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Purple Jumpers & CreepyMen – A Writer’s Inspiration for Laughter & Character Development

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Reality, as it occurs, has left me confused about whether I’m always surprised, or never surprised by people.

As a writer, people-watching is something that I consider research. How I will use the woman in the sparkly,-velour-grape-purple-jumpsuit with the fanny pack who took each and every article out of her cart in the Cosco parking lot while traffic jammed behind her, has yet to be determined.

I do know where I’ll use the selfish, immature beaut who thinks the world revolves around them. As do I know where to use the classically, sexually-repressed, straight-laced perv. White trash and neurotics are always a great supporting cast to people who obliviously flaunt their own style.

This week I’ve been cornered by two over-sharers. Both male. Both blissfully thinking that their fascination with the minutiae of their immediate environment is worthy of highjacking the attention of a complete stranger. Both the sort of fellows that made me want to hold my breath to stave off breathing in what I thought for certain would be a thick, musty, I-wash-my-clothes-every-three-weeks scent. Creepy men.  Both classic characters whom I’m quite happy with leaving on the page and never having to encounter in real life.

I take in the world around me, and find myself laughing at most things that render others gobsmacked.  My go-to response is laughter and often times, curiosity. What on earth makes these people tick? How can we all be so different when it comes to how we normalize the treatment of others?

WTF is a regular thought that goes through my head with each and every interaction with most people. Followed by laughter. After all, most things are fixable. For everything else, there’s gin.

As I get back into my writing routine for fall, I hope to maintain my own playful response to the madness around me. I challenge you to do the same.

 

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February is For Love Stories – Not Just Fairytales

Aggie the cat was stretched out on the roof, just past the glass of the window that was tipped open to allow her coming and going. Taped to the glass was the vintage orange, cover of Tennessee Williams’, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. You would have had to be a complete idiot to have missed the pun.

It was tucked up in the reading room of Shakespeare and Company that I read, in its’ entirety, Neil Gaiman’s, Art Matters. Amongst all of the old, hard cover, well-bound books that had possibly been in the hands of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway or even Gertrude Stein, I soaked up the love of storytelling written by one of our contemporary masters.

 

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Valentine’s day is the one day a year that we set aside to tell our love stories. There are very few of us who have lifetime love stories to tell, about meeting, marrying, raising children, and living into our twilight years hand in hand with our soul mate.  But this isn’t the only love story. Love does not follow a script. It follows the heart, and hopefully, if you are lucky enough, you have, by mid-life ,a small collection of stories that continue to inspire you.

Spending time in Paris, tucked up on the old daybeds of Shakespeare and Company will always be one of those stories. The syncronicity of how I met my late, angel-to-artists friend Nick Beat is another.

Stories are the thread that binds the fabric of our collective experience. Sharing them should be treated as a sacred honour, worthy of our full attention. Worthy of dedicated time to gather and share.

February is mostly past. Valentine’s day is over. Our love stories involve more than romance and fairy tales. Don’t forget that. Celebrate all of those things that make you vibrant; tell your stories.

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Flake? I’ll Be The Judge of That.

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I’m typing this in a dark corner of the living room, having been stirred to wakefulness again by a 2018 article about pairing champagne (one of my faves) with french fries. Yummmmm! This my friends, is what keeps me up at night.

After having slipped my love a valium, and being irritated from sleepiness to being wide awake by his snoring, I got up to find some ear plugs. Which took me to the living room, so I could  record notes for a to-do list tomorrow. You know, follow up on doctor’s appointments, what I need to buy at Ikea, reserving my space at yoga classes, and how I’m going to rearrange the spare room and my writing area.  Inevitably I checked my phone, and voila….the social media vortex had me.

Left wing aside here…he knew he was taking the Valium. It’s like an unspoken compromise. Silently it says, “Yes, I will shut up so we no longer have to engage today.”

Tapping out my to do list for tomorrow kinda worked up an appetite, or maybe it was just the  knowledge that there was a Costco sized bag of fully-loaded-nacho-flavoured Doritos in the cupboard. And a mini Flake bar (another personal favourite, this time in the chocolate bar category). All tempting leftovers from when the kiddo was home. Nachos and a piece of butter bread…and the flake. Oh, sweet, sweet, middle of the night carb cravings, have you not had enough of me? Apparently not.

This morning during  CBC interview, it was noted that people with bad short-term memories are actually smarter, because somehow this lack of short term memory makes more room to learn more things and improve long-term memory. My short term memory is absolute shit.

This little radio spot vindicated me. I am not a flake. I am a genius. According to a childhood assessment, I actually am. But that’s a story for another time.

giphy-3It is during these wee hours of the morning when my mind is whirring and I’m trying to capture my lists and ideas that I am at my most creative. I have the most energy for things that really excite me at a soul level (and I’m not talking about the Doritos).  As I take a giant swig of what I thought was iced tea (I’m colour blind – turns out it was some kind of blue jungle juice leftover from the kiddo today), I begin to wonder if I’m the only woman who does this? This middle of the night, burning the candle at both ends life?

I wonder, and every once in a while, I get an answer back from out of the still, middle-of-the-night darkness. It usually comes in the form of a message, or text or a few beautiful lines of poetry. Tonight it was a message from an author whom I admire for more than just their writing style. I admire what they stand for. These are the signs that reassure me I am not alone in my hope, my dreaming, and my creative genius.

Costo. Doritos. Leftover something-juice.  It works. Oh,and so does the valium.

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How Being a Gen-Xer Benefits Janu-Edit

Janu-Edit is a month long edit-fest, and I’m totally into it. Hell, my generation of 90’s coffee slurping pseudo-BA-educated, blazer and scarf wearing peers practically set us all up with the perfect place to write and edit.

I’m into Janu-Edit  because I have a brand spanking new first draft of a novel that needs some…tweaking before I send it out for real editing.  By someone who hasn’t lived through the hundreds of pages agonizingly trying to squeeze out an outline without getting lost in the novelists world that characters create in their head.

My favourite place to write has always, hands down, been a busy corner of one of many Starbucks locations tucked safely inside of a Chapters or Indigo. With so much condescending talk about Millennials, we’ve forgotten about my generation – the Gen-Xers. We are the reason that pretentious, over-priced coffee houses who allow you to sit and use their space for free (other than buying the coffee and mass produced pastry), exist.

For the past number of weeks I have been bound to the house, hours out are a precious commodity, and as my time as a caregiver comes to an end, I feel the need for a change of scenery, for a uplifting events, and kindred exchanges of friendship.

Today I escaped to begin the arduous process of picking through my first draft. During a ‘happy new year’ phone call to a jaded pal, she proclaimed that her new year’s eve inspired  the conclusion that, as she so delicately phrased it, “all men are shit.” Quite a conclusion to clear the path for a fresh, new year.

Don’t worry darlings, I didn’t forget where I was going with this post. I wrote the last two paragraphs to tell you this;

My coffee shop escapes are a rich resource for character development.

Once I settle in connected to power, wifi, and caffeine, I generally can sit for hours, only getting up and purchasing the obligatory coffee every hour or so in order not to become a parasite. While perched at my window seat (my favourite place to write, sip and observe), my gaze followed a middle-aged man who strolled in through Starbucks and went straight for the magazine rack.

Would this man be aware of my friend let’s say, eyeballing him with abject hatred, because he was a man? The grey hair on his head was balding. He sported  undone work boots, blue jeans (clean, and in a traditional dad cut that left all manner of physique to the imagination), and an orange construction coat with the reflective yellow X on the back.

This isn’t the kind of guy who buys six dollar coffee. And he certainly wasn’t the type of man who automatically strolls over to the copy of Birds and Blooms on the magazine rack. Not if you’re thinking in stereotypes. Stereotypes alone can only get a writer so far, and then you need real character. You see, real people (just like characters) have all sorts of quirks and habits that need to be worked out, and often times these quirks come out only as authors write them into situations where they are interacting with other characters, or even more interestingly, with only themselves.

Pausing to look up at the world that’s going on in that little microcosm of a literary coffee shop inspires character, and the coffee caffeinates. Coffee culture has always been alive and well throughout the world, bringing friends together and demanding space to generate ideas. In my little corner of Canada, Gen-Xers breathed new life into the coffee shops that are home to so many artists and writers.

sweater and scarfThis month I’m on a roll, feeling right at home curled up in my stereotypical cozy sweater and scarf, sipping a latte, or herbal tea, and looking very serious about what I’m working on.  Janu-Edit doesn’t stand a chance against this stereotype, I just hope my quirks don’t get in the way.

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NaNoWriMo Eve

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It’s official. I’m a NaNoWriMo Geek.

I’m into it for my second year, and I’m trying to find new and exciting ways to both be at my keyboard, and avoiding it all at the same time. There’s something about banging out a novel that heightens that feeling of being alive. You know, living on the edge of greatness.

The edge is as close as I’ve ever gotten.

Today, on a self-proclaimed writing day, as I drove through the city to run the time-sucking errands that every amateur writer fitfully completes so that they can feel less guilty about sitting down to write, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I have always been afraid of my own success. I mean, after all, I’m good at a lot of things, I just fizzle out half way through. I get bored.

Novel writing can be much the same. Momentum is key.

Finishing a chapter with nothing else to write, or no ideas is like seeing your partner naked for the first time in the harsh, full light of day. Not so great when you’re over 40. With no ideas to spur you on, your novel becomes the anatomical equivalent of a mottled, slightly hairy, saggy scrotum and a flat ass bent over trying to pull up it’s pants.

As Hemingway once said, always leave something unwritten. It’s easier to get up in the morning and start writing if you have left something unsaid.

And so it is with me; less writing until I’m drained, and more writing, leaving something unsaid for the next day.

Wish me luck folks. May this novel be the equivalent of a young lover as seen through  the bottom of a glass of champers and the haze of candlelight.

 

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Writing Prompts: What I Go To

pickyFor a quick insight into my own process when the fire has died, I offer you this;

  1. The newspaper. Yes. Paper. Go buy a print copy and flip to the editorials and opinion sections. Browse the arts and see what other fearless creatives are doing. Write about your thoughts.
  2. Daily meditation. I used Goddess 365. Sometimes I’m faithful, and other times she waits a week or two before I give her any attention. Ah, but she is faithful and patient. Read, give some kind of offering even if it’s a silent tribute of gratitude or visualization. If you need altar supplies, I suggest Wonderworks.
  3. An oldie, but a goodie, especially for sensual writer-types; Fruit Flesh

Don’t forget to carry a notebook. Take yourself for a walk without being plugged in to a playlist or a podcast. Let your mind relax and wander all on its own. But most importantly, put pen to paper. Doodle at first if you must, but don’t give up.

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Writer’s Block:When The Characters Hide

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Is it just me or has the world gone mad? Seriously, our politics has become our entertainment, and our entertainers have become politicians. Sadly, this little role-playing swap has left us without leaders, and a lot of Instagram-twitter-social-media-armchair activists.

I find myself wishing that I could write something as completely insane as our political stage, and the characters of the day.

It’s a rare morning here. I got to sleep in. The kind of sleeping in that I enjoy most; no rush, writing and a long walk in the sun the only things on my list before I head out on a road trip to see my kiddo, my mumster, and listen to an inspiring woman lecture about fearless business strategy.

But let’s get back to the sleeping in. My favourite part of sleeping in is the sensuality of waking; the comforting weight of my duvet, warm against my back, the cool sheet against my foot, letting it slide  out from under the covers, the sun streaming through the window, and just as wonderful, the memories I choose to call to mind (thank you gentlemen)…ah-hem

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And then there’s the writing.  When I finally manage to pull myself away from the indulgence of my cloud-bed, the first stop is the kitchen, where I habitually turn on CBC radio, and fill the kettle and putter while the water heats.  Back to our circus of

politicians, the terrible state of the world and my partner shouting my to-do list from where he’s putting the final touches on his scramble out the door. He already knows I’m not in the mood to take on someone else’s priorities, so eventually he stops yammering, races by, gives me a kiss and leaves.

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With my hot tea, and the late winter sun shining down on me at my writing desk, I wonder how I lost my stride. Where did my characters hide? Those wonderfully complex people who came alive for a hundred pages or so seem to have disappeared when domesticity and my ‘real job’ wore me down.

Maybe if I tempt them, they will come back and speak to me again; A few lines of inspired poetry,  my go-to writing prompts, a new muse, some quiet time in the tropics….