What I've Been Working On

Ever since we’ve been back from France, it’s been hot. Really, really hot. We left Athens a few days ago because the city was empty anyway and we’ve been cooling our heels in Agistri, swimming twice a day, drinking a lot of icy drinks and getting stuff done. So, just what have I been working on in Greece? Not just swimming and drinking, promise. I spent some time finalizing things for Bats or Swallows, but mostly I’ve been working on other projects.

It’s funny how words accumulate, how slow and painful it can be, but how one day you look at the Excel file you use to track your word count (you do that too, right?) and you realize it’s a higher number than you expected it would be. Most of the words need to be rewritten or reordered or resomethinged, but at least you have material to work with, clay to mold. You have ideas that have actually been put on paper.

I’m working on a novel. I was anticipating a breakdown point with what I’m working on now, for it to implode, but it’s August and it hasn’t happened yet. Which means, I think, that I’m doing a better job than I have in the past.

I haven’t shared much of the writing from this project – it’s very first drafty and sometimes doesn’t make sense and every page or so there’s something in the writing that makes me cringe. I get self-conscious when even Andrew looks over my shoulder as I’m typing. For awhile I was calling the book Living Expenses, but that title doesn’t fit anymore. I have another title in mind now, but maybe it will change too. Not-Living Expenses is about a family. A small one. It’s about marriage and roadtrips and the Greek shipping industry, which sounds more ambitious than it really is. It’s an internal book, I think. Maybe the first novel you write has to be internal.

I can tell you the names of the characters in the book. There’s Zoe and Anna and Nicholas. I have a good handle on Zoe and Nicholas. Actually, you’ll be able to read a little bit about Zoe in Bats or Swallows in a story called “Swimming Lessons”, and you’ll probably be able to tell that her story belongs to something larger. She was the one that started everything. I think I know Nicholas pretty well too because I’ve been writing him for the past month. Actually, I call him Niko now that we’re on better terms with each other. I’m not going to share any writing about him yet, but if he had a soundtrack, it would include these songs (excuse the crappy You Tube links; I don’t have an Internet connection and I don’t want to use all of Rosy’s bandwith uploading MP3s):

(Okay, enough vaguely creepy talk about my characters as if they were real people. You do that too, right?)

I’ve also been writing a zine. I can tell you the name of the zine because I had to submit a bio for a reading I’m doing in the fall and I included it, so now I really have to finish it. The zine will be called Places and Things. The last zine I made was a few years ago and I keep thinking I won’t make any more, but then I get it in my mind that I really, really want to make one, so I do. I like zines because they’re forgiving like that, and also private.

When I first discovered the Internet as a teenager, it felt like a private space. Hardly anyone I knew used the Internet, and the concept of Googling someone’s name didn’t really exist. Most people didn’t have websites (“homepages”) and I actually shared an email address with my parents until I finally signed up for Hotmail a year- maybe more than year! – later. My zine, on the other hand, felt really public. It was being distro-ed by zine distros that no longer exist, I had reviews in magazines like Broken Pencil. I got mail. Now it’s the other way around. Blogs and websites are the norm, I’m all over the place online, and I rarely get letters (and when I do I’m horrible at responding to them, argh). I may not keep up with zines much anymore, but the zine world feels like a small, private place I still like to visit from time to time.

None of these things are finished yet, but they’re getting there, and with some patience and luck (on my side, and I guess yours too depending on whether or not you want to read them), they’ll eventually see the light of day, some sooner than others.

That's Why They Keep Them Around

With our trip to Greece slowly approaching, I’m starting to think about my summer reading list. I suppose it’s a bit formal to think of it like that, but books will be hard to find abroad, and even though I know of a good English bookstore in Athens (and a gorgeous one in Santorini, if I make it down there), books are much more expensive in Greece. So, I’m going to devote a substantial amount of space in our luggage to books. In my day-to-day life, I have a tendency to favour novels on the slimmer side. It’s hard to sustain the focus required to read something long when your reading is limited to short blocks of time. But, in Greece I’ll have the luxury to read for longer periods, so I’m looking forward to tackling the thick kind of novels that really infiltrate your brain and weigh down your shoulder bag when you’re walking around town. And, because I’m often self-conscious of the fact that I didn’t take any English literature courses in university, I want to take advantage of this time to fill in a few holes. I have Ovid’s Metamorphoses ready to go and Moby Dick. I have Robinson Crusoe. (Yes, the adventure at sea theme is also deliberate.) We’ll see what else gets added to the pile.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what goes into the process of creating a long piece of work. The thought of writing something that turns into a 500 page paperback is not just daunting, but seemingly impossible. I’m hoping that by immersing myself in these kinds of works, I’ll learn something.

I spent two evenings last week watching Joanna Newsom perform at the Ukrainian Federation in Montreal. I had initially bought a ticket for the first show, and then because I still felt the urge to see her, did some Internet sleuthing and found a ticket for the next night’s sold out show. I shuffled my way back to the church, grabbed a seat, and watched. Her last album, Ys, came out when I first moved to Montreal. I still had a few clients in Toronto, so I often took the train back and forth between the two cities. I would always take out my computer and tell myself to work, but then hours would pass and I would still be listening to music and looking out the window, laptop off. I was usually listening to Ys. I was curious about whether her new album, Have One on Me, could have the same effect. It’s a triple disk, most songs longer than 6 or 7 minutes. It sounds excessive and for some people (my husband, for instance), it is, but I’ve been enjoying the feeling of sinking further and further into the music. Slowly learning the lyrics and seeing how the songs open up, and these are the kinds of songs that blossom big if you’re patient enough. It’s a gorgeous and thorough piece of art, the musical equivalent of a 500 page novel. How the hell does one make something like that?

I’m starting to get the urge to work on my novel again, the one I started more than a year ago. I jumped into it a little too enthusiastically and then lost some steam and realized that the foundation needed some serious rebuilding. By then the thought of trashing and reworking many, many, many pages was exhausting. So I set it aside. I’m wondering if maybe I’m up for the challenge again. Maybe. I’m working my way there, and I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. Speaking of writing novels, Meggy, who I’ve been a fan of since she made zines and personal websites, and now co-writes an amazing fashion blog, has started another blog about writing novels. It’s thoughtful and well written, and if you’re reading this, you would probably enjoy her site too.