Guys! The cutest new coffee shop opened in my neighbourhood. It’s bright, friendly, independently owned and just a 15-minute walk from home. While this might not seem like a big deal, trust me when I say it is. Having a local gathering spot in this suburban hood where ne’er the words “double-double” or “grande” are spoken brings me such happiness.
In addition to great drinks and a fun vibe, one of my favourite things about the new spot is the lids. More specifically, the plastic coffee cup lids – each one of which is adorned with a handwritten note of daily inspiration.
Truth be told, when I first laid eyes on this lid set up, my pandemic-induced germ aversion left me a little unsure. Thoughts of random hands touching every lid, using a black Sharpie to add ink right next to the place where my mouth would be? Was this really necessary? But I quickly became a fan.
Never underestimate the power of words
It’s a small thing but the ritual of finding my lid is something I’ve come to love. Standing at the counter, waiting for my drink, my eyes go directly to the selection of lids laid out on their gold rack. Looking at all the choices is my chance to do a quick self check in – how am I feeling today?
Need a little boost? “The world is a better place with you in it,” is the lid for me.
Ready to take on the world? “You glow girl!”
Beating yourself up? How about a gentle reminder that “every fall is a chance to rise.”
The real magic comes on the days where you don’t know what you feel and then suddenly a brightly coloured plastic dome is speaking to you and telling you something even you didn’t realize you needed to hear.
On the days I can’t get to the coffee shop and my husband offers to bring a tea home for me, I get the chance to see myself reflected in the lid he chooses for me. “Life is beautiful and so are you.” Of course there was that one time he brought me a lid that encouraged “don’t just live, exist.” Mmmmm, pretty sure it was a typo but even the mixed-up messages leave me smiling.
The words are small and simple but they’ve got my back. Like a little plastic hype man that leaves me feeling energized, engaged and ready to take on the day.
I’ve been getting outside more to walk. The days are still cold, sometimes unkind, but they’re redeemed by the sun making a more regular appearance. The warmth feels good on my face, and it’s got me dreaming of the new seeds I’m going to plant and the healing tea garden that will soon come to life in my backyard.
Whether I’m walking in my neighbourhood or on the Bruce Trail, there is a recognizable silence that comforts me. I hear only my own footsteps, the birds chirruping, and the sound of squirrels rustling up dinner prep. Few people are out yet doing yard chores in the cold, with the exception of our 80-year-old neighbour who can always find a way to make me feel like the laziest human.
Most days, I spend my time on a device, on a project, on a mission, always go-go-go. It can be an internal skirmish, as I’m a person who craves calm. So, at the end of the day, I attempt to lace up my hikers, and get myself outside. The silence of the outdoors helps me function, it unlocks my mind to new ideas, new recipes, dreams—you name it.
Scientists who study brain scans already know that moments of creativity take place when the mind is at rest. When I’m outside or simply relaxing, I can feel my brain begin to free itself. So naturally, I find myself craving slower living. One activity that has been cultivating calm for me is seeking inspiration in other artists—artists who embody relaxation and share this special ability with the world. Here are a handful of my favourites, in case you too can benefit from their stories.
Maria and the Forest – An artist, educator, and filmmaker sharing her interest in plants, foraging, and rural life in the countryside of Norway.
I hope you can find calm in these stories, and be brave enough to give your brain leisure. It is this that will help you carry your ideas, your writing projects, perhaps even your career, to the next level. As the weather starts to warm, my aim is to get outside daily. You might even see me carrying a basket, as my YouTube friends have all inspired me to forage in the nearby woods.
Thank you, Maria, Paola, Martijn, Julia, and Anastasia. Keep posting, you are an inspiration!
After three failed attempts to leave town for our annual writing retreat, IT FINALLY HAPPENED.
Each day leading up to our anticipated departure, Andrea sent us giddy one-liners to remind us how many sleeps until our retreat. The countdown was on, and we couldn’t wait for that insanely valuable gift of time. Time to connect, time to let the mind wander, and time to write.
For many months, COVID had sent our creativity into free fall. Each of us consumed with long days of work and family responsibilities, combined with ambitious attempts to restore balance and good health. Sadly, the pandemic has kept us apart, and has contributed to some stalled progress on our writing projects. We’ve been without our in-person creative nurture network! Retreat bookings canceled, deposits returned, optimism shattered—until last weekend.
It was a hot July day when we all converged upon a local B&B, an elegant Victorian mansion built in 1848. It was the ideal blend of country quiet and city convenience. The house was an eclectic mix of antiques from a distant and gracious time, with silver tea sets and crystal Sherry decanters in almost every Italianate-style room. We were welcomed by a sprawling verandah, an elaborate front parlor and library, a billiards room, and a breezy screened-in garden porch, perfect for listening to the pitter-patter of rain. There was even a friendly and persistent cat named Finn, who was quickly adopted (for the weekend) by Maria. The place was oddly reminiscent of living in a game of Clue or perhaps even a lazy and drawn-out visit to Aunt Jocasta’s home at River Run in North Carolina (see Outlander).
This time around, we forfeited any kind of agenda (a rarity for us gals!). The weekend’s theme simply emerged as a time of refocusing—get back to the writing. After quick consensus on our theme, some loose rules started to make themselves known. In about 20 minutes, we had a retreat plan, or rather, a mantra starting to form to guide our time together.
It went something like this:
Everything is okay
This mantra was uttered repeatedly over the course of four blissful days.
We began the retreat with Prosecco and a writing exercise. And we left with new pages, and new optimism.
In our daily lives, we work hard as professionals and as parents. We deserved this self-funded getaway and the writer self-care it provided. It was the perfect blend of solitude and connection. To us, our writing retreats are the “room of one’s own” Virginia Woolf championed; the time to rest, think, walk, ponder and just be; and the faith that, as writers, we deserve this time.
Restless Writers, I’m adding this one to our mantra above, as it bears repeating:
When Maria returned from out west, merely months ago, we thought we were finally done with video calls. Then COVID happened. Now all four of us reside inside of Zoom. Our meetings have become more or less check-in’s instead of a loosely structured event like normal, but they’re still happening. A small win.
As the pandemic has evolved, each of us have experienced it differently. There have been some pretty significant disruptions to our work lives, family lives, and our financial security. Yet, we remain connected—we are in this moment together.
We’ve been doing our best to stay strong, stay positive, and stay home. I’d like to think as writers, we might understand social isolation a bit more than others. In fact, we make a point of forcing it upon ourselves on a regular basis, because how else would we get our pages done? Ah yes, pages. Those bloody pages!
For those of you who are actually writing, there are some fun pop-up call-outs out there. Like this one! A Canadian publishing house in northern B.C. is hoping the extra time people have while isolating will result in some great writing. Muskeg Press has put out a call for submissions for stories written during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Publisher is compiling a book and paying authors of the chosen stories $350. Deadline is June 30.
Restless Writers? Are we up for a new writing challenge?
Times are tough, but we’re doing okay and have much to be grateful for. In an attempt to find new ways to connect, as well as an excuse to check-in on my pals, I posed a few questions to the Restless Writers. Here’s what they had to say:
What is the book getting you through COVID right now?
Maria:It’s not so much books but magazines. I am reading and re-reading issues of The Walrus.
Sharon:I had the accidental good fortune of signing out a whack of library books just a few days before the shut down and they’re not due until August! I’m just finishing The Reader, by Traci Chee, a YA novel set in a world where reading is unheard of. It’s provided a much-needed outlet to wind down.
What is the #1 insight you’ve had while in isolation? (or something you’ve learned about yourself during this time)?
Andrea:How interesting other people’s homes are when we connect on Zoom! And (for real) how important face-to-face connection is. I’m worried people will think distancing is normal after this is over. That would make me sad. We can’t keep doing virtual meetings thinking it’s the same thing.
BJas:I like social isolation. A lot. And, it’s probably not a good time to pitch my book about a pandemic. I am also blown away by the everyday unlikely heroes and small business superstars. There is so much good happening, and it inspires me to do more and be better.
Maria:Every day brings a new reflection about how people manage through hard times, and how much we need other people and community. Even the self-described introverts, like me. Maybe in The Before Times we took that connection for granted. Watching the stories about how Nova Scotia is coming together right now to help everyone who is hurting makes my heart break and soar at the same time. I for one hope that we all come out of this a little stronger and a little kinder.
Sharon:SO much, but one of the things I know I will take with me from this time is a gentler stand point on the bad stuff. I’m not saying everything happens for a reason but sometimes there is a nugget of goodness planted in the unpleasant that we just can’t see in the moment. e.g. Did living on one salary for 2+ years suck, have me stressed and lashing out on more days than I’d like to admit? You bet. BUT, has that same experience, which taught me about budgeting for what’s important, letting go of wants and making a meal of noodles last three days, provided me a leg up in this quarantine? Darn right. Shitty stuff is still going to come at me post pandemic but when it does, I’m going to trust a little more, even if I can’t see all the pieces.
What is the FIRST thing you want to do when this is all over?
Andrea: Hug all my friends and family.
BJas: Go for a really long drive with the top down and deliver birthday presents to family and friends, while playing Lana Del Ray.
Maria: First thing is a haircut. Second thing is a cocktail in a real live bar.
Sharon: Hang out with my dad. In the same room.
Writers, we hope you are safe and well, and finding time to write and connect with what matters to you most. Family, friends, music, art – the very best of company! I leave you with this, a list of six daily quarantine questions, published by Brooke Anderson at Greater Good Magazine, intended to help you check in with yourself. Such a great reminder of the power we each hold to do better each day, for ourselves and others.
Lastly, a huge thank you to our friends on the front-line, essential workers, and volunteers for their dedication in keeping our families safe during this uncertain and challenging time. From all of us, thank you for everything that you do.
We’re back. That’s right, after a largely unintentional summer-induced blogging hiatus, the RWs are back and we’re packing some seriously awesome news.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Restless Writers. Ten years, people! That’s a decade of pages, Pringles, prosecco and friendship that frankly, I can’t imagine doing without.
To celebrate our milestone, I am attempting something a little different with this post, taking you behind the scenes to share some insider information, reflections and a collection of our favourite moments so far.
To get this blog post started, I used my very rusty journalism skills acquired as a student reporter for The Queen’s Journal (GO GAELS!) and did some actual research. That is, I posed the same set of questions to each of the RWs and asked them to email their responses directly to me so that I could keep everyone’s answers a surprise until I hit publish on this blog post.
Each time one of their emails appeared in my inbox, I rushed to open it, like a Christmas present. I loved reading each of their unique perspectives and learning a little bit about what this group means to them.
Without further ado, here is a glimpse inside the minds of the RWs on the occasion of their 10th anniversary.
What’s the one tip, trick or piece of advice you’ve picked up through RW that you use all the time when it comes to writing?
Sharon: For me, the one thing the RWs have taught me about writing is, just write. True story, the first time an invitation was extended to me to join RW, I chickened out. I had two very small kids and a really long list of excuses — what did I really know about writing next to the RW OGs, Beckie and Maria?, I’d just embarrass myself, what would I write?…and the list went on. Now, when that self doubt creeps in, I say to myself, “just write,” and you can worry about the rest later.
Beckie: Unless you puke, faint, or die – keep going. Whether or not you think “nobody’s going to read this,” finish it anyway. It’s not about doing it all, it’s about doing your best at all you can do. Keep your day job, but don’t quit your daydream!
Andrea: Be alright writing a first shitty draft. There is no shame! And, double space when you’re writing so there is room for feedback (I heard ya Beckie – every time!)
Maria: It’s a tie between “write a shitty first draft” and “watch out for repeated words.”
Getting Up Close and Personal
What is something you’ve learned about each of the RWs, that you didn’t know about them when you joined RW?
Maria: I didn’t know that… Andrea would show us all how to tackle and achieve goals with such gusto. Sharon would surprise us all with such delicious details from her past relationships. Beckie had such a mysterious and exciting family history that she could mine for un-put-downable stories.
Andrea: Maria is petrified of bees and could probably teach me a few things related to more than just writing 🙂 Sharon is the best baker, most loyal, and feistier than you think Beckie is the most thoughtful, is a hundred steps ahead of me, and works harder than anyone I know to get shit done.
Beckie: Andrea: Three words: Brave as fuck. Sharon: Two words: Culinary whiz. Maria: One word: Pigtails.
Sharon: Maria: Is a phenomenal writer. Period. If there is one person that makes me want to hang up my keyboard and call it a day, it’s this one. Andrea: Wears her heart on her sleeve and it’s impossible not to get caught up in her passion for all things family, theatre and life! Beckie: Is a green thumb ninja and the most generous soul. Need extra veggies from her garden? A book for journaling? Some fancy shampoo? She’s always surprising us with thoughtful gifts for all of life’s occasions and sometimes, just because.
What is your favourite RW memory so far?
Beckie: Every. Single. Writing. Retreat. Hands down. Because Restless Writers retreats combine our two greatest loves – writing and grape juice, usually in some picturesque setting somewhere away from reality. Ladies, it’s been awhile, can we please book one?!
After all these years, I thought it would be fun to see just how well the RWs know each other. For this part of the post, I asked the RWs to answer each of the questions below for themselves and then share what they thought the other RWs would say.
Have a look:
Winner, winner, chicken dinner
How’d we do? Beckie took the top spot with a total of six correct guesses. I faithfully attempted some math to present a slew of fancy percentages but it made this history major’s head hurt. Rest assured, it seems we all could use a little brush up on our RW knowledge.
While we may not have all our facts down, I can tell you with much accuracy that being a part of the Restless Writers, after all these years, continues to be a source of great happiness and creativity. I love this unique little brood we’ve built.
Kindread spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” —L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
I have jumped in something new. Something exciting. Something scary. And I LOVE it.
It’s scary because it’s a re-entry into a world I have been away from for the past nine-years. It’s also scary because I’m allowing myself to be exposed and vulnerable with a group of people and a director I don’t know, as we explore the art of solo theatre together.
This is exactly what I’ve needed. I’ve been writing my friggin’ play for years now – while balancing kids and a full-time job (you know the drill). I’ve been making progress, but for a while, it’s been feeling like the show has been missing a certain je ne sais quoi (and/or I’ve been hesitating putting it out there for fear of judgment).
It got to the point where my fellow Restless Writers said, “Um, Andrea, what is going on with your play. Are you going to workshop it any time soon or something?” Followed up by my husband a few days later saying “Yeah, what is happening with your play?”
So, with a good smack on the butt from my accountability team, I knew I would have to shake things up if I was going to gain any momentum.
Well, momentum I am gaining, my friends. I am working with a master in one-person theatre – Tracey Erin Smith. She is the Artistic Director of Soulo Theatre, the creator of hit shows, and the writer and performer of many of her own solo shows. She’s brilliant, insightful and visionary, and she’s taking no prisoners!
If I wanted something to rock my world, this is it, on so many levels. She’s guiding our group of seven to each create our own 10-minute autobiographical show. It’s writing, acting, playing, soul-searching, self discovery, with what feels like a bit of therapy tied in altogether. And it’s not for the faint of heart. If you’re not all in, don’t bother.
But that’s what makes it magical. We’re a group of committed individuals who want to go on a totally new journey, doing something we’ve never done before, and see where it can lead us and how it will change us. This is why I LOVE theatre. It’s always a stretch. It’s always uncomfortable. It always changes me a little bit.
I had been stuck in my writing because I wasn’t stretching. I was comfortable and staying safe. And we all know good writing – and good theatre – doesn’t work if it’s safe. That’s our job as artists. To push boundaries…but we can’t push them if we’re not pushing ourselves.
So far, over the past four weeks, I’ve been nauseous, shaky and exhilarated. I feel alive and present in a new way, and it’s making me a better writer and performer FOR SURE!
So, your turn. Stop for a second and think. Are you a little stuck or maybe a bit too cozy in your routine or your writing? Are you pushing yourself creatively? Have you done anything recently in your own life to stretch yourself? Is there anywhere that you feel “all in?”
Find something that scares you and go for it. Jump in. Your readers will thank you.
As per tradition, we followed our Restless Writers December meeting with an annual Christmas craft. After collecting (far too many) pine cones, we decided on rustic garland. For such a simple task, we were amazed at the number of bloggers writing novels on how to do this. Here’s how we did it in 5 simple steps.
How to make SIMPLE pine cone garland:
Collect cones. Don’t do anything silly like sort them by size.
Cut desired length of twine or ribbon—much more than you think you’ll need.
Wrap twine around cones. Use wire to make small bunches.
Add white paint or glitter to the cone tips.
Scent cones with a fragrance oil like cinnamon or pine.
Voila! Throw it on the mantel or wear it around your neck. Anything goes. And please….always wear a plaid shirt and start before 10 p.m.
A word about cleaning the pine cones to send the bugs packing. Many bloggers are instructing on washing the cones in vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, and bagging and freezing, and even baking them on cookie sheets. We did NONE of this. We put our bin outside in below freezing temps overnight. It did the job. If this pine cone craft doesn’t do it for you, try searching “pine cone crafts” on Pinterest. It’s mind-blowing!
Crafting in parallel, Maria worked diligently on a Christmas card wreath, with a little help from Mary (meow). Again, super simple.
After an exceptionally busy summer where I did hardly anything but work and recover and work some more, I am now back in a mind-space where I can re-introduce myself to my writing. (Hello, Writing, how have you been? Great to see you. It’s been too long. You look fantastic. Have you lost weight?)
Over the summer, my writing projects took a back-seat in my brain. They were lazy and laid low. But now they’re up and about and ping-ponging all over the place. I can’t seem to catch hold of one idea long enough to do anything about it. And more keep cropping up. So many ideas! How wonderful! How energizing! How…overwhelming!
It’s not unusual for me to be a scatterbrain. I am a Restless Writer, after all. But there must be a way for me to corral all my ideas and see one through to completion, right?
Maybe the answer lies in mindfulness.
Mindfulness has its roots in the practice of meditation, and it was all the rage just a few years ago. Experts and gurus were spouting the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness, and how it could be used to enhance productivity and problem-solving; how it could help people tap into emotional intelligence; how it could help us be more resilient to stress and trauma. Everyone from yoga instructors and schoolteachers to CEOs and your employer’s EAP was doing it, and it spawned magazines, gadgets, apps, ringtones, retreats and colouring books—a whole industry devoted to helping us “be present” and “live in the moment” (and spend money while we were doing it).
Do I sound skeptical? Maybe a little. I get squinchy when I ponder the woo-woo stuff. Plus there’s a whole “first-world problems” side to mindfulness that makes me uncomfortable. Not to mention that entrepreneurs are getting rich by telling me to focus on one thing at a time and take deep breaths.
But okay—and I am taking a deep breath here—skepticism aside, how can I apply some of the lessons of mindfulness to writing?
Hold up. Is it even possible for writers to train themselves to be aware and present in the here-and-now when their minds and imaginations are pulling them far, far away? Writers are characterized as dreamers. We either have our noses in a book or our heads in the clouds. I’m forever thinking about people who don’t exist and putting them in impossible situations—how mindful is that?
It’s true, however, that I find the act of writing to be very grounding. When I have my butt in my chair and my fingers on the keyboard, I’m exactly where I should be, and doing exactly what I should be doing. One of the Restless Writers’ favourite quotes is courtesy of Gloria Steinem: “Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” That sounds like the very definition of mindfulness.
So maybe there is something to this mindfulness thing for writers after all.
I did some research, and there are some lessons that I can take away from mindfulness when it comes to me and my writing. Here’s my short list of learnings:
Do one thing at a time: We often overestimate how much we can get done in a day. I often boast of my multi-tasking skills, but maybe that just makes me more scattered. When my mind is constantly thinking about the Next Thing I have to do, how do I get the One Thing done? Multi-tasking is the intellectual equivalent of the fidgets—it just wastes energy and doesn’t lead to anything productive. It’s good practice to tamp your enthusiasm down a bit, and focus on seeing one thing through to completion before switching tasks.
Live “in the now:” “The now” and “the here” provide endless wells of inspiration for writers. Going grocery shopping? Grabbing a coffee? Eating lunch at a diner? These are all opportunities to tune in to what is going on around you and to witness how people interact with each other and their environments.
Be mindful with others: Other people are living in the now with you. Put away the distractions and focus on the person you’re with or the people who share your space. Not just because it will help you write better dialogue or create more authentic characters—but also because you don’t want to be a jerk.
Be mindful with yourself: What is distracting you? How do you feel about what you’ve written so far? What are you uncomfortable with? What scares you about what comes next? Can you power through this paragraph or do you need to take a break? Checking in with yourself and your feelings can help you overcome writing obstacles and achieve new insights. Fatigue, frustration, and anxiety can lead to writer’s block, so be alert to when a walk or a sandwich are in order.
Use all your senses: This element of mindfulness practice is fun, although it requires a lot of attention. When you’re engaged in mindful practice—whether you are eating an orange, going for a walk, or folding laundry—it’s an opportunity to enhance your vocabulary and make your writing come alive. Focus on the smell of the orange, the sound of the early-morning birdsong, the texture of those towels. Bring that depth and richness of sensation into your writing.
Unplug from devices: This is always a good idea, and goes along with the practice of doing one thing at a time. Allow yourself to focus on the task of writing itself. Don’t get caught in a social media spiral, or lose the thread of your story by cleaning out your inbox. Use your writing time to write. You can always check your feeds on a break.
Let go of judgment: This element of mindfulness requires you to free yourself from your inner editor/critic/English teacher/asshole, and just let your words flow. Don’t criticize or question your writing as you go. Don’t shrink from a scene that is uncomfortable or painful. Don’t go back and rework a comma or reconsider a snippet of dialogue—just write and see where it takes you. Being mindful when you’re writing means to accept and be grateful for your words and your work.
Mindfulness may have been criticized as just another productivity hack or money-making trend or something that has been co-opted from its more spiritual roots. But practiced with consistency and intent, mindfulness might just make you a better writer.
Okay, it’s crunch time people. We’re at T minus 19four one hour until the next RW meeting and yours truly is zero for two on the action items she committed to at our gathering last month. They were pretty simple – more pages for the mystery novel I am currently writing and a new blog post. The worst part is I’ve been on holiday from work for the past two weeks and still, have a sum total of bupkis to show for myself.
Which brings me back to crunch time. If I can get this blog post published within the next 19four hour I’ve got a chance to break even on those action items and hopefully feel a little less like a flop when I walk into our RW meeting.
To get the writing juices flowing I always find it helpful to first whine about my situation. Thankfully, my significant other (SO), who was on the receiving end of my I’ve-missed-my-RW-deadlines-what-is-wrong-with-me sob story, had some good advice.
“Just be honest,” he said. “Write a blog post and just be honest about why you haven’t been writing.”
The truth huh? That sounds about as good of a topic as any to blog about, so, here it goes. The honest truth, the real reason I have failed to produce some writing the last few weeks is that I just didn’t feel like it.
You know what I did feel like doing?
Organizing – In the last two weeks I have upended, purged and organized almost every room, junk drawer and closet in our house and it feels frickin’ fantastic.
Hanging out – The advent of high school in September for my oldest son is serving as a very stark reminder that time is passing all too swiftly and these days as a family of four inhabiting the same living space won’t last forever. Ice cream run? Yep. Daily tennis games against the wall at the schoolyard in 90 degree heat? You bet. I want to take it all in.
Watching TV – I think it’s fair to say the last few days have provided me with a sound understanding of Netflix Canada’s current inventory (Ibiza anyone?), the opportunity to catch up on some old favourites (The Affair, The Americans) and a chance to dive into some new series I keep reading about (Succession).
Reading – To balance out the TV. My library “hold” number for Something in the Water came up just in time for my vacation. Perfect summer reading – it did not disappoint.
Walking and podcast listening – My favourite early morning pastime to get a start on the day and feel like I am learning some interesting stuff. Some of my favourites for listening at the moment include: Terrible, Thanks for Asking, Making Obama, and Criminal.
And there you have it. How I spent my summer vacation.
Looking over this list, it occurs to me that these activities are all my self care go-to’s in times when I’m not feeling like myself – on the days when I’m feeling a little blue or stuck. And actually (I’m having an ah-ha moment), this is probably what my SO meant when he said to “just be honest” about why I haven’t been writing.
The truth is I didn’t feel much like writing the last few weeks because I haven’t been feeling like myself. Nothing specific I can put my finger on but there you have it.
The good news? I think I’m on my way to hitting my reset button: I’ve had the last couple of weeks to do the things that help me to feel better; tonight at our RW meeting I’ll get a second chance to commit to some new actions and more pages; and, if I can publish this post in the next hour I will have gotten back to some writing! Halfway there.
Last fall, I said good-bye to the hours-long commute, fast-food chains, and crowded shopping malls of southern Ontario, and hello to the small-town living, majestic mountain views, and independent spirit of the BC interior.
I also had to say good-bye to my Restless friends. Or at least good-bye to our in-person meetings filled with food, wine, and conversation. I was sad to go, but also excited about my new adventure.
Four months in, and I am still settling into my new home. I miss my friends and my family every day, but I am also making connections with people in my new community and trying to contribute to the Restless Writers from afar.
Making it work
As Sharon said in her previous post, Restless Across the Miles, long distance relationships take work. But keeping those ties strong is important, so we are making the effort. We have cobbled together a system that works for us. We rely on different kinds of communications technology to keep us connected–from email and texting, to Google Duo and FaceTime. That, and our ongoing dedication to helping each other become better writers, is keeping the spark alive.
It’s not always perfect. The last time I joined a meeting with FaceTime, Beckie said it was a bit like being joined by a robot, with my disembodied face peering from the iPad duct-taped to my customary spot at the table. I have missed the odd joke because of a technical glitch. I have to keep my devices charging or our connection will cut out mid-critique. I definitely miss toasting my friends with prosecco in person, and my virtual attendance means none of Sharon’s baked goods for me. (Insert crying emoji here.)
A change will do you good
But there is also a positive side to me being the Restless Writer who has gone walk-about. I like to think that my long-distance perspective helps to bring new thinking to everyone’s writing. I know it has brought something new to my own. A change can jar you out of your typical habits or patterns of thought, and bring something new to your craft.
A physical move expands your horizons both literally and figuratively—which can ultimately make you a better writer. For me, I am learning to be sensitive to the things that make different regions distinct—and that’s the kind of thing that can give my writing colour and authenticity.
Regional vocabulary is one example. Skookum. Bougie. A skiff of snow.Kootenay time. I am learning new words and phrases that I could use to make dialogue featuring a local character ring true. Place names are also foreign to me—but I am starting to understand when someone talks about “the Valley” or “the Junction.”
The things that people do for fun are new to me too. On any given day, you can make a quick visit to the hot springs, take in a quirky burlesque show in town, or play in legendary powder at a local ski resort.
The natural environment is completely different out here. Growing up on the shores of Lake Ontario meant that I took some things for granted—the morning sun rising slowly and brilliantly over the still water; the gentle rise and fall as you follow the road over the Escarpment; the “lake-effect snow” that makes Ontario highways so treacherous.
Here, my surroundings continue to surprise me. Like how the mountains look ever-more surreal as I try to follow their smoky march north. How the falling snow gets back-lit by the halo of a street-light. How precisely the river reflects back the treeline. How the snow berm on the mountain pass can tower metres over cars driving through. How the sunshine seems to reach the bottom of the valley for only a few hours a day, and only a few days of the week. Did I mention all the snow?
Small-town BC is very different from suburban Ontario. For example, where once I could shop in happy anonymity at one of the big supercentres in the GTA, here I can’t walk a block without running into three people I know. “Business casual” means something very different out here—Blundstone boots, down jackets, and toques are all included in what is appropriate in the workplace.
There’s a grit to people here. Independent spirit and a yearning for solitude, yes. But also true caring and engagement, a sense that we are all in this together. I am learning more about my new community—and appreciating it more—every day.
Disruption and making it new
My job as a writer is to take note of the people around me. Not just what they wear or how they talk, but the things they care about and what makes them tick. I want to know what brought them to this place, and what keeps them here. What makes this community thrive? And what secrets does it hold? Anything that jolts you into looking at the world with fresh eyes can help you do this.
You probably don’t have to make a 3,000-kilometre move to disrupt your way of thinking, but hey, I like to go all-in.
I can use my fresh perspective to capture what makes this place so distinct, to think differently about the people and the world around me, and to ultimately tell a great story. Hopefully I can bring a bit of that “make it new” insight to the Restless Writers too.