Time Out

Last weekend, the Restless Writers combined two of our greatest loves, writing and wine, at the third annual Restless Writers’ retreat in the beautiful Niagara on the Lake.

I, for one, look forward to this trip each year as a chance to recharge, stretch my writing brain and get inspired. And it did not disappoint. For four days, our laptops were put to the test as we polished pages, revisited old projects, and unearthed news ones.

Of course our trip would not have been complete without taking time out to sample the beautiful scenery and fermented grape goods produced in the heart of Canada’s wine country.

Here are some pictures from our weekend. Can’t wait to do it all over again.

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Popcorn Anyone?

I’m late getting to my blog post. This is nothing new but what I am switching up this month is my excuse. I’m not going to blame work, kids or even the hectic pace of getting my household back into a routine for a new school year. Nope. My blog post is tardy because I’ve been spending every waking moment outside of work, kids and getting my household back into a routine for a new school year reading Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, the eighth instalment of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

I love these books.

The series follows a married World War II combat nurse who mysteriously finds herself transported back to eighteenth century Scotland. Think hot Scottish Highlander, time travel and epic historical battles.

If the release of the newest Outlander book wasn’t enough excitement for this wannabe Sassenach, a new television series adapted from the books launched in Canada on Showcase on Aug. 24. Think hot Scottish Highlander, time travel and epic historical battles brought to life!

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While some may not be fans of novel adaptations to the big or small screen, I am. And that’s a good thing because movie and television book adaptations are plentiful right now – my fellow RW Andrea even featured one in her last blog post. From Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black to The Hunger Games and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it seems like there are more book-to-screen adaptations now than ever before.

For me, an adaptation is like Toy Story for adults. I get to see the characters and all the tiny details that live bottled inside my head come alive. And, in the case of a book like Outlander where it’s been more than a decade since I first read it, I have the joy of reliving my favourite parts of the story all over again. Think hot Scottish Highlander…okay, okay.

Granted, it doesn’t always work. There have been times after seeing an adaptation where I wished that I could shove those characters back inside the safety of my imagination and erase the movie versions. The Da Vinci Code comes to mind.

When it does work, it can be magic – the perfect word to describe one of my favourite book adaptations, Harry Potter. I was in my thirties when I read this series but that did not take anything away from the sheer thrill of seeing JK Rowling’s oddball sets and characters made real. The screen versions of her books surpassed my imagination.

The good news for us book adaptation lovers is that the trend is not slowing down any time soon. There is a long list of new movie adaptations set to hit the screens in 2015. I am especially looking forward to Still Alice.

In the meantime, get writing. The time has never been riper for the chance to see your characters and their stories given life.

What are some of your favourite book adaptations?

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Our gift as writers

I recently read A Fault in Our Stars by John Green and one line has attached itself to me like the scabies parasite that burrowed into my abdomen after one summer camp canoe trip at age 12. I was itchy and red and uncomfortable because these little mites had taken refuge in my body. Gross. It took days to get them out of my system, and even though I couldn’t physically see them, my thoughts were consumed by them simply knowing they were there, gnawing at me physically and mentally.

OK, so the line from Green’s novel that stuck with me isn’t gross nor uncomfortable like scabies, but it has been equally consuming mentally. Like the parasite in my abdomen, this line has penetrated and settled itself into my psyche and each day it gets itchy in thought, until now I’m compelled to write about it.

In the book, the main character, Hazel, is trying to figure out what she believes happens after we die. With all the suffering she has seen, she can’t imagine there is a magical place like heaven with harps etc, but she also isn’t comfortable with death just being the end. Her father thoughtfully responds to her saying “I don’t know if heaven exists, but I had a math teacher in college once say, ‘Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.’ That’s what I believe. I believe the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.”

I read those lines and I was instantly hit Batman style: “BAM!” “SMACK!” “WHOMP!” I had to re-read it a few times to really absorb the impact of the punch. “Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.” Yes.

Through A Fault in our Stars, Green deeply notices not only the harrowing experience of cancer, but the angst of teenage years, the complexity of family and friendships, and the intricacies of love. He elegantly describes both the destruction and beauty each leave in their wake.

When I asked my two teenage nieces about their reactions to the book, they said things like:

  • “It was practical and normal…and still I never got bored.”
  • “There was a truth to it…about what it’s like to be a teenager.”
  • “He didn’t trivialize the experience.”
  • “He didn’t avoid the pain. Pain happens, but there can still be beautiful things within it and in spite of it.”

Green noticed. He observed. And then, through the elegance of his words, the elegance of the universe came to life for his readers to take in and take pause. That’s the gift of great writing.

Whether it’s through the meticulous description of radiation treatment, a forest, or a heart breaking, we take the time to notice when others do not. We respond through our prose to the universe’s desire. And our words have the power to bring depth to a world where most scurry like rats foraging the surface for survival each day. Our calling is to remind others to stop and pay attention. You’re moving too quickly.

Many of us struggle to know if the sweat and tears we shed to find the right words really matters to anyone but ourselves, but I beg you to remember the last time you got Batman smacked by a line from a good book. Finding the right words means noticing. Really noticing. It is needed. It is essential. It is our gift to the world.

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Doing the best we can

doingitallThis month marks the Restless Writer’s 5-yr blogiversary with almost 36,000 views.

We’re not perfect bloggers, writers, or people for that matter. We may not post as often as we’d like to but we do the best we can. Each of us are at different stages in our writing lives, doing what we can, when we can, and how we can. If it means finding inspiration in our life stories, our kids, or our cats—that is what we do. Whether it’s producing chapters (or cookies) for our meetings—that is what we do.

It was Einstein who said it’s our human responsibility to do the best we can, it’s what keeps us happy, keeps us engaged, and gives meaning to our lives.

Do your best. Go the extra mile. And do it for your characters too. More importantly, don’t beat yourself up for what you haven’t done (or written), and celebrate the things you have!

How to be the best you can be, in writing and in life:

1. Figure out what you want and what you want to write.

2. Take a small step each day to get there.

3. Ask for and be open to critique.

4. Find a role model.

5. Take risks.

6. Be healthy (so you are ready for anything).

7. Be yourself and honest with yourself.

8. Try new things.

9. Treat yourself (well, duh, we have mastered this one. It’s called butter tarts).

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Road trip: Coping with the commute to feed my book habit

The walk to my bookstore was almost as nice as this.

The walk to my bookstore was almost as nice as this.

Growing up in downtown Burlington, I lived a 10-minute walk from my local independent bookstore. And I was there a lot. As a child, I enthusiastically browsed picture books on sunny Saturday afternoons. As a sullen and rebellious teen, I retreated with the bookstore cat to the upstairs poetry section on my lunch-break from high school. As an adult blissfully working in the same bookstore after university, I strolled to and from the store under a canopy of old-growth trees, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of brie sandwiches from the local deli.

There is no chore less chore-like than walking to the bookstore.

Walking back home with the goods was almost as nice—less the thrill of anticipation of unknown pleasures; but with more contented looking-forward to perusing or giving away new purchases.

Where I live now, there is no bookstore within walking distance. If I want to buy a book—say, for Mother’s Day—I have to drive a good 20 minutes to find an independent bookstore or even a chain, and then pay for parking too. Biking there isn’t really an option either. Sometimes the hassle of getting to the bookstore casts a pall of irritability on what should be a pleasurable adventure.*

But, because I am nothing if not able to look on the bright side, I’ve learned to turn my car-aided book-buying trips into more pleasurable excursions. With the help of my trusty automobile, I get to:

  • Buy more books. I used to be limited by what I could carry in two hands. Now I can swipe my VISA with abandon, knowing I have a whole SUV to cart my purchases home.
  • Make it an afternoon. My favourite downtown bookstore is in a neighbourhood with plenty of pubs, coffee shops and other places to read. If I’m going, I might as well go for the long haul.
  • Or make it a quickie at lunch. I can buy a new book and still have time left over to nuke a Lean Cuisine before returning to the grind.
  • Bring a friend. Book-buying is more fun times two. And then you get to ogle each other’s purchases over lunch.
  • Browse in the rain. A stormy day doesn’t stop me from buying books.
  • Explore. If I have to get in a car anyway, why don’t I check out independent or second-hand bookstores in other cities?
  • Pass it on. In the same trip, and hopefully with a friend to help with the heavy lifting, I can bring boxes of books to donate to a charity book sale.

I hope one day to live within a short and pleasant walk of my local bookstore. That would involve a move or some brave soul opening up a new shop in my current neighbourhood. (Don’t look so pessimistic—booksellers have reason to be optimistic, even nowadays.) Time will tell. Until then, I’ll have to make do with getting there on four wheels.

What about you? Do you have a much-loved bookstore in your neighbourhood?

Maria

*True, my local library has a branch that’s a very easy five-minute walk from my house. But some days, I just want a bookstore. I want to browse, fondle, flip through, sniff, choose, discard, revisit and purchase books. I want to own books. I want to hoard them to an unhealthy degree. I want to give the second-best ones to friends and family. I want to dog-ear pages, scuff spines and highlight choice phrases with abandon and without fear of ruining the books for anyone else. I want the freedom to be able to buy a book and immediately chuck it in a puddle. (Not that I ever would—that’s shockingly disrespectful to the written word.) I’d just like to shop quietly and happily for books that I get to keep forever, thank you very much. And please don’t get me started with buying books online.
 

Photo credit: Crystal Palace by Ewan-M. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.

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Discovering the “Good” in Goodbye

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning.” Ivy Baker Priest

I’ve never much liked goodbyes. I come by it honestly. Growing up, when it came to saying goodbye, my mom used to say we were born with our kidneys too close to our eyeballs because we found them sad and were easy to cry. The two of us could see total strangers bidding each other adieu at the airport and in an instant; there would be the tears.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise (mostly to me) that I initiated my own goodbye last month. After six years at the same job, I packed up to start a new opportunity. Equally as surprising (again, only to me) was that I managed to get through my departure sans tears.

While I felt sad knowing I wouldn’t see the good friends I’d made day to day, a strange thing started to happen to me in the days leading up to my last day – I started to see some actual “good” in this whole goodbye thing.

I realized goodbyes are:

Good for getting nice notes from your colleagues and other co-workers you didn’t even know cared

Good for reminding you how much stuff you’ve really accomplished over the years in your job

Good for finding a vase of bright spring tulips on your desk

Good for seeing how much better your current hairdo is than the one on your old ID badge

Good for reminding you to take a leap every once in a while

Good for pushing yourself to go for new things

Good for taking stock of and feeling grateful for all you’ve learned and the great relationships you’ve made

Good for blog post ideas, suggested by your fellow RW (Miss Beckie!)

Good for being the recipient of a heartfelt poem written by your talented and thoughtful coworker who also happens to be a RW (thank you Andrea!)

And of course, GOOD for new beginnings.

Wish me luck!

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My writing albatross

Why can’t I write this blog post? It’s been pressing on my shoulders for three weeks now. Coleridge’s damn albatross. The emails from my fellow Restless Writers were initially gentle reminders, but have now become electrified prods like I’m a cow to be herded back to my quarters. (OK, they’re not that mean, but I am feeling the pressure.)

Every time I sit down in hopes the “grand inspiration” will come, the screen sits in silence. The keys remain idle. My fingers await their commands.

And alas, when a few words do splatter on the screen they are out of focus, blurry like a…like a…what? The simile alludes me. My muse is clearly on vacation enjoying steamy weather and sunlight, while I freeze in this record cold winter, surrounded by greying snow and the greying sky out my window that reflects the current grey in my brain.

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Where is the light in my thoughts? Where is just a spark of an idea? I’m sitting beside a fire for God’s sake! Nothing?

Have I left it too long? Have the distractions of my life stolen my ability to create something new? Perhaps I have starved Calliope for too long and she has found refuge in another writer’s home.

What’s a writer to do when a fog has descended on her creativity? Here are some ideas:

  • Try a writing prompt to start you off and help focus your brain.
  • Write something, anything every day – even if it’s crap – at least you’re writing.
  • Read. Read anything – about writing, a novel, a blog, poetry. Read…a lot.
  • Schedule your writing time and be disciplined to make it happen with no distractions.
  • Take a step back for a moment and set some goals. Maybe it’s time to regroup and figure out what you want to achieve with your writing. Check in to ensure you are heading in the direction you want to be with your writing. Maybe it’s time for a left-hand turn to stir things up.
  • Stop and have a good look at your life recently.  What needs to shift? Where are you out of balance? (This one’s mine. My life’s been spazzy these last months and my writing has suffered because of it.)

Writing takes persistence, perseverance and patience, and each ‘p’ word comes in waves. Sadly my surf board has been stuck behind my snow shovel lately. I know I have to dig it out…once I dig my car out of the driveway. The worst ‘p’ for me is the third one. Damn that patience thing. It’s the new albatross around my neck now that this blog post is done.

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