No dress rehearsalPosted: September 7, 2016
I have a pent-up bunch of things to tell you, things to write about. I have been busy living, which is good, and also busy writing, which is very good, but I have not been busy writing about that living here, which is less good. So, in true Virgo fashion, let’s start with a to do list, an agenda for this post.
- Novel-writing breakthrough delivered courtesy of a day at the beach and a long, sunset drive home down a familiar highway
- The generosity of performing the Inevitability of Death publicly; the way the public responded
- What I Did on My Summer Vacation, aka a weekend at Make.Do.Camp
So, to start. I have been struggling, this year, with Good Birds Don’t Fly Away. I have shown up for my writing as regularly as I can right now, I have written thousands and thousands of words, and I have moved no closer to knowing what I am doing and what this book wants to be. I was having secret terrible feelings that perhaps my days of writing long-form fiction were behind me. That maybe two novels were all I would get. More than a lot of people get. Not enough for me, but maybe they were going to have to be. These are not thoughts I was able to articulate to myself or anyone else, until July 22. That day, I swam in the ocean to the point of exhaustion with my niece and my nephew. Had supper at their cottage in Hubbards with them. Drove myself home along highway 103 as twilight did its golden thing in the rearview mirror. Reflected on an experience of grief-by-proxy I’d had earlier in the summer, and the questions that experience raised about who has the right to grieve what. Felt a quiver of energy. Imagined a shining triangle of story gently descending from the sky to my conscious mind, fitting into place with the other bits and pieces of Good Birds I’d assembled, and becoming a linear narrative, with grit, conflict, surprise, and heart. All the things you’d hope a novel you were trying to write would have. It was a couple weeks before I was able to get back to my desk to explore a new character who could carry these questions and experiences, but I felt a buoyant peace such as I haven’t felt about my writing in months. It’s a relief to report here that things are now going pretty well with the new guy, who is fascinating to me and will, I hope, be fascinating to you, too. It was totally gonna suck to admit that this novel wasn’t going to happen, since I quit my job in a pretty showy way to write it. Phew.
Speaking of grief-by-proxy, I have wanted very much to write about Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip, though I am not sure what’s left to say about the collective experience of love and sadness and hope and resilience in which many Canadians engaged through the summer. What I want to say is that Downie’s grace and generosity gave me a place to put all my sadness about all the sad things I’ve ever felt sad about, so that I could sort through them and feel them deeply, in a uniquely communal way. What more can an artist hope to do? And to have the opportunity to stand in front of people who love you, being exactly who you are meant to be, to stand in front of tens of thousands of people and give them what you have to give, and receive from them so much love. To be seen, truly. What more can an artist ask for? May we all have the opportunity to do this, in some small way. May we all give each other this opportunity. I appreciated, too, the nudge to dig deeply again into songs I have loved and put aside. To once more engage with Scared, and Nautical Disaster, and Escape is At Hand for the Travelling Man, and Fireworks. I appreciated the chance to look down a row of strangers and see them all rocking out, all in. And of course, the constant reminder of the summer: No dress rehearsal, this is our life. Indeed it is.
Which brings me to Make.Do.Camp. A transformative experience, which is not the kind of thing this cynical correspondent is used to reporting, but there it is. Seventy-two hours at Big Cove Camp on Merigomish Harbour, alongside eighty mostly-strangers, letting our defences down. There was art and conversation and politics and campfires, saunas and stars, an impromptu talent show and a big dancey dance party. We were without our phones, without an internet connection all weekend long. No one died from disconnection. If anything, we all came more alive. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s no less true for all that. I kept an analogue Twitter and Instagram feed going in my notebook all weekend. I’m more earnest on analogue Twitter than I am anywhere else. There is no performative aspect to analogue Twitter, therefore no snark necessary. I sat in the grass and listened to the wind ruffle the leaves. Had I had my phone, I’d have reached for it and missed what was really going on. For a person who prides herself on noticing, I sure do choose disconnection on the regular. I am grateful for the invitation to consider the way I use technology. I wasn’t sure, before I went to Camp, whether it was for me. Now, I can’t imagine who it’s NOT for.
It’s been a summer of giant feelings.
It has been glorious to be free to feel those feelings, to take them to the beach and dunk them in the cold north Atlantic, and to buy them an ice cream cone on the way home. I have spent days just reading, the way I used to when I was a kid. I’ve read more books this summer than I did all of last year, and maybe the year before that, cumulatively. I have been able to think deeply about the ideas in those books, and the ideas in my head. I have stared out the window. I have stared into the garden. I have stared at the ocean, and at a couple of lakes. I’ve been with people and without them. I have begun building the life that was always just out of my grasp while I was working for someone else. That building is life-long work, and I am glad to be thusly employed.