Writing and not Writing

September 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Some things are so precious that one should not ever attempt to put them into words.


We Must Try

June 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Writing is about becoming whole; it is about meeting ourselves fully intact; it is about integration, patching up the broken pieces, sculpting something whole from the fragments of our memory. It’s about creating a piece of work in time from something that does not exist in time.

Writing is not about good or bad, better or worse, it’s about this: Is what I am saying true, not necessarily on a factual level but on a level of what I meant to say, that is, has it been examined on the levels of my heart and mind, and does it meet the needs of my intuition to express what I know must be expressed.

Sometimes, more often than not, writing is about wringing out from inside of myself the last tears I can muster — for what? For the things I’ve lost — they too are “the sculptors of exquisite beauty” says my instructor Betsy Warland — for the people I’ve loved, for the moments I will never live again, for the act of letting go and creating anew. Sometimes, laughter too escapes as one scribbles down the words.

Writing is about opening to insight, communicating with life through a story.

“It’s good” implies finality and it imposes judgement (writing cannot advance — in fact, it can barely even happen — when judgement is present). A piece of writing is never finished, as a sculpture made of clay can always be smoothed over one last time. With writing, there is always a potential that lies farther afield, and as we reach out to it, we find it is an illusive excellence that dodges from our grasp. As with all art. As with all of life.

As writers we use the imperfect medium of language to express something that is perfect but often can only really exist in its fullest form outside of the words themselves. In other words, we use language to express the things that can never be fully expressed — grief, joy, wonder, transcendence, age, time, feelings, memories or moments we will never live again. As writers, we feel a profound frustration at this, and yet, if we are called to write, we know we must try anyway, and not give up.


June 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Being a writer is about being honest. It is about searching for the truth of a thing, not the surface truth but the deep down truth. Writing is about turning yourself inside out; it’s about living twice — the first time with your body, the second time with your pen. Writing is about allowing yourself the truth of your life, the truth of what you feel, and the validity of your experience. In this sense it is both a spiritual and revolutionary act, a reconciliation with the past and the present, with the things we understand and the things we don’t.

When we have discovered something that is true for us (perhaps even the simple realisation that we do not know), and when we have found that ability to be honest, we are poised to share with others. When we reach this place, our work can become of service, an offering, and this is the most beautiful place a writer can ever reach.

On Writing a Daily Column

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

On January 23,1963, [Jack] Scott [my grandfather] wrote in The Sun: “The essence of columning is the highly personal, sometimes intimate, expression of impressions or convictions.

“Most columns answer the question, though the question is hardly ever asked, of “how it looks to me.” This means that the subject must always be one that the writer is genuinely interested in, even though the subject may be of no great importance, and the conclusions, if any, should be a kind of individual discovery, or revelation …

“The best advice I can give is to write of anything that’s close to your heart, whether it’s a serious matter or a gay one. In either case, it is surprising how often that approach brings out a little bit of truth.”

Special thank you to writer Nicole Parton for digging out these words and bringing them back into our lives.

Able to Speak and Allowed to Exist

January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

“When we are told that something is not to be spoken about, we understand this to mean that this something should not exist — should not, cannot, must not, does not exit. In that moment, our reality and, consequently , our lives are distorted; they become shameful and diminished. in some way, we understand this to mean that we should not exist. To protect ourselves, we, too, begin to speak only of the flat world where everything is safe, commonplace, and agreeable, the very small world about which we can all have consensus. Soon we don’t see the other worlds we once saw, for it is difficult to see what is forbidden to name.


Deprived of the knowledge of our true history, our country withers, just as without a personal history, there can be no self.

Without access to language, without the right to speak what we must speak, the self disappears. Access to the word is essential to both political freedom and one’s inner reality. To be able to speak is not only a political but a psychological right.”

-Deena Metzger Writing for your Life pp. 32-33

Ten Thousand Nights I Spent Alone

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

“My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone.” – Leonard Cohen

There are some things you have to do alone — and writing is one of them. In a writer’s life it’s difficult to know what came first: Was it an outstreatched period of alone time that sparked creative juices, or was it the creative spark that necessitated a prolonged period of solitude?

Whatever the path, one thing is certain: For every paragraph on the page, there has been at least an hour spent alone.  This is one of many reasons why it has been difficult, historically, for women to write.  With a bunch of children in tow and a family to feed day in and day out, the kind of solitude that is required in the writing process wasn’t always possible.  And it’s not as though you can just turn the creativity on and off.  I find that I am most creative after, not just one or two hours spent alone, but after many many hours spent alone.  At other times, a simple walk alone on the beach can turn the creativity switch on, and then suddenly there they are, all the words you ever needed.

I just read a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell who notes that for every great success a person has in her life, an average of 10,000 hours has been devoted in service to her craft.  This works out to about 3 hours a day for 10 years.  Excellence is built by doing one thing for many hours over many years.  And this is where destiny comes in.  We don’t get good at something always of our own accord.  Some people, for example, spend more time alone because of fate than because of choice.  Take Sharon Butala, for example, an academic, who at the age of 36 fell in love with a rancher in southern Saskatchewan, leaving her job and city life to live with him on the farm.  She spent many many hours alone, wandering through prairie fields, watching a canopy of stars, writing down her dreams. Eventually, she became one of our country’s greatest writers.  Life brought her to nature, life brought her to solitude, and then, the words started to come.  There are so many circumstances that can bring you to solitude in life, growing up  an only child in a beautiful landscape, in my own case, and other life events like the end of a relationship, a depression, or travelling by yourself.

One of the “problems” — if you can call it that — of being a writer, is that once you’ve touched that creative source, you’ll do almost anything to not have to give it up again. Suddenly, the idea of a partner and children carry with them a conflicting set of emotions (even more so when electric guitars are involved), because they appear to have the potential to collide with what you are born to do, and most long to accomplish.  Family commitment can almost feel like the terrifying death of that illusive Self that is touched, on rare occasions, through writing and art.  Butala summarizes this with stunning beauty:

“Through that struggle to fit– to become congruent–I became […] a writer, and I discovered that the writer I’ve become is the Self I’ve been in search of for so many years. But at the same time it has been the act of writing that created and continues to create that Self I’ve at last found, and that acts as the instrument of integration between myself and my environment, chiefly my home in the landscape.” 

When you’ve gone so deep with art, and discovered yourself through it like recovering a lost body part, you have to admit at a certain point that this isn’t just a passing fling; this is a marriage, an entanglement, a relationship, until the end of your days.

And so, for people who are conflicted by a desire to “have it all” (family, work, and art), I say that this conflict actually arises out of the lack of commitment you yourself have made to your original love, which is to write and to take yourself seriously.   It means you’ve put your Self on the back burner because you didn’t recognize its value.  And then,  you wondered why you were dissatisfied and/or your life completely fell apart.

So, for me, as I prepare myself to one day have it all when before I thought I would have to choose one or the other– by the way,  I’ve always, my whole life, chosen solitude, the utter sweetness of a moment that is all mine, over the complexities of a relationship that was not supportive.  Female writers since the beginning of time have done the same (and many went on to live pretty sad lives) Why? Because I was, without knowing it, already married to something that I am not willing to live without.   And that is my creative source.

Sometimes I’ve even chosen relationships because of their incredible plotlines, characters, emotion, and drama. These have given me so much to write about!   So much depth of insight into the human condition! But at the end of the day they’ve been a huge distraction and drain.  I got some great writing material along the way, and the inevitable solitude that ensued always found me running to my closest journal — where I wrote down the tragedies.

People will make time for their job at the Pharmaprix, but they won’t make time for service to Self, their art, which is the main problem that needs to be solved, really. You can have it all if you commit to setting up your life to honour who you actually are.

I picture what all writers have always needed, nothing less than a room of one’s own (in my case, this could turn out to be a bowler trailer, which would be just fine). My grandfather, a writer himself, had just such a room. It was tiniest room in the house, with a small window and no view. I always found this puzzling, but now I see that  what he was after was not to be found in the shape or size of the space, it was in the solitude that belonged all to him, where the creative spirit spoke into his heart and wended its way down to the typewriter.   One floor below, he had three daughters and a wife who adored him.  Perhaps one could say he had it all, but only he should be the judge of that.

Today, I see that what matters just as much as solitude to any artist who wants health,  happiness, and a whole life, is what she finds waiting for her outside of the door: Love, harmony, affection, respect, curiosity, consideration, connection, a warm pot of soup and someone special to share it with…simple.

xoxo Huge LOVE to you for reading this!

The Rewards of Vulnerability

December 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Fully Alive

by dawna markova

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

Last month I was accepted into The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University,  a one-year creative writing certificate, and was asked to submit five pages of my writing to include in our introductory anthology.  This was a big exercise for me in vulnerability, as I am not used to having to meet deadlines with my creative writing, or exposing my work to people I’ve yet to meet. And on top of it, the creative “flow” doesn’t always happen just because you want it to.  As I was trying to pound out five pages, I was feeling awful. Some panic started to set in and then that familiar deluge of thoughts about the quality of my writing and how people would respond to it.

Well, this is well-trodden territory for me and some good insights arose over the course of the week.

First of all, I’ve discovered that writing for me is a kind of intimacy.  It’s good if you can make an effort to share it at the right time, at the right place, and with the right people.  Otherwise, the results can be hard on your budding self-confidence.  Furthermore, I don’t write comics, science fiction, mysteries, or thrillers. So, what do I write?  And, why do I write?  And, perhaps more importantly, Who is my audience?  These seemed like excellent questions to be asking myself at the dawn of an intensive writing program. It was a good opportunity to orient myself around my intentions and purpose.

As I write these words, I am aware of the 12 of you who have signed up to have this post sent directly into your inboxes.  Thank you!  I am aware of your differences, likes and dislikes. I am aware of our histories, what I think you think about me, and what I think you expect of me, and what I think you want me to say, and what I think you don’t want me to say.   All of this goes on in the background of the words that surface.  I am aware that what I write may please one person while annoying another, and that this can change and shift around with every sentence and every post.

So one major hurdle, in writing, as in life, is to drop the fear and the need to make everyone happy. I write to tell the story that has arrived and to investigate its truth for me.  As people grow as writers, we begin to tell our own stories, rather than the stories that others may have told on our behalf, or expected us to tell.  We become authentic. There are just too many people in the world to be able to please everyone and we have to lean on our own perceptions, experiences, and ideas as having inherent worth and validity.

I write in service to the things I hold most dear: truth, equality, self-reflection, healing, art, and the beauty of language and ideas. I write to have a voice when before I have felt too scared to speak.  I think that to be a good writer, or good at anything creative, a person has to risk being vulnerable.  Just think about it, can you love and be loved if you can’t be vulnerable?  Perhaps vulnerability is the best friend we can ever make, but very often this friendship is a lifelong journey of how, when, and with whom to open up. And at times we have to be careful and tender with this process.  It’s kind of like not sleeping with someone on the first date — not that any one of us would ever do something like that!

So after these reflections, I was able to put together five pages of my writing that I felt comfortable sharing.

Sharon Butala, a writer who has been nominated for a Governor General’s Award, inspired this post with a chapter she wrote in Coyote’s Morning Cry:

“People seem to feel, generally speaking, that to be vulnerable means to be weak, to be foolish, to be in need of protection. It also seems to mean to not have the wit to evade, ignore or simply lie, whenever there is a danger of revealing anything personal about yourself.  Telling other people more than they would reveal about themselves means that they might be able to take advantage of you. Vulnerability is a quality, I see, that nobody wants.

Even compassionate people use this word as a warning, with a kind of gentle empathy and a desire to protect. ‘You’ve made yourself vulnerable,’ they say. And I’m surprised, taken aback, because for every secret I’ve revealed, a hundred more lie buried far from the light of day. They are the ones I can’t bring myself to speak out loud, at least not yet.  In the face of all the books written by authors more famous than I, the secrets I’ve revealed are too trivial to deserve the name. It seems to me, when I really think about it, that as the world has had so many billions of pepole, each of whom has had a life complete with secrets, it is an absurdity to think that my secrets matter in the least.

When someone, in this case me, opens up her heart, searches deeply and tries to express in simple, honest terms what she has found there, good people may fear for her.  She may even fear for herself. But it remains, in my opinion, the only, the best thing to do. What are books for? I ask myself. Why write about your life if you can write only of facts? What would be the point? Why would anyone care? I believe in books; I believe in them as a tool to lift humanity out of darkness and fear, and I believe in the role of the artist/shaman, who acheieves sometimes, in an instant’s lightning flash, a link with the powers that create the universe. Nothing else but the opening of the heart speaks to people in a way that matters, that holds the potential to change people’s lives, because they recognize the common humanity, the ubiquity of what seems like unique problems, unique suffering, in the words of the writer telling as much truth as she can manage about her life.

This ought to be reward enough:  that in the struggle to find truth she comes to terms with her own unmanageable desire or terror, with her little-girl soul, setting it on the path at last toward becoming a woman’s soul.


Openness of heart breeds openness of heart. Vulnerability cracks the hard casing of the hearts of others.”

Thanks for reading and for being here with me along the way. I wish for you peaceful sleeps and that your own vulnerability always be received with love, respect, and tenderness.

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