Notes From a Writing Trip 3

November 22, 2017

Recently I got the chance to go away, as I have before, to write. Just write. (Well, maybe there was a wee bit of socializing. But not much.) I have a tight revision deadline for my latest novel, so any time I can grab to work on it, I take. And this time I had a whole weekend. 49 hours, actually. How amazing is that? Really–it’s not a rhetorical question. I’ll tell you how amazing it is:

It’s a silence-filled writing space amazing. It’s hours, back to back, to ponder the words on the page amazing. No interruptions accept for bathroom breaks that didn’t involve toilet training amazing. Just–it was sanctuary.

I took a few diary-esque notes while away, so here’s how it went.

 

 

12:41pm: Finally the ferry is leaving, late, from the berth. De-berthing? Am exhausted. Both kids were up early and I was up with them in the night for all the many reasons kids get parents up at 2am. Was going to start writing as soon as I sat down in the ferry, but am going to take a nap first.

2:14pm: Slept the entire ferry ride. No writing, but feeling more human. Now to catch buses.

 

 

3:45pm: Arrived at writing sanctuary, unpacked most important items (laptop, notes and reading material), brewed some tea and sat down. To write and write and write. This is JOY.

 

(Reading material…a bit optimistic, aren’t I?)

 

5:30pm: Meet a friend for dinner and writing talk. Love love love writing talk. And Thai curry.

7:00pm: Will now sit down to write until eyelids can no longer stay open. What started this afternoon as a shifting of a relationship between three characters is now more of a re-write of several major scenes throughout the story. Must remember not to get so excited about ‘developing’ relationships next time.

11:35pm: Eyelids heavy. Save changes. Brush teeth. Read a paragraph of Maya Angelou and pass out.

7:20am: Wake up refreshed, having slept through the night, feeling sure it must be at least 9am (with accompanying guilt at lost writing time). Nope. Have apparently lost the ability to sleep in.

8:00am: Finish breakfast of toast, tea and chocolate and reread last few pages of revisions from last night. Ugh. Fix things. Force myself not to go back to the beginning. Plough forward, into the mess. Make it better.

1:00pm: Shut laptop, get out of pyjamas (sigh) and ready to meet friend for tea and writing talk. Love love love writing talk. Afterward, walk around the streets a little and think about the lives of the people who live here. It’s not my neighbourhood, but it’s my hometown, so the familiarity is bittersweet. And bittersweet is the best kind of sweet.

 

 

4:00pm Arrive back at laptop and make a a deal: if I write for two hours, I can have ice cream for dinner.

6:00pm: Get a double scoop (cookies and cream and sticky toffee pudding) and know, to my bones, that this is the right dinner for me.

6:20pm: Change back into pyjamas, brew more tea. Sit down. Write until eyelids droop.

10:45pm: Can’t do any more. Brain overloaded. Must stop looking at words. Scroll through Instagram, fall asleep.

7:03am: Dammit! Even earlier than yesterday?!

7:35am: Tea for breakfast–not feeling the toast. Ice cream hangover? Look through only the last two pages of last night’s work. Any further back and I’ll fall into the rabbit hole of editing edits. Scribble thoughts on paper, stare into space, find the offending chapter, and GO.

 

 

11:46am: Starving. Must get lunch. Buy a wrap, scarf it down at the kitchen counter while cleaning old tea mugs and utensils. Pack bag with everything that isn’t my laptop and manuscript. Get everything ready to go, then sit down to write until my alarm says run for the bus!

3:50pm: The ferry is late leaving. Again. A wild Pacific storm is thrashing around us and the crossing will be slow. Find a carrel and set up the laptop for the last hour and a half of writing I can squeeze in. It’s not enough. I’ve made progress, but the vast majority of the book is still in need of work. I know now I’ll need way more time to revise than I will have. There’s so much work to do. It feels so good to do it, but there’s so much more. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.

Who knows where the time will come from–I might have to make it out of nothing. But this book is important, the story is valuable, and making it better is a sacred service to it. I have to find the time. Somehow.

XO

Ria

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Not Sporty. 6

November 8, 2017

This is true: Running makes me feel horribly inconvenienced, pukey and annoyed; I prefer being inside with cake, tea and a book. I don’t want to swim in the ocean and I really don’t want to ski, thanks. Once, when put on a treadmill for one of those gym assessment thingies, I was told outright “You are not a natural runner”. I was the least active person in my family with a running, rugby-playing Dad and a local tennis champ and P.E. teacher Mum. If I was any of the Spice Girls I would not be Sporty.

 

 

And yet… this is also true: I played waterpolo from age 11 – 17 and my high school team won the National championships (several years in a row). When I can be bothered, I am a competent and natural swimmer. When I go out, I love to dance. In the last few years I joined up to Run Auckland and did several 10km races with my sister. Sometimes, when I’m running, I feel free and vibrant and happy. And in two weeks time I am undertaking my first half marathon.

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Secrets In The Garden 10

October 26, 2017

 

Okay folks, I can admit when I need help. And here I am, asking for it.

 

As you know, I am a parent who happens to really, really, really dig kids books. Recently I started reading “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett to my two eldest (seven & five years old). I loved this book as a child but couldn’t remember too many of the finer details, just that there was a beautiful, hidden garden, a boy that could communicate with animals and a whole lot of mystery and wonder. Okay, I mostly liked the garden. I was excited to find a new version that had been illustrated by Lauren Child because, well, I am besotted with her. The kids immediately loved the protagonist, Mary, and the drama right from the get-go, with Mary’s parents dying of cholera in India. It was all going pretty swimmingly until…. well… it all got – quite quickly – racist. I’m not all that keen on repeating some of the content in the book but it is blatantly, upsettingly, alarmingly racist and I gaped and couldn’t read it out loud. I was puzzled and shocked because I couldn’t recall those parts from when I was a child. The kids were already transfixed by the story and I needed to make a call. I’m a quick reader so I could read ahead and omit any racist terms, remarks and sections altogether; which is what I decided to do. Here’s probably the worst example, to help you understand what I am talking about…

 

[May I reiterate – I DO NOT condone the language or sentiment in this excerpt]

 

“Eh! I can see [India is] different,” [Martha] answered almost sympathetically. “I dare say it’s because there’s such a lot o’ blacks there instead o’ respectable white people. When I heard you was comin’ from India I thought you was a black too.”

Mary sat up in bed furious.

“What!” she said. “What! You thought I was a native. You—you daughter of a pig!”

Martha stared and looked hot.

“Who are you callin’ names?” she said. “You needn’t be so vexed. That’s not th’ way for a young lady to talk. I’ve nothin’ against th’ blacks. When you read about ’em in tracts they’re always very religious. You always read as a black’s a man an’ a brother. I’ve never seen a black an’ I was fair pleased to think I was goin’ to see one close. When I come in to light your fire this mornin’ I crep’ up to your bed an’ pulled th’ cover back careful to look at you. An’ there you was,” disappointedly, “no more black than me—for all you’re so yeller.”

Mary did not even try to control her rage and humiliation. “You thought I was a native! You dared! You don’t know anything about natives! They are not people—they’re servants who must salaam to you. You know nothing about India. You know nothing about anything!”

 

So, in the face of this and other similarly racist references – what should I have done? What would you do? What have you done?

 

This problem is not uncommon with classic literature – it’s old and our attitudes have shifted (hopefully). But, naively, I didn’t suspect one of my nostalgic childhood favourites to be harbouring such stuff. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has had this alarming experience. Another great article, by writer Leigh Anderson, warns against buying nostalgic books (including The Secret Garden) from your own childhood and exploring new, more diverse children’s books to read with your kids. Where to find those kinds of books? Here’s a good place to start and here’s a good place to go after that.

 

In nutting out this problem I’ve certainly have discovered great resources for selecting better, more diverse and respectful books going forward, but right now I am still stuck in the garden with Mary, Dickon and the robin. What should I do? I’m going to confess – I’d like to keep reading the book because the kids are so interested but I’m just not so sure. Do you have any helpful experiences to share?

 

This parenting business is tricky business isn’t it? Raising a young human to be a good human? I’m going to take some comfort from this quote, taken from the pages of another children’s book:

 

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes … as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

—The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

 

With gratitude,

Hannah

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On Beauty 0

October 19, 2017

 

 

From where I’m sitting, October just got serious. Waves of storm fronts are sweeping down from the Gulf of Alaska and the puddles are toddler-splash-worthy on the driveway.  But the sudden shift to dark, wet, autumn weather feels a little harder to take this time. I’m not talking about the seasonal shift from summer to fall I went on about before. Apple cake fixed that right up.

I’m talking about this new, deeper, more inward shift, one that still happens every year with the rains, but feels…less stitched with hope now. Yesterday we learned that a Canadian music and culture icon died. Women everywhere are having to be brave in ways that make my heart ache. Environmental destruction seems to be so ever-present that it keeps jumping up the list of chronic stressors. I won’t go on.

I found myself staring at a spear of kale this morning. It was about to be chopped up for a soup, but the onion I’d diced had left its noxious fumes in the air and my eyes were watering, so I left the kitchen with the kale leaf in one hand and blinked away the sting by the feeble grey light of the back door.

This leaf. Dinosaur kale. Lacinato. Brassica oleracea sabellica.  Tall with a slightly sad tilt to the top. Rippling bubbles of chorophylled tissue. I held it up to the light. What a revelation, I thought. What a strange piece of matter this is.

How beautiful.

I wasn’t sure why. There was something about its absurdity, its prehistoric-ness, it’s unexpected tastiness, that made it striking. Which made me think: what is beauty? Yes, it’s personal, yes, it’s culturally seeded in us, yes, we are biologically drawn to it. But what if it’s something I never thought about before this moment with this piece of kale?

What if our perception of beauty is a kind of hope?

 

 

I thought about the reasons I found this stalk of a plant beautiful–this thing we’ve bred into existence. This leaf that looks diseased and genetically doomed. This combination of atoms from long ago stars that I will feed to my family later. There’s hope in all of that. A wish for the future.

Could that be part of why it’s beautiful to me? Its own improbable, magical existence?

Hope is something that’s been flagging in me lately. (See above non-inclusive list of this week’s terrible news.) The biggest hope machines I have are my kids, who haven’t yet learned to doubt or be cynical or let the world get them down. That’s part of their beauty too. So, hope makes me happier. It protects me from the darkness. When I think about how hope makes me feel–the warm upward tug of it in my body, it doesn’t feel very distinguishable from the experience of beauty. Maybe not at all. A field of red poppies. A puppy. A perfect story. A stack of pancakes. Beauty and hope. Hope and beauty. Maybe it’s better to talk about them both as part of the same thing. Maybe.

And the soup was delicious, by the way.

XO

Ria

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Dear Inspiration 4

October 10, 2017

Dear Inspiration,

 

I have been waiting. I have been waiting for some time. You will come, I thought…

 

 

Previously, I put down one thing, finished one project and there you were. I thought to myself – “See? This is how it works, this is how it is.” I show up and you show up and we toil. It’s easy! That’s what the books say, that’s what the others say. Do your job. Don’t be lazy. Don’t wait. Show up. Don’t be lazy. It’s so very simple.

I guess our marriage was young then.

 

When I laid down the last project I looked for you to arrive. Waited for your handsome head, around the corner, for you to be waving at me from the other side of the café, wearing your rough clothes, wearing your work overalls, wearing your best grin – “Hello! You’re done with that? Finally. Come on then!” But you weren’t there.

There was no sign of you.

 

I called your place. I looked for you in the usual spots. I made us tea and cake. I ate my cake.

I ate your cake too.

 

And then I thought, I’ll pretend to work. That’ll do it. That’ll teach you. Sitting about, tippy-tapping on my keyboard. Look! I’m working! I’d start out full of optimism, full of bluster, thinking I could simply work without you. It looked good from the outside.

But on the page everything went to gsufiagwuigrblhjbvjsfkbv;j.

 

Let me just confirm, I haven’t just been waiting waiting (or just fake-working)…I keep myself busy. I read books. I read self-help books. I read writing books. I grow poppies in the garden. I tidy my wardrobe. I get **** done! Sometimes I even go to the gym. I’m active. But I hate going to the gym without you, without a writing project running through my head. Everyone at the gym looks like they’ve had their insides squeezed out of them, their souls that is, and the music is bad and it smells of taken-off-shoes and damp crotches. I don’t love working out and I hate being unproductive. I’m so attached now to making, to producing, to being busy and purposeful. Damn it. Damn you.

 

I thought, perhaps, that you might be in disguise. Maybe you had a haircut. Maybe I just didn’t recognize you. With that possibility / hope in mind I have been going to different places, paying close attention and making notes. I’ve become a Private Investigator, looking for you. But study them as I might, you are not in the notes and not in the photographs. I’m starting to wonder if this is a Missing Persons case or a Homicide. Either way, I’m no good at Nordic Noir, so we are both in trouble.

 

I miss you. Like I said, I thought we had a thing. I am ready now you aren’t here and it doesn’t feel great. It feels dark and hollow and a bit scary, if I am being completely honest. I thought I was okay, I thought I was fine, but now I’m wondering who I am without you. Will I be without you forever? What kind of me will I be without you? Will your absence itch and burn and continue to ache like a phantom limb? I’m just not sure I can be without you now I’ve gotten so used to you.

Now that I have grown to love you.

 

What I am saying is – please come back. I’m not stupid, I know something has changed, something has shifted. Our marriage is no longer so young. Any misunderstanding I will fix. I will listen. I can mend my ways. I won’t take you for granted. But I cannot change while you give me the silent treatment, while you play your vanishing act. Please come back. We will talk it through.

 

With love, Hannah

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