Author Archives: WeeBanshee

Fashionista Dreams

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There are those in the city of Toronto who are all a-flutter this morning as it is the start of something called Toronto Fashion Week.  These are the people who indulge in huge portions of purified oxygen and vitamin water for breakfast.

People like me, devotees of hoodies and yoga pants, dare not show themselves downtown for the week.

Truly though, my lack of fashionable-ness has been bothering me lately – in fact, ever since I saw the photos from our summer vacation.  But, yoga pants are comfortable in the extreme.  So are sweatpants.  Some days I just can’t face cramming my muffin top into the not-so-skinny jeans that I bought at the grocery store.

Thank God my mother is not around to see me schlep into middle age.  My mother never left the house without looking a good bit better than presentable.  Hair was washed, set, and lacquered into place.  Makeup was carefully applied.  Clothes were clean and pressed.

My mother would admonish me for leaving the house without lipstick.  I thought she would suffer a collapse the morning she caught me with my hair held up by a binder clip because I didn’t have time to wash it and couldn’t find enough hairpins to put it up properly.

I admit fashion is not my thing.  However, sometimes even I go too far: faded sickly gray sweatpants and fleece pullover  covered in equal parts lint and cat hair.  Out in public.  Yes, ewwww.

So, Friday night as my daughter and I strolled through Toronto’s Eaton Centre, I paid close attention to those around me, making mental notes.

I noted that most of the women (teenagers excepted) wore heels of varying heights or they wore this season’s hottest item:  high leather riding boots.  Jackets, even leather, were tailored and slightly fitted.  Scarves were everywhere.  Tops – unless they were tunics – were tucked in and all jeans sported belts.

I can’t wear heels much anymore because of my bad back.  I own no riding boots, tailored jackets or even a scarf.  I hate belts.

At the grocery store Sunday afternoon, I did more fashion reconnaissance.  I wore a white Fruit of the Loom t-shirt and the jeans I’d done the gardening in.  I may have been wearing my 13 yr. old son’s hoodie.  While I pretended to study nectarines, I spied on the women around me. Shockingly, quite a few were dressed – maybe not to the nines – but to at least the sevens.  Tailored jackets, clean jeans, scarves.  Makeup.  Some even had small children in tow.

I considered climbing into one of the freezer cases when I saw my neighbour across an aisle. Gleefully noting her wet hair, elastic waist pants and puffy down vest, I wanted to run over and give her a high-five.  It then occurred to me that then I would have to explain myself:  “Oh, Sally – so good to see someone else here who looks as bad as I do!!  Go girl!”  No.  That wouldn’t go over well.

Do I continue to claim victory every morning for at least getting out of my pjs?  This morning I showered, put on clean clothing.  I promise to apply at least some lip gloss before leaving the house.  Maybe I’ll even crush one of the kids’ Flintstone vitamins into a glass of water and chug it.  I will avoid downtown like the plague.

Getting It

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I have long watched herds of teens roaming the neighbourhoods we’ve lived in and wondered, “Where are their parents?”  “Did her mother SEE what she left the house in this morning?” “How could that boy be allowed to walk out with no coat?”  I would then make clucking noises and shake my head.

Oh, how far the smug have fallen…

Fear not, I am still shaking my head and making odd noises that no one pays any mind to.  However, this happens as I stand at my own front door (slightly hidden on purpose behind the doorway so my teenage son doesn’t see me watching) as my boy walks off our property wearing nothing but a t-shirt and torn jeans.  Beneath my feet, the furnace thrums away in our basement.

Because its bloody cold outside.

I get it now.

Herds of teens roam the chilly streets of Toronto inappropriately dressed not because they’re parentless urchins but because that is how they like it. No, let me re-phrase that:  that is how they demand it.

As I stood impotently in the foyer holding out a hoodie, my son barked at me in his ever-deepening voice, “I’m FINE!”  Which means, “Mom, if you come one step closer to me with that thing I will burn it with the lasers that will shoot out of my eyeballs, I’ll incinerate you and the hoodie right there.”

My daughter, God love her, has only this year seemed to show more common sense but with girls it’s different.  Coats, jackets, even puffy parkas, can be a fashion statement – as can warm winter boots.  Boys – a species I have lived 50 years not understanding and will probably go to my grave no wiser about – are different.  Boys have to show that they’re tough or cool or at the very least, that they can survive their own stupidity.

I think.

So, as I watch the skinny figure of my boy walk into the morning sun (thank God for that at least), I shake my head and wander off to find my fleece-lined slippers.  At the top of the stairs I look into his room, a den of computer cords, phone chargers, headphones and an unmade bed.  I walk down the hall sounding like a discontented barnyard hen.  Cluck, cluck.

Getting it doesn’t make me any happier.

 

 

There Are No Accidents But So Many Questions

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I am here by accident.  Well, not here on earth…well…actually, since there is an 11 year span between me and my sister I stand corrected on that score…

I am on my blog by accident – today.  I was sitting here thinking of ways I could procrastinate (again).  I’ve already cleaned the bathroom and dyed my hair.  I’ve read the newspaper and played with the cat.  I’ve answered the door (thank you, Fed X!).  Fresh out of ideas, I was in the process (or so I thought) of logging onto Facebook.

My fingers had other ideas.  They know what I should be doing and set about typing WordPress instead of Facebook.

Traitors.

As every writer knows, procrastination is the devil on your shoulder.  The little voice that says, “Hey, wouldn’t you rather motor up the Don Valley Parkway and look at fall foliage?” or, “Hey, wouldn’t you rather scrub the toilet?”  Rationally speaking, the answers to both questions would be no.  The DVP is a pain in the ass and so is the toilet but this is what happens when a writer feels compelled to procrastinate.  Suddenly, inexplicably, there is nothing more important than a bunch of yellow and red maples or the disgusting state of the toilet.

Writers, as stated by many famous ones, are world champion procrastinators.  If procrastinating were an Olympic sport, we’d all be gold medalists.  The smart writers sit placidly in front of their screens and daydream.  The ones with ADD (like me) paint rooms.  Let’s just say partners and spouses can tell that you haven’t been writing all day if the house is a different colour when they get home.

Why do writers procrastinate?  What is it about our genetic/personality/dysfunctional make-up that necessitates avoiding doing the very thing we claim to love so dearly?

I have a theory:  fear.  Every time I sit in front of my screen, I am terrified that no words will come.  This fear is now magnified by the fact that I’m on antidepressants.  I’m cheerful and calm these days but the creativity seems to have dried up like a desert lake.  I break out in a cold sweat just thinking of writing; I walk in a wide arc around the computer.

When push comes to shove and my fingers get moving, I’m usually fine.  If I’m not, I vow to write my “one square inch” and be done with it.  However, it’s really hard not to feel enormously guilty about less-than-stellar efforts or results. Guilt does not always yield creative results.

Worse than procrastination is hard work that doesn’t necessarily yield a tangible product at the end of the day.  By sitting down at the computer for four to six hours, I’m not building anything that you can sit on, I’m not solving the debt crisis in Greece, I’m not finding a cure for cancer.  I’m not earning a dime from that four to six hours of effort.

So, why?  How many writers, day in and day out, ask themselves that very question?  Is it worth the guilt?  The ever-mounting bills?

The other evening, my daughter was discussing what she wants to do when she grows up.  Her (current) career choice is not one that will garner her a huge income, ever.  I blurted out, “If you love what you do, that is the most important thing.”  I caught some looks.  I felt guilt and sadness wash over me.  Is love enough?  What a question.

 

 

Faith

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Blank page: could be good, could be very very bad. Coffee could be spiked…it’s all good.

Over an impromptu coffee with one of my writing teachers yesterday, I poured my heart out about The Novel and its 1) lack of direction, 2) lack of completion and my general mental illness regarding same.

My teacher, a wise and beautiful woman, nodded knowingly.

“Yes.  It’s the nature of the beast,” she said (or something to that effect).  “Why do you think so many writers off themselves or drink themselves into oblivion on a regular basis?  Being a writer is lonely, hard, thankless, and only undertaken by those who are mentally ill to start with.” (Or something to that effect).

A dark cloud passed over our cafe magnifying the sense of Gloom.

Instead of walking out of there and popping into the Kilt and Dagger next door (a not-so-charming pub perfect for a disconsolate sort), I walked to my car feeling strangely buoyant.

Yes, it’s true my mental instability knows no bounds but I think what my friend did was renew my faith.

I (finally) understood that having faith doesn’t mean that some days aren’t gonna suck.  Having faith doesn’t mean you don’t feel insecure or lost. Having faith is understanding that there are sucky, bad, bitch-worthy days – sometimes these days stretch into weeks and months.  You carry on because you know somehow that this hard, lonely path is the one you were meant to be on – no matter what.  You have to recognize that insecurities and low points are are normal.  It is ok.  Writers are blessed with permission to be insecure, unstable, self-doubting, and cranky – how awesome is that!

I’m not insane.  I’m a writer.  Well, ok I might be a little bit insane but…whatever.

Do gold miners walk into the hills and see bands of polished, gleaming metal on the surface?  No, they do not.  They have to dig through miles of muck and stone to find the good stuff.  Writers are different – we lay down the miles and miles of muck and then dig back through it looking for a nugget that we may have inadvertently written.  How many times have I sifted through page after page of dreck, thinking that the bottle of scotch in the corner really needs draining when suddenly, there:  a sentence, a turn of phrase, or a passage – a nugget of something golden.

Writing is thankless, hard, decidedly un-rewarding.  It’s lonely.  No one understands why we do what we do when the chances of winning the lottery seem to far outweigh the chances of getting published.  Yes, writers are a strange breed.

We are paragons of faith.

Curiosity

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This is actually Sable Island off Nova Scotia, not my island.

The old adage goes, “Curiosity killed the cat,” and while that may be true for hapless felines, it is not true for anyone who writes fiction.  Curiosity is like oxygen.  It breathes new life into old, tired storytellers.  Like me.

Yesterday, for reasons I cannot now recall, I was perusing Google maps.  I was off the East coast of the U.S. when I discovered an unfamiliar landmass off the coast of ______.  I’m being deliberately vague here because if I disclosed what state, I might get into trouble.

Curiosity led to further digging; the landmass is a privately owned island.  Not that this is a particularly remarkable discovery – there are loads of them up and down the east coast.  Further curiosity revealed that this particular island has been owned by the same family, uninterrupted by wars, deaths, and lawsuits for hundreds of years.

Hmmmmm…private island, ancestral lineage, old money, persistent eccentricities…I smell a story.

Enter practicality, if just for a moment.  I’m not a historical fiction writer; I cannot fathom tackling the saga of such a family through the centuries.  I’m more interested (curious, if you will) about the culture clash between the generations of such a dynasty.  Immediately, I thought of all the eccentric characters I knew growing up on the coast.  Salt air breeds not only rust but decidedly colourful people.

My mind is swimming from the mainland out to this island. A mere speck on the map, its sandy shores are barely holding their own above the rising tides. A slightly crazy patriarch.  His daughter and son – both of whom left the island wanting to discover the “real” world on the mainland.  A cast of eccentric relatives.  A family at the mercy of the tides and time.  Run-ins with storms and the Coast Guard.  A history of piracy (rumoured).  A scandal from a hundred years ago.  Bagpipes.  Shoals.  Learning to accept (and love) the family you’ve got no matter how crazy they are.

Yeah.  I’m turning off the phone.  I’m going to be busy this afternoon…I’ll be on my own private island.

The Slowdown

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I sit unwashed and pajama-clad.  The kids are gone, the cat is riding a skateboard around my kitchen.  Bono croons in my ear thanks to my iPod.  I am trying, determined and grim-faced, to write something, anything.  Just a sentence.  Please, God. Just a sentence.

Good job, kid.  You’ve managed eight quasi-sentences; not pretty, not perfect but there they are – words on a page in a straight line, in English.  Why the sudden struggle you ask?

Well for one thing, its Fall.  As the weather cools, things tend to slow down inside my head.  I swear I was born to hibernate – me ending up as a human was a boo-boo on someone’s part.  I eat copious amounts of idiocy-inducing carbohydrates and think constantly about sleep.  Thoughts and movements become sluggish.  My husband should realize that my appearance at the gym last night was nothing short of miraculous.

More sobering: I’ve gone back on antidepressants.  For anyone who has suffered from depression chronically, you know the medication can be as much of a curse as a cure.  Apparently in order to boost mood the brain needs to come to a grinding halt.  It makes no sense to me but there it is.

I have to say that the drugs have come a looooong way since I was last at their mercy.  I remember being on Paxil one bitter Calgary winter.  I was at the stove stirring something.  In a near-stupour, I stirred that pot for an hour until someone gently took the spoon away  and stood me in a corner.  I was robotic but really not too concerned about it.

Nice.  In those days, I was driving very small children around in snowy, icy conditions.  It makes me shudder recalling how completely out of it I was.  I didn’t write.  I didn’t even think.  The modern drug that I’m on now doesn’t make me quite as dopey but I am shite at parking the car suddenly.  And I don’t care.

What I do care about is the fact that my creative tap has been shut off.  The odd idea floats by but I can’t react fast enough to grab it and set it down on paper.  The Novel is literally a chapter or two away from completion.  I wrote a pivotal scene right before I went on medication.  It was bad – it careened between happily-ever-after and desperate cruelty.  Eesh.  I’m afraid to even open the file.

I could finish it.  I could wrap everything up in a neat, tidy bow and be done with it but I know it needs a substantial re-write.  I know I’m not capable of doing it right now.  Because I need a haircut and a nap, not necessarily in that order.  It’s 9:15 in the morning.

What tidings will Winter bring?

Writing the Hurt

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My favourite scene from a Diane Keaton/Jack Nicholson movie whose title I’ve forgotten is when she sits at her computer, sobbing buckets.  She is a writer and as such, she can do nothing else but write about her most unfortunate liaison with Jack, a gut-wrenching episode in her life.  She cries so much her computer is in danger of short-circuiting from salt water damage, she sits in a sea of Kleenex.  It is hilarious.  It struck a chord with every writer who saw it.

That which is written from the heart or the deepest part of your gut is likely to be the most authentic work.  Truth in writing resonates with readers.

Such writing is painful.  Probably on a par with having your fingernails and toenails systematically plucked out while simultaneously being prodded with a hot poker.  Or, perhaps if you were possessed by a demon and had to undergo an exorcism by a particularly sadistic priest.  Or, being burned alive.

That’s the kind of pain I’m talking about.

Writing produced in such a way is the writing you will have to hide from family members or publish under a nom de plume because invariably its about them – unless you’re very, very brave.  But that’s ok.  Nom de plumes are fun – I’ve already got three myself.

Writing the hurt is worth the pain.  The process is difficult.  I’ve paced countless footsteps in front of my desk, pushed myself away from the keyboard because it felt as though the keystrokes burned my fingers – the words hurt so much.  I’ve agonized – is it too much?  How can I say that?  Why does my mind go there?

What is this weird desperate need for attention that prompts writers to reveal, through the vehicle of fiction, their deepest fears and sufferings to total strangers? I sometimes think therapy would be healthier…