Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April Is Poetry Month


As one of four local writers, I'm reading at the Poetry Cafe on Sunday afternoon. When one of the Poetry At Large coordinators asked me if I'd ever published poems, I said no, but then realized - Yes! The final essay in my book was inspired by, and includes, a poem I wrote in the summer of 2006, that life-changing summer when I met Dwayne (although the poem is about Maritime hospitality, not him). You can see a video of me reading that poem on my Facebook author page.
On Sunday afternoon, however, I'll be reading a poem inspired by our old summer home on Pugwash Point and caring for a father with Alzheimer's disease, and two poems inspired by Dwayne. If that doesn't take up my allotted five minutes, I'll also read the entire Mary Oliver poem that I quote in one of my other essays in Field Notes.

Come as you are! Admission is free. 1:30 Sunday afternoon at the Lions Centre in Oxford, TCH Exit 6 (across from the Tim Horton's). 



Friday, April 13, 2018

Well, That Answers That Question


This was the silhouette I saw on Wednesday, sitting on the wheel of our osprey nest. Definitely not an osprey. So I wondered, is this why the osprey left the nest in such bad shape, it wouldn't survive the winter winds? Were they giving the space to the eagles, or simply not leaving valuable real estate in good enough shape to steal? After all, who wants a fixer-upper that's not right on the river?
More worrisome, the chickens didn't seem to be afraid of the eagle. Have they grown so used to the non-threatening ospreys that they don't realize this is a bird of prey who will indeed swoop down and eat one of them? 

It was rather interesting to watch a crow chase the eagle away. Our sentinel crows protecting the ospreys' space. How could they know more than I did?

For the past five days, whenever I walked the dog under the non-existent (rather than empty) osprey nest and carried on across the field, I formed an essay in my head, an essay about how change is part of life, and loss is inevitable and unavoidable, and how we really don't have control over very much, just the amount of food we eat, that's pretty much it, and so the osprey not returning is a shame but it's not the end of the world because change. It's always time to say good-bye to something, to someone, whether we want to or not, whether we're prepared to or not.

I'm sorry I don't get to write that essay because in its entirety, it was brilliant, although a tiny bit cynical, and probably far too pragmatic for everyone.
Anyway, now instead I have to work on an essay about resilience and rebuilding, about how no matter what tears you down, you shake your tail feathers and start over, even if it's from scratch, just build it better, because this happened, as we'd hoped:



Bird One came back today, the 13th of April, proving me wrong, and by supper time, there was a fine layer of twigs on the wheel. But it flew a long way to get here, and its partner isn't back yet, so it's working slowly and intermittently, and where is it going to sleep tonight?
I know we're not supposed to put our human emotions onto animals, but seriously, how can it not feel just the teensiest bit discouraged?

**** 
Bird Two arrived Saturday so as my friend Jane says, "Life is as it should be." They are now busy building a new nest from the ground up -- literally the ground; one of the ospreys is scooping up dried plants from our gardens and random sticks tossed around our backyard.
It's so much work but there's nothing we can do to help them -- which not the Maritime way at all.


Monday, April 09, 2018

Waiting and Wondering


Since April 2009, this is the week - between the 10th and 13th - that the ospreys return to their nest on our property. Dependably, and amazingly. Even April 2015 when there was two feet of snow covering the ground and the river was frozen over, and April 2016 when one returned and its mate didn't show up for NINE DAYS, they still came back.
For the first time since 2009, however, there isn't a nest to return home to. We are not sure what this means, but I am prepared for the ospreys to not return. Why else would they allow the nest to become so ramshackle that the LEAST worst winter in ten years could decimate it?
Unless -
Here's my theory: The River Philip's eagle population is very healthy so perhaps the ospreys are smarter than we realize, and didn't want to leave an intact nest behind in case an eagle decided to appropriate it - which they are known to do. We'll know this week whether this theory is sound, or if the ospreys, somehow and for some reason we'll never know, simply decided not to return to our property this year.

And we thought the nest was in bad shape at the beginning of spring last year...

...but the ospreys quickly rebuilt it when they returned, and eventually hatched out three babies, and avoided the devastating eagle attacks of the summer of 2015.
We aren't ready to be empty-nesters. We want our neighbours to return; it won't be summer without their familiar cries from the pole. 
Nature is so hard on the heart. I just want babies around - fawns and kits and chicks and cubs - and no one eating each other. Is that too much to ask?
(And while I'm at it, stay off the freakin' road.)

You can read about our early adventures with the ospreys in Field Notes, in the essay called, "The Blessing of the Ospreys".  This photo is from April 12, 2010 - the summer of the ospreys that inspired the essay - as the first to arrive waits and wonders.





Friday, April 06, 2018

Wear Nice Shoes, and Other Tips For First-Time Authors


American author Alice McDermott said, “A book tour is, first and foremost, an exercise in humility.”
If you’re a first-time author without a well-established brand, and whose book won’t debut on the best-sellers list before it’s published, you’re already humble, and grateful, and, holy-crap-it’s-really-happening excited. You’re going to work really hard to get out there with your book and make sure it sells.
There will never be another “first-time author” experience so you need to enjoy every moment of it, the misses as well as the hits.
Would you like the benefit of my experience? Here are five tips to prepare you for the joys and hard work of being a first-time author, and to help you avoid the mistakes I made.

1. Promotions R You: You will have to do much of the work of getting your book out there yourself, and that’s not a bad thing. Think of yourself as in partnership with the publicist so find out what the promotions person will do, and what you can take on. I found it easier to set up my events and book tours myself; why go through a third party when you already know your schedule?
BOOK EARLY. The book season is spring through fall so that’s a finite period of Saturdays and Sundays! I missed out on doing a reading at a popular indie bookstore when my book was new because I waited too long to call.
Before your book comes out, make a list of the radio programs you’d like to appear on and the festivals you’d like to attend. Make your list and let the promotions person know; follow up with them (they have a lot of authors to take care of). I’m kicking myself that I might have missed the chance to be at a particular festival in Ontario this summer because I didn’t mention it soon enough.
You can’t count on people seeing or remembering an event announcement on social media, so prior to an event, email and phone your friends. They’re the mostly likely to show up. Also, ask them to bring a friend or two. I was so busy before my book tour in Ontario, I didn’t do this for the one big event and I'm still obsessing over who didn’t show up (because they didn’t know).
Finally, and this is a small thing, since my publisher didn’t provide bookmarks for my book, I created my own which allowed me to include my website which drives traffic to my blog, Facebook author page, Instagram and Twitter accounts. I keep some with me at all times so when someone says, "Oh, you wrote a book?" I can give them a bookmark.

2. Booksellers Are Your Best Friends: Even if no one shows up to your reading/book signing, it’s a great opportunity to get to know the book store owner/manager/employees because they are the ones who sell your book so you want them to remember how nice you are! I always left Thank You cards behind because booksellers work hard and spend extra hours on your event.

3. BYOB: Buy your own books. The staff at my local chain bookstore laugh when I buy my own book (to send to someone as a gift), but it’s to my benefit. For a book sale to count, it must go through a store, whether IRL or online. That bookstore even lets me “borrow” my books, sell them at non-bookstore events (like a Christmas farmers market) then pay for them - those are sales that count. Some authors like to buy their books at a big discount from the publisher and make money but as a first-time author, I think it’s better to make every sale count.

4. The dreaded book signing table at a chain bookstore: I studied this for months before my book came out and I still haven’t figured out the best way to do that table. Location has so much to do with whether people stop and look (too close to the door, and they walk right by with barely a glance). I went for eye-catching: I used my own tablecloth (the Nova Scotia tartan goes with my book’s subtitle) and draped little white lights around my stacks of books. At the same time, I wanted people to feel they could look at the book without having to buy it so I avoided the ‘leaning on my elbows and staring at everyone going by’ stance by sitting back in my chair and writing in a notebook – Look, a writer writing! That said, I always smiled and greeted the curious but I didn’t watch them or engage them in conversation.
That said, two out of four of these chain bookstore signings were flops because they were slow days at the store. That’s how it goes. I had more success in malls than in stand-alone stores. 

5. Create a uniform: In this age of multiple social media accounts, I decided I needed a different outfit for every appearance. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, and in the beginning the shopping was fun, but eventually it became rather expensive and time-consuming to figure out a different look for every event. I recommend choosing a couple of basic outfits that you can mix-and-match. As a shoe person, I have to remind you that people notice shoes so if you’re going to have a fashion signature, a great pair of shoes might be it (think Sheree Fitch and her purple Doc Martens).

Regardless of how many interviews you book, how many people show up to a reading, and how well your outfit coordinates with your book cover, the best part of publishing a book is MEETING READERS. As a first-time author, I’m delighted by how much fun that was -- and I miss it now that things have slowed down 18 months after my book's release. 

The best advice I received regarding that is courtesy of Christy Ann Conlin, who told me: “Don’t read too long. People really want to talk to you.” I took that to heart and never regretted spending more time chatting with readers than reading to them.The readers make all the work of writing and promoting worth every word, every hour, and every dollar. 

My book, Field Notes: A City Girl's Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia, was published in the fall of 2016 by Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, NS, and is priced at $17.95.





Monday, April 02, 2018

Happy Writing Faces


Do you see how happy we are in this photo?!
This is early June 2016, in the big room at Thinkers Lodge overlooking the Pugwash harbour. It was a raw day - windy and damp - but we were cozy in our writing world and the weather didn't bother us one bit.
I wasn't quite a published author when this photo was taken; Field Notes didn't come out until October of that year. I was there as a writer who needed a boost for a project I'd been working on for six years at that point. I've always been grateful I signed up for Marjorie's one-day workshop because 1) I gained her as a good friend, 2) I had two epiphanies during that workshop, one of which I'm sharing during our writing workshop together this May, and 3) her suggestions helped me rethink the flow of my memoir and opened me up for a complete rewrite the following June.

There are two truths about writing: 1) if you want to write, you need to read as much as you can, in a variety of genres, and 2) if you want to write, you need to do some level of studying.


There are books about writing, there are workshops like the one Marjorie and I are co-presenting at the end of May, and there are university degrees -- so lots of options.
I've always been a book and workshop girl myself. I like the intimacy of a workshop, and it's also affordable. I remember taking the GO Train into Toronto, to Ryerson University, for a two-day writing workshop in the mid-1990s. I can't tell you the instructor's name but what I remember most is writing for two days. I didn't meet anyone else, I didn't talk to the other writers, but it was just part of my education as a writer.
The not connecting with other writers wasn't necessarily a good thing (more my introverted thing), and connection is what makes OUR workshop so valuable. You aren't on your own; you will write a lot on Saturday, May 26, and you will scribble notes and ideas down, but you will also engage in conversation, and contribute to discussions. You will come away feeling like a writer with a do-able project you'll want to keep working on, and you'll feel like part of a community.

Hope you will join us. For details, check out the poster in my March 29th post. Contact me for more information. 



Thursday, March 29, 2018

Don't Miss This Opportunity

May 26
10 am to 4 pm
Pugwash, NS
$150

To finally get kickstarted on your story,  
whether it's fiction or non-fiction, fully formed or needing guidance, 
register with Marjorie at
mls@marjoriesimmins.ca

Hope to see you there!




Wednesday, March 28, 2018

No Sense of Direction

Love my new 4H pencils - perfect for editing, perfect motto for a writer.

My text to Field Notes editor, Emily: "Reading a manuscript is excruciating! It takes soooo much time. How do you do this for a living???!"
Emily's reply: "Hahaha THIS is why it takes so long to hear back from us about submissions!"

My experience with Field Notes, and with Emily, didn't prepare me for the tediousness of reading through and editing a manuscript (and by editing a first draft, I mean making notes about sentences and ideas to work on when I get back on the computer). With Field Notes, we had a very tight deadline so I was spoiled by quick responses; also, no thick pile of typed pages to sit with for hours on end.
I want to write that as hhhhooouuuurrrssss because that's how it feels! It feels like my life is slowly draining out of me as I sit in a chair in my office, manuscript on lap and pencil in hand. For hhhoooouuurrrssss.

Also this: I have written a book with a 13-year-old protagonist and my writing style being what it is, it will likely be marketed to that middle-grade audience. I never expected to write a book for this age group (my two other works-in-progress are for adults) yet if we remember my previous posts, this is the book I was meant to write. This is the book that popped into my head in late December and this is the book that flowed out of me for two months. I wrote the book I wanted to write.

But here's the thing about that: I had the same revelation about my teaching experience. Although I trained for teaching high school students, and did my supply teaching primarily at the high school level, my most successful days -- both as a student teacher and as a substitute teacher -- came at the elementary level.
With the middle grades.
I realized only in the last few years that I should have been a middle school teacher, that my teaching style was best suited to ages 11, 12, 13.
I am a ssssllllloooooowwwww learner. I'm going to live to be 117, it takes me so long to learn the lessons my life wants me to learn. So many of them are simple but it appears I can't see the forest for the trees.
I'm the worst for getting an idea and sticking with it despite all indications pointing in another direction. No wonder I get lost when driving! I'm not fully connected to my inner compass. It's like a wire isn't hooked up; I can see the way eventually, after driving in circles for hours (years) and usually by accident (or divine intervention) but by then I'm late.

Too late for teaching, but thankfully, not too late for writing.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Leave No Words Unspoken


The cover story for this month's United Church Observer magazine (for which I write occasionally) is entitled "Last Words". When the call to submit to this feature came out last fall, I decided not to pitch anything; my last words with my father, who died in May 2009, weren't particularly profound -- "I love you, Dad" and "Thank you" -- and I'd said what I'd wanted to say. I had no regrets about something I didn't say.

So I was struck by what one of the contributors wrote about how, even when we know we are going to lose someone, we refuse to say what we really want to say. We don't want to get upset, we don't want to be upsetting, but how is that worse than the regret of not speaking those thoughts to the person we are about to learn to live without? Human beings are creatures of emotion, of tears, of touch yet we deny ourselves these connections because of strange social conventions, and fear.

Our feelings about, and resistance to, death and grief are creating such problems for us. Not one of us is getting out of this world alive -- WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE -- yet we act as if we can defy death as long as we don't talk about it, as long as we don't acknowledge it. Heaven forbid we actually plan for it.
And so all those things we want to say, those things perhaps we should say, when someone is alive to hear and appreciate them, go unspoken, and that unspokenness haunts us for the rest of our own days.

Why not speak the truth? It's an act of compassion and mercy -- maybe even comfort -- for both you and the person who is dying.
"You were never around for me and that hurts but I love you and your death will leave a hole in my life." OR "You were so good, so caring and loving. I am grateful you were in my life for 20/40/60 years. I will treasure my memories and our stories of you. Thank you."
Surely, whether we are honoured or obliged to be at someone's bedside when they die, it doesn't hurt to find some kind words to speak out loud.

What about simply saying "I love you" and "Thank you" over and over again? That's what life boils down to, isn't it? Love and gratitude. Who cares if we cry? The letting go of those words, the knowledge you aren't holding onto them, is such a weight lifted; as are the tears shed at the time.
"I love you" and "Thank you" are those basic phrases that everyone, especially those whose minds have been affected by dementia, recognize and understand and respond to. What better gift to give someone who is dying than the knowledge they were loved and appreciated. Don't leave it for the funeral.

Reading these stories reminded me of the one time I tried to tell a dying woman how much she meant to me. I'd known her best when I was a child -- her husband and my father were very good friends -- and I wanted her to know how much I cherished their friendship with my parents, my memories of our dinners at their house, and later, her presence in my life when I returned home as an adult.
Her son wouldn't let me in the house. She came and stood behind him at the door but how could I stand on the doorstep with a bag of cookies in my hand and speak past him, say those words I wanted to say -- and get emotional, of course -- with him standing between us?

I handed over the cookies, as if they were the sole purpose of my visit, and walked home, my unspoken words trailing along behind me like deflated balloons.



Thursday, March 22, 2018

The End Is Just the Beginning


So having finished the first draft of my novel, and being amazed at how quickly it happened by grabbing onto that fresh, strong energy of a brand-new idea, I can't stop thinking about this process, and about potential.

As the registrations start coming in for the Simmins/Jewell writing workshop on May 26th in Pugwash, it's more and more on my mind. Not merely how can we tap into our creative potential but how do we know what it is? Okay, that's the process -- sit your butt in the chair and write -- but how do we know what we are "meant to" write. After all, I'm a non-fiction writer, aren't I? Why would I write a novel?

Many, many years ago, when I was dating the man who would become my first husband, I took a bartending course then I started guitar lessons.
"What are you going to do with those classes?" he asked. He meant, how are those going to become a job.
"I'm interested in them," I answered.
"You're a flake," he said.

No, dammit, I wasn't a flake, and I'm still not a flake because I have a half-finished hooked rug in my spare room and I took riding lessons for six months and I'm taking part in the poetry cafe in Oxford in April. It's called HAVING A LOT OF INTERESTS. How else do we learn about ourselves and our creative talents, discover hidden talents and untapped potential if we don't try everything that comes our way?

This is the advice of Estella Rushton, after all, the beautiful and wise 93 year old woman I interviewed during Oxford's recent International Women's Day event. She told all the young women in attendance to try everything, to grab every opportunity to learn and do.
That doesn't make you a flake.

Of course, this was the same man who, a couple of years later, after I'd told him about a novel idea I'd come up with, responded by saying, "You couldn't handle the research needed to write that book."

(I know, I know. Another mistake I learned from. That's why I found a new partner who leaves sticky notes on my computer monitor that say, 'You can do it!')

The whole point of this point is this: What if I've always been a novelist? I wrote my first novel ("novel") when I was 12; I wrote three more between the ages of 26 and 34. Now I've written this one at a time when its arrival feels different, more necessary and more time's-a-ticking-away-ish.
What if I've always been a novelist?
Do you know how that question makes me feel? EXCITED. Not regretful, not fearful, not beaten, and definitely NOT FLAKY. Because I'm aware now, I'm still able, and I've done it. I've written the first draft of a book that has as much potential as I do. Being older and wiser (and wrinklier and arthritic) is an awesome stage to arrive at.

You are never, ever too old or too late to discover what you've always been, and always wanted to do. 




Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Capturing the Magic


I finished the first draft of my novel on Friday, March 9, two weeks ahead of schedule, but this is the earliest moment I've had to sit down and write about that unexpected experience.

What is done is just a first draft. There are inconsistencies, underdeveloped characters and unnecessary exposition (one chapter goes on forever because I couldn't figure out how to end it). There are 22 chapters but they probably need to be shorter, so there will be 40 when the editing is completed. And I might return to my original idea for the ending, which didn't seem plausible at the time I was actually writing it. Fixing all that stuff is hard work but I also think of it as the fun stuff; it's when every character becomes a living entity with their own voice and the story truly takes off -- perhaps even in a direction I hadn't originally considered. 

The truly significant accomplishment, however, isn't finishing a novel in two months; it's learning from my mistakes: those mistakes of not working on an idea as soon as it came to me.
In 2015, Elizabeth Gilbert published Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and in the section on 'Enchantment', she writes about how ideas show up and the ways we can respond when they do. What hit me as an A-ha moment, and encouraged me to say, "Yes, right now!" to my post-Christmas novel idea was what happened to an idea she'd neglected: "The idea had grown tired of waiting, and it had left me."
She'd had the idea, and written it down, but life had intervened and she'd ended up writing another book, and when she finally headed back to the novel she'd been planning - and had a contract for - it was gone. Not only that: It found a home with another author who wrote such a similar novel, Elizabeth knew with whom the idea had found a happy home.

I knew right then what I'd been doing wrong for twenty years because THAT HAPPENED TO ME. While I was living on East 15th Street in Vancouver, I had an idea for a novel that I thought about for weeks as I drove to and from work, but I never did anything with it. I  never even wrote it down. Eventually, I stopped thinking about it, and ten years later, in 2009, Gayle Forman published the idea as a young adult novel entitled "If I Stay".
Yeah, the best-selling book that was made into a movie. The idea I ignored until it went away and found someone who wanted it.

I didn't want to make that mistake again. And let me tell you, I'm haunted by the ideas and opening chapters I've written into notebooks and failed to follow up on. But you can't live in the past, you can't dwell on regrets; you acknowledge the mistake and learn from it in order to keep moving forward in the present, wiser and more determined. (Trust me, you will keep getting the opportunity to learn a lesson until you actually learn it.)

This is what I want to say about this experience of writing a novel in two months: Nothing is impossible. All it takes to accomplish something -- whether it's writing a book or painting a landscape or weaving a blanket or carving a tree spirit -- is doing it. You start and you keep at it until it is completed. Whether it takes two months or six or twelve months, whether it takes one year or ten. I had allotted three months, and thought it would be a push, but this book wanted to be written and it poured out of me because I'd grabbed onto it when it was new and powerful and ready to go.
That's the kind of creative energy -- fresh and bright and sparkly -- that I wish for you.

When it shows up, welcome it. Say hello, say thanks for coming. Ask it to stay awhile. If there is something you want to do, start thinking about it, and when it hears you and responds by showing up, please grab it. Do the thing. Set aside an hour a day to do only that thing. If it's something you want to learn to do, find someone who can teach you. If an idea comes to you, if an urge to create strikes you, please don't ignore it. Forget the grocery shopping (if they want to eat, they'll go), forget the laundry (if they want clean clothes, they'll do a wash), forget the fear and self-doubt masquerading as excuses. Be brave, be courageous.

Ask for help. If someone wants me to do their grocery shopping or their laundry so they can paint or write or dance for an hour, I'LL DO IT. I have my support team who did these things for me for two months; let me do it for you. I even fold fitted sheets! You don't have to do this alone, and you don't have to ignore your creative urge.
[Edit: I realized the flaw in this offer! Create your support team; you deserve it -- just one hour to tap into your potential.]

In the opening chapter of Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, "The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then it stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels - that's creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place - that's what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one."



This is what enchantment looks like: Here I am with my manuscript, all 312 pages of mess and mistakes -- and it is such a great feeling to hold it in my hands. I want that feeling for you! I want you to hold in your own hands something you created, even if it's messy and full of mistakes. No one even has to see it. When I told my friend Shelagh that I was done the first draft, she wanted me to email it to her immediately. I laughed and said, "No one sees the first draft." And no one needs to see your first painting or hooked rug or carving or whatever. The only thing that matters is that you start and you complete it and you hold it in your hands knowing you did it, you finally did it.

(But if you want to share your experience with someone, if you want to share your excitement, I'm here for you.)


Friday, March 16, 2018

The Spring Issue Has Bloomed


Although my Field Notes column, and thus my first book, got its start in a newspaper, there's something about a magazine. Even in these e-reader, online publishing times, there's something about a magazine. And I'm delighted to be back as a magazine columnist, particularly in At Home On the North Shore, which features writers, photographers, homeowners and artisans of the north shore of Nova Scotia.

One of the newspaper columns I never got around to writing was called "The Lost Art of Browsing" and perhaps I will devote a future AH Field Notes column to that idea. I just don't understand how online shopping can be more fulfilling than shopping in person; more convenient and cheaper, maybe, but what is lost when everything that comes to us comes via a screen and a click?

I thought of this last night while watching a news story about Toys R Us stores closing in the United States. The story ran with video of children in the store picking out toys.
Hello? Did anyone else catch what that means? I LOVED going to the local toy store or the toy department at our local (yet relatively small) department store when I was a kid and looking at all the toys before choosing the one toy I could take home with me. 
Sadly, a Dollarama toy run isn't the same as spending an hour in The Toy Shoppe.

Which is not a digression, as much as it appears to be! I can hold the spring issue of the magazine in my hands. I can send a copy to my best friend in Ontario. I can leave it lying on the coffee table. It will last forever. We can go to the farmers' market and meet the growers and bakers and creators. We can talk with the woman who owns the clothing store or the bookstore or the shoe store; we can be remembered when we show up the next time. Humans are a tactile, face-to-face species; we are denying ourselves so much essential interaction by limiting ourselves to computers.
People says, "Everything lasts forever on the internet," but that's not true. Things get lost on the internet, things get forgotten. A book, a magazine, a toy lasts forever -- but more importantly, so does the memory of the experience.
Like the memory of my father coming home with two stuffed animals for his two daughters -- an unexpected treat when money was tight -- that he chose himself while standing in a toy store and walked home with one under each arm.


To subscribe, call Lorraine at 902-485-1990, Ext. 1435 (Advocate Media)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Writing Workshop in May


Click on the picture to enlarge it and be able to read the words.

I'm delighted to be co-presenting this writing workshop with Marjorie Simmins, an accomplished writer and teacher. This one-day workshop at the Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash has become an annual event for her, and this year, she's invited me to share my experience with and my advice for facing fears and making space for truth and joy.

Having participated in Marjorie's 2015 workshop, I highly recommend this day. I came away with not one but TWO breakthroughs -- one of which I'll be sharing during the workshop. If you want to become inspired and motivated and encouraged -- empowered! -- this is the place to be. 

The workshop takes place on Saturday, May 26 beginning at 10 am in Pugwash, Nova Scotia.
The cost is $150, all in, and that includes the opportunity for either Marjorie or me to read 10 pages of a manuscript prior to the workshop (consider that a professional editor - like Marjorie - would charge $150 for that task so great deal!).

There are accomodations available in Pugwash (at the Thinkers Lodge and at a B&B) if you want to come up the night before, and I can't help myself: I'll be bringing my famous heart-shaped oatcakes for tea/coffee breaks!
For more information, contact Marjorie at mls @ marjoriesimmins.ca
Please register early because we are only offering 12 spaces.



Thursday, March 08, 2018

International Women's Day 2018

This is the fifth year for the International Women's Day event in Oxford, NS, so we're making it a celebration (if only the weather cooperates!). While I'm the planning committee, I also participate in the event by having a conversation with a local woman with an inspiring story to tell.
Here's a look back...

2014: Alia Kamarreddine shared her experience of coming to Canada as a 19 year old newlywed unable to speak any English. She talked about being a female business owner in the area. She now plays a key role in helping new immigrants (arriving through  the refugee program) settle into our community.



2015: Rosemary Donkin spoke of the challenges of raising a family and working when she went back to school to become a nurse. I remember best her story about doing her homework during hockey practices and 4H events!



2016: Trish Stewart shared her experience as the first female mayor of Oxford. Afterwards, we realized we didn't talk about the scrutiny women's clothes and hair get, and the pressure to wear new outfits all the time.



2017: This was a panel on women's friendships featuring lifelong friends Marilyn Williams and Janice Varner, and mother-daughter duo Haillie and Janelle Tattrie. This fabulous photograph is courtesy of Dave Matheson at the Citizen-Record newspaper.



2018: This year, I'm "in conversation with" Estella Rushton, who is 93 years young, and she'll be sharing an "equal pay for equal work" experience and as well as a few tips to staying young at heart.


(Estella loves to read, and I noticed Field Notes on the bookshelf but I was so caught up our pre-event interview, I forgot to take her picture holding my book!)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

This Is Us


Even though I'd written 2200 words, above my goal for today, I couldn't figure out how to end the chapter I was writing so I decided a walk was needed.
What an utterly gorgeous day! Blue sky and sunshine and crispy cold. Just enough wind to blow the stale, sticky thoughts out of my mind, which is exactly what my creative brain needed in order to do its subconscious thing and figured out how the chapter should wrap up.
The dog and I followed the sound of a chain saw across the field and into the plantation and found my Nova Scotia country boy in his happy place.
Arriving with a thermos of chai tea, I made it even happier.
"I love being in the woods," he said, draining his mug; then he stepped away and became one with his environment.
The dog and I carried on and said hello to the invisible beavers.
I never did figure out how to finish the chapter but really, getting out of my chair for a walk in the woods on a perfect winter's day was a far greater accomplishment.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Chinese New Year ~ The Year of the Dog

Stella, 2006

I hadn't heard of Chinese New Year, and the yearly designations (like rooster, ox and dog), until I lived in Vancouver, where there is a large Chinese community. Then I became friends with a couple who celebrated it and my sister's family started celebrating it thirteen years ago because their eldest daughter is Chinese, so I don't feel I'm co-opting another culture's new year celebration too much once every twelve years.

Being born in 1970, this is my year: the Year of the Dog. According to the website, chinesenewyear2018.com, "Women born in the Dog year are very cautious. They are indifferent towards people they don’t like, and don’t trust easily. But once they do, it’s permanent. They are intensely protective of their friends and family. They are genial and independent. They love outdoor activities and being in nature. However, they are also hard workers and don’t give up until they succeed. Security and a stable income are her requirements for a career."

The last time it was Year of the Dog in the Chinese chart was 2006. I remember this because I bought a "Year of the Dog" mug at the pet store in Cobourg (I still have it but it's packed away somewhere). My divorce had been granted a few months earlier, so I was finally done with all that and looking forward to my first year as truly free, but at the same time, we'd moved my father into a nursing home. It was a busy year, taking care of Dad on a daily basis, and I struggled a bit with depression around my 36th birthday. Then my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Then my friend Diana was diagnosed with cancer. 2006 was getting pretty shitty. A brief respite on the east coast would provide some mental and emotional respite.
That's when I met my Nova Scotia country boy, a blind date that changed my life (and Stella's). That was 2006, the Year of the Dog. High and lows are what life is all about -- as they say, it's not what happens to you but how you respond to what happens. 2006 was a life-changing year for me.

I'm sure if I thought about it, I could come up with other non-Year of the Dog years that were life-changing but can't help it: 2006 is a stand out. The reverberations from that simple decision to say yes to a blind date rolled right into 2016.

So the Year of the Dog has rolled around again and it will be interesting to see if 2018 provides a life-changing experience. I'm hoping this year isn't as hard on the heart as 2006 was -- up until something happened to heal my heart -- but I also know that's how life goes: it's always a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I wonder if it's safe to anticipate one amazing experience?

But just in case... also from that website: "It’s the Chinese tradition to wear red underwear every day during their zodiac year. Dogs can try this to ward off the bad luck."



Sunday, February 11, 2018

This Time Last Year



Freezing rain this morning means church was cancelled, which really disappointed both my mother, who was filling in as our music leader, and myself since SUNDAY IS THE ONE DAY A WEEK WE DRESS UP AND LEAVE THE HOUSE.
Seriously. This winter, my mother decided to go on an "austerity plan" since she was spending too much money on "impulse purchases", and that means no random shopping sprees to fill a day. I decided to write a novel in less than three months, which has also become a much-needed austerity plan for me as well. We don't need anymore stuff; we need me to publish another book!

Actually, I do leave the house -- I go for walks around the fields and through the woods. But I no longer leave the property. Every day I write.
AND IT'S AWESOME.
This is why winter is awesome. I'm am not that person standing at the window, waving my fist and shouting, "Enough of the snow, already!" I'm standing at the window, this winter in particular, wondering where all the snow has gone!
Whether it's snowing or raining, this was the perfect time for this novel to drop into my head, although I keep wishing I'd discovered this work ethic years ago. I don't, however, think I was ready, as a writer and a person, to produce something like this until now.

Wondering what I was doing on this day last year, I found this photo from our breakfast at Sugar Moon Farm in Earltown. We've been trying to do this again but despite our best intentions, we haven't made it back. Perhaps we'll make the 90-minute trip to celebrate when I finish the first draft of this novel. SMF pancakes and beans will be a nice break from French toast and yogurt.

By the way, on Monday, I'll reach 50,000 words. And I love this story. The first draft is a piece crap, that's to be expected and no point in believing otherwise, but I feel like it's a good piece of crap; so much to work with and I can't wait to get this framework completed so I can go deeper into it and fill out the details. Just this morning, I met a delightful new character who is fun to write.
So, time to get back to her.


Saturday, February 03, 2018

Winter Fuel For A Writer


One thick slice of homemade bread.
A fresh egg from one of our hens.
A splash of milk, a dash of vanilla, and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon.
Melted butter in the pan, a good soaking in the dish, then five minutes on either side and VOILA:
French toast for breakfast.

A note about the dish: Not only is it the ideal width and depth for making French toast, it's VINTAGE. It's from a display set up by Monarch Flour in my mother's family's grocery store -- in the 1950's!
My mother has always used it for baking apple crisp but when I went searching for the perfect dish for my French toast, this was it. There's something special about using the dishes with a history like that, isn't there? In being able to say, "This was my mother's..." or "This was my grandmother's..."

I've eaten this for breakfast since the day after Christmas. I don't know what got into me -- I've been loyal to toast or oatmeal all these years -- but suddenly, egged bread (or is it breaded egg?) is what I want. In over a month, I've only missed one morning and that was because I was sick.


Here's the thing about my French toast: I alternate my topping between maple syrup and jam.
Jam? Who on earth smears jam on French toast?
Well, why not? It's toast, after all.
Actually, I didn't know you could put syrup on it until we began travelling as a family and I ordered French toast one morning and it came with syrup. I asked for jam; I was an adult before I tried eating it with syrup.
I learned to eat French toast with jam from my mother.

When she was 18 years old, she left the church she'd grown up in and started attending a new church. After choir practice on Thursday nights, some of the choir members would go across the street to the Chinese restaurant. One of the dishes on the menu was French toast, which she ordered (and cannot tell why on earth she'd order French toast in a Chinese restaurant). It was served with a side of jam.
Why not? It's toast, after all.

So now the fuel for this writer's winter work is a daily dose of French toast, Chinese style.

 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Busy Beaver


Writers have rituals. Some are as simple as a jar of jelly beans on the desk, some are as complicated as particular notebooks and pens, music and mugs, bracelets and earrings.
I'm afraid I fall into the complicated category. I'm lousy with particularities and peculiarities.

But not all rituals are odd. 
At the end of a long but satisfying day of writing, I go outside and I go for a walk.
I go outside to breath in fresh air, to clear my head, to expand my lungs and refreshen my heartbeat.
I go for a walk to keep my neck from seizing up, to settle my thoughts and set onto what I will write tomorrow.
Every day, I walk to the beaver brook with the dog and we say hello to the beavers.
You can't see the beaver dam as well from the road as it appears in this photo; I walked through the frozen flooded woodlot to get a close up look, and take a photo for you.
If I'm going to talk about this most important ritual, it behooves me to provide a visual. 
I arrive at the brook, I stop and stand in the middle of the road, above the culvert, and I follow the ribbon of ice to the dam in the near distance and I say,
"Hello, beavers."
I never see them, nor even any signs of them during the winter. It seems unfriendly, though, to walk to that point and not say hello.
Come to think of it, I've been doing it for almost eleven years now, haven't I?

Wait.

Yes, I knew I remembered correctly. In an early, much shorter version of my Field Notes essay, A Walk In the Woods, this was the original ending in 2011:


"Exiting the plantation, reluctant to head home, the dog and I walked up the road to the beaver brook formed by the clogging of the culvert. No sign of life under the smooth, dark water but I pictured the beavers inside their house of sticks, going over the day’s list of things to be done. They are a persistent animal, constantly creating, always maintaining, rebuilding when necessary. They keep to themselves, content to live and work in isolation. Just like a writer with land of her own."

Not such an odd ritual, after all. 


Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Words Are Piling Up


I reached ten thousand words on my novel yesterday - whoop! In the early stages, that's a great milestone to reach. That I did it on a snowy day is totally apropos. Went outside to celebrate.
I'm keeping up the pace of writing despite not managing to start at nine a.m. - I write this at a quarter to ten. My mornings are far too leisurely but perhaps, like a tight, four-month deadline, I work more efficiently under a time pressure.

And with a reward waiting: it snowed all night and the wind didn't blow so the woods are thick with snow, just the way I like them. So I've promised the dog that instead of me getting on the treadmill for half an hour at lunchtime, we'll go for a much longer walk over the field and through the wood and back the brook to say hello to the beavers.

It is odd, however, that the wind hasn't blown in 24 hours. Wanna bet as soon as I step out the door mid-day, the gale will begin?! It'll be like walking in the blizzard we didn't get yesterday.