Sometimes the Universe Won’t Take “I Quit” for an Answer

Okay. So that was a disaster.

Three weeks of isolation and high hopes for writing Book 2 rapidly declined into weeping on the couch while watching Olympic figure skating, with crumbs of popcorn and pita chips ground into my big ugly sweater I hadn’t washed in ages.

In short: I gave up.

My back-up plan was to go into Wolfville, as I explained in my last blog, hoping to write in a beautiful public place instead of cottage isolation, but Mother Nature had other plans. It snowed every darn day, and since the drive between the cottage and town was a half hour on the highway, I chose safety over glory. (Although, the Canadian Olympic Team provided some excellent vicarious glory!)

So what then?

Well, that’s when the Universe stepped in. As soon as I got back to the city, I got a letter in the mail that one could liken to a gift from the god of your choice. I got a big grant from Arts Nova Scotia to write Book 2 of The Stowaways! (So no excuses now. I have a DEADLINE.)

But could I muster a smile? Barely. So the universe said. Okay, that’s not enough of a sign for you? How about this? And then I got news regarding a lovely recognition that I can’t tell you about because it’s top secret til April 3rd.

And could I smile then? Almost.

So the Universe said, okay, money and recognition aren’t enough to wrench you out of depression, so here’s what I’m gonna do: You’re going to spend an hour and half at your old elementary school with thirty-five grade 3/4 students. They’re going to remind you of who you are.

And that seemed to work much better.

Yup! I did my first reading today at the Halifax Independent School, the school I went to as a child. It felt like a safe place to begin, where I knew at least they would want to meet an alumna who had become a published author, even if they knew nothing of my book. It was meaningful, returning there with a proud offering in my hand, a book that was inspired in part by my time there thirty years ago.

When preparing for the reading last night, I remembered that I still had a lot of the illustrated books I’d made at that school as a child, so I fished them out from my parent’s storage room and brought them with me on my visit. I was so glad I did! The students loved these early stories as much as The Stowaways, I think because it showed them the possibility of becoming an author themselves. After all, I was once a student there, making up silly stories, too. One kid yelled “I feel inspired!” And another yelled out an entire story and then drew out all the pictures for it in ten minutes flat! (If only I could write that easily, now!)

Here’s a page from one of my early books, The Big Fat Worm, which I painted when I was 10:
The students loved laughing like the worm. (heh heh heh!)

Reading through my early books and visiting my elementary school was the boost that I needed. I didn’t need to write in isolation. Distraction wasn’t my problem – it was lack of belief in myself. I needed to be surrounded by the rawness of youth. And now I remember, I was meant to tell stories — that’s how I spent every waking minute of my childhood — on my bedroom floor, with blank paper, scissors, coloured pencils and my imagination.

That’s all.

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A Tolerable Isolation

The wish I hear most often from fellow writers is for a secret lair where the only legal entrant is themselves. The most wistful of these wishes I heard from a Scottish tweeter who wanted a hidden door behind a bookshelf that led up to a secret attic room. Does that not conjure up some wonderful thoughts?

Aah… smell that steaming hot chocolate warming your hand as you skip that last creaking stair on the way up to your hideaway. Victory! Nobody knows where you’ve gone and they’ll never find you. You cosy up in your cloud-like chair by the porthole window, overlooking acres of wild, unpeopled landscapes. Your favourite snacks and pens line the drawers of your desk. You may never leave — save for that darn doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day. ARGH!

So I find myself now faced with an incredible offer to write, for the first three weeks of February, in a small cottage overlooking a lake in the hilly lands of the Nova Scotian valley. The only thing is, I’m beginning to doubt whether this is actually a tolerable isolation.

Do we actually want complete isolation? For three whole weeks?

I suspect that what we really want is for those in our lives to give us space, time and the control we need over our own brains – to create that secret lair metaphorically. We need to be able to enter and exit as we choose, to be fed and watered and pampered for a few minutes and then wander back off to Neverland to see what happens next.

For most writers, this is a pure fantasy and perhaps why so many of us dream of isolation. So that nobody CAN get in the way. And we don’t have to feel guilty when we say to our loved ones:
“Ever hear of knocking?”
“I’m sure your sock will turn up.”
“It’s there, on the bottom shelf. Just LOOK, would you?”
“Okay, enough already. I am not here. I do not want to hear that you are here either. Do not breathe.”
Or simply: “Please go away…”

I wonder, though – in my second week of isolation, will I wish someone would knock on the door with a sweet little paw, whispering:

“Do you want some soup?”
“How’s it going?”
“You look tired, why don’t you take a break?”
Or simply: “I love you.”

Anyway, it will be an experiment of sorts. I will report back with Tales from the Valley of Isolation. I may surprise myself and never want to leave, but I suspect I’ll be looking out the window, not always at the one overlooking unpeopled landscapes, but the one overlooking the driveway, wishing my sweetheart would turn up, uninvited.

We shall see!
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