that the larger part of our pay issues will be resolved by then and that it will be a possibility. Even if it’s not, I can’t afford not to make the request.

For now, all I can do is take things easy for a few days, give myself a break, and then get back to it.

I’ve been listening to Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability sessions on Audible. Vulnerability is at the core of a satisfying life, of contentment (which is always my goal, not happiness—I’m pretty sure that’s a mythical beast), and of achieving healthy goals. And self-love is at the heart (lol) of vulnerability.

Unfortunately, I’m kind of addicted to shame and I tend to wall myself off from other people so I don’t have to be vulnerable with them, one on one. Everyone else thinks I’m doing great. I’m that high-functioning person living with mental illness. I can simulate vulnerability on this blog because it doesn’t cost me as much as opening up in person can. All the self-hate takes place in private. I operate from a scarcity mindset. There’s never enough time, energy, you name it, and I am certainly never enough.

I know that none of this is true, intellectually. I know time can be managed, found. A healthy lifestyle can provide me with more energy. I can tell my friends and family that they are enough often, but I can rarely turn that compassionate lens on myself.

So I’m going to goof off for a few days, except for the absolutely necessary stuff, like blogging and housework, professional obligations, and, well, the day job. I’m going to try to be present enough to listen and be kind to myself and to others. I’m going to try to enjoy myself.

We’ll see how it goes and I’ll check in with you next weekend after the poetry walk. The post may go up on Sunday again, but that’s just my way of shifting things to give me enough intellectual and emotional space to recover.

In the meantime, be well, be kind, and stay strong.

And I’ll “see” you on Tipsday!

Muse-inks

How to dream your way to a great story at DIY MFA

There’s this thing I do over at DIY MFA. It’s a semi-regular column called Speculations all about fantasy and science fiction.

dreams

 

This is my third column, on sleep and dreaming. Come on over and visit. There are a lot of great columnists on lots of different genres and topics. Plus, Gabriela has a tonne of great resources, a podcast, courses, and other tasty writerly goodness for you to check out.

I have a little anecdote to share with respect to dreams and writing.

It has to do with this little tip:

  • Sleep on a creative problem. Similarly, if you’re stuck on a scene or a plot point, ruminate calmly on it before you sleep. Even if you don’t dream up a solution, your mind will be working on the problem and when you head back to the page, the answer might just appear. Like magic.

So it happened, just the other night.

I’d just finished writing and posting my Next chapter update and went to bed thinking about the short story I’m hoping to write this month. I had an idea that’s been simmering since January.

That night I had a dream that, taken at face value, had nothing to do with my story idea. Except that it did in that weird way dreams have. And now I have three quarters of the story sketched out in my moleskine. I just have to figure out an ending that will work.

It makes me furiously happy when my dreams cooperate with the muse. Or maybe they’re scheming. Whatever they’re doing, it works. Like magic.

 

Changing things up and the reasons why

A few years ago, I decided to change things on the blog. I started curating Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday, and then, on weekends, I mostly blogged my session notes from various conferences and conventions I’d attended.

It was easy for me, with respect to generating content, and I sincerely thought I was offering something of value to my readers. My WordPress stats do not bare this out, however. Round about 2014 (when I started the curation and session notes), my views drop and are consistently below a thousand per month.

views

Views dropped again after Nuala died in 2015. My pupdates were clearly some of my more popular posts, as well.

Even looking at it by day, I only seem to have a peak in views (40+/day, which I know is nothing when it comes down to it) about once a month. When those peaks occur varies. It could be after a Tipsday post (most often), or a Thoughty Thursday post. Sometimes, it’s on a weekend, but it could be session notes, or a monthly update. There’s really no pattern that I can pull out.

But clearly, this means I’m not doing my job.

I have therefore decided that it’s time to shake things up again. Not too much. ‘Cause I’m cautious that way.

I’ve had the most views, likes, and comments on my curation posts, so I’m going to keep blogging those. I’ve created better graphics for them (thank you, Canva) and I still believe they have value.

It’s the weekends I’m going to rethink.

I’m also going to continue my monthly updates. I like sharing my progress on various projects and it keeps me accountable.

I’m no longer going to blog session notes, though. Instead, I’ll do a summary/highlights post of any writerly events I attend. There are enough of those that it will keep me producing quality content. In the past couple of years, I’ve actually glossed over some of these events, or only given them a passing mention in my monthly updates, because I really haven’t had the time to write a post devoted to every event I attended.

I’m going to revisit some of the topics from the blog posts that, even five years on, continue to receive the most traffic.

I’m also going to post a referral to my DIY MFA columns when they come out.

Finally, I’ll fill in the gaps with Movie Madness, Series Discoveries, and the odd book review. There may also be the occasional Muse Inks post on this writer’s life, which won’t focus on the writing, but the other stuff that fills up my life around writing.

When Phil and I get our next fur baby (this fall is the new goal … we hope) Sundog posts may even return 🙂

Because writerly goodness is a solo effort, though, I’m still going to have to take the occasional blogging vacay for some of the bigger events I attend. It’s the way things have to go while I’m still working a day job.

If I want to set the time aside to write and to attend my various writerly professional development opportunities, I really don’t have the time to generate a lot of content to pre-schedule and fill in the gaps. I find myself at the limit as it is, but that may be because of the various commitments I’ve made to some of the professional writing organizations of which I’m a member.

I’m considering a re-envisioning of those commitments, too. There’s only so much of me to go around. Do I want to be writing, or do I want to be contributing to the success of writing organizations? It’s going to be a tough decision, ‘cause I’m like Eek! the cat. I always think it never hurts to help. Until it does.

The next few weeks in writerly goodness:

Next weekend, it will be my monthly Next Chapter update. The weekend following, I’ll be away at Story Masters and won’t be posting, but I’ll tell you all about it the weekend after. I’ll have a few more events to discuss in upcoming weeks, but I’ll get into that in my Next Chapter post.

So stay tuned as I work my way through this transition.

And let me know what you think, please. Will this shift be a pleasing one for you? Perhaps only time (and stats) will tell, but if you have any thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them. And if you have requests to make, I’m all (virtual) ears. I know I can’t please everyone, but I’m willing to incorporate some of your suggestions into my ongoing plan.

Thanks for your time and attention.

You’re the bestest!

Muse-inks