Saturday, November 14, 2015

This Day

The funny thing about my meeting yesterday was that it was held in a small room in the back corner of the library. As in, I had to walk through the library, past rows and rows of colourful books - published books - to get there. Walking through a library was one thing last year. This year, it is something else. Also, it was one thing on the way in and another altogether on the way out, something I'll try to explain later.

The librarian who led me to the room walked quickly, so I had to cram all of my thoughts into a much smaller time frame than if I'd known where to go and went there myself. I, personally, would have walked much slower; I had a lot of things to think. I was nervous, for one thing, and excited, for another. But mostly I was looking at the books around me and realizing, maybe for the first time, that a book is not just a book. It's months, or more often years, of hard work and years, or more often a lifetime, of dreaming and planning and thinking and researching and, ultimately, it's someone's dream come true.

Shelves and rows and racks of those things.

Add to this that a book is a much more personal thing than I'd ever realized before I tried to write one. Whenever someone I know asks me what my book is about, I get all awkward and weird. Like I'm thirteen and they're asking me who I like. I can't talk about it. I can't imagine anyone else ever reading it, but also: that's the point of trying to get it published. I have a whole new respect for the people whose books inhabit that library. There are big, meaty chunks of their hearts in those books.

Shelves and rows and racks of heart chunks. Gross.

And kind of breathtaking.

Anyway, I was thinking all of these things as I was speed-walking to keep up with the fast librarian. Thanks to her, I arrived at the office fifteen minutes early. If we'd dawdled, it might have only been twelve or thirteen, which feels a little less extreme. I didn't want to be extreme. I don't like to appear too eager. It turns people off.

But there I was, fifteen minutes early. Too keen.

So I stood and waited. And I remembered that I hadn't eaten lunch yet, even though it was 2 pm. I just hadn't thought of it. And I remembered that I'd drank an entire Bodum of coffee that morning. That was dumb of me. Add that to an already overwrought, nerve-wracked mind, and you get very shaky fingers. The Writer in Residence would notice this, I thought, and that made my fingers shake more. (She has a name, the Writer in Residence, but I prefer to call her Writer in Residence. It's just such a great title. I aspire to it.)

But you probably don't really care to hear about me standing in the back of a library shaking my fingers all over the place; you just want to know how the meeting went. That's what I meant to tell you from the beginning anyway.

It went...great. Really great. The greatest, actually. It went better than I daydreamed it could go, and I am a person given to extreme daydreams. I'm going back. We're going to keep in touch. She believes in me and in my little book and that is a fantastic, amazing feeling. She 'got' it, even though I think it's kind of a weird book and I mostly worry that people won't. She wants to help me find a home for it and she wants to read more.

My heart burst a thousand times over the course of the meeting. I didn't know what to say back to her most of the time so I just kept saying, "Thank you," and, "You're so nice," over and over.

We talked for over an hour and when I left, the corners of my mouth hurt from being stretched out so far to both sides. And this time when I walked past the books, like I said earlier, they looked different to me. Less like other people's dreams and hard work and heart chunks and more like mine. Does that make sense? Not that these books were mine, but that mine could be in there too. Less like these authors were mythical creatures and more like they were just regular people who worked very hard and had some neat ideas. Less unattainable. Mainly, I think, they just didn't taunt me anymore.

I have spent my whole life dreaming about writing a book but feeling cautious about it. I've been optimistic and pessimistic and nothingimistic and I've worked at it tentatively, not wanting to get too wrapped up in something that would probably go nowhere. And then along comes someone who says, "This could go somewhere."

And even if it doesn't go anywhere, I'll still remember this day. This day was important to me.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Here I Go

Today's the day.

To be more specific, which is a thing I like to be so as not to be vague, today's the day for my writing critique with the Writer-in-Residence at the RPL (see this post). I brought her the first three chapters of my book a few weeks ago, she read them, and today I'm going in to sit in front of her and hear her say the honest truth about them. 


I've handed my book, the whole thing, off to friends to read through and edit, but this is very different because this woman has no obligation whatsoever to be nice to me, to protect my feelings, to lie to me. In fact, her only obligation to me is to give me her honest opinion about my work.


My appointment is in one hour and nine minutes. 

Thankfully (so thankfully) the dear WIR sent me the most wonderful email last night about the pages I sent her. She was so kind and so encouraging, and she made me feel like the Queen of England, and that makes this just a billion times easier. 

I still feel a little like I'm going to throw up and faint and drive into a pole on the way to the meeting, but at least I don't have to also entertain the fear that I'm going to show up and immediately be torn to shreds. Before I received that email, I was a nervous wreck. Now I'm just nervous, but more excited than wrecked.

Maybe that's the scariest part about getting your book critiqued: the part at the very, very beginning where the other person says either, "Yes, I believe in this/you/your writing," or...well, basically anything else. The part where they respect you and take you seriously or not. 

Anyway. Here I go. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Why I'm Never Going to Clean Anything Ever Again

I cleaned the house yesterday and it turned out to be a bad idea.

I vacuumed the floors and washed them. I wiped the mirror in the bathroom. Scrubbed the toilet. Even filled the tea kettle with vinegar to get rid of whatever gets into tea kettles over time. I thought I'd let it sit for an hour or so while I did some laundry and then pour it out and give it a good wash. And then I forgot about it, because I always forget about everything.

Things Barclay Made With The Vinegar in the Kettle Without Realizing It Was Vinegar And Not, In Fact, Water:

1. A Bodum of coffee
2. Hot lemon 'water' for his wife
3. Porridge for Sullivan

A Conversation We Had As Barclay Left for Work This Morning:

"Did you, by any chance, dump the kettle and fill it with new water before using the stuff that was in there?"
"No, why?"

So this is actually a story about how I drank an entire cup of vinegar this morning and somehow didn't even notice.

I mean, it's not really that I didn't notice. There was one point where I thought to myself, vaguely, as I stood in the middle of the kitchen half asleep, "This water tastes like cleaning supplies." But then I drank it anyway even though it burned my throat as it went down. A testament to how tired I am, and also to how much I didn't want to hurt Barclay's feelings by telling him that he wasn't very good at making lemon water.

This is also a story about how Barclay had a friend over and served him coffee made with vinegar instead of water and how his friend politely drank his entire cup and didn't even bat an eye (this house is just crawling with polite people lately). But Barclay drank his whole cup too and simply thought, "Why did Suzy buy dark roast beans this time? She never buys the dark roast."

Shrug. Gulp, gulp, gulp.

Sullivan was the only one who noticed, pushing away his bowl of porridge without making much of a dent in it, a confused look on his tiny little prune face.

We're going to have to teach him how to be polite, like us.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Brave Days

Some people are brave all the time. For me, courage comes in waves.

I'm talking about the kind of waves that suck you under and hold you there until you think you'll never come back up again and then, at the very last possible minute, pick you up and throw you onto the beach. And the beach, in this particular metaphor, is where brave things happen. Maybe, probably, because there are no sharks on the beach and no water to drown in. It's always, always easier to do anything, especially anything considered 'brave', when you are not distracted by drowning or being eaten by a shark. 

What I'm trying to say is that I did something brave this week. 

There's this mentorship program at the Regina Public Library called the Writer-in-Residence Emerging Writer Connection. Basically, you make an appointment with the Writer-in-Residence and then bring in up to 20 pages of anything you've written. She looks it over, makes notes, and then you go in and sit with her and she gives you her professional feedback. 

It's an incredible opportunity, but it's also terrifying. It's one thing to send your work away to an anonymous literary agent in New York and have them write back that it's "not quite what they're looking for at the moment but thank you so much..." It's another thing entirely to sit face-to-face with someone you've only just met, someone who knows the publishing world and has already 'made it', and have them potentially hate every word you've put down on the paper. 

"Thanks so much for coming in, Suzy. Unfortunately, you are an awful writer and you use too many metaphors. You're like a fish who thinks it's a bird but isn't a bird and dies as soon as it hops out of the water."

What if she says that to me?

"Thanks so much for coming in, Suzy. Unfortunately, I lit your pages on fire one by one as I read them. They were that bad."

"Thanks so much for coming in, Suzy. I photocopied your pages and passed them out to all the librarians here; thanks for the laugh."

"Thanks so much for coming in, Suzy. Actually, I take that back: I wish you hadn't."

I would die. 

Pending death notwithstanding, I emailed her yesterday. I set up an appointment. I was having a Brave Day, and I know better than to waste those. 

(Thankfully, my friend Theresa signed me up for a writing workshop Dr. Nilofar is putting on at the library next week, which is nice because she won't be a complete stranger to me when I go in for my appointment in November.)

(NOVEMBER. November comes, like, right after October. Gulp.)

The problem with Brave Days is that they are always followed by Drowning Shark Coward Days, during which I second-guess and generally freak out about all of the decisions I made the day before. Today is that kind of day, so I'm writing it all out in an attempt to remember why I made the decisions I did yesterday. Like a person under the water reassuring themselves that the wave will push them up onto the beach again very soon. It's working, I think. 

Anyway. It really is exciting, and a privilege, to be a student, to learn how to do the thing you like doing better than you're doing it now (The WIR would probably ask me to reconstruct that sentence into something a person could actually read and understand, for example). If there's anything I've learned through this process, it's that you should always be learning. You should always be seeking out community and help and feedback and encouragement. And you shouldn't turn it down or avoid it just because you're afraid it won't be exactly what you want to hear (this is true of a lot of things in life, not just writing).

So, yes, I'm terrified. But I'm also excited. 

Cheers to Brave Days. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Young People at the Orchestra

"It's so nice to see young people at the orchestra!"

I opened my mouth to reply to the first elderly woman when another, even greyer one leaned right across me like the comment had been meant for her and remarked, "Well, it's so nice to be young people at the orchestra!"

Amen to that, though.

I went to see the Regina Symphony Orchestra the other night with Theresa, and now I think all I want to do ever is sit in a room with a bunch of old people and strings and horns.

Have I ever told you I'm into classical music? I am. I wouldn't say I'm a big geek about it or anything, but I'm possibly a little geek about it.

Just a little geek.

My geek credentials: I have my grade 10 RCM and I taught piano for a few years and one of my favourite songs of all time is Rachmaninoff's Etude-Tableau Op. 33 No. 8 in G Minor.

Honestly, though, underneath the geeky part - the theory classes and the composers history book that I look through for fun sometimes and the trying to teach Barclay how to play my classical piano studies on his electric guitar - there's a hugely sentimental bit. Classical music is my Linus blanket. It's comforting and schmaltzy and tangible.

Remember how I hated high school? I talk about that on here sometimes. High school was so weird and lame, wasn't it? (I like to pretend that everyone hated high school and that I wasn't just a loser all by myself.) Well, back when I hated high school, like all the rest of you, that was when I loved piano the most.

I grew up in this tiny town where everyone left their doors unlocked all the time - including the church doors. And during school when I had a spare or a noon hour or whatever, I'd sneak over there and sit in the big, empty, echoey sanctuary and play. Sometimes I'd just play Etude-Tableau Op. 33 No. 8 in G Minor over and over and over, because it really is the most beautiful song ever. Sometimes I'd learn a new song or work on my exam songs.

But I played them like a 16-year-old. I played them like a teenager who was really into emo music (I was, after all, a teenager who was really into emo music). I slowed all my fast songs down and played everything two octaves too low and turned all of my staccatos into lingering, wailing legatos. I imagined that I was playing the soundtrack to my own life. Oh, man alive, it was pitiful. My piano teacher would've hated it.

But it was also soothing and comforting and maybe the only okay thing about high school.

And I guess that's what I think of when I think of classical music. I think of a safe, calm place. A sanctuary, literally. With a high, vaulted ceiling and rows and rows of wooden pews.

You think I'm more than just a little geek now, don't you?

Anyway, the point is that I went to the orchestra and loved it because of this deep-rooted connection I have with that genre of music as a whole.

But I also have to tell you about the intermission.

At the intermission, I met three people. The first two were men, both dressed formally and looking rather imperturbable. They were like a couple of pallbearers at a funeral. Theresa introduced them to me, and then she introduced me to them. She said, "This is Suzy, she's my son's piano..."

And then she trailed off, because she was distracted or something.

(Sometimes, Theresa gets distracted. It's because she's always so busy observing everything. I enjoy this about her.)

She had been about to tell the men that that I was her son's piano teacher, because I was that, once. The first, without cracking a smile, extended his hand to me and said, "Hello. I hear you are a piano."

And then the man beside him, also unsmiling and in the same dry way, said, "A-ha, that's grand." He had both of his hands folded behind his back and he spoke into the upper right corner of the room.

And I was just like, Was that a piano pun? Are you wanting a pun war right now? Because, hello, I can do piano puns. I will own everybody in this room full of grey-haired classical music buffs at piano puns. 

Because I'm sharp. 

Take notes, everyone. 

Puns are my forte. 

I didn't say anything out loud though. I had, like, fifty ready to go in my head just in case, but no one said anything after that, and I think I missed my chance. And these men never actually smiled, so I don't know. I may have been imagining things. Barclay and I always have pun wars, so I think I imagine pun wars where there aren't pun wars.

The third person I met was an elderly lady whose husband had recently passed away. She said she'd bought season tickets to everything you can get season tickets for. She said she was tired of smoking cigarettes and playing FreeCell. She said her and her husband had been crazy in love, like in movies. She said she was okay because she had to be okay because she'd told him that she'd be okay. And she looked like she might be about to cry and I wasn't sure what to do. Should I have hugged her? I'm never sure where hugs are appropriate. Some people don't want a hug, some do. And I don't really like hugging strangers, but I would've done it if I thought it would make her feel better.

But then the lights dimmed and the conductor of the orchestra came out and started talking about Brahms, and about how Brahms was therapeutic. And then the orchestra played Brahms.

And it turned out the conductor was right about Brahms, because when I looked over at the lady, she was smiling.

And I was smiling too.

And so was Theresa.

And as the music faded, an adorable old gentleman seated behind me exclaimed (enthusiastically and probably louder than he meant to), "That Brahms is so exciting!"

Amen to that too.