April 1st, 2007

Let’s biograph!

The passage below is from a project of a few weeks ago, wherein I needed to come up with a “writer’s biography.” Of course, what I came up with was far too long and self-indulgent, but it did reveal to me how easy it is to become fatalistic in retrospect, assuming that you were always becoming what you ended up as now. This bio, which I’m happy to put in blog form, since it is otherwise useless (what I ended up using was so so so much shorter) makes it seem as if I always planned on being a writer, and never had a friend or a date or a job on the way that distracted me. Ahahaha. I barely know what I want to be *now* and, for all intents and purposes, I *am* whatever I was going to become. Anyway, with this is brief (but not brief enough) and ellided version of my past history as a writer, should you care.

I am from a very small southern Ontario town, a perfectly nice place to live, although perhaps a bit pointless to visit. My brother and I spent our childhood reading whatever our parents and teachers handed us, watching whatever came on television, and playing with whatever fell into the yard (snow, spring runoff, grass clippings, green apples, toads, dirt). Our town lacked a high school so we were bussed to a poshish suburb a half hour away. I’d always written stories, high school had a newspaper and a yearbook, for me to write for and later edit, and a literary festival for me to enter. I won often enough to get confused about the usual probability of doing so. I was often lucky—I won second place in a city youth festival, but the newspaper decided to run my piece instead of the winner’s because mine was shorter. I didn’t know the difference between a kids’ writing contest and a journal’s call for submissions, so I sent something to the latter and they actually took it. That seemed nice, but when the editor significantly altered the story, my teenage ego was horrified. In retrospect, I don’t know what either of us was thinking, because in both versions of the story, someone gets eaten by an alligator. That one gets left off my credits list.

In my final year of high school, I was able to take a writing workshop (it was a very good high school). Workshopping was concept I’d not seen before, but it seemed brilliant to me. I loved hearing what others thought of my work, and trying to help them with theirs. And so the pattern was set: I loved being edited and hated being published. I moved to Montreal when I was 19 to attend McGill. After some brief confusion about how good I was at math, I pursued an honours English degree with an irrelevant but entertaining geography minor. I eventually wound up as literary editor of the arts magazine, and published some stories there and in other student publications. McGill had no creative writing courses then (I hear with envy that they do now), but in my second year, a kind prof offered a non-credit prose workshop. Everyone worked like crazy for that non-credit.

The following year, I took a writing course at Concordia. There were some great minds in the class, but it was strangely embattled and ended in revolution. Since it hadn’t been an ideal experience and McGill was against fourth year transfer credits, I moved on to an informal writing group that some of my most likeminded Concordia classmates had started. It was (sigh) called “Write Club” after Chuck Palinchuk’s novel Fight Club and it was terribly masculine, despite the fact that I was not the only female in it. One of the boys wanted to be Charles Bukowski and they were always drinking absinthe. Another boy had a kitten named Chub-Chub that he kept in the hood of his jacket and even that was macho. I can’t explain it.

After I finished my honours thesis (on ironic distance in Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Tom Jones), I graduated and, eventually, moved to Toronto. I started taking publishing courses at Ryerson in the evenings and being treated strangely at strange jobs during the day (a theme in my life long before and since, and one of the few autobiographical details I think is probably evident in my fiction). Finally I got a job that allowed me both school and leisure time, and I was able to write a bit more. I got to take a writing class for free at George Brown by winning a postcard story contest in which I may or may not have been the only entrant. It was the only writing class I ever took that had no workshop component, which I found odd. I joined a few writing groups with friends, all productive but none permanent.

When I finally graduated from Ryerson, I started taking continuing studies writing classes. In one, I finally found a group of people with whom I could workshop ad infinitum (so far, so good) but by then I was realizing that I wanted to give full-bore writing at least a little chance, so I enrolled in the MA program in English and Creative Writing at University of Toronto.

In the first year, I workshopped and took courses on Virginia Woolf, Bibliography, Magical Realism, Environmental Literature and Canadian Satire. I wrote a lot and learned a lot and found another brilliant workshop group. At the end of the school year, it also occurred to me that if I wanted to be a real writer, it might be good if someone who didn’t know me personally actually read my work. It had been a long time since the alligator story, and I had had a lot of feedback in the meantime, and learned to take it manfully (womanfully?) I figured I’d be ok no matter what happened, so I sent out everything I had on my hard drive. I got many rejections—not too many to count, but I’m not counting them anyway. I also got some acceptances, five so far, which isn’t huge but is in every way enough validation to keep me going. And so I keep going.

And then, as my dear friend Anne-Michelle would say, it was now.

I am answering the questions / I am asking of myself
RR

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