July 6th, 2018

Things writers do that aren’t writing

There are so many things to do with a writing career…besides write! People who think that the writing life is just me and my magic words are sadly mistaken, so I have listed out all the writing-ancillary activities below. And all this is in addition to the stuff that is a huge percentage of my life but has nothing to do with writing–eating and sleeping, being a wife and a daughter, a sister and friend, my entire other career, ballet class. This list below is the stuff that being a professional writer–someone who publishes sometimes and occasionally earns money–entails. I’ve tried to note the parts that are optional in case a young aspiring writer reads this and thinks, but I don’t want to do X. Anyway, here’s the list.

  1. Reading. This is a huge amount of my time and fits into a few categories: I read new Canadian fiction so I know what exciting stuff my contemporaries are up to and to be inspired and challenged, I read all other genres and nations for the same reason though I’m less able to keep up on the whole world. Both of those are also to keep learning and growing as a writer and human but mainly in a non-specific–I don’t know where I’m going but I like the journey–way. I also read non-fiction and very specific fiction as research for whatever is going on my own book. I try to always read stuff I enjoy, but the third category doesn’t quite make it 100% of the time. Depending on what you write, you might not have to do the third category but the first two are pretty non-optional.
  2. I do other sorts of research. When the book research in #1 doesn’t quite cut it, I have been known to actually leave the house. I don’t do a huge amount of this–and again depending on what you write you might not have to do any–but in my time I have conducted interviews, travelled on strange bus routes and investigated specific neighbourhoods and even other cities. My books thus far haven’t needed extensive out-of-the-house research, but the new one will need more. I’m feeling a bit daunted, but excited to.
  3. Parties! For anyone who doesn’t like this sort thing, I could do less; for anyone who loves it, I could do more. I’d say I go to 1-2 really big fancy parties a year, either thrown by my publisher or a big arts organization, and perhaps half a dozen smaller affairs. Very occasionally, it would be rude not to show, like if I’m being honoured for an award nomination, but often I’m just part of a mailing list and it’s very easy to say no thank you. But they are good opportunities to see people who I wouldn’t be comfortable, say, inviting to coffee, and there’s often nice food and drink. Also, I like parties. Your mileage may vary.
  4. Paperwork. A tonne, and actually less than many writers because my main income is from my full-time job and most of the paperwork is somehow money-related. “Writing income” is not a single salary, as crazy people believe it is. It is actually a million little gigs and income streams, all of which require paperwork. Every freelance gig requires an invoice and so do some speaking engagements; sometimes you have to give folks your Social Insurance Number and other info before they can pay you and sometimes not, grants require a tonne of paperwork to apply for and more if you get them (but are so worth it). Needless to say taxes are very complicated with all these tiny bits of income. Also, when dealing with all these small arts organizations, sometimes they get it wrong, and it takes a while and a bunch of following up to be corrected.
  5. Chasing money. Related to #4–and again, I do this less than most because of the full-time job thing. I follow up on past-due money on a rigorous cycle, but it takes time and emotional energy, especially when people get snippy with me (I like to think it is out of guilt but who knows). There is no rhyme or reason when someone who has promised to pay me for writing work will flake. Big organizations are bad at being able to onboard small vendors–some of the biggest have stiffed me for months–and small orgs can legit be short of cash or just disorganized. Don’t get me started on the days when I still had an HST number and someone told me they “didn’t have a budget for taxes” so I had to pay their share.
  6. Readings and other presentations–on-stage. I love doing readings, panel discussions, and other on-stage events–I’m also including guest lectures and other one-off teaching experiences like workshops, as I don’t normally teach on an ongoing basis. It’ssuch a great pleasure to be able share the work I care about and hear what others care about and think! But it takes a lot of preparation, energy, and also travel time. This sort of thing is often a big part of the publicity around publishing a book, and while I could do less, I don’t think I could do none–well, I could, but it wouldn’t be great for either me or my publisher. It’s worth the focus and energy this stuff takes, even if one isn’t naturally extroverted (FWIW, I’m slightly but not extremely extroverted–I still find being on a stage joyful but draining).
  7. Readings and other presentations–in the audience. I also really enjoy being in the audience for readings and panel discussions about literature, though with all of the other things listed here, I do less than I would like. I wouldn’t say this item is necessary but it’s what they call “good literary citizenship” to go out and support the writers and events and venues that intrigue us. Of course there are other ways to do that if going to events just isn’t your jam–like buying and reading books!
  8. Answering reader email. Obviously, a lot of the above include email in one way or another, but these emails are just from strangers or near strangers–people who no reason to write me other than they read my book. This is a tiny tiny item on my chore list but one of my faves. Sometimes folks just write me a little note and say, “I read your book and I liked it.” Those are quick to answer–I just say thank you!–but nothing less than joyful. Occasionally one of my books or stories is assigned in a class somewhere and some enterprising students might email me for extra insight. I shouldn’t help them much, I suppose, but it’s all so charming, I can’t help it. Very rarely, someone writes me to say they hate my book. It it’s just a screed, I don’t respond, but even not responding takes up some time and space in my day.
  9. This blog and other forms of social media. As I have said many times in the past, my participation in social media is mainly for my own enjoyment but there is a professional tinge to some of it. If you were looking to skip something from this list, definitely #9 is a good candidate.
  10. Favours! There’s not enough money in literature, so we do favours for each other a lot. Whether it’s reading a friend’s manuscript to offer feedback, talking up an acquaintance’s book around town because it’s brilliant but not getting enough attention, providing blurbs, talking to students about what lies ahead, etc. Each individual favour is optional–I try to put my own work, family, and health first–I think doing no favours for anyone ever would be a bad way of doing things. This industry is just too challenging if we don’t help each other out from time to time, especially those of us who have been lucky enough to meet with some success helping those who are just starting. I’ve been a recipient of many favours in my time, and while sometimes I pay those individuals back, if they don’t need it I just pay the universe back.

I suppose everything I’ve listed here is technically optional except #4 (CRA will be mad about a lot of that paperwork) and probably for most people #5 (money is necessary for food). This is just how I’ve constructed my literary life and others will do it differently.

July 3rd, 2018

Things to like: hot edition

Gahhh…it is very warm. Also, I seem to be irritable. I mean, I don’t think I am, but I also think everything everyone says to me is terrible and meant to hurt my feelings ON PURPOSE and why is everyone I have ever met so mean? Like, EVERYONE? So the problem might be me. Or the problem might be the weather. Anyway, I am grateful to SarahJoy for sending me this nice list of likeable things to which I will endeavor to add.

546. When it’s warm enough to eat lunch outside, so I get a moment of tranquility in the middle of the day.

547. Quiet, beautiful mornings when the sun is shining and you know it’s going to be a nice day.

548. When the train pulls up and you discover it has more carriages than you were expecting, so there is less crowding.

Ok, me again, really trying here:

549. Serviceberries

550. Dog lifejackets

551. Garlic scapes
552. The exact right amount of blankets for the temperature
553. Raffles
554. Children fake laughing because the grownups are laughing
555. Saline nasal spray (I said I was trying)
556. The dog who lives down the hall from me, whose name is Fleetwood
557. Pumice stones or any type of exfoliant really
558. Documentaries that aren’t very serious
559. When someone I’ve known for a while reveals a hidden cache of knowledge I wasn’t previously aware of

June 17th, 2018

Trillium Preparations

The Trillium Readings are on Wednesday evening at 6:30 and the awards are announced and Thursday evening and I am a bundle of nerves and excitement (also sweat, but that’s the weather and not the Trilliums per se). Would you like to know what I have been doing to get ready? Well great, here you go:

1) Reading all the books! This was my first order of business as soon as the shortlist was announced, and indeed I was concerned about reading the five other nominees for the book prize in the time between then and the winner announcement (May 24 to June 21). But in the end it was so easy because the books were SO GOOD! I read the other nominees for a few reasons–in order to be able to make the most of the opportunity to chat with the other authors about their work when we meet at the events, in order to appreciate the nomination of my own work a bit more (someone thought MY book was in THIS category), and just because when someone brings good books to my attention, why not read them? I’ve read all five now and can say you won’t be sorry if you do too! I can sincerely recommend This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, Life on the Ground Floor by Dr. James Maskalyk, and Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez. I was simply blown away, and in such various ways and means! I don’t think I’ll finish the poetry books by the awards night but I’ve gotten started and it’s similarly staggering. Sadly, my abilities will not allow me to attempt the French lists.

2) Press! There was a short piece about me in The Hamilton Spectator when the short-list was announced, which was huge for me since they have never covered any of the work I’ve done as an adult (I had a story in there as a kid, though!) There as also a piece in the super-local Glanbrook Gazette–because of these two articles, I’ve been getting some nice notes from some of the back-home folks. Now Magazine also has a mini-site about all the Trillium nominees, which includes a short text interview with each of us including me. We’ll all each have a video interview posted as well–I had fun shooting mine, but I’m still scared of what it’ll be like to watch it.

3) Buying a new dress! Oh, wait, I haven’t actually done this, even though a lovely friend offered to go with me–and with three days left, I probably won’t. What I did instead was allocate myself fifteen minutes before I had to be somewhere else to run into The Bay with a hole in my stockings, sprinting past really nice dresses thinking, if I were more organized I could go try those on. Then I bought a new pair of stockings and threw the ruined ones in the garbage in the Bay changing room BUT I also bought an extra pair for Trillium night. Those have polka dots, which will hopefully distract from the fact that I will be a) wearing a dress of my mother’s from the 1980s b) wearing a dress from the grocery store.

4) Hoarding pills! Bet you didn’t see this one coming! It actually accounts for some of the disorganization in #3. I have my migraines under better control lately owing to good medication, which is why I haven’t pain-vomited in over a year (hooray!) BUT there are limits on how much of this stuff you can take in a month–I’m not sure what happens if you go over, a very slow-motion overdose, I guess. And June has been a terrible month for migraines, mainly due to weather but partly due to travel, stress, poor-decision-making on my part, and just some bad luck. So I’m down to two days worth of my strongest pills to last the rest of June (it is, please note, June 17 as I type this). The pharmacy will sometimes give you something a couple days early, but not a couple weeks. So, with two days worth of super-pills and two days worth of Trillium events, and with the potential for migraines at their worst to induce pain-vomiting, I am jealously guarding my pills like a…I’m sorry, what are those fictional characters who hoard gold under a bridge? Those. If you have had a weird conversation with me lately or I seemed on the verge of tears for no reason, I was probably way under-medicated and I’m sorry. Probably July will be better.

5) Enjoyment. I have to say, I have really liked being on the Trillium shortlist and if I could just drag this out forever and not find out the winner, I would do that. I feel pretty confident (and happy) that So Much Love won’t win–there’s so much brilliance on the shortlist, I’d be delighted for any winner at all. But this has been very fun and I’ll be sad to see it end. Open secret: I’m going to write an acceptance speech. I have never written one before when I’ve been short-listed for other things. I always thought it was presumptuous, like saying you think you’ll win, and also something of a jinx. But I haven’t won the other things I’ve been shortlisted for and I didn’t expect to, but I think it’d be fun to write the speech. So I will, and never give it but I will have had the pleasure of writing it. And pleasure is what this experience has been, so why not drag out a little extra? I am a lucky lucky kid.

June 8th, 2018

Liking things: Needed now more than ever

Times are dark in Ontario. I worked very hard to get to the polling station yesterday and somehow felt that doing so would solve everything. It didn’t. I’m not sure what to do next, so in the meantime I’ve been polling my colleagues for things they like. We need all the cheering up we can get…

Jane
533. Getting into a hot car
534. Ed’s ice cream cone

Ken
535. Standup paddleboarding in the sunset in Lake Ontario
536. Kayaking around an island in a thunderstorm in Georgian bay
537. Washing dishes by hand

Dylan
538. strangers smiling at each other on the street
539. seeing a band/musician live and having that experience of a song make you appreciate/enjoy the recording even more

RR
540. cold pie
541. Pingu
542. Classic Frosties
543. New-fangled vanilla Frosties, surprisingly
544. My balcony
545. Coming down the stairs just as the subway pulls up

May 29th, 2018

Trillium feelings

Last week, the day after my birthday, the Finalists for the Trillium Book Award were announced and So Much Love was among them. It’s a truly tremendous list, and that’s always the best part of being shortlisted for anything, for me–realizing that my book is considered worth talking about in the same conversation as all these other mighty pieces of literature. I am thrilled, and humbled, and hope to have read the complete list by the time of the celebration, so that I can talk to the other authors about their books. It’s too great an opportunity to miss!

This whole experience is pretty amazing, considering So Much Love will be 15 months old when we hit the Trillium stage and I had thought for a while that my days on stage with this book were probably behind me. Which would have been fine–SML and I had a great run–but how very lovely to get to do this amazing victory lap.

If you would like to see us there, the Trillium Readings are June 20 from 6:30 to 9:30. Don’t worry if you’ve already seen me read as much as you would want–each reading is only 3 minutes and there’s a number of different prizes being read for, so you won’t get bored–for the English book prize, the English poetry prize, the French book prize, and the French poetry prize. It’s one of the only bilingual events I’ve been to in Ontario and when I’ve gone in the past the mix has been just lovely. Even to my somewhat-less-than-fluent-in-French ears, it’s great to hear that mix. I also know from past experience that it’s just a really friendly and well-thought-out evening, so if you like this sort of thing, please come. It’s free, but you do need to register to get a ticket a the link above.

May 23rd, 2018

I am 40 now listen to me: advice

As probably most people know if they spend time with me: I am obsessed with advice columns. I read and adore a great number of them (current faves include Ask a Manager, Captain Awkward and forever champ Dear Prudence with Daniel Mallory Ortberg.) But show me an advice column and I’ll probably read it.

My dream is to have my own advice column, a dream I am pursuing mainly by wishing for it. I don’t even give advice to people I know that often, let alone strangers, because I am waiting to be asked–ideally, via postal letter. But I turned 40 today and I know some things, and I think I’ve earned the right to share them. Just this once. You don’t need to worry that if you go out to coffee with me I’m going to critique your outfit (unless you are married to me) or tell you how to talk to the loud guy on the train –this is a one-time deal, and then I’ll go back to waiting to be asked. It’s really like a resume: here’s some stuff I would advise about the world and human interactions, learned in my 40 years on earth. If you want more, hit me up! I’ve tried to make it clear whether I learned from interaction or observation or just reading advice columns, but basically, I just know, ok?

1. Don’t touch anyone unless they see clearly that you are going to touch them and have given some small sign that they are cool with being touched. I learned this from cats needing to sniff your hand before you can pet them, but it applies to humans too: don’t hug someone until they’ve opened their arms to be hugged, don’t clasp someone’s arm until they have acknowledged your hand there, don’t pull off loose threads or tags without asking permission. If you never see the acknowledgement nod, you never touch them. Everyone gets their bubble.

2. There is sometimes a second cigarette-lighter-type jack in the car glove compartment between the passenger and driver’s seat (in modern cars with bucket seats), down at the bottom. There also might be an audio jack inside the top of the glove compartment in front of the passenger seat. No one ever tells you this for some reason, you have to go feeling around to check.

3. It’s ok to work on contract for a while, if you are young and flexible and don’t need a lot of non-OHIP healthcare or dental work. People a generation older who had full-time jobs for their entire careers are horrified by contract work but more importantly they are unfamiliar with it. They just find it insulting on principle and it’s not ok to have unexamined principles in today’s economy. If there’s a reason you don’t want contract work–like you require expensive medication and really need drug coverage, or a particular company or industry is known to be terrible to contract workers, do what you need to do, but there is nothing inherently evil about contract work if all sides agree on what is going down.

4. You can double-dip if the only people sharing the dip are people who mouth kiss on a regular basis. Still, it’s polite to ask first.

5. If you ask someone for a favour and they say no nicely, say thanks anyway or something else cordial rather than snark or just stop speaking to them. Sure, you may not be getting the thing you want from this person right now, but keep the relationship friendly because it’s a) the right thing to do and b) it’s not like they’ve lost all their powers (probably); maybe they could do the useful thing or a different useful thing later if you aren’t a jerk about it.

6. Cold water gets out blood–hot makes it worse. It seems counter-intuitive but it’s really not–blood is meat, so think of the heat as cooking the blood in. Gross, but now you’ll remember.

7. It is cruel to declaw a cat–I imagine you want to keep your fingernails, too. However, if you feel you absolutely must have a declawed cat (and if you care to give me a call, I would debate all your reasons for this) there is a loophole. Some people are cruel and declaw cats and then don’t keep them anyway, and those cats wind up at the Humane Society or at cat rescues. If you were to adopt a declawed cat from such a situation, and promise to keep it forever indoors and away from aggressive situations (because it can neither defend itself nor climb trees to flee) you would not only be free of the charge of cruelty but doing that cat a favour. Everybody wins.

8. You don’t have to cook anything for a potluck–anything nice from the grocery store, deli, or bakery is just fine. You can’t bring the ingredients for a dish and ask the host to provide you with implements and kitchen space to make it, though. Seriously, just buy a family size bag of Doritos if you like–no one will be sad.

9. Insomniacs shouldn’t take naps. It’s really sad, but necessary.

10. Cats need to come to you. Do not pursue cats.

11. You need at least an hour to change planes at LAX–probably more if you don’t like to live dangerously. It’s a very very big messy horrible airport. Better advice is maybe just don’t fly through LAX.

12. You shouldn’t brake on the highway unless you are in heavy traffic. That was advice I got from a truck driver I had a crush on in my teens (I know!) and it’s really good. If you find yourself braking to regulate your speed or because you’re accidentally tailgating or you want to let someone in, all that is bad. I still do it occasionally when no one is behind me, but I feel that cute truck driver shaking his head at me.

13. There are no questions you need to ask anyone about their fertility ever unless they are your partner or your patient. Not when they will have children or why they haven’t yet or why they had the children they did have when they did or why so many or why not more or if they had “difficulties” or “accidents” or conceived “naturally” or whether they are happy to be pregnant or sad that they are not or ANYTHING ELSE. If you are a warm, interested friend, people will volunteer what they feel comfortable sharing and if you feel like you need more information than that, you must ask yourself, before you say anything aloud, why you need that information. Because unless you fit into one of the two categories mentioned above, I cannot think of a single reason.

14. Always ask permission before posting photos of other humans on the internet. Obviously this applies especially to minors, but I have been trying lately to apply the rule to everyone. It took me embarrassingly long to get with this one–I genuinely didn’t see why I’d have to ask. But I get it now–your face, your call.

15. Advice repeated from neurologist: Eating protein first thing in the morning is good way to stave off migraines. Advice repeated from naturopath: If you are struggling with your health–migraines or otherwise–protein at every meal and even in every snack is probably a good bet. Doesn’t have to be a huge portion, but at least a bit.

16. It doesn’t matter whether someone can document a food allergy or prove an intolerance–if they don’t want to eat it, their reasons are not open to discussions. However, if I’m hosting them for a meal and their needs are really complex or obscure, I am allowed to say that I don’t think I’m able to accommodate them adequately and ask that they either bring something they know they can eat or suggest a takeout place that works for them. Everyone should get to eat what they need, but that doesn’t mean I have to cook it.

17. “Perfectionism” is supposed to be that flaw that’s not really a flaw you mention in job interviews, but after a couple decades of working in actual jobs, I can tell you–it’s really a flaw. At best, perfectionists are smug, assuming that they are capable of Platonic ideals in everyday life. At worst, they are bitter and resentful that they must work with imperfect colleagues. Sure, we all have a little perfectionism in us–I have a lot less than I used to, owing to the chronic failure to write the perfect stories that live in my brain–but it’s nothing to humble-brag about.

18. Ditto romantic jealousy. Happens to the best of us? Sure, but something to work on, nothing adorable.

19. If the ends of your tomatoes in your garden are all gross and grey, there might not be enough calcium in your soil. You can fortify it with bonemeal in spring and fall, but for an immediate fix, there’s actually such a thing as calcium supplements you dig into the garden–you can buy them at a garden centre. Fixed ours right up!

20. Coordination of benefits–possibly my most boring advice, but useful! If one partner has medical/dental benefits, they can be used by the other partner if cohabitating and by their children. Most people know this and it’s lovely. If BOTH partners have medical/dental benefits, the assumption seems to be that they will just have both and use the second to cover copays and whatever is not covered by the first. Which can be great in certain situations but in others is nutso–just a bunch of insurance covering everything twice, essentially. Please, if you are in this situation, look at what you actually need and what your options are–some plans will allow you to cash out your benefits if you have other coverage, and others won’t but you can have a health care spending account so you can put ALL the money towards whatever health-related expenses you want (all the massages!) Some companies will insist you keep all your benefits, period, and like I said, some people actually can make use of two plans, but you need to think it over and read the fine print!

21. “Self care” isn’t ditching plans at the last minute and leaving people in the lurch/wasting their time (except for extreme/surprise situations). I’m so sad that I’ve seen the opposite advice repeated so often. Real, everyday self care is looking at invitations and requests and the other demands on your time and what you actually can and want to do and politely RSVPing no thank you to the rest well in advance.

22. The best thing to give to charity is money. Money does not require transportation, can be used for literally anything, can used flexibly at the charity’s discretion (they thought they were going to get a new sink, but then the stove broke) and many charities have much better buying power than the average citizen because of their charitable status and because they buy in bulk (your four cans of tuna might cost $4 versus the 400 cans they bought for $100 or some such). If money is not something you have to give or feel comfortable giving, there are myriad other things you can give away that will help, but research is required to find out which charities take what and how. Giving something to an organization that doesn’t accept it–used clothing to a group that only takes new, or expired food to a food drive that asks you not to–because you didn’t research the rules or think the rules are dumb is unethical, because it takes resources away from the actual charity and expends them on sorting and disposing of a useless donation. I have learned this from countless articles, and a number of volunteer stints.

23. The best way for women to not get urinary tract infections is just not to be physically disposed towards them aka lucky. The second-best way to avoid them is to pee after sex and ideally before too, though that is a lot of peeing. I learned the second half of that from an issue of Seventeen magazine back in 8th grade, when I didn’t know what a single word of it meant.

24. There is no reason not to repeat every compliment you hear or even think about everyone you know. All the nice words should be known!!

25. There are no books you have to read. There are no TV shows or movies you have to watch. There are no places you have to travel to. (Unless any of the above are your job, I suppose.) It was weird when I stopped feeling guilty about not watching Breaking Bad, reading Moby Dick, or going to Hawaii, but it was definitely better.

26. Inviting a single small child to an adult-oriented event means some adult is going to spend the event with that child or the child is going to watch tv. No little kid has ever “just coloured quietly” for longer than 10 minutes, no matter what their parents say, and it’s not fair to expect it. Invite at least one more kid, get a tablet out, or say goodbye to at least one adult.

27. If you get a tax refund because you put money in an RRSP, you haven’t actually gained the money–you’ve borrowed it from your future self. The refunded money is tax you didn’t have to pay on the cash in the RRSP, but you will wind up paying tax on sheltered money when you take it out, post retirement. It might be at a lower rate if your income is lower at retirement, as many people’s are, but then again it might not. SO if you use the refund to put yourself ahead for the future–savings, paying off debts, buying something you needed anyway–you are winning because you get the interest/use value years ahead. But if you use the refund to incur an expense you wouldn’t have had otherwise–a random vacation, new clothes–you are actually putting yourself in the hole against future taxes. If you can afford it, it might not matter, but most people don’t think of it that way so just fyi. Sorry, I know this is a depressing one.

28. If you melt chocolate in the microwave, you have to take it out and stir every 10-15 seconds or it will burn. Still easier than doing it on the stove, in my opinion.

29. The idea that women cannot manage their own grooming is incorrect. If a woman wants to pay a professional to make her eyebrows/toenails/leghairs/whatever look different, that’s a very legitimate path. But so is doing her own grooming at home, or deciding that whatever body part does not require grooming. I’m startled to be living in an age where not paying to have someone paint your toenails and wax your legs could actually be considered lazy or sloppy. The aesthetics industry exists for no benevolent reason–it’s there to make money. We all know that, right?

30. Sitting all the way at the back of the bus or streetcar cuts down on the need the need to watch for elderly/pregnant/disabled people who need your seat–the accessible seats are at the front and it’s unlikely someone with a mobility issue is going to come to the back of the bus anyway, especially up the stairs, though one should still not be completely oblivious. The subway is harder, for though the blue accessible seats are scattered throughout. One needs to pay more attention on the subway, or when in doubt, just stand if you can.

31. It hurts my heart when parents tell their kids–or adults tell themselves–that they can’t be writers because they need to earn a living. As if the only stories we need are those of the independently wealthy! With a few extremely brief exceptions, I have always worked full-time to support myself while I wrote my books and it’s tiring but fine. That won’t work for everyone, but there are many other paths! Really, many! Please, always look for ways to tell your stories!

32. Unsolicited advice is almost never cool unless someone is about to drive into a ditch or do something else immediately dangerous. Thanks for humouring me–I promise this is it unless I’m asked…until 50!!

May 3rd, 2018

May Likes

Thanks to Zainab–expert liker and enthusiast extraordinaire–for sending these along… Please keep those contributions coming!

512. When your city comes together after tragedy – when you refuse to let hate win

513. Being Canadian 
 
514. Walking around my home after the cleaning lady has done her magic
 
515. Tea made in a teapot
 
516. Earl grey tea with a hint of vanilla or lavender 
 
517. Keanu Reeves
 
518. My new bed–bigger, fancier, and very comfy
 
519. A California Cabernet Sauvignon namely the McManis one 
 
520. Newborn babies and how they just snuggle into you
 
521. Indian food especially a good Korma
 
522. My hairdresser – worth her weight in gold 
 
523.  My hearty Orchids that refuse to die and only need to be watered every 7-10 days 
 
524. My instantpot – electric pressure cooker 
 
525. Making a dish that would take me 3-4 hours in 30 minutes in my instantpot 
 
526. Going to see the ballet- The Eifman Russian ballet company is amazing 
 
527. The feeling when you wake up a few mins (not more) before your alarm and you feel like a superstar as you got up on your own terms 
 
528. The Raptors
 
529. The Habs
 
530. TFC- Toronto Football Club
 
531. When you you hear ABBA is going to make new music 
 
532. A fresh manicure and pedicure in the spring time when you can wear flip flops home
Yay!!

April 26th, 2018

Likes for hard times

Everything is sad here in Toronto. Or is it? Today on the radio, I came in part way through a segment where the hosts said some name-that-tune contest they were running was going to help the city get over its sadness. I thought that was wildly glib, and then it turned out they were talking about the Leafs losing. And then I didn’t know what to think.

Since Monday’s terrorist van attach, I’ve been in some dark places, both on the internet and in my own head and I’ve actually written a bit about it, but nothing fit for public consumption, I don’t think. Instead, here’s some things I like when nothing much else seems good… Please please, send me more to like!

491. Random acts of kindness, doing and receiving.

492. Sending cake in the mail.

493. New hard things I think I might be able to do.

494. When vertigo rocks me to sleep (I’m really trying here)

495. New hard things my cat learns

496. Having other people be excited about my birthday

497. My birthday

498. Being impressed by what someone else can do

499. Playmobile hands

500. All of my highschool yearbooks, just not the photos of me

501. The new The Tick series on Prime, which is excellent

502. taboule

503. when a friend trusts me to help them with something really important

504. sidewalk chalk

504. cracking the shell of a Smartie with my teeth

505. spearmint gum

506. ginger anything

507. ginger brownies in the Martha Stewart cookie cookbook in particular

508. my new very expensive pillow, which is filled with shredded memory foam

509. fantasies about buying an even more expensive pillow, someday

510. whenever anyone says anything nice about my home city of Toronto, even though there’s plenty else wrong with it

511. keeping on plugging away at something long after it would have been acceptable to give up

 

March 14th, 2018

A Year of So Much Love

One year ago that book of mine came out. So Much Love was so many years–and tears–in the making that it could not be anything but huge in my life when it actually became a public item. The subject matter is also dark and emotional, and I’d been deeply immersed in it for seven years when the book came out, in addition to the sense of vulnerability coming from events in my actual personal life. So even though I tell writers who are just starting out that one gets tough from having books in the world, inured to reviews and criticism simply by having experienced them–that wasn’t true this time. I was basically an open wound when So Much Love came out.

There’s a few paragraphs in one of the chapters about a character searching for waterproof mascara and I own that mascara in real life (research budget!) and wore it to the launch. I cried a lot about this book, literal and metaphorical tears both. It was shocking to have other people gain access to what was starting to feel like my own personal dreamscape. And even more shocking to talk to them about it–it was like letting the light in. I had been alone with the book for so long, and though eventually my brilliant editor Anita Chong came along shouldered so much of the load, I still felt cloistered with it. The many different reactions to the book–so many of them excited and engaged–let me finally step back from my own work and see it as a real book and not a dream. For the people who read it, So Much Love is a novel with a distinct shape and structure, characters and event, a beginning and an end. I never thought I’d be able to experience the book that way, but the longer I wasn’t writing it, the more viewpoints I heard–some very different from anything I’d imagined–the more it began to make sense to me as a finite object.

Other people related to Catherine and Julianna, Grey and Kyla, Sue and Donny, too–cried for them and got frustrated, and felt hope and sadness for them. They related to other characters or didn’t, felt suspense or eagerness, felt revulsion or impatience, felt so many things in the course of the novel. Readers of SML were reminded of people in the real world who had suffered similar crimes, of crimes they themselves had suffered. They thought of how incredibly difficult it is to suffer and recover. They felt the novel echoed that or didn’t, were troubled by its dissonances and resonances, were concerned, excited, questioning, scared, bored, thrilled.

Not everyone liked the book, and a few people were very clear in explaining that to me–in print, in person, on the internet–but pretty much everyone was civil. I’m actually startled by how well I coped with harsh words about the book,  given my feelings about SML per above. One reason is probably that I had kind people–mainly friends and family, but sometimes strangers–around to say, well, this is just one set of thoughts, there’s lots of other thoughts. And another reason is that I read Dana Hansen’s review in the Winnipeg Review and Marsha Lederman’s review in the Globe and Mail very early in the process, plus Bret Josef Grubisic’s in Quill and Quire and those were not only positive but seemed to read the novel in the way that I had written in. Because I saw in these reviews that people could connect with SML in the way I had dreamed–and because I knew they have a right not to–I was more or less ok with even the darkest comments on this book. It was still people sharing their thoughts on the most important thing I’d ever written, and that was generous, even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear.

Oh, the generosity of this year. From the moment I stood at Kerry Clare’s lovely launch for the very brilliant and funny Mitzi Bytes and she took time out of her own big day to give my book a little shout out–can you imagine a friend like that?–I thought things might be ok. So Much Love and I received so much heartfelt *thought* this year–from the really searching, interesting questions at the panel discussions to the TV presenters who tried so hard to get me to calm down.

And then there was the pleasure of all the other authors who I heard read and talk–one of the best things of being at so many readings and festivals was getting to hear about all the other fantastic books that were out this year. Getting to do events with my beloved Mark Sampson because for the first time we had books out in the same season. I will never get tired of hearing him read my favourite scene in his novel The Slip, when Philip tries to get the poppy that fell under the dean’s desk.

And the BiblioBash, the very fancy party in support of the Toronto Public Library, where I was a guest author!

And the time SML was nominated for an Amazon First Novel Award and there was a giant poster of the book cover and it was all so fancy!

And the many simple, kind, brief emails I received that said in so many words, I enjoyed your book and wanted you to know.

That time I was a headliner at WordFeast in Fredericton–a headliner!

It was an amazing year.

But also.

My dad died just shy of three weeks before So Much Love came out, so even though I was happy about so many things that happened this year, I was always sad too. He never read the book–by the time there was an edited version that was presentable, he was too sick to do so. I will be sad about that forever. He was upset about it too–we were sad together. He was proud of me and my book. When I finished the final edits, I sent then off and went straight to the hospital and told him. He was always happy to hear about stuff like that.

I did not talk much about his death this year because I didn’t know what to say. Often it seemed like my mind was perfectly blank. But all my grief seemed wrapped up with the book somehow. Every time I had to travel alone for a book presentation, I would be excited and enthusiastic and then afterwards wind up standing outside weeping. It’s hard book to present when you’re already in a dark place, and I wanted to be true to the novel and give my all to panel discussions, readings, anyone who wanted to talk to me. I knew I was never going to have this opportunity again, to share this work that I love so much and worked so hard on and cliche as it sounds, I knew my dad would want me to do it.

So I did. I don’t think I said no to a single event or opportunity with regard to So Much Love and I truly enjoyed almost all of it. I’m so grateful for the readers and the friends, and everyone who gave me opportunities to share the book or made those opportunities worthwhile.

The traditional duration of book promotion is a year–two publishing seasons, spring and fall. And there’s a weird little part of my brain that feels, well, now the year is over, and everything will go back the way it was. I wrote the hard dark book I needed to write and I took a year to share it with the world the best I could, and I now I can move on to other things. Because my father’s death and the launch of So Much Love were so close in time, part of me feels like once I stop working on the book, talking about it all the time, he won’t be dead anymore. Which obviously I understand is a strange little mental trick and impossible but the thought is there.

It was a strange hard year. Thanks for reading, for writing me notes, for coming out to readings, for all the kindness. New years and new books beckon.

February 27th, 2018

Still liking

I’m not even going to get into how things are going for me, but at least there are still things to like…onwards! And, if I haven’t already been clear about this, contributions to the list from one and all are very welcome–are in fact one of the things I like most in the whole world. Please, hit me up!

From Fred

475. Instagram stories
476. the smell of lavender
477. the part of yoga where you just lie there
478. slightly too many pillows on the bed
479. extremely long showers

Group project contributions from Team RVC (myself, Fred, Mel and Zai)

480. dorm life
481. ice storms
482. Annie’s (ancient and defunct dance club in Montreal)
483. Princess Diana
484. Clinque bonuses
485. hair mascara
486. glitter
487. Party of Five
488. Namur, Quebec
489. cheese curds
490. Biore nose strips (the old, best kind)

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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