Sistering is Published Today, or, Enough With the Eerie Coincidences Already

Summer 2013, my first novel is published. It’s a family saga about death and dying. The week it’s released, a close family member is diagnosed with a life-changing, life-expectancy altering illness.

marfire

Oliver, BC fire, 2015

Summer 2015–today, to be exact–my second novel is published. It’s another family story–a dark-hearted comedy instead of a light-hearted tragedy. It’s about sisters and fire and love and stuff. So, naturally, right in time for publication week, the mountain town where my sister Mary lives catches fire.

Ya can’t make this stuff up.

Upon waking on the morning of the unveiling of a five year project my future and my identity as an artist are inextricably linked to, my first thought wasn’t “book.” It was “Mary.”

The last images she left on Facebook last night included the one above. But while we slept, the lightning stopped, the rain started, the firefighters fought. This morning, my sister and her family (plus a second sister who just happened to be visiting this week, posting fire-photos on Instagram that ended up on the Global News website) have all reported in safely from their undamaged home.

I am relieved, finally ready to celebrate, and resolved that my next novel will be a tableau of fluffy bunnies nibbling wildflowers in peaceful meadows.

Oh yeah, and if you’d like to read my “wonderfully bizarre and surprisingly recognizable” book click the “Finding the Book” tab above.

Accidental Pow-wow

poundmakerRemember when we accidentally went to the Poundmaker Pow-wow?

We were out walking in the suburbs, like we do, when we heard the music—drums and voices like weather, water and wind. We followed ‘til there was no more sidewalk, just an empty lot between houses too fine to be anything but empty and for sale. There was dirt and thistle and at the back of the lot, a fence. You said you’d toss me over it—showed me your hands laced together like the bucket of a catapult. I wasn’t sure you’d be able to hoist yourself after me and I refused long enough to find a gate, mud drifted over its bottom edge, burying it closed. We kicked and kicked, like pocket gophers, until the dirt moved and we could squeeze through the gate, into the hayfield behind the houses. Elmer Rattlesnake, the voice on the Pow-wow microphone, called over the field.

“And there you have it…”

We found the road—oiled dirt, tire ruts marked with gravel like trails of bread crumbs—and we moved through the darkness, toward the voices. If this was ficton it would have been too much for me to write that the moon was full, that it was a blue moon. But it was—a real-life blue moon, which, of course, was not blue but orange with the low, dirty haze rising from the hot city to the south.

At the Poundmaker gate, men at a campfire were calling hello and inviting us inside. It was what we wanted but we told them no thank you, hearing the music from the road is enough, we said, saying, without saying, that we are unworthy and we know it and deserve to be left outside. But they stood up from their lawn chairs, told us, “Tansi” and, “Follow the orange snow-fence, duck the trees, and you’re there.”

There was tobacco and fries with gravy, hand-made jewelry in trays, beautiful young men with bustles of eagle feathers illegal for everyone but them to own, checking their phones between numbers. We didn’t have our phones. When we left home, it was just for a short walk and there was no need. No white-faced Pow-wow selfies for us. Which is for the best. Everyone knows taking pictures of something human and ancient and not our own can take your soul away.

There was a lag between formal dances and the community took the field. Blue jeans and running shoes, dads with babies in their arms, aunties with young girls at their sides, dancing forward in rays, families turning in a slow wheel beneath the lights. It was rhythmic but not merely a march. There was footwork, learned movements—skipping, stomping, spinning.

Elmer Rattlesnake was on the microphone again, making the last call for the jingle-dress dancers. Reminding the crowd about the moon and calling for noise. I made it with my hands, clapping.

This is what my father taught me, a little girl raised in boreal towns near the Reserves where he worked, a grown young woman visiting Reserves as a hired specialist herself. Honor the invitation by keeping still. Speak when spoken to. Keep the small pox to yourself. Bow your head when the prayer is said. You will never speak more than a word or two of the language. Don’t dare pretend to know more. But listen anyway. Listen. For the love of everything, listen.

It was all so beautiful, all love and joy—the kind that made me lonely even sitting beside you in the bleachers. The seats were set in a circle–always, I remember, always circles.

It was time to go. Our children were at home in bed and didn’t know where we’d gone—would never imagine it was here. We had to go. As we moved through the crowd, young women eyed my hair—the blond flag against my back. Is that a dye-job? It’s not a dye-job. It was real, it was mine, there was nothing I could do about it.

We moved on. And in the crowd, beside a man dressed in traditional Blackfoot clothing, was a man in a kilt. He was there celebrating his heritage as a member of a First Nation. But he also had an ancestral claim to a dark blue and green kilt fastened with a family pin. It’s how my great-great-great grandfathers dressed when they came to North America as soldiers, fresh out of Scotland, two centuries ago. It was identical to a garment hanging in my own closet, through the trees, over the fence, and into the suburbs. I stared at him, the way the girls had stared at me seconds before. Without speaking, I stared at this man, outside the circle, still a brother.

Picture Book, Part I

It’s been observed in reviews of my work that the imagery I use isn’t the typical sort of literary imagery, rooted in visual experience–things that can be seen. Instead, it’s based on other senses (especially smell), simple minute experiences, and cultural allusions. I was surprised to read this about myself but I have to agree with it.

Maybe I was surprised because, no matter how I wind up expressing myself in the end, I do have albums of pictures in my head that inspire my writing. I’ve kept track of some of them and I’ve been posting them every few days as a countdown to the release of my second novel this August 15. A friend called them “clues” and I suppose they do serve to create a bit of mystery. They also satisfy my little kids, who are very diplomatic about their disappointment that my books don’t come with pictures.

Whatever the pictures do, there are still fifteen days before Sistering is released and in the meantime, here’s a recap of what I’ve posted in the past 15 days–my picture book.

Back Stairs, by Heather Horton

Back Stairs, by Heather Horton

dolls

Vintage Paper Dolls

The Dionne Quintuplets (and the Premier of Ontario)

The Dionne Quintuplets (and the Premier of Ontario)

doorknob

Sunlight through an old glass doorknob

headstonecare

Light gravestone maintenance

Queen of the Mist

Queen of the Mist

Big Ole' Yellow Ring

Big Ole’ Yellow Ring

The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Fournier

The Toast Spectrum

The Toast Spectrum

Ode to an #uglyfeminist

I do not wish to be beautiful. I’ve learned a lot and lost nothing of lasting importance by going through life far from beautiful. I am complaining about nothing. I wouldn’t be thinking about ugliness at all if it hadn’t come to the social media forefront recently with the Twitter hashtag #uglyfeminist.

The hashtag is as troll-ridden as it sounds. It’s not a springboard for enlightening discussion (something the Internet is not known for anyways) but a brawl. On one side of it are misogynists who think it’s clever to reduce millennia of struggle for safe and equitable conditions for half of humanity to a joke where women they do not find sexually attractive are simply frustrated at being unworthy of the social favour men mete out. On the other side are women posting pictures of themselves showcasing their conventionally attractive looks to—I don’t know—prove #notallfeminists are ugly. Some feminists actually do fulfill their social obligation to look the way men want them to, and shame on men for not fulfilling their side of the social contract, I guess.

Now, I won’t tear down my Twitter sisters any further for living their struggle in the ways they see best. I continue to believe that tossing out wedges for women to drive between each other—like the #uglyfeminist hashtag—is an old device men use to make peace for themselves by keeping women preoccupied attacking each other. I won’t do it. But I will share a few things I’ve learned about why ugliness matters.

Ugly is the opposite of beautiful – the opposing end of a crude, arbitrary, culturally constructed spectrum of physical attractiveness. As long as the lights are on, the appearance of beautiful humans affects the people around them. Beauties are able to change other people’s behaviours, beliefs, and sway their emotions just by looking the way they look. Don’t argue. If this wasn’t true, the multi-billion dollar advertising industry would not exist in the form we all know. Most of the time, being beautiful makes the daily hassle of social life easier. It’s a form of privilege and power.

On the opposite pole of the spectrum, we ugly folks have our own kind of power over people.  Like beautiful people, we affect other’s behaviours, beliefs, and emotions simply by showing up and looking the way we do. The effects are different in nature but not in potency.  But where the beautiful can inspire warmth and affection they may not deserve, we can inspire disgust and derision we don’t deserve.

I’ve experienced disgust and derision based on my looks. Most of it happened in junior high school when both my looks and the people around me were at their worst. I’ll spare us the details but on a rainy day in 1987 I was voted ugliest girl in school by a group of loud, rude boys who didn’t know me at all.

They were personally offended that a girl would let herself be so unattractive to them. My looks were transgressive. They flouted the social code that promises boys they’re important and social life ought to be constructed to keep them happy, comfortable, and gratified. As part of that social code, girls are expected to look the way boys want us to.

By being ugly, it was as if I didn’t know how important boys were—or worse—that I knew and I didn’t care. The boys knew in a tacit, latent way they probably didn’t fully realize they understood, that I needed to be punished for my transgressive ugliness. If looking bad all on its own wasn’t aversive enough for me (it was) they would provide the aversion themselves by humiliating me in public. And that’s what they did.

Girls responded to my ugliness differently. At nearly every all-girl-party I went to—especially ones with older, big sisterly girls—I would be given the gift of a makeover. Someone would stick my head in the sink and set about changing my life, just like in the movies. In the late 1980s this meant curling irons, hairspray, and loads of eye makeup. It was sweet and noble and futile. When the big makeover reveal moments fell flat (unlike my high, sprayed bangs) I felt an especial hate for my ugliness, for its imperviousness to makeovers—its rejection of my friends’ love and goodwill.

Sensing my parents’ reaction to my “awkward phase” was bittersweet too. “Awkward” is a term grownups apply to gently describe the unbalanced strangeness in the form and features of children they remember as silky, sparkly babies.  Adults say “awkward” like an apology, with longing and grief. Longing and grief spring from love. There’s heartbreak in the word “awkward.”

I wish I could say I was ugly as part of some precocious feminist stunt—that it was about rebellion and wilful disobedience to oppressive social norms. That wasn’t it at all. I was ugly because I needed my braces off. I needed my body to relinquish the emergency weight it added to get me through the growth spurt that never came. I needed my hair to grow out of the awful cut my well-meaning mother chose for me. I needed to start buying my own clothes. I needed the 90s to start so everyone else would wash off their eyeshadow, let the aerosol out of their bangs, and join me in low maintenance grooming regimens. I needed mean-boys to grow up. Eventually, all of that happened.

Is being ugly what made me a feminist? It must have been one of thousands of factors. Did it make me the frustrated, bitter, unwanted man-hating caricature of the #uglyfeminist hashtag? Clearly, it didn’t. Most of the people who mean the most to me are men—my husband, my five sons, my father, brothers, cousins, brothers-in-law, friends, mentors, colleagues. I don’t spend much time baking them cookies or ironing their shirts but I do love them in my own way.

And it goes like this: a few years ago, I caught one of my teenaged sons sharing an unflattering photo, a candid shot, of a 13-year-old girl we know, the daughter of a family friend. He and a male friend who had never met this girl were laughing, mocking, and posting the photo in a fairly obscure region of a social media website. The odds of the girl ever seeing it herself were low. That didn’t matter.

“Honey, don’t,” I said to my son. “That girl is me.”

This is the gift I, an ugly feminist, try to give to men instead of beauty. It’s truth, which, as sweet, silly Keats says, is beauty after all.

“The Wrong Side of 40” or, the Peak of Our Powers

Mt. Robson, a few hundred kilometres from where I was born four decades ago.

Mt. Robson, a few hundred kilometres from where I was born four decades ago.

At any time in my young adulthood, I could have been found sitting awkwardly breastfeeding, sitting awkwardly writing, or standing outside shoveling. None of these things was easy, none of them was without lasting benefits, none of them was any good for my left shoulder. Not surprisingly, for the first two winters of my mid-adulthood, my left rotator cuff has wound up sprained—weak and sore–by the end of January.

Despite not having done much breastfeeding, my father and older brother have the same repetitive stress injury in their shoulders. When I commiserated with Dad, he seemed like he’d been waiting. “You’re on the wrong side of forty,” he said, recommending his favourite aromatic anti-inflammatory ointment. Every girl dreams of growing old smelling exactly like her even older male relatives. That’s not what I’m objecting to here. It’s “the wrong side of forty”—I’m not yet convinced there’s much wrong with forty.

Come back.

I know. As a younger person, I was irked by forty-somethings marveling about how their lives are better than the sluggish, disease-ridden ordeals they might have been expecting. The more they went on about it, the more pathetic it sounded to smug young me. And hearing 40-year-olds reject the term “middle-aged” when the average lifespan in our country is in the 80s is still annoying. Life does not begin at forty. Counting works. Math is real. Knock it off.

People my age are well and truly half-dead. But for many of us, life has developed into something surprisingly good—surprising to our broke, baby-bitten twenty-something selves with piles of student debt.

A lesson known to fortysomethings who won’t stop crowing about enjoying life is the realization that, “It won’t last” –whatever “it” is. The wisdom is bittersweet, delivering comfort and demanding resignation at the same time. Is that what maturity means?

Anyways, here are a few things in my life that didn’t last–for good, for ill, for real. [Keep in mind I can only speak for myself—that’s what a personal blog is for–and I didn’t craft this list to make anyone feel badly about theirs. I have one life and it reads like this.]

My kids’ baby-years didn’t last. When I was a new mother–25 years old with two little boys–I got weary of older parents urging me not to wish the boys’ babyhoods away. They were difficult little dudes and I wished their babyhoods away pretty much every minute they were awake. My friend Jeannie—a lady my mum’s age—saw into my black heart and promised me my kids could grow up to be my best friends. It’s turning out to be true. My kids and I hacked our way through their babyhoods to their personhoods. There are still two elementary students in our household keeping us deep in Kidsville. But I can go for days without having to see their butts and I’ve learned to laugh off what might have made me cry when I was a difficult young mother. For instance, with my oldest kid now studying chemistry at university, I have the track record and confidence to tell our grade two teacher that six worksheets of homework is too many, we’re only doing two, and no one’s future will be destroyed.

Youthful looks don’t last. I didn’t come out of the child-bearing years in the same physical condition I went into them—which is actually fine since I began motherhood looking like a 16-year-old, raking in all sorts of pitying disapproval from strangers. I’ll spare us the details of my decline. Suffice it to say, my mother-in-law—who’s is in the early stages of dementia–keeps being surprised that my skin looks so different now than it did when we met the summer I was twenty-one.

“Did you get a sunburn? Did you get hit in the face?”

“No, Sweetheart. We’re just old now.”

In some ways, I’m healthier than ever. My kids getting old enough for me to ditch them didn’t do a thing for my bad shoulder but finding time to work-out means I can outrun—literally—the diabetes, high blood pressure, and knee problems that would have come with being overweight in a half-spent body.

Trends don’t last. I can calm the frick down about how people and things are decked out. When we moved into a house decorated in early 1990s brass and oak last year, I didn’t panic and start redecorating. Brass is already back. Oak can’t be far behind—and even if it’s not, what do I care? Best of all, my favourite boots from the 90s are back in rotation in my wardrobe, authentically vintage.

Being flat broke didn’t last. When I was 28, living with three kids in a two-bedroom Fort McMurray apartment complex where people sometimes got stabbed, I used to say all I wanted of the comforts of life was a dishwasher, a second bathroom, and the ability to buy whatever goodies I wanted at the grocery store. Fait accompli.

The generation older than mine won’t last. The Baby Boomers haven’t been the easiest generation to follow through history but that doesn’t mean we want to get rid of them. So far, more than anything that’s degenerated in myself, the progression of my parents and parents-in-law into illness, disability, and death has been the most difficult part of growing older.

A few things have lasted. My husband is still with me, with all his teeth and hair, without his appendix.

My stories have benefitted from aging as well. When I was in my 20s, childfree, too broke to do anything but stay home reading and writing, I was frustrated at not having much to say. I wrote brutish poetry because it was short, well-suited for venting burst of poorly-formed literary energy. My voice had potential but most of what I wrote lacked the substance I knew I wanted to invoke. It took me a long time to be able to write fiction that didn’t make me cringe. The stories I wanted to tell came the only way they could for me: slowly.

But then, looking back and looking ahead from this point I hope is the middle of my time, nothing about four decades seems slow at all.

我 学 中文 or, How Learning Chinese is Changing My Mind

Our professor renamed each of us in Chinese. This is what he called me.

Our professor renamed each of us in Chinese. This is what he called me. It sounds like “Jenny.”

In three months my second novel, Sistering, will be released. The manuscript has been sent to layout. The cover has been finalized. For now, there’s nothing to do but wait. Authors can go a little mad at this point, second-guessing ourselves, worrying all past successes were just flukes. We could reread our unreleased novels to reassure ourselves they’re good, but if that reading raises any doubts, highlights any passages we wish we could have one more go at, it’s too late. Reassurance could turn to regret. So we leave books caught in Limbo untouched, willing ourselves to trust our editors, our publishers, the promise readers said they saw in us when they reviewed our previous novels.

It’s a funny space to inhabit—too far into the publishing process to look at the book, but too close to publication to look away.

A friend of mine quelled her latest bout of pre-publication nerves with a trip overseas. That’s not possible for me but I couldn’t just sit here and wait. I needed to diminish my obsession with my sophomore book with a new, completely unrelated obsession.

Yes, I get obsessed with things. Most of the time, I like that about myself. Without a propensity for obsession I might not have finished any novels or stayed infatuated with the same man for twenty-one years. Obsessions demand time, attention, and energy. They rob other things, including other incompatible obsessions.

And I’ve found a new one. My current obsession—my respite from fretful excitement over my next novel—is Mandarin Chinese.

What the heck, eh? I’ve been asked that a lot since I enrolled in a Chinese course at the University of Alberta this spring. It began with my interest in getting a Masters of English degree from a school that requires its candidates graduate with intermediate-level knowledge of a language other than English. I don’t believe in fate but I do believe our lives have purpose. At times, we act and at other times we are acted upon. I think I may have been acted upon by the university’s lean spring semester selections and the daily schedules of the schoolboys in my family. Chinese became my only viable course option. If I wanted to sound silly, I’d call it destiny. Whatever it is, I spent my Saturday afternoon sitting in a barber shop while the boys took turns getting their hair cut and showing me flashcards of Chinese characters.

Unlike other east Asian languages, Chinese has no alternate phonetic writing system. Often, casual beginners’ Chinese courses stick to Pinyin (Chinese written in romanized letters familiar to English speakers) and leave characters to native speakers and scholars. That’s not how it is at the U of A. Their course is an intensive, integrated, academic study of Chinese without any room for the mystique that can surround characters. In the words of my professor, “People have to get over it.”

As a storyteller, I’m finding I wouldn’t want to learn the language any other way. Chinese characters are fascinating. They’re also easier to draw and remember than they first appear. My fresh-brained genius days are long past but still, after one week of class, I drove home through Edmonton’s Chinatown reading snips of signage along 97 Street. It’s the road my husband’s office is on, one I’ve traveled countless times. I’d always traveled it illiterate but this time I was cackling with outright glee, alone in my car. “Honorable! That character is honorable! See the cowrie shell radical?”

Traces of the culture and history of the people who developed the language are folded within the characters. The word for “me” has a sword in it. Meaning is lost when characters are ignored. For instance, the words for “he” and “she” are pronounced the same, spelled the same in Pinyin, and can only be distinguished by seeing the characters. It’s an elegant, organic way to express historical social values.

Characters are words made concrete in a way I never experienced writing only in a phonetic language. At breakfast this morning, I read the French written on the side of a jam jar, and thought of how reading in Chinese isn’t much like what I’ve known as reading at all. Reading French or German or even Pinyin is a completely different intellectual and artistic experience than reading characters. Reading characters seems to activate a separate mental faculty—one I’m just discovering in myself. It’s startling, mind blowing in a way that’s almost literal. I am in awe that people—a billion people—can do this. And I’m stunned and a little betrayed that I never knew the world was like this until now.

All of this turns my mind and heart back to my new, unreleased book. And not just that, but everything that lies in the future for me and everyone else. If the world has room for something like Chinese writing—something so huge and pervasive yet hidden by my ignorance—that I didn’t truly notice until halfway through my life, there’s got to be much more in store for us than just the good things we’ve already discovered and enjoyed.

We have a tidy little English word for that sentiment: hope.

What I Didn’t Tell My Fellow Creative Writing Students

Sesame Street’s Don Music with a bust of William Shakespeare

I remembered them from my days as a twentysomething undergrad: certain “mature” post-secondary students heck-bent on sharing their wisdom and experience. They stalled lectures, dominating professors’ attention with “the adults are talking” airs or by questioning everything professors professed—because what do those ivory-tower hacks know anyways?

This winter, I took a class called Advanced Creative Writing at my old university. It was a writing workshop—my first. Though I’m firmly on the path of free-range writing rather than a hot-house writing, it’s okay if my range overlaps a hot-house for a few hours every week.

As I walked up the Humanities Centre stairs, I knew I didn’t want to be “that” mature student. I said so when it was my turn to introduce myself to the class. My professor, a talented author who had kindly waived the portfolio prerequisite because he’d already read my novel, stopped me and told the class I was there “to help” as well as to learn.

This was generous of him. I’m not sure how well I walked the line between helping and infuriating my classmates. I’m pretty sure I used the phrase, “I already graduated, what do I care?” too many times.

Naturally, I gravitated toward class members most like my sons and my youngest sister. Though familiar, this was not my usual writing crowd—far from the scene of a Linda Leith Publishing vin d’honneur—but the honor of being among talented people before they’ve made it (whatever that means) wasn’t lost on me. In the end, I managed to leave the course with a good though moot grade, one hug, and some sweet goodbyes.

Now that it’s over, no more restraint. Here’s the list I’ve suppressed all semester—the things Mama Mature Student would have told the class if she hadn’t been checked by all this dang self-awareness. It’s not that I wasn’t asked questions—one about episiotomies leaps to mind—but the full force of my advice rampage has been held back until now.

If you are or ever plan to be a creative writing student, consider this:

Be nice – This echoes the university’s writer in residence who visited our class. He went so far as to recommend we read How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s not bad advice. Some of the most cringe-worthy things I can’t forget myself saying were said in my early twenties. Remember Franzen made his name before the social media age, back when authors’ rough styles could be easily managed by publicists. Personal scrutiny has never been closer than it is now and in a competitive arts world full of very good work, a skill like not openly rolling our eyes might be a career tipping point. Unfortunately, arts careers are a little like small businesses and our personalities can combine with our art to form an unsightly hybrid product that’s difficult to sell.

Take heart. Canadian literary communities, particularly the Alberta one with which I’m most familiar, tend to be collegial. We cheer one another, writing blurbs and retweeting announcements along the way. It’s easy to be nice here.

Be generous – Our professor held a book launch during the semester and only three of us came. Not cool. Go to local book events. We don’t have to buy all the new books (with writer wages, we probably won’t be able to) but realize that many authors arrive at their events convinced they’ll be facing a room of empty chairs, peppered with a few blood relatives feeling sorry and embarrassed for them. If at all possible, do not let this happen. Anyways, it’ll be fun. It’s moving and fascinating to hear people offering vocal interpretations of their own work—not work they’ve been picking at for classes but work they’ve toiled over for years, work they’ve staked their futures on. Go ahead and laugh at their jokes, gasp at their horror stories. Weep openly, if you feel like it. Events are more fun, more productive, and more satisfying when we invest ourselves in them.

Don’t take the workshop process too seriously – I am an old woman raised in the pre-Elmo golden age of Sesame Street and one of my favourite characters was Don Music. He’s an angsty songwriter we find one word shy of completing perfect nursery songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” When his near-perfect songs get “help” from a visitor, they get mangled into parodies with details that make so much literal sense the artistry of the songs become absurd. Our workshops were like that at times. I saw (and benefitted personally from) great suggestions coming from workshop discussions. However, I also saw classmates balk at truly powerful and original aspects of their stories because of well-meant questions these risks raised during workshops.Critique is a vital tool in writing but so is the discretion to resist pressure when it’s pushing a story in the wrong direction–when we know it’s time to depart from expectations. Remember the lessons of Don Music.

Don’t take your parents too seriously – Everyone’s parents betray them in some way. That’s the rule, not the exception. We all sit down to write reeling from that trauma. But look at where we are. We’re not roughneck-ing in the oil patch, we’re in university. We’re in university not to get a traditionally marketable skill like teaching or engineering. We’re in the Faculty of Arts. And we’re not just in the Faculty of Arts, we’re studying the fine art of creative writing. There are reasons we are here and our parents are probably among them. Maybe they hate this field. Maybe they deserve to become caricatures lampooned or eviscerated in fiction. But they also deserve a nod for the privilege we enjoy as people having a go at an expensive, elite liberal arts education. The idea that this privilege is universal regardless of the circumstances and people we were born among–even in Canadian society, it’s false.

Explore the free range – Make sure life is built upon pillars other than reading and writing. Duck out of the academic hot-house for a while–and not just through travel stunts. The daily grind is an excellent teacher. Some of the most interesting fiction in the class came from people who work part-time in stores and bars, in the real world where they form and sustain relationships with people nothing like themselves.

There was great sensitivity in the class. Sensitivity to our own feelings needs to be augmented by sensitivity to other people’s feelings or it will never be enough to make our writing real and potent. Empathy is everything. As the man says, “You can’t write if you can’t relate…” Love people—everyone. That is how they are known. That is how they will come to know and love you and your art.

Thank you so much, and all the best…