Writing and learning and re-writing and learning and editing and learning

If you want a crash course in learning I suggest trying to write a book.

In addition to numerous small publishing credits, I’ve written a chapbook and a novel-in-verse. I feel comfortable in those spaces. I think I’m a good poet. My novel-in-verse is still looking for a home with publishers. I’ve been rejected by four. Two of those rejections almost broke my heart because the editors told me they actually loved the book. In one case I was shortlisted to the top four out of over 70 submissions (they only publish the top three). Talk about gut wrenching.

The plan of action all along has been to submit to my dream five and see what they say before possibly re-working the book and trying for other publishers. I have one publisher left and a whole lot of hope and love for this industry.

But I digress.

I wrote this book. It’s a paranormal romance. I wrote it over the course of about 2.5 years in between writing my novel-in-verse and producing a yearly poetry festival. I had no idea what I was doing – but I was writing a book. I kind of got lost in it. Really lost. Structure, voice, point of view…… all lost.

I sent it off to a couple readers to take a look at, thinking I was on draft three. I was kindly and gently told, in not so many words, to go back to the drawing board. And they were right! I lost the plot somewhere. My lead characters were vague and my point of view was all over the place. Once my eyes were opened it became so clear! How could I have thought that I’d written a third draft? I took a hard look at the book to see if it was worth saving and decided it was.

I love the story I’m trying to tell and the world I’m trying to create. I know it isn’t academic or “high literature” but I don’t care! I like this genre and I like my characters. So I’m now re-writing the damn thing. I’ve thrown out some plot threads that didn’t work at all and I’ve spent some more time with my lead characters trying to figure out who they really are.

All this led me to sign up for a substantive editing class with Peter Midgely through the Canadian Authors Association. The primary aim of substantive editing is the improvement of the overall work for continuity, clarity, accessibility, purpose and suitability for the work’s audience. My goal for taking this class was to learn how to ask the right questions of myself when working on this novel – Not to learn how to fix my punctuation.

After a full day of listening and trying to engage with the materials given to us I definitely feel I learned how to look at my novel to see if it’s working and where to ask the questions needed in order to pull it all together.

Score another point for learning.

 

 

Who has the time?

Sometimes learning is less about being difficult than it is about finding the time. That’s my motto for this month and for the #3skillsyeg challenge through Edmonton Public Library. When I was invited to take on this challenge I was thrilled to say yes! What I forgot was that I’m immersed in my busiest time of the year with festival planning for the Edmonton Poetry Festival, with being a mom and with my executive arts education classes through the Rozsa Foundation and the Alberta School of Business. Did I mention the fact that I’m frantically editing (hint re-writing) my paranormal novel as well? Something has to give and it can’t be what I get paid to do, or my family.

I’m not saying this to appear busy. I’m not saying it for sympathy. I’m saying it because I know as adults we ALL juggle insane schedules. That we ALL somehow let the creep of being involved and present in the community take over our lives.

Really we need to stop that! We don’t need to be superpeople!

So as I was frantically thinking that I hadn’t done enough; as I was stressing about it, I saw a tweet from a friend saying she was learning Italian by using the phone app Duolingo. I googled Duolingo. It’s this really simple FREE second language app. They offer ten different languages and it is simple and easy. The creators of the app suggest ten minutes a day. Last night I used it while laying in bed listening to my partner snore.

There you go – update for the week. “Lo sono una donna”

Oh and here is a picture of my dog – just because.

 

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Two weeks in……

Way back in July I sat in my garden reflecting on the 2015 poetry festival and ruminating on ideas for 2016. I watched my flowers grow. I pushed my hands into the soil and marvelled at how a seed becomes something else, how a bud becomes a bloom…… with a little nurturing. And I read – a lot.

This quote from the Velveteen Rabbit keeps jumping into my life. There’s so much involved in learning how to become our most authentic self.

“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”         – Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I think part of why I love learning new things is because I find immense joy in discovery. I love discovering bits and pieces of myself that would otherwise lay dormant without a bit of prodding. Taking part in the Edmonton Public Library Learning Challenge means I have a built in excuse to learn how to be the most genuine me.

It’s been two weeks since I became a Learning Champion. So what have I learned?

Everyone who’s heard about this awesome program and my participation has not just been supportive but also interested in how they can take part. I’ve had many offers to partner up on my learning challenges.

My amazing and gorgeous friend has also wanted to take a second language class for some time. She’s interested in Spanish. I had planned on taking Italian but maybe I’ll switch that up. I’m allowed to change my mind and I think learning with a friend will be even more fun. Wine and visiting are sure to be included and who doesn’t love that?!

People want to help. Another good friend who is an avid Canoer – is that the right term? – read my initial post and jumped in with some awesome ideas. We are both authors and the idea is brewing to host a canoe trip on the river that ends in a picnic and poetry/prose reading! I love it! I love that I’ve gotten to know her better and I can’t wait to make this a reality. I plan to meet with the River Valley Keepers organization to learn all about the river and some of the best ways to enjoy it.

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I love this city. I love what we do here and how the community is always so ready to engage. Thank you EPL for helping so many of us take this new journey!

If you could learn three new skills in three months what would they be?

 

#3SkillsYEG or How I became a Learning Champion

I was 27 when I finally went to college. I was a young, divorced mother of two, with no education and no future. I’d always had an affinity for the arts. So I took the chance and applied for the Arts and Cultural Management program through Grant MacEwan College (yes it was still a college back then).  I blossomed and fifteen years later the Chair of the program is still there. She became a role model, a mentor and in later years, a friend. Education gave me back my world. It gave me a future. I continue to educate myself in every way I can – through peer learning, extension programs, and currently through The Rozsa Foundation Executive Arts Management Program. As a writer and poet I am challenged to learn about the intricacies of language everyday and everyday I am excited to keep learning.

 

Today I am proud to tell you I am a Learning Champion for the Edmonton Public Library and City of Edmonton City of Learning Initiative! Over the next few months I’ve taken on the task of learning three new skills and have agreed to document the process on my social media and with EPL. #3skillsYEG is the hashtag. I hope many friends will take on the challenge to also learn three new skills this year!

 

My three learning objectives for this project are:

1. To learn Italian. My partner in life is Italian and so is my oldest childhood friend. It makes sense that I should know more than just a few phrases and swear words.

2. To learn how to build my own website. I’ve run this blog for several years now but as I grow as an author it makes sense for me to have a professional website. I’ve already engaged an extremely talented web designer as a consultant to guide me through the process. Michael Gravel is the Webmaster for the Poetry Festival that I am the ED of. He has graciously agreed to be my coach through this learning process.

3. To learn more about Edmonton’s River Valley. This summer I was fortunate enough to go kayaking on the river valley with my best friend and her sister. I was absolutely overcome with the experience and made it my mission to either purchase a kayak or canoe so that I can continue to experience the beauty of our river. I also live a stones-throw away from our river valley and spend many hours running or walking my dog in it. I’m always thrilled when I see people. I am always sad that I don’t see more people. I’m going to make it my mission to engage with the river valley more and to swim in it this summer!

 

My son is currently away at college taking the Criminal Justice program. He was admittedly a poor high school student yet he is thriving at College. He texted me this morning to say that he received 90% on his Criminal Procedural Law exam! This young man is excelling because he wants to learn and he’s been given a chance to love learning! He exemplifies the reason why I believe lifelong learning is so crucial. Educating yourself changes everything. You have the choice to become whoever you want to be. To learn whatever you want to learn!

You can find out more about myself and the other Learning champions here http://www.epl.ca/learning-champions/

You can find out more about the City of Learners initiative here http://www.epl.ca/cityoflearners/

 

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Teddy

I’ve been thinking about age and life and death and growing up. There’s a pin I stuck to my car visor last year. It says, “What would an adult do?” There are those days when I wish I could be 27 again. 22 again. 19 again. There are days I wish I were older than my current 42, so I could bypass all the years of hard work still to come and just, finally, settle on that island and write my books. Not that life will ever be as easy as my dreams assume. Maybe I don’t even want it to be. Maybe I don’t want to miss out on all the lessons I still have to learn.

My kid turns 19 tomorrow. He’s an adult. At his age I was engaged. Before I was 20 – married. Divorced at 27. You know the story. It’s more common than not. But this guy, he’s going away to college on January 1st. He’s taking a Criminal Justice degree because he wants to help people. Because he thinks protecting us matters. He knows it will be hard. He understands he may break a little from the suffering he’ll witness. He’s so much more grown up than I.

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My family celebrated my grandfathers 86th birthday on the weekend. He is wise and generous and funny and one of the great loves of my life. And he is suffering from dementia. My entire life I knew this man as the one person who was able to grow up without growing old. He would rather have spent time with us grandchildren or great-grandchildren than any adult. It seems appropriate that as the dementia takes hold, his mind has settled on that of a four year old. I cannot grieve for the grandfather we are losing. I can only embrace the spirit of childhood we have gained.

‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”                                                                                                                                                ― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Over the years, the teddy bear I received when I turned four lost most of his beige fur. Also, somewhere along the way I spilled wax all over his nose. I think half of his stuffing is gone. I still have him. He’s as real and important to me as my sons, and my grandfather. He’s aged well. He’s been loved well.

I am Here to Use my Voice

…to spit my truth from lips – rapid fire.

truth, truth, truth

Not the easy truth you want to hear.

The shadow in the dark truth, the monster in my head truth,

the aching body, rock me back and forth, it’s cold under my skin truth,

the build your walls and keep them out truth. The clutch your palms,

cut your skin, stick to your guns truth.

I am here to use my voice.

The voice my mother gave me.

Stunted by time and circumstance, I shout now for her.

I scream now for my mother, my mother’s mother –

For every time they were held back, washed out,

swept away by the words of their husbands.

Power denied for generations, by generations.

This is our generation.

Rock hard, resilient, freedom fighters each of us.

I am here to use my voice.

I am here to hear my voice. I am here so you can hear my voice and know

it won’t blow away in the wind, won’t bow under the storm,

won’t burn under a fire. Will climb higher –

fed by flames of generations truths. The soft light of dawn’s

truths, the sway of our hips truths, child birth truths,

middle of the night, kiss my stomach truths.

I am here to share my voice

because some of my sisters still don’t have one

and I collapse at their feet

exhausted for them, crawling through the mud for them,

blisters on my feet for them,

giving my voice for them.

I shared this new poem at a Poetry Slam competition in Edmonton 2 weeks ago and came in 4th place. It was exciting to be part of a night that celebrated to the power of language and the power of performance art. More than that, I was so energized to share this work that means so much to me as a woman.

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Poetry Challenge Day Four

It is day four of the Poetry Challenge and today I’m thinking of my aboriginal sisters and of the murdered and missing women in this country for whom justice may never come.
Sitting in the light
I grieve for them,
with them, from so far away.
Filled with hate for those
that hate so brutally
I mourn for that woman.
For the child she once was.
I believe she watched cartoons
on Saturday mornings.
I believe she played skip rope.
I believe she had purple pajamas
with yellow flowers on them. Maybe
her favorite musician was
Tracy Chapman, Madonna?
Maybe she wanted to write?
She deserves to be alive.
Today I am not poetic.
Because I’m angry for her, for them all
I’m angry we blame the victim.
That the blood of her people becomes
a justification.
Daughters are being murdered.
I want us to wake up now.