First things first

It has been challenging to move from a life that was clearly defined by the clock, with daily and hourly deadlines that were immutable, and an in person team that was constantly communicating what I needed to be doing at any given moment. In that life, I knew everything about the deepest inner workings of the project I was on. I knew it by heart, by muscle memory. Parts of it I could do with my brain tied behind my back. This new life has deadlines, but they are blurry, self-assigned, sometimes moving targets. I have some part-time work, with a publishing company in the Pacific Northwest and it’s a busy, slightly confusing time to have come aboard. Figuring out my job there is a little like writing a novel, which is itself a little like trying to describe an elephant by patting it with your hands while wearing a blindfold. That simile works better in person, because you can see me close my eyes and fumble around with my hands in every direction. Take my word for it, it’s not easy.

So, there are things I’m trying to balance in this new, self-directed life. Figuring out the new job, for sure. Getting back to a daily yoga practise. Rebuilding my gym habit. Making sure I get a daily walk. Dedicating myself to practising piano every day. And, of course, there’s writing the novel.

You should do it first thing, my husband said to me, regarding my piano practise.

I find if I do it first thing, my yoga teacher said about a particular set of stretches, it tends to get done.

You should do it first thing, my writer friends say, about the five hundred words a day I intend to write.

I’d like to do it first thing, I think, about the daily walk. If I do it first thing, it’s more likely to happen, I think, about the gym habit. I need to get at it first thing, my panicky brain says, about the work that goes with my new job.

I suppose if I start the night before, I can fit in all these first things before sunset.

Maybe I can get to each of them first thing once a week. Monday it’s the gym, Tuesday it’s the part-time job, Wednesday it’s the novel, Thursday it’s the yoga, Friday it’s the walk, Saturday it’s the piano. Sunday is a day of rest from it all.

If you have a self-directed life, how do you make sure you’re actually getting to all the things you consider priorities?


Slow but fast

And just like that, the final night of the writers’ retreat is upon us. We’ve made our final fire in the fireplace. I made a big pot of veggie curry and it’s simmering on the stove, rice cooking alongside. I have a bit of whiskey and a bit of white wine, and we’re down to our last bag of chips. They’re the “healthy” whole grain kind. We’ll eat them if things get desperate. (Which you can read as: we’ll be eating them before midnight.)

We haven’t been too bothered by ghosts here, though we have each at times utterly freaked ourselves out. Yesterday we didn’t leave the house at all. Today we went out to get firewood and a jug of water. Basic supplies. And a quick trip to Melmerby Beach, just to see it in winter. It’s awesome, in case you were wondering.

We’ve done the Thirty-Day Shred, and the Moksha series of yoga poses. We’ve eaten a lot of licorice and had tarot readings. We weathered an awesome wind and snow storm, and we’re aiming to get on the road tomorrow morning before the next one roars in.

There’s been procrastination, too. I watched three episodes of Gilmore Girls, read the first seventy pages of Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem, had a moment of panic in which I acknowledged to myself that whatever it is he’s doing to make that book so good, I don’t know how to do that, acknowledged further that that’s okay, acknowledged further that the published book is not the first draft, and I played about a hundred games of Ten-Ten.

And, yes, there’s been writing. Not as much as I’d hoped, not as revealing as I’d planned, but there has indeed been writing. Along with an understanding about this new life—it doesn’t end when this retreat does. I can stretch out in this. I can turn my attention to this book without having to stunt write it as per my earlier works. I will not be due back at the office any time at all. This is my office, now. My brain, and this laptop.

This long holiday time is coming to an end. I am happy to leave behind the lounging, the pyjamas, the bags of chips and plates of cookies and endless glasses of wine. I have sidled up to Good Birds Don’t Fly Away and I’m still scared of it, but I’m ready for it. May it go as this retreat has—slow, but fast.

The view from my desk

One of my rules for writing a novel is: stay home. Don’t go anywhere interesting to write, because mostly you will just explore the new place and not so much with the writing. And here I am, breaking one of my own rules, on the first Monday of the rest of my life.

I’m at a purportedly haunted house near Melmerby Beach, just outside of New Glasgow, with Sarah Mian and Jasmine Oore, for a week of writing and hijinks.

The view from my desk is distracting, to say the least.


I am hoping the novelty wears off by tomorrow so I can dig into Good Birds Don’t Fly Away. Here are some other things I am hoping:

• That my protagonist in this novel will have an external antagonist, for once

• That the ankle-deep water of my story will be up to my mid-calf by the time this week is over

• That the ghost that haunts this place will go easy on us

For now, I’m just drinking in the early moments of what promises to be an exquisite winter sunset, and trying not to hyperventilate at the prospect of actually spending the week face to face with a novel I’ve done my best to avoid writing for two years now.

It’s gonna be great.

The other side

I can’t say for sure what my “new life” is like, because I’ve mostly been on vacation since my “old life” wrapped up. But I can say with confidence that there’s no way my old life would have afforded me a three-week break at Christmas. So I guess that’s an indication.

I can say I don’t miss that old life. It has been amazing to feel it streaming off my shoulders, receding further into the distance behind me. I feel freer each day.

I can say I have so many offers of work/so much actual work it panics me a little about how I’ll get my writing done. It is a good problem to have, as a freelancer. I know this.

I can say I am cooking up a couple of interesting (to me, at any rate) projects I hope to launch in Halifax before spring.

I can say leaving that old life behind remains among the best decisions I’ve ever made.