Monday, 31 January 2011

Day 31

Core Story

What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world?

I’ve been thinking about this prompt for the majority of January, and here’s a secret:  it still makes me nervous.  Thirty-one days to reflect and ponder and think about things that are all in some way related to this question, and still, the answering of it makes me pause.  Core story?  What is my core story?  Isn’t that kind of like asking “what’s the purpose of the universe”, or some such thing?

Now, before I get accused of drawing ridiculous parallels (I do not in any way mean to equate my story with the universe, never fear), let me explain.  I find myself somewhat skeptical at the idea that an entire person, and therefore an entire life, can be contained in one “core story”.  Is it not true that we as human beings are made up of a variety of core stories?  Is it not also true that these core stories change, and shift, and grow with us as we grow old and learn and make mistakes?  Core, by definition, refers to the basic or innermost part of something.  We talk of the earth’s core, or the core of a problem.  Apple cores.  When you strip something down, get rid of what’s superfluous and transient and ephemeral, you get to the core, or so the saying goes. 

So, then.  Is it not then somewhat of a contradiction to call something a core when it’s bound to change all of the time?  Or is it possible to say that the only constant thing about one’s core is the fact that it will never be the same, à la change is the only constant, and other such philosophies? 

I am not sure.  Of course, at first glance it’s not that hard to pinpoint what might be my core story.  At first glance, it’s not difficult to see that story is probably more apt than core, as I’ve always been about stories.  Right back to those days when I was a small Amanda, right back to that atrocious (and yet cute) first poem.  I have always seen the world through the eyes of the storyteller, thinking and feeling and hurting and always mindful, on some level, as to how I could transform all of that experience into something that would look good on the page. 

But that storytelling vision, though central in a way, hasn’t always been what’s most important.  I am, for example, ridiculously intense in matters of love.  When a new crush rears its head, I am so suddenly and completely consumed that writing no longer has pride of place at the table.  When Amanda’s in love, nearly every waking thought she has is about that mystical, mythical other person.  When Amanda’s in love, she ceases to be the storyteller, and becomes instead a mooning, moaning, woe-is-me little fool. 

When I was completing my undergraduate degree at UVic, my “core story” was about having good friends, and good relationships, and trying to balance work and social life and school and the terrible fear that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer after all.  That “core story” feels like a lifetime in its own right, just as my time in Scotland felt like a lifetime of its own, too.  In Scotland, my core story eventually revealed itself to be all about pride, and trying too hard, and not finding balance. 

The point, here, is that at each of these different stages of my life, the core – the stripped-down bit of me, the essence of who I was and am and what I was/am trying to do – was different.  Maybe not wholly different, but the person that I am now is very different from the person who flew to England at nineteen, the girl who spent the first part of her twenties in BC, the girl who fought for the Scotland dream, the girl who eventually came back from that dream battered and weary.  My core story changes all the time.  The things I want are different.  Yes, like I said, the writing stays the same.  But the things I want to write about are different every day.  Right now I’m finishing a novel; the next book I want to write is nonfiction, on a preposterously epic, world-traveling kind of scale.  Tomorrow I might wake up and say that all I want to do for the rest of my life is write short fiction.  I don’t know.  I am shifty, shifty, shifty, like the wind. 

Of course, anyone over the age of 30 would probably read this and say, well, duh.  Of course everything about you changes.  People change.  People want different things all the time.  Artists want to see and capture and do different things all the time.  Why?  Because the world changes too, Amanda.  You can’t step into the same river twice – well, you can’t wake up into the next morning and think that anything about your day is going to be remotely the same.  That’s just … life.  Why are you getting so existential and wound up and – sure, why not say it – weird, and crazy, about something which is really just a plain ol’ truth of the world? 

A year or so ago, a good friend of mine imparted the following wisdom:  Amanda, your thirties will rock.  Guaranteed.  You’ll probably take yourself less seriously, and you’ll know more about who you are and what you want in life.  But most importantly – you’ll recognize that time can speed up and slow down for you all at once, that it’s okay to stop and rest and just … enjoy.  The twenties are all about finding out who you are.  And when you get there, finally, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find.

I am twenty-eight now, soon to be twenty-nine.  In just over a year, I’ll be thirty.  The core story of my twenties has, in a way, been exactly this:  trying to figure out who I am, what I want, and then tweaking those things and learning as I go along that maybe who I am isn’t who I thought I was.  Maybe what I want isn’t actually what I thought I wanted.  When I was twenty, I had myself pegged as a good Catholic girl a year away from marriage and eternal wedded bliss.  Eventual mother to five children, happy soccer mom in a rambling old farmhouse somewhere on Vancouver Island.  And then ten years happened, and somewhere along the way everything about that idea, that core story, completely disappeared.  Now?  Now all I want is to write, and have an apartment somewhere of my own, and I no longer know if I’ll have the energy for both writing and motherhood.  Now I'm a much more solitary creature, one who nonetheless, as that same friend once pointed out, has the hungriest heart of anyone you've ever met.  

And I know that this is just the usual process of youth – we do all go through that process of finding out who we are, after all.  But now I feel younger than I did when I was twenty.  Now I’m nervous about saying anything definite in regards to my future.    Having any absolutes.  If you can reach the end of your twenties and realize that nothing is as you thought it was, and even those things that you take for granted (the writing, say) can change, or make you into a version of yourself that you didn’t know existed, then how can you step back from that and say that there’s a core story to you at all?  If the person at twenty is different from the person at twenty-nine (and let’s pause, for a moment, and give heartfelt, joyous thanks for the fact), then it stands to reason that all of those people I’ve met over the past decade, all of these folks who’ve seen Amanda during the various core stories of her twenties, have met a different person.  In a way.

(Ramble, ramble, ramble.  Now it occurs to me that the twenty-year-old Amanda had a habit of overthinking things.  That certainly hasn’t changed.  She also had a nasty habit of thinking, on some level, that the rest of the world was interested in hearing what she had to say.  Ha!  Eureka!  There’s your core story, Amanda – a series of neuroses, and the persistent belief that other people care enough to hear about them.)

Well, blogosphere friends – Reverb10 friends, Twitter friends, real life friends, and all – in the end the prompt still has me flummoxed.  What is my core story?  How do I share it with the world?  Can a core story change with the seasons?  Can it be muddled and unclear and shifty as a person themselves is shifty as the wind?

Can one, possibly, say something as simple as I’m just trying to figure it all out, and enjoying the mystery as I go along?  Can that be a core story?  I’d like to think so. 

This month has been rife with reflection, and work, and thought.  In material terms, I am no farther ahead than I was when I flew back to Ontario in November.  My debt, if anything, has gotten worse.  I still have no idea what’s going to happen.  But the book is done now, and it will go off to my agent at the end of the week if not before, and maybe fruit will come.  Maybe other things will come.  Because if I haven’t moved ahead materially, I feel like I’ve jumped light-years ahead in terms of my soul, and that has to mean something.  See – sometimes overthinking can be useful!  I am hoping that this newfound sense of peace will stay with me, as I slide into February and face what comes next.  Trying to figure it all out, and enjoying the mystery, and hoping that more chances come my way to write and do what I love. 

Please, Oh Great Universe – send me chances.  You’ll find me at the little farmhouse in southwestern Ontario, standing in the field and waving my neuroses at the sky. 

Sunday, 30 January 2011

sparrow bones

a Sarah Selecky prompt

Write a scene that uses the following words: skeleton, laminate, Montreal.

My father’s fourth wife was called Baby.  Babette Horowitz.  They met at the jazz club on St. Laurent, one night when she was dancing.  My father liked to say that he picked Baby out of all the women in the room, but Baby always told the story differently. 
            Your father, he walked in that door, with his hair and that damned foolish hat, looking like Gregory Peck in the sunshine. All I had to do was jive a little faster, and that was that.  You remember that, Annie.  Your father, he likes to be the only man in the room.  Just like the sun, thinking it’s the only damned star in the sky. 
            They married quick, which would have raised eyebrows except that Baby, by this point, was over forty.  Another Old Maid of Montréal.  They honeymooned in Gatineau and when they came back to the city, they split their time between my father’s house and Baby’s walk-up on Park Avenue.  This did raise eyebrows, but only because Baby’s neighbours, who had tried for years to fix her up at the synagogue, couldn’t quite figure it out.  
            “I like my space,” she told me.  “I move in with your father, that space disappears.  You don’t let a man get too close, Annie.  Try and keep an entire house between you, if you can.”
            By this point, I was living with Luc.  Our kitchen had shiny laminate floors and a thin line of mould round the base of the shower.  Baby’s tiny flat, with its china knobs and bearskin rugs and beaded Tiffany lamps, was one-third the size of our house and smelled of Baby, always Baby, all the time.  Cigarettes and talcum powder, lavender and honey. 
            The first time I visited her, she took me into her tiny second bedroom and showed me a gift from her very first crush – sparrow bones, nestled in a small violet box like a coffin. 
            “It fell out of a tree as we walked to the show,” she said, stroking the bones.  “A baby, just learning to fly.  Jed – that was his name, Jed Parker – was a taxidermist.  Well, his father was a taxidermist.  He took the bird home in his pocket.  The next time we went out, he gave me this.”
            “What happened to him?” I asked her.
            “He moved to Ohio.”  She slid a fingernail beneath the skull and pulled it out – Jed had strung the bones together on silver thread, so that the sparrow jingled like a puppet.  “I heard he met a girl there, and got divorced.”
            “Got married?” I said, not yet used to Baby’s way of life.  “You mean he got married?”
            “No.  I mean he got divorced.  He met the girl, and eventually they got divorced.”  She put the bird back and laid the box on her dressing table.  “Eventually it happens to everyone, Annie.  Life divorces you in one way or another.”
            They’re still married, though Baby spends most of her time in the walk up now.  Every time I visit her she has another treasure, another hidden drawer.  We do not talk about my father, though I know she brings stories to him, carries news of my life soft in her hands.  I am the skeleton now, and Baby’s nails the gentle, calming puppeteer.  My father waits beyond the curtain for the show that isn’t going to come.

Review: Blue Bloods, by Melissa de la Cruz

 So I suppose I should begin this, my first official review on this here blog, with a disclaimer.  This review, in particular, is not really a “review” per se.  Or rather, it is, but it’s a somewhat unorthodox one.  How many reviewers lump the first three books of a series into one review and attempt to cover them all?  No good reviewer I know, anyway.  But luckily, I have never thought of myself as a particularly good book reviewer.  Nor do I harbour secret dreams of becoming one.  I’m not a half bad reader – though I have my faults and foibles, as do we all – but I don’t really think about making that skill into a day job.  Therefore, reader, beware:  you’ve been forewarned.  Strangeness awaits.  Mayhem.  Craziness.   Etc.

I would like to take this opportunity, this “review”, to discuss the first three books of the Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz.  Said series centers (say that three times fast, why don’t you)  around the comings and goings of Schuyler Van Alen, a quasi-goth, quasi-misfit kid growing up in Manhatten.  Schuyler belongs to an old New York family, one that used to own most of the city but now owns little more than a crumbling brownstone.  Still, Schuyler’s family is wealthy enough to send her to Duchesne, a gloomy old boarding school on the other side of town.  Duchesne is filled with your requisite jocks and snippy blonde girls and, save for the presence of Schuyler’s token friends Olly and Dylan, is pretty much a terrible place to be. 

Anyway, so we have the scene now.  At the beginning of Blue Bloods, we learn a little more about the cast:  there’s Bliss, the recent Texas transplantee struggling to find her own way in the school’s dark halls; there’s Cordelia Van Alen, Schuyler’s formidable grandmother; there’s Allegra Van Alen, Schuyler’s mother, frozen in a coma.  And then there are Mimi and Jack Force, twins a year ahead of Schuyler in school, blond and beautiful and used to getting everything they want.  He’s relaxed and charming and oozes charisma – she’s manipulative and scheming and rather more attached to her brother than is perhaps the norm.  They’re also, as luck would have it, vampires. 

But wait!  As Schuyler enters her fifteenth year, she begins to exhibit strange characteristics.  Her veins are starting to show.  She gets followed home by a bloodhound.  And it isn’t long before we learn the uber-obvious – Schuyler, in fact, is also a vampire.  (Well, half vampire.  Her father is human.  He is also dead.  Apparently he is of no import to the story.)  The slightly less obvious, slightly more incredulous twist to the story?  Most of the kids who go to Duchesne are vampires.  The school is divided into two types of people:  the Blue Bloods, or those who realize their vampiric origins in their 15th year, and Red Bloods.  (Wizards to Muggles, if you follow my drift.)  Olly, Schuyler’s best friend, is a Red Blood.  Olly is also in love with Schuyler, vampire status or no.  Jack Force, resident heartthrob, eventually also falls in love with Schuyler.  Imagine!  A human(ish) girl trapped between the love of two men, one of whom happens to be a vampire.  What an original and beguiling idea.  I wish I’d thought of it first. 

Anyway.  One thing you need to know about these books – they are, like the Twilight saga, compulsively readable.  I read the first three books of the series in little over a day.  However, like the adventures of Bella and Edward, they’re also strangely … heartless. Here’s the thing -- there’s a difference between something that is compulsively readable and something that’s written well, between a story that shocks and a story that pulls you in.  de la Cruz has managed to capitalize on the current vampire trend in YA fiction and create a guilty pleasure for those who haven’t gotten enough of the Twilight mania.  She hasn’t, in my humble opinion, managed to create a story that’s all that compelling.  She hasn’t even managed to create characters that resonate beyond the page.  Schuyler is bland and annoying, and Mimi Force, who for the most part acts as the central antagonist, is so entirely one-sided that it’s difficult to feel anything other than boredom when she comes onto the page. 

All of which probably sounds quite funny, in light of the fact that I introduced this series with the admission that I’d read the first three books in record time.  What can I say?  I was bored.  I was hoping to find an example of YA genre fiction (the genre in this case being the “vampire romance”, which has found a niche all its own) that went above and beyond the world introduced in Twilight.  Well, here in New York the vampires are a little more sophisticated, and they might have more shoes, but apart from that it’s the same story all over again.  The dialogue isn’t great, and the descriptions could fit just as easily in a Harlequin.  The next two books in the series contain the same kind of archetypes for the genre – unknown evil stalking vampires, hasty travel (to a) Venice – what is it about vampire romances and Italy?; and b) Rio de Janeiro, which was slightly more interesting but still managed to fall flat) around the globe, beleaguered protagonist who must chose between her two dashingly handsome man-friends.  Yawn.

The problem here is that I felt, at least at the beginning, that Blue Bloods had potential to be something quite good.  There are so many interesting things that de la Cruz could have done to lift her novel above what was merely expected of it. If one looks at the books in a wider frame of mind, one could postulate that these preppy New York kids, with their wealth  and their fashion and their shoes (Mimi, for example, will settle for nothing less than a custom made Balenciaga gown for one of their vampire soirées) are in many ways indicative of the shallow, consumer driven malaise that’s both fuelling and draining the Western economy.  A grand metaphor, here?  Teenage vampire as symbol of all that’s gone wrong with our picture in the West? 

I’d like to think so.  I suspect not.  I suspect that these books were meant to be compulsively readable just because most people like to read about the rich and the fabulous.  Throw in a little blood and a little forbidden love and you have an absolute recipe for success. 

So, in the end – I’ll try to finish the series, for sure.  Like I said, compulsively readable.  And in that sense, de la Cruz has indeed managed to do something great.  But the books themselves don’t in any way stand out from the genre, which is unfortunate, because that’s what really great genre fiction does. 

Rating:  ** out of *****

PS.  If, like me, you’ve ever wondered about the vampire romance genre, and questioned whether it might be possible for something in the genre to be simultaneously compelling and well written, check out The Last Vampire series by Christopher Pike.  I believe it’s been re-released as an anthology, under the name of Thirst.  And apparently the movie rights to the series have been acquired, which is rather exciting.  Will R-Patz be in these ones, I wonder?

Day 30

What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year?

I received a great many gifts in 2010, hard year though it was.  If I had to pick just one?  A small gift, entirely unexpected – the gift of four£5 notes, tucked into a white envelope and placed on my work desk on a grey day in September. 

£20.  In material terms, it wasn’t much.  But that simple, unlooked for gift – To Amanda, from The Fairies – meant the world to me.  It was a gift that came an incredibly low point – I was hungry, I was worried, and I had no money for food.  I was wracking my brains trying to figure out how I was going to feed myself for the month of September.  I’d resigned myself to a day of work without breakfast, without lunch, and everything was black because of it. 

(I’m not kidding when I say that I’m pretty much the human equivalent of a golden retriever.  I might play around with pen and paper a great deal of the time, but most of my earthly decisions are centered around food.  Where I can get it, when I can get it, how much of it I’m going to have.  Woof.)

And then there was that envelope.  I almost cried at my desk when I opened it.  Turned out I got my lunch that day after all, and two weeks’ worth of groceries to see me through to the end of the month.  Food, and with it, hope.  Hope for my future, and hope for the world – because a world where a stranger can leave you £20 out of the goodness of their heart can’t be all that terrible a place to be. 

But like I said, there were a great many gifts in 2010.  So, in the spirit of my £20 gift from the fairies, I am going to take a moment and say thank you for all of the unexpected gifts that I received over the course of the year.  Thank you, thank you, thank you:

--    To God, for a rainbow over Portobello beach
--    To E., for two nights in a lovely little Paris hotel
--    To S, for much wisdom and laughter and a place to stay during those last few weeks in November
--    To T, for a free trip to Greece in July
--    To R & N, for dinners and chats and company on my last night in Edinburgh
--    To A, who fed me and told me hilarious stories about penis cake
--  To K, who was muse and inspiration without knowing it
--    To J, who is my human golden retriever partner in crime, and has always known just what to say

Friends are the greatest gift in the world.  I hope, very much, that I continue to be worthy of them. 

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Day 29

Describe a moment or series of moments that defined this year for you.

January, 2010:  Getting the good feedback from the agent who eventually became MY agent
February, 2010:  Realizing that it was going to be a heckuva lot more difficult to get that extended UK visa than I thought. 
March, 2010:  Work.  Poverty.
April, 2010:  Work.  More poverty.  Revisions. 
May, 2010:  Still more work.  More poverty.  More revisions. 
June, 2010:  See above.
July, 2010:  Sadness (and a surprise trip to Greece, which brought me some much needed sunshine).
August, 2010:  See April/May/June
September, 2010:  “Difficult” crash lands into my little Scottish life and reveals that it is actually named “Impossible”. Amanda needs to face the fact that her writerly life in writerly, fantastical Edinburgh is no longer sustainable, on any level. 
October, 2010:  Work.  More poverty.  Home = light at end of tunnel.
November, 2010:  Home.  Rest.  Novel. 
December, 2010:  Disappointment.  Giving up.  Letting go.  Falling past denial and hitting bottom, bottom, bottom. 

December 31, 2010:  Realizing that “bottom, bottom, bottom” isn’t, in actuality, all that terrible a place to be. 

January 1, 2011:  Realizing that sometimes, no matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you try, the most precious and unexpected gifts come to you when you let go, and close your eyes, and trust that something will catch you. 

2010 was all about holding on.  Holding on to the novel (work work work and get those revisions done, as quick as you possibly can!), holding on to that apartment in darling Portobello (walk dogs and do contract jobs and sleepover shifts and proofreading and convince yourself that you don’t have to have a life because at least you have an apartment you adore), holding on to life in Scotland.  Even when there was that tiny little voice that kept saying this life isn’t all that you wanted it to be.  Holding on, no matter what.  There are so many moments that speak to this – I’ve talked about them ad nauseam already, so I won’t go into detail here. 

Let’s just say -- 2010 was all about holding on. 

2011 is going to be all about letting go.  And that’s that.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Day 28


What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

Today I had a lovely, long conversation with my best friend, who is getting ready to fly back to Scotland .  She’s in her first year of a PhD, and she is brilliant.  Funny.  So smart.  Loves food just as much as I do, which is saying something.  We are in many ways dogs in human form – intensely food driven, intensely loyal, happiest when we’re around those we love the most.  We often fantasize about ditching our respective careers (hers in academe, mine in that slightly less socially acceptable sphere of creative writing), buying a ranch, and breeding golden retrievers.  What a life.

Anyway, as I was discussing these various dreams with said friend, I remarked on how 2010 was, at the beginning, characterized by an intense anticipation and intense amount of expectation for the year.  I had so man high hopes for how my life was going to go.  And in many ways this is a good thing – it’s good to think big, to be wondering what’s next, to be anticipating your future.  But big expectations inevitably run into problems, because life doesn’t always fall exactly according to plan.  The decade of my twenties has taught me this more than anything.  I have worked hard and played hard and in many ways been very lucky, but I have also learned that things don’t always work out.  In fact, most of the time, things don’t work out.  After the roller coaster of 2010, I arrived at the doorstep of 2011 bruised and battered and more than a little heartsick, and afraid to have any expectations for the year at all.  This is the spirit in which I’ve entered the year – tentative, and nervous about hoping for anything.  Secure only in the knowledge that wherever my life goes from here, it’s bound to go up.  You can’t get much worse than penniless and jobless.  (And yet even this isn’t strictly true.  I could also, for example, be homeless.  Or hungry.  I am neither of those things, for which I am very grateful indeed.)

So in a funny way, despite the trepidation outlined above, the plateau on which I’m standing is a remarkably good place to be.  I still want to work hard.  I still have those dreams.  And I know, deep down, that things will get better, though they might still get worse before better arrives.  But I’m wary of having big dreams for the year ahead, even so.  Is this a bad thing?  I’m not saying that I’m going to cease all big dreams for the future.  I suspect I’m incapable of it.  Me and big dreams, we’ve always gone hand in hand.  But maybe it would be best – for my mental health, for my dreams, for the immediate future – if I focus on small things to achieve this year. 

Like, finding a home of my own again.  Achievement #1:  finding a new apartment!  You see, I have yet to own a vehicle.  I love driving, but my life thus far hasn’t been about needing a car.  I’ve lived in cities for the last ten years, and my love affair with public transport is good and strong.  But the sense of independence and freedom I had when I moved into my very first apartment – that, I would think, is akin to the love that most people have for their first cars.  Leaving my little bachelor pad in Victoria’s Cook Street Village was hard – leaving my gorgeous little shoebox of a studio in Edinburgh actually made me feel physically ill.  I want four walls of my own again.  A teeny little flat in Montréal, or Vancouver, or wherever the heck it is that I’ll end up next – that’s what I want. 

Achievement #2:  figuring out what’s going to happen with this little book o’ mine.  Chances are this achievement will happen before #1 – chances are this could happen very soon.  I hope so.  I am on track to handover the revised MS next week.  After a January that saw me at the computer by 8:30am every day.  Which is an achievement in and of itself – no more feeling like you don’t have the dedication for this kind of work, Amanda!

Achievement #3:  Financial independence.  And here I was, thinking these achievements would be about small things.  From where I sit, right now, this is nowhere near a small thing.  Nonetheless – I’d like to achieve some degree of this in 2011.  At least enough to get me out and in my own pad again, as per Achievement #1.  Please oh please. 

How will I feel when I get these things?  Blissful is a great word, for sure.  The kind of bliss that I don’t know I’d be able to duplicate with any other kind of action, even a list of 10 things as described above.  Eating chocolate, or watching a good movie, or even thinking of this magical independent future – it doesn’t get me the same feeling as actually being there. 

So, in the absence of a listed brainstorming session, I am going to go and play with the dog.  I will pet her and love her and tell her my woes, and she will accept everything, and love me just the same.  It isn’t quite the independence of one’s own place, and it isn’t going to solve my money woes, but it will make me feel like these things don’t matter.  And that will be a very nice feeling, even if it lasts only a while. 

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Day 27

Ordinary Joy

Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments of 2010?

Well – there was a moment with a rainbow.  (And a dog.)  There was also a moment in the summer, during the latter half of August, when I was home and drinking tea and writing, letting the not-so-sweltering Scottish heat waft softly through my window.  A long, slow dot (if a dot could be said to be long, which of course it can’t, but which for the duration of this post I am saying it can) of joy. 

My best friend and I have often talked about what we call our Dot Theory of Happiness.  People, myself included, are so quick to look back on a particular time in their lives and say slightly ridiculous, all-encompassing things like:  I was so happy then.  Things were so perfect.  As though the happiness could stretch to encompass weeks or even months at a time, without wavering.  And who knows – perhaps, for them, it can.

Yet as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that happiness is like one of those dot drawings you come across every now and again – you know, those masterpieces that look like a tiger or a sailboat when you step back from the picture but then reveal themselves to be a collection of hundreds of tiny dots when you get in up close.  Some of the dots are orange.  Some of the dots are black.  Together, they make up a picture. 

Happiness is like that.  It’s a drawing composed of tiny, miniscule moments of joy, ordinary or otherwise.  That moment, walking the dog on the beach – that was truly happy, truly transcendent moment of joy for me.  But it came at a difficult time, in a difficult year.  When I look back on that time as a whole, I do not see a picture of happiness that stretches to encompass it all.  I see a moment of happiness in a time of general discontent – one dot of purple in a sea of grey.  Of course, maybe this speaks more to that year in particular than it does to a life in general.  Maybe there are years ahead that will feel like they’re carrying happiness and joy in every minute.  But probably not.  Because, after all, what makes those moments of joy so special is that they’re contrasted against those moments that we’d rather just have disappear. 

But then, that’s life, I suppose.

As for a true moment of ordinary joy in 2010 – the one that comes to mind is a moment toward the end of the year, when I was in St. Andrews with Jersey Jess.  I was a scant 2.5 days away from leaving Scotland.  We went to dinner at a most lovely Indian restaurant (you might have noticed that I’ve already talked about it).  I had sag aloo and the vindaloo curry with lamb.  We finished up with peshwari naan.  It was probably the most delicious dinner meal I’d ever had in Scotland, and at that moment in time I was excited to be going home and seeing family and friends, so my imminent departure felt full of possibility.  It was a lovely night.  A fitting goodbye to a town that had introduced me to so many wonderful people (one of whom, in fact, was Jersey Jess), a fitting goodbye to a country that had been at once warm and yet solitary and had taught me so much. 

I hope I’ll have a chance to experience joy in that country again.  And who knows!  Two very good friends are now set to get married in Edinburgh in June.  They’re already asking about plane tickets.  I am, of course, completely penniless at the moment, but who knows what the next few months might hold …

Things that are floral

(a Sarah Selecky prompt)

My parents’ old couch (which is currently sitting on the front porch and gathering snow, plus some dirt to further entrench the floral motif)
My mother’s china pitcher
The background (and foreground, come to think of it) on nearly every one of my mother’s china display plates – are we sensing a theme?
Stephen Harper’s language, not because it’s overblown and multi-syllabic (that would, of course, be flowery), but rather because the spin that comes out of every Conservative television ad these days makes me think of a comfortable, complacent, cushiony floral couch in which one is supposed – nay, encouraged – to forget all of their woe
The bottle of Mariah perfume which sits on my bathroom counter and has not yet been used
The poinsettia dying on the mantel
Beige lampshade beside the reading chair, embossed with a pattern of rose
The bracelet that friend Ian got me for my … 22nd?  23rd? … birthday.  My, how the memories fade away. 

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Day 23

Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

I never wanted to be known by another name.  It sounds strange even to me; I wanted to be so many other things when I was growing up that a different name feels like it should have been par for the course.  But I was always happy with Amanda.  (I was also always happy with being a writer, really – the existentialism came from trying to figure out how I was going to feed myself long enough to continue writing.)  Apparently, my parents had deliberated between Amanda and Jennifer in the days before my birth, and they still weren’t sure what to pick when I was born.  My mother has a card, somewhere in a closet, that’s from my grandmother and reads Welcome, Baby Jennifer!

I like Amanda much better, I have to say.

Anyway.  Isn’t it funny, how much power you assign to a name?

Just over a year ago, I went to a Dinner Party For Strangers, hosted by a lovely woman in Edinburgh named Jo.  It was a fantastic night, in so many ways.  I arrived at 7pm and didn’t leave until well after 12:30, and that’s probably the fasted 5.5 hour stretch I’ve ever experienced in my life.  Anyway, the other participants in the Dinner Party were three men – one of whom was Pete, Jo’s husband.  The other two men were named Ayren and Camilo, respectively.

So after the lovely dinner, we sat around in Jo & Pete’s beautiful living room and got to know the strangers around the table.  We discovered that Ayren had changed his name a few years’ previous, because he’d never felt quite at home in the name that he’d been given at birth.  And then, once he told us this, Ayren turned to Camilo and said, “But Camilo isn’t your real name either, is it?”

And Camilo, this dark and polite Spanish man, admitted that it wasn’t.  Apparently, Ayren had noticed that when “Camilo” (as he henceforth shall be known) introduced himself, he’d seemed … not quite at ease with the name.  Not quite natural with it.  And Ayren had picked up on this quite easily, whereas the rest of us had been completely oblivious.  Interesting, wouldn’t you say?  As though one’s own experience of trying on another name makes one more sensitive to the shifting identities of others.  As though it’s a special kind of club – Name Changers Anonymous!  (ha ha)

Then “Camilo” said, “Well yes.  I was wondering when someone would pick up on that.”  Because, you see, he’d introduced himself as “Camilo Cienfuegos”.  And Camilo Cienfuegos, as it turns out, was a rather prominent Cuban revolutionary.  (Drat me and my limited knowledge of Cuban history …)  Anyway, “Camilo” then went on to admit that everything he’d told us about himself, up to that point, was not … strictly … true.  He was not, in fact, a corporate lawyer.  He was not, in fact, from Barcelona, although he was in fact from Spain.  And he was not a spy, although I think the rest of us suddenly and most fervently wished that that were the case.  (Imagine!  A Dinner Party For Strangers and you end up sitting next to an actual factual spy.)  “Camilo” had, however, once climbed from outside the sixth floor of a building down to the fifth floor, Jason Bourne style.  “Camilo” – and don’t ask me how he did this – had also managed to date someone for two years without telling her his real name.  (I mean, passing off as someone else when you’re at a dinner party full of strangers is one thing.  But two years!  Girlfriend!  Committed relationship!  Man, that’s some kind of stamina.)

Thing is – did it matter, this sudden realization that “Camilo” had lied to us?  Not really.  Obviously this was a special kind of interaction, and obviously I’m not advocating lying about yourself all of the time, but for that night, and for the few times after this party that I met “Camilo” for coffee and a chat, the fact that none of us knew his real name didn’t really matter.  He was charming, and intelligent, and knew an awful lot about life and imagination and carving a space for yourself in the world.  (As well as having mean Spiderman skills, obviously.)  Knowing his real name wouldn’t have changed any of that.

And so, I have to ask – even though I like the name Amanda, and even though I feel that it suits me very well – would it be stretching things to say that I would feel and be an entirely different person if I had a different name?  What would the exercise of introducing myself by a different name do, for me or for the people that I meet?  I don’t know.  My friend Ayren, as above, obviously felt that his name needed to be different in order for his life to take another course.  My friend “Camilo”, it would seem, carries some of the same things about him regardless of what moniker he chooses to use.  Though I suppose you could say that the two men are the same in that they didn’t seem to be happy with the static nature of the names that they were given, for one reason or another. 

I suppose it would make you feel different, in a way.  When I straighten my hair I feel like a different person, so I suppose signing a different signature would have the same effect.  I am content, however, with my signature, with the five syllables that make up my name.  I delve into different personalities every day on the page – I am content to leave things at that. 

If/when I get married, however, I suppose the whole name thing will take on an entirely new meaning!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Day 21

Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead?

(Note:  I actually filled this question out on December 21 of last year, the day that I first heard about reverb10.  Everything I wrote still stands true, however, so I'm going to repost it.  Chronology be damned!)

 Dear Self of 2010, soon-to-be-2011,

This was a hard year.  I remember.  Two office jobs and proofreading and freelancing and trying to support a girl who was dying.  Oh, and trying to write a novel, all at the same time.  Is it any wonder you did almost nothing but cry?

It’s almost a new year for you, now.  I think you should forget everything that’s happened to you this year (well, not everything, but you know what I mean), and instead open yourself to the possibilities of the year ahead.  Some exciting things could come to you in the next 365 days.  Some exciting things, and doubtless other challenges, too.  Regardless, I think you should really try and make this a year for you.  Remember that.

Here’s my advice:  relax.  Let things come to you this year, instead.  You worry too much about not deserving things – you think you don’t deserve to be a writer, you don’t deserve to let your parents take care of you, you don’t deserve to take time out.  You worry that unless you can prove that you’ve worked yourself to the bone for all of these things, no one will see you as a worthwhile human being.  You’re afraid that if you’re not out there, all the time, looking for opportunities under every rock and stone, you’ll reach the end of your life one day and be sad because you didn’t try hard enough. 

Well.  I say:  you worked an awful lot in 2010, so you are free to imagine that the rewards  from that work are still coming.  Consider this brief stretch of funemployment (because in the grand scheme of things, it will be brief) license to calm down, and relax, and just be.  Write.  Play piano.  Do yoga.  Maybe look into yoga teaching programs, if it really takes your fancy.  Let your family carry you for as long as you need, because it won’t be forever, and besides – that’s what they’re for!  You would do the same, without thinking. 

Rest.  Get those stories out.  Stop feeling so guilty about everything.  You deserve to be taken care of, and loved.  And take those pictures! 

I believe that my life’s going to see, the love I give, returned to me. 

It’s a cheesy song, for sure (am I still listening to it in 2016?  Wait and see!), but there always was something about that line, wasn’t there?  Let’s make that your mantra for 2011:  love, and let love return to you.  And everything else – the novel and the new house and the where to live and the money and the worry – will ease.  It will all figure itself out.

You’ll see.  I promise. 

Much love,

Your Older, (Somewhat) Wiser Self

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Day 20

Beyond Avoidance.

What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

Hmm.  What should I have done in 2010.  On a purely practical level?  I probably shouldn’t have stayed in Scotland.  Yep.  There’s the harsh, horrible truth.  I should have given up in February, when I realized that I probably wasn’t going to be able to afford that visa.  But I stuck it out, because I wanted one more summer.  Because I loved my house and the beach and that city in general and I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye.  Do I regret not leaving earlier?  Not really.  Yes – it threw me deeper in debt and meant, among other things, almost another year of prolonged stress.  But I met some lovely people during that last year in Scotland.  I went to some amazing places in Europe.  I had some truly wonderful moments of calm and peace and you’re-exactly-where-you’re supposed-to-be-ish-ness in my flat.  So in the end, no.  I do not regret this thing that I should have done.

As for this year – well.  I should endeavour to create some sort of financial stability in my life, I think.  I wonder how well that’s going to gel with my aforementioned plan of being an Actual Factual Writer.  Financial stability?  Student loans?  Writing?  Seems to me that those things do not, traditionally, go together.  But who knows.  I started 2010 with wild expectations for the year, and by the end of that 365 day stretch I was almost beaten.  Seems to me that I can’t really do any worse than to start this year with a completely blank set of expectations for myself, and for What Might Happen.  For what should happen, or what I should try to accomplish. 

I like this whole blank slate (or, shall we say, blank notebook?) approach to life.  Is this one of those realizations that comes upon you with age?  One of those things that you embrace as you enter your thirties?  I remember a friend once telling me, years ago, that one thing he wished he’d done when he was in his twenties was to take himself less seriously.  And, you know, it was advice that made complete sense and advice that didn’t stick all at the same time. 

In other news, and speaking of blank notebooks … I’m officially eleven days from deadline now.  Eleven days, one more chapter to revise.  I have the chapter outline plotted and most of the scenes are already written – they just need polishing, and some final tweaking to make sure that they fit where I want them to go.  My life has settled into a most delicious sleep-write-eat-walk-dog-write-exercise-make-dinner-write kind of routine.  It’s kind of magical.  Kind of wonderful.  Kind of … perfect.  Though this morning my dad said he was surprised that I hadn’t begun to wear holes into the keypad on my MacBook, and I have to say I agree with him.  It might almost be time to get a new computer.  First things first, though!  Novel, then financial stability, then new apartment/new city/new life, and THEN computer. 

One can only hope. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Day 19


What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

Healing.  Such a heavy word, but in a good way.  Hurting, which is another heavy word, came before that one, as always.  Dearie me, I'm beginning to worry that this Reverb 10 exercise is just hammering the same stuff out into the blogosphere.  2010 was bad.  2010 was hard.  2010 beat me down until I literally had nothing but love.

(As it turns out, of course, love was enough to heal everything.)

Love, and the realization that came just before the New Year, the realization that somehow, after fighting and fighting and being unable to see a way out of the downfall, I'd found myself exactly where I wanted to be.  You know, it sounds so corny, but it's so true.  The moment that I said to myself, I don't want to do anything else but write, everything else just seemed to ... stop.  The worry about the credit cards.  The worry about what came next.  The worry about where I would go, what I would do, how I would structure my life. 

The moment I made that jump, and said nothing else but this, and allowed myself to actively entertain the possibility of making THIS into my actual factual career, instead of that dream that I would chase in the evenings and on the weekends, everything about my life started to make sense again.  It literally felt like a physical change.  That decision, and the love and support of my family, has healed so much of the past year's hurt, already.

I know I haven't healed completely.  I also know that things are calm right now because not much else is going on -- the debt hasn't gone anywhere, the question of where to live is still large in my mind, etc.  Nothing has changed ... and yet everything has changed.  I have a plan now, where I didn't have a plan before.  I know what opportunities I want to start chasing, and -- surprise, surprise -- they're not opportunities of the 9-5 variety.  And what do you know, but some of those opportunities might even start happening, and sooner than I'd have thought. 

The bottom line, though, is this:  I've worked and worked and chased dreams for the past ten years, and watched these dreams (the most recent ones, anyway) slowly get chipped away.  And the things that saved me, in the end?  My family, and the writing.  Those things that were there in the first place, those things that haven't changed at all.  There's a wonderful sense of independence in that, knowing that I've got these two things down. 

I went for an interview in Toronto at the beginning of December, and when they asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I was honest and said that I wanted to be a writer.  That I was a writer, and just wanted to make enough money on it to have a nice little life.  Then I backed that up by acknowledging that it probably wouldn't happen for a while, that I'd have to work a while yet before penning that bestseller, blah blah blah.  And they said, You've got years to be a full time writer.  You can do that in the future, after you've made yourself comfortable.  Which is true, in a way -- but why not take the jump, fall into that field of wonder, and be the full time writer now?

So, 2011, this is how I'd like to be healed.  I'd like to be healed of those doubts, those nagging insecurities that whisper, late at night at 3am, you're no good, the book isn't going to make it, who the heck are you to think that living an artsy-fartsy writer's life is one bit responsible, going on a writer's retreat is just an excuse to go and play in the sunshine, and you should go and get a real job so that you can really find something to complain about.  

Those doubts that whisper you don't deserve to follow this, it's not worthwhile, it's a hobby, something fit for the weekends.  I want to be healed of that.  I want the love and conviction that saved me at the end of 2010 to keep me going, and to help me find a life that makes all of these things happen, somehow.  Somewhere. 

I promise a more concrete post is coming, folks, sometime in the future.  A concrete post that details my day, the sights and smells and textures of an afternoon, just as happens in this here fine blog.  (Though I will warn you, now, that any story I might tell will not be nearly so lyrical or lovely.)  But right now, there's lots of mental stuff going on.  Mental stuff is a good first stage for writing, so I'm happy.  "Mental stuff", I am finding, is a great way to begin the year. 

So let's stop, and have a moment for Reverb 10, because it's probably safe to say that this exercise has had its part to play in the healing of 2011, already.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Day 18


What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

To try.  There are so many things I'd like to try this year.  New food.  New cities.  New homes.  I'd like to try and get my violin playing up to a certain degree of respectability.  I'd like to try and start my new novel.

But here's the thing:  all of this emphasis on trying wearies me.  In a way, I feel like the word implies failure right from the get-go.  I know -- unspeakably harsh.  Horribly unfair.  And, most likely, not true at all.  Because every accomplishment that's ever been made comes from that starting point -- someone set out to try and do something.  Someone decided that they'd like to try and put man into the air, and eventually it happened. 

For me, though, if I make a "try" list, I inevitably never feel that much pressure to really pull it off.  I can sit here and say that I would like to try and learn my violin, but if the emphasis is on the trying, I'll find something else throughout the year that requires my attention.  I know I will.  It's just the way I operate.  Case in point?  I could try and change this behaviour.  Sounds quite different from "I will change this behaviour", doesn't it?

One of the exercises that I routinely do for myself, both in my notebook and on my blog, is to make a list for myself of things that I'd like to have in my life, in or around the near future.  And then, beside that list, I draw up a list of things that I NEED to have in that same span of time.  Usually the lists look something like this:

Amanda wants:

-- a grand piano
-- a dog
-- a new apartment
-- a kick-ass pair of comfortable boots
-- more stories published

Amanda needs:

-- to get her eye prescription updated
-- a job
-- a kick-ass pair of comfortable boots, because the old ones are actually falling apart
-- to fix that pesky lens on the camera

So I write these lists, and then I stuff them away (either by scrolling up the screen or turning over the page), and forget about them.  Six months or so later I come back to these lists, and see which of these things, if any, have actually shown up in my here and now.  Usually, the "Amanda Needs" list is invariably complete, and all without conscious thought on my part.  But sometimes, the "Amanda wants" list gets a few things checked off as well.  (The best part is when the "Want" and "Need" lists intersect, as in the case of the Kick-Ass Comfortable Boots, which were purchased at an unprepossessing shoe store in Scotland for the bargain price of $40.00.)  Example:  almost three years ago, I moved to Edinburgh and went about collecting stuff for my apartment.  I had very little money, but I knew what I wanted and what I needed for my living space in order to truly have a go at life in the city.  (Eventually my wants and needs changed, and I ended up moving out, but that's another story for a previous entry)  And one of those things was a piano.  I wrote it on my list.  It was both a "want" item, because I wanted one, and a "need" item, because I didn't watch TV and knew that I needed to have something that distracted me from writing if I was to come out of Edinburgh with my sanity intact. 

Now, pianos are not generally cheap things, folks.  Being at the time unemployed and nursing a hope of a career in the arts (read: someone who could barely feed herself, never mind finance a large musical instrument), I figured that the only way I'd get my hands on a piano would be if I married rich, or seduced a piano salesman.  So I wrote it on my list and forgot about it, and then a few months or so later it just so happened, by a wonderful string of events that included a random e-mail forum ad, a woman looking to upgrade to a baby grand and downgrade her antique player piece of wonderfulness, and some very understanding piano movers, that a glorious antique piano came into my very own possession.  I played it almost every day for the next 2.5 years. 

The point, here, is that I'm much better at making lists for myself than I am at trying to do things.  I've already made lists on this blog.  But here's another list, just because.  (I will be repeating some things here, for which I apologize, but which I also hope will speak to my determination/stubbornness to see these things through.)  In keeping with the theme of the question, you are free to insert the word "try"  -- as in, "try to get", or "try to master" -- before every item.

In 2011, I would like:

-- an apartment of my very own, preferably by water
-- a dog
-- to play at least ten intermediate pieces on my violin
-- to finally learn the entirety of Chopin's Chanson de L'Adieu, once and for bloody all
-- to publish three more short stories
-- to play the first movement of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata without any mistake.  At tempo!
-- to start work on that new novel
-- to go on a writer's retreat
-- to learn another language

There are more things, of course.  There are always more.  Typing this now I'm immediately struck and feeling rather shameful about how the above list doesn't say things like "I will give away 10% of all my earnings to charity", or "I will volunteer", or something else like that.  You know, it actually looks like a pretty selfish list. 

Okay, so maybe there's room in here for a try item after all.  How about this:  in 2011, I will try to be a better person.  There's always room for someone to be better, and so I guess in that sense the word try is pretty apt, as you can't get this all of the time.  As to what better will entail -- well.  I feel like I was not the best shade of myself in 2010, if truth be told.  I was too solitary, I was too tired, I was too ... proud.  I would like 2011 to be my better year.  Hopefully, if I am better, that will make it better.  Fingers crossed. 

Monday, 17 January 2011

Day 17

Lesson Learned

What was the best lesson you learned about yourself this year?  How will you apply this lesson going forward?

Without a doubt, the unpleasant fact that I'm far prouder than any human being has a right to be.  The less-than-savoury realization that my desire to never ask for help, to avoid putting other people out, comes not from a truly good place, but from a place that is sometimes good and more often than not fueled by a bad strain of I told you so type thinking.  As in, I told you that life in Edinburgh could work!  I told you that I could live abroad and have a life and pay my loans and write and work and do it all by myself!  I don't need help!  I have everything inside of me that's necessary!

It took a night of insistent hunger to wake me up to this.  It took a meal of fries and gravy , and a most wonderful, unexpected gift from an unnamed work friend, to show me that it is okay to lean on other people everyone once in a while.  To admit that you struggle, that you can get depressed, that (maybe most importantly?) you can work really hard and get everything that you want and still be upset, still not feel like things are right, and not be a failure.

And what a wonderful lesson, in a way.  Unpleasant, yes.  But waiting on the other side of that lesson was rest, and a new beginning, and an opportunity to jump in and do precisely that thing which I've been longing to do all these years.  Suddenly I've let go and discovered that everything is easier.  

It's lovely.  I hope I keep this with me, and don't let it slide away as the year moves along.  And I hope I don't sound impossibly precious, seeing as how I'm currently living with my parents and it's all fine and dandy and well to speak of letting go when you have no rent to pay and they foot all the bills.  Remember, Amanda, six months in the future -- when you've moved to Montréal (or elsewhere) and are struggling once more -- it'll be okay to lean on someone then, too, if occasion calls for it.

And if I have a chance to be that person someone else can lean on -- let me do it with grace, and humour, and the kind of awareness that sees lessons in every smile on the street. 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Day 16


How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

I have a wonderful, wonderful friend whom I've known for the past 2.5 years.  I met her in the summer of 2008 -- she had also gone to the U. of St. Andrews, and while we hadn't known each other there, she was friends with a roommate of mine at the university.  When I moved to Edinburgh from St. Andrews, I lived at first in a huge apartment, all by myself -- four bedrooms and me, floating around them like a bubble.  I was unemployed and completely broke.  Looking for work, trying to finish a thesis, trying to survive on £10 of groceries per week, and not knowing a single soul in the city.  It was fun times.

Anyway, in August of that year, my former roommate mentioned to this woman, who was also thinking of moving to Edinburgh, that I had some space in my apartment if she wanted to crash for a while.  And that's what ended up happening.  She stayed with me for a wee while until she found another place closer to the beach.  (I eventually ended up following this friend to that same beach -- isn't it funny how life goes, and where it can take you?)  We bonded over a love of good food and the same kooky sense of humour.  We went on nacho-hunting expeditions through the city.  When we were both in Portobello, a little over a year later, we discovered that the best nachos in Edinburgh could be found here.

This friend of mine -- she's truly amazing.  She's lived all over the States, from Alaska to LA, Detroit to Wisconsin, and a whole host of places in between.  She's an amazing artist.  She gave up a settled, happy life in Seattle to embark on a Masters degree in Scotland, and now she's living and working in Edinburgh, singing and playing and generally just being fantastic and hilarious to all who know her. 

She's a bit older than I am -- not by a great deal, but she's had enough life experience to seem like a veritable Yoda next to my neurotic, often freaked out, often workaholic Skywalker.  When I realized that I needed to move out of my first Edinburgh house, the apartment described above, and into something that fed me on a creative level, she was a huge champion of the change.  She was a huge champion of my life in general.  You've got to realize, she told me once, that you already are a writer.  You keep saying that you want to be an author when you 'grow up' -- but you are.  You write every day.  This is what your life turns on.  This is what you are.  

When I didn't get into McGill, she shrugged it off.   It's disappointing, but it's not really what you want to do.  You want to write.  McGill -- it would be fun, sure, and challenging, and all of those things.  But it's also just a way for you to make your life (ie. the writing, the experience) viable on a financial level.

Most importantly, when Life in Scotland was beginning to crumble, she was both incredibly supportive of my desire to stay and yet cautiously optimistic about the possibilities that a new life in Canada could hold.  As time went on, she veered more into the optimism for the Canadian future, and away from the "stay in Scotland because you like it" train of thought altogether.  And when I finally decided to leave, she took me out for nachos and said this:  I think it will be really good for you to just go home for a while, and rest.  

Me being me, I instantly disagreed.  But I've had plenty of time to rest here!  I (foolishly) said.  I live on my own, and I spend EIGHT HOURS A NIGHT doing nothing else other than sleeping!  I come home from work and watch tv.  (When, of course, I wasn't working on the novel, or proofreading, or doing sleepover shifts.)  I have a lot of time to myself.  It's not that bad. 

Naturally, she of course pointed out the error in my thinking.  Amanda, she said.  In the past year, you've revised a novel, worked and finished a contract fundraising job, worked as a high level executive assistant, proofread, done sleepover shifts, and dogwalked.  All five of those things could be full time jobs in and of themselves, and you did all of them together, all at once.  You need to rest.  You just need to ... be.  

So she said this, and I acknowledged it, and filed it away, and somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I thought (guiltily, like a child contemplating a video game marathon or the like) ooh, wouldn't that be nice, just to go home and veg out for a while.  But I didn't think I'd actually do it.  I figured I'd get home, start looking for a job right away, find a job by January at the absolute latest, move to Toronto/Vancouver/Montréal/somewhere, and be back into a 9-to-5-and-other-jobs-on-the-side kind of rhythm by February. 

And then the New Year came, and with it a particular type of resolution, and suddenly I find myself resting and thinking and writing and resting some more, letting my debt and my other worries just exist alongside me instead of on top and within everything I do.  And folks, let me tell you -- it's fantastic.  It's really, truly, bloody fantastic.  So I suppose we could say that this change in perspective was both gradual and a sudden burst, in that the seeds of the change were planted months ago but truly burst into life at the beginning of the new year.  Resting.  Being.  It's beyond glorious.  And I know it won't last forever, and also I know (believe me, I know) that I'm incredibly privileged and blessed to be in a situation where I can take a few months out at all.  I know that so many people don't get this kind of opportunity.  I wonder if my friend, as wonderful and blessed as she is, has had the chance to experience this kind of rest -- it's been a hard slog for her, too.  Being an ex-pat in the UK isn't the easiest thing in the world for a lot of people right now. 

And so, from this newfound place of rest and calm, I am writing about my friend.  My wonderful, hilarious friend, who is a truly lovely person and deserves nothing but good in life.  I wish her much happiness this year, and all the years following.  I am unutterably thankful for her wisdom and her advice, and for how this advice has put me back in touch with my creativity and allowed the words to flow. 

Here's to wonderful friends, and the stories that they bring us.  Three cheers!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Day 15

Five Minutes

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

A lovely pastry in Amsterdam.  The excitement of That Crush on The Bartender, even though it didn't work out.  Coming down into Amsterdam and realizing i was about to see an agent.  Dutch sunshine off of cobblestones.  A Belgian waffle with ice cream and strawberries, pre-agent meeting.  Talking things over with the agent, and then flying back to Edinburgh feeling like I'd actually made a good choice in career.  February, working.  March, being sick and getting a week off to cough and meander about my house.  The beach.  My piano, my lovely, gorgeous, wonderful piano.  Sitting on my little black leather couch and drinking tea.  Spilling fresh tea all over my arm in August and watching my skin melt like cheese (I still have the scar).  A picnic in The Meadows with Ally and Scottish Cheryl.  Yay cheap food at Tesco!  Meeting up with R & N at the Edinburgh Literary Salon, one year after meeting them for the first time, and the most wonderful friendship that came of it.  Walking on Portobello beach.  Sunshine on Portobello beach.  Finishing my 365.  Being lonely, lonely, lonely.  Loving the solitude.  Walking Jake.  Getting to take care of Puppy Izzy for a week in May.

Being sad.  Trying not to be sad on my birthday.  Working so much.  Losing faith in the novel, then getting it restored by my wonderful agent.  Work.  Friends, friends, friends.  THE ESPY.  Breakfast looking out over Portobello Promenade.  Greece.  How warm it was, how lovely just to sit and read or sit and do nothing.  Trying to find our way around Thessalonika at 1am, and failing miserably.  The beach in Greece.  The beach in Scotland.  A day's walk along the River Ness in Inverness.  So many wonderful piuctures.  So many wonderful people.  Scottish accents, especially those of SJ and KT.  

And ... I'm out of time.  One last thing:  lamb vindaloo and sag aloo at Maisha, laughing with Jersey Jess, being so happy and full and excited for the future that I could feel my very soul shining.  

If I could go back to one moment in 2010, it would be that one.  That dinner (my mouth waters now, just thinking of it), that friend, that lovely restaurant.  The walk back through St. Andrews cobbled streets, running up to J's freezing cold room, shortbread and chocolate and tea laid before us on the bed.  Watching The Princess and the Frog together, each of us in fuzzy socks, just like we'd done three years previous while in St. Andrews to finish our Masters degrees.  It was a most delicious day, in every possible way, shape, and form. 

Let's hope I can get back to that town sometime this year.  In the meantime, more work, more writing, more dreams out into the air.

(Not so)  Random Question:  if YOU met the Devil, what do you suppose he/she might say to you?

Friday, 14 January 2011

Day 14


What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

Unexpected gifts:  a work trip to Amsterdam and a most deliciously wonderful cream pastry eaten just outside of the red light district; an envelope of surprise money when I was hungry and broke; a rainbow on a beach one day after a sprinkling of Scottish rain; a surprise, completely free trip to Greece in the middle of the summer (dolmathes!  dolmathes!); and a farewell dinner in St. Andrews that ended up being the most delicious meal I'd ever had in Scotland.

Because how is it possible, really, to pick just one thing to appreciate?  For all that last year had its hardships, there were so many wonderful things about it, too.  Food was a big thing, as you've probably already guessed.  Most of the unexpected gifts from last year have to do with food in some way or another.  But they also have to do with people, and the kindness of others: my manager, who paid my way in our lottery group for a good few months because I couldn't afford to do it; a dear friend who took me on the above-mentioned trip to Greece; another dear friend who shared some Scotland time with me and was my dinner companion on that last night in St. Andrews; the cool cat Edinburgh friends who had me over to their house countless times and introduced me to the culinary exquisiteness that is cheese sauce. 

Perhaps you don't truly appreciate how wonderful these things are until you've been in those low moments.  I could, for example, have seen the amount of traveling that I did last year as the thing to be most thankful for.  But when stacked up against good friends and good food -- especially as there were times when I didn't have good food -- the travel doesn't give me quite that same flood of warmth.

I would like to do more traveling this year, if I could.  But if this year brings me unexpected gifts like the ones described above, I'd consider myself a lucky woman.  And as for how I express gratitude for these things -- I hope that I have been a likewise good friend and source of warmth for the people described above.  I hope I have opportunities to be an unexpected gift, in many ways, for other people.  And that's what I wish for today. 

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Day 13


When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

You know, I got all excited about this prompt until I realized that part of what I've been trying to do for the last few days, and throughout this month-long exercise, is make a concentrated effort not to dwell so much on this question. 

I've been an action-aspiration-making-dreams-happen kind of person for the majority of my thus-far-short little life.  They haven't always been big dreams (I did, for example, want to be a gas station attendant during the summer of my eighth year, mostly because I really liked the smell of unleaded), but sometimes the sheer small-ness of the dreams meant that they were that much easier to map.  It was easier, in some ways, to make the idea of a degree at UVic happen, as would not have been the case if I'd dreamed of an undergraduate career at Oxford.  (But then, a postgraduate career at the U. of St. Andrews is no small thing, and somehow that happened, too.)  Anyway, what I suppose I'm trying to say is that I've never felt like my dreams were undoable, the way that I sometimes feel when I fantasize about traveling around the world, the burden of my student loans and other debt suddenly obliterated, vanished, gone. 

My dad has a great saying about this.  First something's a dream.  Then it's a goal.  And then, if you work hard enough, it becomes a reality.  My parents, for example, have recently moved into a beautiful new house in rural southwestern Ontario.  Five years ago, they had to sell the house in which I grew up -- they'd built that house, too, and the plan all along had been to retire in that house and have the grandkids run among the trees.  But that didn't happen.  Instead, they sold the house, rented for a while, and bought a beautiful piece of property along the river.  Then they waited a while longer, being patient, stashing money away, and finally built the house last year.  My dad says that THIS house, as much as he and my mother still miss the house in which they raised their children, feels more suited to them than any other dwelling in which they've lived.  And so -- first there was the dream of a new house, and then there was the patience to see it come about and the willingness to work towards the goal of a new house, and now here they are, snug for the winter in a brand new house that was created and designed just for them.  Now it's their reality. 

I have always tried to do this, and be like them, on some level.  I saw things that I wanted and I figured out ways that I could make things work.  Inspiration and hard work always went hand in hand.  And then last year happened, and inspiration dried up, and so I was shuttled into the new year not really knowing what my next dream was going to be, or exactly what the actions were that would inch me closer to said dream.  And for the last few days, I've been luxuriating in the freedom of not knowing.  Quite content to let my daily life fall into a sleep-eat-write-walk-dog-eat-write-sleep kind of routine.  

But of course, this kind of life can't last forever.  It won't last forever.  Luxuriating in the not-knowing is itself a kind of step, and in a funny way is probably the reality of that dream that I had, way back at the beginning of last year, when I was overworked and screaming out for some time to just sit still and be.  But beyond this not knowing, there will be other things to do, other things to figure out.  Can't hurt to toss some mini-steps out into the universe right now.  This is supposed to be the freelance year, right?  And so, the step-by-step map for such a course of action(s) might look something like this:

1)  Get the debt figured out (appointment for this scheduled for tomorrow)
2)  Finish the revisions on the novel (tentative mid-February deadline)
3)  Polish up some portfolio pieces and submit to magazines (beginning circa February1)
4)  Start thinking seriously about where to move/live next (obviously going on right now, but need to really truly seriously think about this as of April 1, if I haven't moved on before then)

Things don't sound too bad when I put it all into point form as above.  It's a mini-map to the grander plan.  The dream:  a self-sufficient writer's life (I was going to say somewhere but heck, Amanda, let's just go with what your heart is pleading and say yes, in Montréal).  The goal:  to be there, in some way, shape, or form, by the end of the year.

The reality ... it will come.  All of these little steps will mean something bigger, eventually.