Monday, February 26, 2007

Finding Time to Work

The following distinction between time and work should not have hit me with the force of a revelation; it’s such a basic point. Yet it did. So, one more quotation from Mr. Atchity, in case it proves as illuminating for anyone else as it did for me:

         In a productive, well-ordered life two elements must be managed: time and work. Poor time-managers fail to recognize the difference between the two elements: Work is infinite; time is finite. Therefore, you must manage your time, not your work. Work expands to fill whatever time is allotted to it. If your work is successful, it generates more work; as a result, the concept of “finishing your work” is a contradiction in terms so blatant and so dangerous that it can lead to nervous breakdowns—because it puts the pressures on the wrong places in your mind and habits. Time, on the other hand, is finite, though there’s much more of it available than people who manage it poorly think. The real problem is that we don’t have enough disciplined energy to use all the time that’s given to us.
         Instead of trying to finish your work, you need merely find time to do your work; then simply concentrate on doing it the best you can. The satisfaction will come from knowing that each day you’ve allotted time for the work you love, the work you want to do.

From Kenneth Atchity, A Writer’s Time: Making the Time to Write (1995).

Anxiety as Muse

Kenneth Atchity on anxiety and writing:

Anxiety is the enemy only at the beginning of your career. If you challenge the creative stress of anxiety on a routine basis, you turn it into a helpmate. Productive elation, initiated and shaped by your own will, becomes, side by side with time, your most faithful collaborator. You make your own pressures, and suddenly anxiety is now a blessed spirit rather than a destructive fury: You’ve transformed it into your onboard Muse.

From Kenneth Atchity, A Writer’s Time: Making the Time to Write (1995).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Fictitious Reading Series Gets Surreal

The first Fictitious Reading of 2007 will take place tomorrow night, Sunday, February 25th at 7:30 pm in the gallery space above This Ain’t the Rosedale Library (483 Church Street, Toronto). This month’s featured writers are Beatriz Hausner and Steve Venright. The evening will include readings by Beatriz and Steve, as well as an informal onstage interview with them. I’ll host and Stuart Ross will conduct the interview.

Beatriz Hausner has translated the fiction and poetry of many Latin American and European surrealists. She is also the author of the poetry collections The Wardrobe Mistress (Ekstasis) and Towards the Ideal Man (LyricalMyrical). Born in Chile, she came to Canada in 1971. She lives in Toronto, where she is an organizer of the Toronto Wordstage Reading Series.

Steve Venright is a writer and visual artist whose books include Spiral Agitator (Coach House Books) and The Sleepy Turbine (LyricalMyrical). Through his Torpor Vigil Industries CD label, he has released several unique recordings including CDs by Samuel Andreyev, Christopher Dewdney, and Dion McGregor. Steve was born in the fictional land of Sarnia and now resides in a large consensual reality domain called Toronto, Ontario.

Beatriz will be reading from her translation of the Colombian writer Alvaro Mutis, and Steve will be reading from his novel in progress. Stuart promises questions about surrealism and the art of translation during the chat/interview portion of the event. I'm anticipating an extremely interesting evening.

For more information on the series, see the Fictitious website.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My Writing Spaces

Bloglily has invited her readers to post pictures of their writing spaces. Had I not just tidied my office, I might not have taken her up on that invitation. But I did, so I will. And yes, I did tidy up solely in honour of the new typewriter.

This is where I do most of my writing as well as a considerable amount of idly staring out the window.

If you twirl to the right in the mammoth desk chair (a recent acquisition which has proven exceptionally comfortable), you can catch a glimpse of the aforementioned new typewriter.

To complete the panoramic view, twirl the rest of the way around and you can see that I work comfortably flanked by bookcases which cover the remaining two walls of the room.

In the summer, I can occasionally be found writing out here, but at the moment it seems a long way off. That tree to the right is my magnolia. In a few months it should be sporting blooms that equal the loveliness of those that Bloglily is savouring in California today.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Typewriter as Talisman

I love old manual typewriters—the way they look, the way they sound, the way the keys feel under my fingers as they strike the letters onto the page. There is an element of nostalgia for a time I never knew in my attachment to these machines. After all, the ones that I find most appealing predate me by decades. But there’s more to it than that.

I wrote my first stories on a typewriter. It was the late 80s and computers had filtered into the workplace but not many people had one at home. I certainly didn’t. I didn’t even have a typewriter of my own but my roommate cheerfully lent me hers whenever I asked. I had just shifted from writing poetry to writing fiction and I was giddy with a sense of having found my form. When inspiration ran high, I would call in sick to work and spend the day at our rickety kitchen table pounding out a story on my roommate’s typewriter, usually turning out a complete draft by sundown.

I have been feeling anxious lately about the extent to which my day job is squeezing out my writing time. So it’s no surprise that I’m thinking back fondly to a time when my day job wasn’t quite so demanding and I didn’t hesitate to spurn it for fiction.

Yesterday, I decided to buy myself a typewriter. I don’t have the option of reclaiming all my time for writing but I thought that if I got a typewriter for my office at home, even just as a decorative object, it would be a way of symbolically reclaiming the space for writing. It would mark a rebalancing of my priorities.

I toured round several antique stores and came up empty—just a few very ugly electric typewriters on offer that didn’t fit the bill at all. Surely, I thought, there must be a place in a city this size that specializes in old typewriters. Lo and behold, this morning I flipped open the Globe and Mail and found an article about old typewriters as style icons which featured an interview with the owner of The Monkey’s Paw, a Toronto bookstore that sells vintage typewriters alongside second-hand books. As soon as I finished breakfast, I hopped on the streetcar and made my way over there.

I found my typewriter on display in the front window. It’s a portable Underwood from 1940—it’s a thing of beauty and it works. I’m partial to items that are at once beautiful and useful. I doubt that I’ll do very much typing on it, but I like the idea that I can. In any event, its presence is now infusing my office with good writing energy just as I thought it would.

If you share my typewriter fetish, you may want to follow some of the links from the Globe and Mail article. You can find a dizzying array of vintage typewriters for sale online here, jewellery made from recycled typewriter keys here, and a cunning set of typewriter replica bookends here. And if you’re in Toronto, I highly recommend a visit to The Monkey’s Paw, if not for the typewriters, then for the excellent selection of second-hand books.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Quality Comfort Reads

I picked up Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson on the recommendation of dovegreyreader and was thoroughly charmed by it.

Miss Buncle writes a novel not because she has always had a burning desire to do so but because her dividends are not coming in as reliably as they once did and she needs to make some money. She has a talent for writing but no imagination so her novel is, for the most part, a faithful record, albeit with the names of people and places changed, of the goings-on in the English village in which she lives. When it is published under a pseudonym (“John Smith”) and the villagers get hold of it, much consternation and drama ensue. The villagers’ self-perceptions and their relationships with one another are thoroughly shaken up by the experience of seeing themselves through the eyes of “John Smith.” And in the aftermath, Miss Buncle gains a new respect for the power of the pen.

Miss Buncle’s publisher describes her second novel—her first quickly became a bestseller so, of course, there had be a follow-up—as “delicate farce (if such a thing can be).” This description is also an apt one for Miss Buncle’s Book. There were odd moments when it seemed to lag, but it may have felt like a slower read to me than it actually was given that the only copy I could find in the library was a large print edition. On the whole, I found it to be a most enjoyable read. Miss Buncle’s experience of the writing life rarely resonated with my own but Stevenson’s depiction of it provoked plenty of chuckles from me all the same.

I would sum up Miss Buncle’s Book as a quality comfort read, full of charm and gentle humour, in a similar vein to Elizabeth Von Arnim’s The Enchanted April and Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels.

This novel is my first encounter with the work of D.E. Stevenson. She was born in Edinburgh in 1892 and was a distant relative of Robert Louis Stevenson. She wrote more than 40 novels in her lifetime so there are plenty more out there for me to discover. They are out of print and thus difficult to come by in bookstores, but happily several are available at my local library. I’ve already put the next instalment of Miss Buncle’s adventures on hold.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Novel and the Short Story

Marianne Apostolides on the distinction between the novel and the short story:

Or, if I can provide another metaphor: a novel is a long-term relationship while a short story is a one-night stand. With both, you sense the rhythm, the style, the mood; with both you learn about yourself through engagement with another. Of course you can’t have satisfaction with a short story — not in the way you can with a novel — but you can have intensity. And you will always possess those tantalizing possibilities that must remain deliciously unfulfilled.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Next Up at the Short Story Discussion Group

Next up at the short story discussion group is Delmore Schwartz’s "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," first published in 1937 in the premiere issue of The Partisan Review.

The discussion begins tomorrow, Tuesday, February 13th. Participants are invited to begin posting their thoughts on the story at A Curious Singularity then. If you’re not yet a member of the short story discussion group and you would like to join, please e-mail me. Of course, anyone can contribute through the comments sections of the posts without officially joining the group.

I look forward to the discussion.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Benjamin Markovits on Literary Friendships

Benjamin Markovits on literary friendships:

Among the many things that distinguished literature at the turn of the 19th century was the quality and creative richness of the friendships that produced it. This seems odd at first. The Romantics' boldest statement had to do with the demands and freedoms of individuality. But individuality is a lonely business, and the poets gathered from time to time, into twos and threes, to shout its virtues.

To read the rest of the article from which this excerpt comes, click here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Acquired on the Road

As anticipated, I arrived home from my travels with a stack of new books. I had only a very small suitcase to convey them home in, so I restrained myself somewhat. Still, I managed to acquire some treasures.

Paul Auster’s Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure: This one seemed a fine addition to my rapidly expanding Auster collection. I wanted to read it because it focuses on Auster's early years as a struggling writer and I'm interested in his writing process. I wanted to own it because of the marvellous Sam Messer painting of Auster's typewriter that appears on the cover.

Anatole Broyard’s Kafka Was All the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir: I bought a copy of this book a number years ago because of my fascination with the time and place it details, but I gave it to a friend before I had a chance to read it. I wasn't going to pass it up a second time.

Terry Eagleton's How to Read a Poem: Eagleton on the virtues of the close reading of poems—how could I resist?

Michael Holroyd’s Works on Paper: The Craft of Biography and Autobiography: So long as I'm on a biography bender, a few essays on the craft by an accomplished biographer struck me as excellent supplementary reading. Plus it was selling for a song on the remainder table.

Kelly Link’s Magic For Beginners: I've been hearing great things about this short story collection for some time on various blogs but I hadn't yet come upon it on the shelves of a bookstore. When I spied it, I snapped it up immediately.

Virginia Woolf’s The London Scene: Six Essays on London Life: I think this is my favourite of this round of purchases. I'm a huge fan of Virginia Woolf's essays but I had not previously encountered these ones. They were written as a series for Good Housekeeping in the early 1930s but they have only recently been collected together in a single volume. It's a small book, beautifully designed, with a vivid cover painting of Hyde Park which dates from the same period as the essays, and the very nice finishing touch of map of London endpapers.

Needless to say, I arrived home feeling very pleased with my purchases.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Right Level and Type of Mess

Though it flies in the face of almost universally accepted wisdom, moderately disorganized people, institutions, and systems frequently turn out to be more efficient, more resilient, more creative, and in general more effective than highly organized ones. Just as the cost of neatness has been ignored, so have the potential benefits of achieving the right level and type of mess.

From Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder—How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place (2006).

Monday, February 05, 2007

My Book Cover

Here it is—a first glimpse of the cover of my forthcoming short story collection, All In Together Girls. The standard publishing contract gives the author no say at all in the cover design, so it’s a nerve-wracking thing waiting to find out how it will look. What if, after all you’ve poured into your book, you don’t like the guise in which it is to be sent it out into the world? Happily, I need not contemplate that question any longer. I like it. I like it a lot.

The book is being published by Thistledown Press and it's due out at the end of March. Stay tuned for details of an April launch party. You're all invited!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Touching Down Near American Bloomsbury

I'm in Boston and Cambridge this weekend. As some of you know, I like to tailor my reading to my location when I travel. So for this trip I brought along Susan Cheever's American Bloomsbury - Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work. I made a good start on it on the airplane, and it's proving to be every bit as ambitious a group biography as that voluminous subtitle would lead you to expect.

I already knew about the Concord connection between Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau. But it was something of a surprise to me to see Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe listed among their friends and contemporaries. I'm afraid that I'm not very well versed in American literature. I know a lot about some U.S. authors and nothing at all about many, many others. I have no sense of the overall sweep of history and was under the impression that Hawthorne and Poe were from an earlier period than Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau. If you shared my ignorance of the relevant dates, would you have arrived at that impression based on the writing of these authors?

I'm off to browse at the marvellous Harvard Bookstore, one of my favourite Cambridge activities. Perhaps I ought to search out a couple of tomes on American literary history while I'm there...