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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

organizing journals, diaries, letters, agendas and calendars

Last weekend, I decided to find some of my old journals. I came across a significant but forgotten letters from the early 90's in the attic. I found 2 boxes of journals, agendas, diaries, calendars and a scrapbook of childhood memories started for me by my Mom. I must come from a long line of archivists.

A couple of weekends ago, while going through a binder of family genealogy looking for specific ancestor's link to me, I discovered that I was a DAR (Daughter of the American Revolution). Our ancestor and my maternal grandmother were both on the DAR website with registration numbers. My grandmother wrote stories about our ancestors. I'm fortunate to have all of her notes and those of an elderly cousin.

Back to my own archives. I decided to re-organize my stuff chronologically. I'm only missing a short period which I'll be able to reconstruct with visual aids such as photos from those years. Creative non fiction, my latest favourite literary genre.

Friends and I gathered for a pick nick dinner this evening on our veranda, our kayak outing having been rained out. We discussed what writing meant to us.  One of my friends visits her mother's grave and writes directly to her mother. Powerful stuff.
I can't remember writing directly to my Mom who died in 1991. Just the thought of it wrangles me. Maybe I did when she first passed away. I was so angry and hurt that cancer had taken her away so quickly. I know that I did a whole lot of writing. I did eventually write a song to her. It pretty much says it all. I thought I had recorded it, it must be on another computer.

Leaving a trace, Transforming a life into stories, by Alexandra Johnson, has propelled me into taking a second look at the past.  I have desperately tried living in the present over the last few years, maybe it is time to get reacquainted with the past in order to gain perspective and understanding.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Journals and letters

I have been writing like a crazy lady. On Saturday, I printed out everything I had written on the computer in Val-David and stuck them in the nice journal I received upon registration. I indexed all of my poems and stories. I was so fired up that I kept on writing and sticking stuff in the journal. I had also registered for a second course with the Institute of Children's Lit down in Conn. I have 2 years to write, revise and edit a kids' book. I sent off my first assignment Tuesday night.

I've written a journal since I was a young teen and a few years ago, my two best friends decided to burn theirs. They felt as if what was in there was of little importance and they didn't want anyone reading them. I was aghast at first and then I almost considered doing the same. Then, I remembered throwing out a bunch of love letters and poems only to wind up awhile later sharing a part of my life the their author.How I had wished that I'd saved them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Writing retreat with Linda Rief, La Sapinière, Val-David, QC

I just spent the most incredible week with a talented group of writers who just happen to be educators and we were nurtured all week long by Linda Rief, an extraordinary communicator. 

I was nervous when I arrived on Sunday afternoon.  I knew no one. I wondered if I would last the whole week. I wondered if OCD would flare up like a bad rash.  Mind over matter. Here and now. Sit and smile.

John and Lorraine Ryan greeted me in the lobby and made me feel right at home.  I was a little intimidated when I saw that some people already knew each other and others were coming back for the second time, although I decided that that meant this week could be very promising. 

The two friends from English schoolboards who had recommended this workshop said that I'd just love Linda Rief.  Well, fall in love I did.  I met Linda and many others at dinner Sunday night and after get-to-know you conversations, I thought that maybe this would turn out ok.

As soon as we started Monday morning, I knew that I had come to the right place.  Linda made us feel safe and she energized our writing with quickwrites. I learned how to conference with others. I hate to admit it, but no one had shown me how, or maybe I'm old enough now to start forgetting things like that. No, I'm pretty sure there was a hole in my training there.

We shared our writing and consequently ourselves, our beliefs, our feelings.  Sometimes we were darn close to being naked while keeping all of our clothes on. 

I finally found my tribe: people who love books and writing and ideas, subtlety, light and dark, humour and pathos, beauty and scabs,  just as much as I do.

How enriching it was to share our writing with each other, to chat when we ran into each other in the village or in the wifi living room in the evenings, or laughing and singing together before bedtime, knowing full well that many of us would continue to write or draw long into the night.

I felt connected to many people, feeling almost as if I had known them my whole life.  By the end of the week, some of these new friends started to look as familiar as my old friends. I wish the world was geographically a little bit smaller.

When I came home, Jacques made a reference about me going to summer camp.  I've never been to summer camp but I told him that this was the best summer camp ever.

So I'm back to real life. A week and a half left to summer break.  I've got so many ideas swirling around my head about how to adapt all of this to my classroom. I've got a whole bunch of writing, some finished pieces, loads of drafts and ideas, suggested books in my Chapter's and Amazon shopping carts, and a promise to myself to make room every day to write, whether it be my novel writing (mid-life chick-lit and kids' lit), short stories, journal writing, songwriting, and now poems.

Greatest surprise? Almost everything I wrote this week came out as poetry, sometimes edgy poetry.  Where did that come from? I could never have predicted it. It felt good, though.Really good.

I had recently purchased a book about discovering poetry (reading and writing) by Frances Mayes. Yup! The Under the Tuscan Sun author, but I hadn't really gotten into it.  I'll probably go back to it now. 

 Oh and I won the choice of a book.  I was so excited, I hope I didn't squeal. I chose Leaving a Trace, on keeping a Journal (The art of transforming a life into stories)  by Alexandra Johnson. I had brought an almost empty journal with me this week. The only thing I had written in it were a couple of ideas about writing about different episodes of my life. I'd jotted down a couple of skinny ideas about 2 years ago. I wasn't sure who would be interested, but now, that no longer feels like a pertinent question.  I loved hearing well-crafted stories  from other people this week. Maybe, I will write stories about my life. Maybe what matters is writing them in an authentic voice and making sure that the writing is tight.

But, I wonder how authors of memoir type books like The Glass Castle, Lullabies for Little Criminals, Angela's Ashes, well, how do they do it without re-damaging themselves? How can I revisit a place and time that took everything I had to espace? How do I find my way back to now if I write about then?

These thoughts are what I "have taken away" from my week.

Thank you, Linda. Thank you John and Lorraine. Thank you to all of my fellow writers.
 Until next time.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Finally sent off a short story

I was writing for my 1st assignment in my book writing course, an autobiographical letter in which I have to explain my writing goals and what I've been up to, when I wrote that I wasn't sure why I hadn't sent off any articles or short stories.  

I decided to go through my binder from my last course and edit one of my stories. I worked on it all day. By the end of the day, I checked out a couple of ezines that I'd considered, finally deciding to take a chance on sending it off to Long Story Short.

I got an immediate email back thanking me for my submission and saying that they would respond in 2 to 3 months.

No matter what, I'm glad that I actually sent something off. This has kind of encouraged me to dust off and revise some other stories and send them off.

Currently reading Joy Fielding's Lost set in Toronto during the film festival.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Have I written lately?

I started writing a biographical letter to my instructor which must include my goals in writing and what I would like to work on for the book writing I'm taking with the Institute of Children's Literature.

So I've put my middle-age chick lit novel (now up to 90 pages) aside to start thinking about what kind of kids' book I might like to write. I'm naturally drawn to fiction so I've been thinking about reviving ideas for characters and plots which I'd jotted down in my notebook. 

It seems that non-fiction is easier to sell but I would really like to learn to write fiction.  I think that because I teach in my other life, I'm afraid that writing non-fiction would get to be too pedantic. I love the whimsy but especially the endless possibilities of fiction.

I've also been reading a lot.  I finished The Day of the Storm by Rosemunde Pilcher.  Now, I think I'll go back to kids' lit. I've been reading Onn the Bright Side, I'm now the girlfriend of a Sex God by Louise Rennison in the YA diary genre.  Really funny stuff.

I'm going to either read Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo or Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse next.