Sunday, April 25, 2010

Warning: Rant

As I was chatting with a woman at a writers’ workshop this spring, I asked about her writing.

“Oh, I don’t write,” she said. “I used to, but I have a full life now.”

People say this kind of thing a lot at writing-related events and usually I just smile and nod because I can see it’s an excuse, even if they won’t. That day, though, I took offense at the implication that I write because I have nothing better to do.

We all make choices about how we spend our time and I admire my friends who tutor high-school students or know all the words to the songs on Glee or run marathons. I would not admire them if they paid to attend a marathon clinic and told the runners that no, they don’t train; they have full lives.

In a recent lecture at the University of Victoria, emeritus professor Bruce Howe said that it’s crucial for elite athletes to take responsibility for their own performance. They must understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Howe figures that 85% of the responsibility for his or her performance rests with the athlete and 15% with the coach, and as far as I can see, it should work the same for other activities: painting, playing music, heavy-duty mechanics. In the same vein, I think people should take responsibility for their choices, not make excuses and pretend that those of us who choose different activities have big Ls tattooed on our foreheads.

I don’t care what you do in your spare time (unless you’re Sharon Ashwood or Jennifer Crusie or Don Winslow, in which case I’d prefer you were working on the next book, thank you). I don’t care whether that woman at the workshop writes or knits or is raising grandchildren. However, it bugs me that she implied I write because I have nothing better to do. Frankly, the opposite is true.

I write because I have nothing better to do.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Floored by flowers

On Thursday, I made my spring pilgrimage to Lake Cowichan, northwest of Victoria on Vancouver Island.

The object of my adoration is wildflowers –

white trilliums, dark pink bleeding hearts, yellow woods violets and the reason for this particular BC Parks Ecological Reserve: pink fawn lilies.

With a soundtrack of robins and the river flowing over stones, I tread the humus-soft paths of maple and alder glades floored with flowers.

It’s my annual miracle.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

So not a gearhead

I approached the metal implements cautiously, a set of Allen keys clanking in my hand. Thousands of people managed these things; hundreds of thousands. How hard could it be?

In the garage, I peeled the little rubbery patches off the soles of my new cycling shoes and inspected the slots and grooves. I fitted a steely little doohickey in and tightened it into place with two screws.


I did the same with the second shoe, making sure the bits were pointing the same way. Then it was on to Stage Two.

It's all very well to spend a hundred bucks on shoes you have to assemble yourself, but they're no use without something to push against. The cleats were the male part – now I needed to replace my old pedals with special female ones that would accept the shoes and make them functional.

I grabbed a box-end crescent wrench, slotted it over the pedal axle. I pulled hard. Then I pushed. I thought about it, analyzed it, and pulled again. I changed position to get more leverage, applied my whole body weight, and still it didn't budge.

So I called my husband, hopefully. Silence. I called again. "Can you come down and help me?" I waited to see if the silence indicated that he hadn't heard me or that he had. He appeared. He'd heard.

The whole bike-enhancing exercise was in aid of a 2,000-kilometre trip I was planning – to ride the length of Vancouver Island, take the ferry to Bella Coola, traverse the Chilcotin to Williams Lake then Lillooet and return to the coast via the Pemberton Valley. I was excited about this adventure and had decided that such a long ride deserved proper footwear no matter what Thoreau said.

I found some at Reckless. I thought that was the name of the store; I didn't know it was a premonition.

My guy easily wrenched off my old pedals and tightened on the new ones. With my Allen keys I adjusted the tension of the clips. I practiced clicking my right foot in and my right foot out. In. Out.


I tweaked the clips once more and it was time to practice for real. My bike, whom I call Miss Jean Brodie, and I rolled out of the garage.

I clicked my right shoe in and pushed off. As I wheeled into the cul-de-sac, my left foot felt for the sweet spot and the shoe clicked into place. I felt the difference right away. The shoe, not my sole, took the pressure from my leg and transferred it to the crank. The pedal responded by moving faster, stronger. Jean and I circled the end of the lane once, then a second time, quickly building up speed.

I clicked out. No I didn't.

I tried again. I whizzed into another turn, cranking my ankle this time to pull out of the cleat. Jean held fast. I circled the end of the street, madly, vainly wrenching first one foot then the other. Around and around I zoomed and I wondered what I had done to come to such a pass, to wind up in one of the circles of hell right in front of my house.

"Honey!" I called. “Yoo hoo!”

But I didn't wait to see if he'd heard me. I simply bellowed his name over and over as I orbited and I only shut up when he caught Jean by the handlebars and wrestled her to a standstill.

He shook as I attempted once more to escape her clutches. By the time he leaned over to untie my shoelaces the whole neighbourhood could hear him laughing.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Metaphor Alert

Five or six years ago, on my way home from a meeting with my writing group, I decided that I’d dabbled blindly long enough. If I was going to make any progress with this novel-writing thing, I had to change what I did or how I did it…. But I didn’t know exactly what to change about the writing or how.

So right then I detoured to the bookstore and bought The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

For the next three months, I faithfully worked through the exercises and then I adopted one of Cameron’s two main recommendations.

I tried the other, the weekly solo artist’s date, but although I can see the value in doing something fun and refreshing, I spend so much time on my own (as what writer doesn’t?) that it isn’t really a treat for me to do yet another thing alone.

The one that I have stuck with is the morning pages. Three sheets, handwritten, first thing every day. They can be about anything or nothing, coherent or not. The point is simply to put a pen on paper and write whatever comes out. This has always felt to me like hosing out the crevices of my mind, clearing away the gunk of petty worries and ugly thoughts and fears logical and otherwise – all the stuff that greases the wheel for the poor hamster trapped in there.

Writing morning pages is like rinsing all that muck down some subconscious drain or, as I realized when I was up to my wrists in cold water and slime this weekend, it’s like clearing the eavestroughs after a year and yet another storm have filled them with cast-offs from the surrounding trees: slimy old leaves from my neighbour’s oaks, and branches, cones and needles from the big firs in my own backyard.

It’s satisfying to unblock the conduits and feel ideas, like stagnant rainwater, flow. Some of them go down the drain, sure, but some of them make it to fertile ground and help seeds grow into trees, which eventually will shed their leaves into my gutters….

Clearly, I need to work on my metaphors. But hey, that’s just one more thing I’ve learned since I started taking my writing seriously.