Reaching Literary Nirvana & other adventures

Writing can be bliss.

But wait. It can also be lonely, agonizing, essentially non-remunerative, and excruciating -- much of the time. So after a day spent alone at my desk, writing things down and crossing things out, writing other things down and crossing other things out (it really is that boring), knowing that every sentence I create might very well end up being tossed onto a cyber-pyre of my own making, I will often put my hands together and thank all the writers who have trodden this path before me.

I thank those people even when I am not writing. Just yesterday, in fact, my car broke down in the middle of nowhere, and after I'd called CAA and tiptoed into the woods to relieve myself (only to stand up and realise I was actually in someone's back yard), I spent the rest of the afternoon with Annie Dillard, re-reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for the I'm-not-sure-how-many-th time. Every time I looked up from the page, I noticed more: the way long autumn light was inking my skin, the way that same light lifted from the trees as the sun was setting, the language of wind. By the time the tow truck found me a full two hours after I'd galumphed off the road, I had practically found nirvana. All thanks to Annie Dillard.

So I recommend keeping some of her (anything: For the Time Being, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, The Writing Life...) in your glove compartment. That and a candle.
Last week, I was terribly thankful for Ariel Levy, whose brilliant Thanksgiving in Mongolia gave me the answer to that nagging question, what it's like to give birth at 18 weeks on the bathroom floor of a hotel room in Mongolia, anyway?, in addition to being the finest essay I've read in a while.

And I'll never stop being grateful to David James Duncan, whose collection of essays, My Story as Told by Water, is so exquisite it sometimes had me gasping for air. Caveat #1: The author's central love is fly-fishing (about which, normally, I could not give a fish finger), so the book's not for everyone. Caveat #2: About halfway through the book, I put it down and might not pick it up again--there are only so many fish I can read about, apparently--but I still adore it for the rare and edifying experience of tasting writing that swims, shape-shifts, hurls itself in the air on its way upstream and gives birth to something so infinite and holy you have to pull the book away and just breathe for a while. Even if you only read half of the essays, you'll be the better for it. (By the way, I'm not alone in loving this book. It was a National Book Award Finalist.)

On a less aquatic note, I am often asked if I can recommend any books on memoir writing. To which I normally respond, just go home and write your damn memoir. Which isn't very nice. So I sniffed around for a few months and eventually found these books, all of which are wonderful and none of which describes the process as if it were a task akin to bricklaying (as a surprising number of these sorts of books do). All of these books can be ordered through your library or non-Amazon local bookstore.

Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg
Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas (whose recent memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like It, I can also recommend)
The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith

If you'd like more guidance than a book can offer (ie. direct feedback on your work, accountability, inspiration, help with structure and voice, and a gentle weekly nudge), I will be offering another online memoir writing workshop this fall. I can only accommodate 4 people per workshop (and one spot's already taken), so if you are interested, please click here for details. These workshops fill up quickly.

Now for a few announcements.

The first concerns an actual JOB. And it's been so long since I've had one of those, I almost looked the word up in my dictionary to be sure I still knew how to spell it. It's only for 3 months, but it's still a job, thank you very much, and a beautiful one at that: Writer-in-Residence at the University of Guelph for the fall term. Essentially, that means acting as a resource for students with creative writing projects, giving the odd lecture and performance, and devoting 70% of my time to sitting in my office writing things down and crossing things out. I am as honoured as I am delighted.

I won't be returning to the fabulous Under the Volcano program this January, only because I'll be performing and reading at the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka. I'm not sure how to convey the immensity of my excitement about this journey without resorting to a long series of exclamation marks and happy-face symbols, so it's probably best to leave it at that. I'll be staying on for a month to wander around with a backpack, stick my elbow out the window of 3rd-class trains, and pretend I'm 25 again. Already, I find myself day-dreaming of elephants, tea plantations, reclining Buddhas, and scenes like the this one (Galle).

In the more immediate future, I'll be doing a couple of local shows this fall: at the University of Guelph as part of my residency, and in my hometown of Stratford as part of the new Stratford Literary Festival (!), where I'll also be doing a reading with Farzana Doctor. Seating is quite limited for both events. (Details and ticket links on the Calendar page.) Beyond that, there are a few things brewing for the spring, including a show in the Northwest Territories, if you can believe it. (I still can't.)

And I'm writing whenever I can.

Which reminds me. I've been living with a debilitating repetitive strain injury in my right hand (all that crossing out of words) and have had to cut typing down to a minimum. My email return rate is dismal of late, so if you've written to me this summer and haven't received a response, my apologies. I just can't manage it at the moment. If it's something that does require a response, please write again, as my Answer This One file is now so large my right arm goes into spasm the moment I glance at it.

So, yes, I'm typing this entire note with my left hand and need to wrap it up. 

May long light lift your mornings and settle your afternoons. And may your days be filled with 'moments of glad grace' ~

with gratitude,

Alison