Tuesday, July 28, 2020

“Neither Far Out Nor In Deep” – Robert Frost nails it



During these pandemic days of summer, I'm living a safely isolated life on a shore, near water.

Safe. Isolated. Away from my safely isolated kids, my newborn grandson, my close family and friends. Being careful and responsible. Sigh.


Living an isolated life means you have a lot of time to think about things, especially during a period packed with so much fear, so many unknowns. When listening to or reading the news is like submitting to a daily bludgeoning. When it feels like there’s no end in sight.


Yes, it makes you think. Sometimes too much.


Right now, the best place for me to think is near water. What is it about staring out at unknown depths that helps me find comfort? Maybe it’s the feeling of permanence along with change – waves, tides, horizon, sky. Day in, day out, but every time I look, the scene transforms.


“The people along the sand,” wrote Robert Frost, “All turn and look one way. They turn their back on the land. They look at the sea all day.”


That’s me. Staring out at the sea and wondering when this fraught pandemic time will ease back into something approaching normal – or, as I like to call it, The Beforetime.


“They cannot look out far. They cannot look in deep,” Frost wrote. “But when was that ever a bar to any watch they keep?”


Lots of questions, and few answers, but people just turn away from “the land” – a stark, unchanging reality – and keep looking, hoping, believing that the answers are out there.


Or in the context of pandemic times, that we’ll learn to live safely with the virus, find a vaccine, kick its butt, get on with “normal” life and leave this “land” behind us.


Until then, like Frost’s “people along the sand”, I’ll turn my back on the land, do my part, and keep watch for something better.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Grit and the writing life

You know when you read something that just makes you laugh out loud?


In an interview between The Globe & Mail’s Simon Houpt and Sarah MacLachlan, the departing president of House of Anansi Press and Groundwood Books, MacLachlan (not to be confused with the musician who shares her name) was asked:


Do you have a novel in you? Maybe a roman a clef about a scrappy independent publisher?


Her reply:


God no! Being a writer is a really, really tough job, and I am deeply admiring of people who write, because it’s you and the computer and that’s it, you know? And I don’t have that kind of grit.


I laughed out loud because, people, it’s the truth, and it’s wonderful to hear someone – someone who isn’t a writer – acknowledge it.

Oh sure, everyone knows it’s hard to sit down every day, open the computer (or notebook) and just get at it, when so many other distractions are pulling you away. (You do know that, right?)


But it’s the recognition of required “grit” part I like. That’s the part so many people outside of the writing life don’t understand.


You know what takes grit?


Tolerating rejection. Rejection over and over. Years of rejection. And still sitting down with your manuscript and working to make it better, not giving up, believing in yourself, seeking help. And submitting again, knowing that you’re probably going to be rejected. Again.


Flying under the radar. For every publicity-engorged, widely reviewed, list-promoted, award-nominated, “You have to read this!” next-best-seller thrust in front of the reading public, there are many, many more quiet, small-press, deserving books languishing in the shadows with no fireworks to launch them into the world. And still these writers write.


So thank you, Sarah MacLachlan. It’s refreshing to hear someone recognize, publicly, with respect and complete self-awareness, that, yes, writing is a tough job and – cue the “grit” – not everyone can do it. You made me laugh, because it’s so true.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The ripple effect, for worse or for better…

These are strange and difficult times. Pandemic. Protest. Fear. Violence. Death. Stupid people… wait, sorry.

I should be kinder.

In fact, everyone should be kinder.

The ripple effect of fear and – let’s face it – stupidity means people act in ways that make life worse for the people around them.

Harassing people for wearing/not wearing a mask. Keying cars with out-of-province license plates. Buying all the toilet paper (surely we’re done with that one, right?)

Ignoring the images of heartbreaking violence and racism seen in the media and seen with our own eyes because “I’m not racist.”

Closer to home, the woman walking on our beach who refused to acknowledge my greeting. The anonymous “tip” that brought an RCMP officer to our house to confirm we were self-isolating. (We are.)

Were these people afraid? Stupid? Or just unkind?

All I know is that I feel beleaguered – by these strange and difficult times, and by people who are making it worse. I haven’t hugged my kids for four months. I can’t cuddle my first grandchild, can’t kiss his face, rock him to sleep. I had a book published just before the pandemic shut down our country, and it’s going nowhere.

Not big or important losses in a shifting, frightened, transforming world, but huge in MY world.

We all have our own little worlds. What’s happening in the larger, global world is important and needs our attention (we’ll just sidestep the risks of indulging too deeply in the sometimes festering bog known as social media here, if you don’t mind…).

But we need to pay attention to the little worlds around us, too. We are the tiny atoms that work together to make up our universe.

We need to support each other with kindness and understanding.

Kindness. It’s worth repeating, and repeating, and repeating.

These are strange and difficult times, but the ripple effect is in our hands. For worse, or for better.