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Les Semaines

99.01.10

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout

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Professional Friends

On one of the writing mailing lists I'm on there has been some discussion about amateur versus professional writing. Okay, really several writers who are tired of getting rejections got enthused about an idea one of them had about putting together an anthology of work by people on the list.

This made me realize how very tired I am of amateur writing projects, my own and others. I've read so much crap over the years (from big and small presses, well-known and obscure magazines). Of course I've read so much good stuff, too, amazing books that I more than adore, but it simply does not compare.

Why does everyone think they can be a writer? Why do I? Is it because we encounter writing everywhere and so we know there are thousands of people out there writing? Not everyone thinks they can be a painter even though almost everyone was made to paint in school.

I dunno. I'm wrestling with my own degree of professionalism as a writer. I call writing an avocation; it is certainly more than a hobby, but I've never supported myself by it for more than a couple of months at a time, and then thanks only to grant money (you can have your arguments about government support of the arts with someone else--grants saved my sanity, and helped me to feel that it was worth carrying on, made it possible to carry on).

Does professionalism mean discipline? If it does then I am lost. I am not a disciplined person. I work in rushes, damn hard when I do--full out--but then I stop and cut off split ends and read email, and play computer solitaire....

Whatever it is that I am doing, I find it hard to stop doing it and more on to something else, even when it's something I don't much enjoy doing. That's something I've realized about myself only very recently. It's on the simple level of not wanting to go to bed, then not wanting to get up. But also if I'm working I find it hard to stop working, and if I'm goofing around I find it hard to stop that. If I've been unsocial I find it hard to start being social, and vice versa.

Sigh. Do other people suffer from this?

So what does this have to do with professionalism? Well, I'm trying to be disciplined about writing, and behave about it as though it were something I truly was being paid to do. And in a sense, I am, as Jim is playing main bread winner while I'm playing part-time worker.

Maybe I should put that fact in big red letters above my computer.

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This week's Phonosnout entries made me think about my friends--I seem to be going through one of those periods where many of my friendships are going through changes.

My oldest, closest friend, Christina, whom I met about six months after The Phonosnout begins (which means since we were both in high school), is living in Taiwan this year, last year she was in Turkey. We still manage to see each other almost every year and keep in touch through email and the postage mail. Christina is the person I am closest to, rivalled only by Jim, of course, and my mother.

My friendships in town here are shifting and changing. I don't know quite what is going on, and a lot is probably that I don't seem to have much time for them, in my head or in my days. Is this what it's going to be like?

One problem is that I am drawn to intense people, but they wear me out. And I'm tired of just having a lot of acquaintances, and it's hard to keep the balance between a friendship that eats your soul, a friendship that truly matters, and a friendship that never touches you.

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing

Listening

Been spending a lot of time listening to the accumulation of tapes I have collected over the last seven years or so, trying to decide whether or not to keep each one as we've been running out of space and the piles of tapes have grown rather unsightly. I have fairly narrow tastes even though I have a lot of music. I mostly like things with an edge, things that are a little odd or deep. Music and lyrics both matter to me--if either are weak it can make me like something, and alternatively if either are strong it can make me like it. But no matter how beautiful a voice is, if there isn't something interesting about the material, I won't like it, and I find prettiness cloying.

In other words, I've been getting rid of a lot of tapes. But I still have a stack of about 100 tapes to go through. I think this is going to take a while.

The only other thing I've been listening to is a new disc a friend sent to me, Whitney Rehr's truthcage. I'd never heard of her before the disc arrived in the mail, but it definitely is intriguing and odd. The liner notes say it's folk/rock but to my ear leans far more toward rock with a few folk and jazzy influences. I hear flickers of resemblances with other artists (some early Jane Siberry harmonies, some offbeat Cindy Lee Berryhill humour) but most this is pretty individual stuff. I need to listen to it more, but this is definitely a keeper!

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

This week's reading pleasure was Guy Gavriel Kay's new Sailing to Sarantium, which I enjoyed so much that I stayed up till 1:30 on Thursday night finishing it. Not great for work on Friday, but I couldn't resist. As always, I love Kay's characterization and how readily he creates a world of political intrigue and cultural richness. My only complaints are that the prologue was long and not very involving (I began to worry that I wasn't going to like the novel) and that it's a two-parter and of course the second part isn't published yet.

I've also been reading April Bulmer's recent collection of poetry The Weight of Wings, a physically lovely collection (nicely printed, good paper, and an odd 4.5 x 4.5"). A book about death, God, and mourning in a small town. A community of voices, clearly written.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

My new cut-back work hours plan didn't work so well this week, as it was the first week of a new quarter and busy, and I kept missing my new bus. Luckily, unlike the old one this one actually runs every half hour, which I find incredibly freeing--if I miss the bus, I don't have to wait an hour or take the horrible one that is slow and crowded.

Anyway, I pulled out Gypsy Davey and ran an edit over the first chapter, and have been having wonderful ideas about aspects of the characters and the world, and wrestling with such silly details as whether I should change the colour of Davey's eyes. (I still haven't decided--the details drive me crazy).

The shower is a good place for me to think about my stories in. I guess because it's a kind of time out, and I sorted out several ideas there this week: about the nature of magic and good and evil in their world, about the character's interactions, about the interplay of myth and my specific storyline, about the colour of Davey's eyes (except I think I might have changed my mind back).

When I'm home alone and should be working on the novel I find myself getting sidetracked so easily, it's frustrating. Must focus, except now I'm feeling guilty because I'm getting behind on email again.

Also got my poetry manuscript back yesterday. I'm pleased with the ideas Marilyn had about it, and mostly agree with her about the poems to leave out. But now I'm thinking again that these are separate books and I shouldn't put them together and that I should have written far more poems over the years and have very different books ready than this one. There are these separate ideal books that I thought I was working toward. But am I capable of writing them? I do have these poems and Marilyn does think they're a book but I keep wanting those magical, ephemeral books that are only embryonically present in the poems I have.

I wish I could make up my mind--I need to focus on Marilyn's suggestions for this as a book and see it with new eyes and not think about how well I know these poems. She has lots of line edit suggestions, too, for me to think about.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

Fall 1974

11. This is getting stupid

Test. Today. Study, study, study. Fail. I'm a liar--i pass. Maybe only with a C, but i make it. Some people are glad for Cs--who am i to complain (I'm me! I'm me! and i don't like it [what] it!) Story, story, story. This is getting stupid, stupid, stupid.

12. Friends of Me

My friends--friends of me--allies, enemies, confessionals. People in their own right; sometimes i forget they're not just echoes of me, me, me! (How can people stop being egotistical animals?) If i were king of the forest, i'd.... Back to friends, in alphabetical order, no one gets hurt that way. Anita--don't know her. Friendly, a hi in the hall, once we went to a soccer game together. She likes science. Maybe wants to be a doctor. I don't know you, Anita.

13. B stands for Ballnick

B stands for Ballnick, or Cindy. Either way, she'd come next. Cindy--i know her too well--or knew her, she's changed. Maybe I just never knew her at all (i thought i did) but now it doesn't matter, she has a Boyfriend (capital, capital B) which means once in a once in a while i see her. Cindy used to hurt me but she can't anymore (at least not as much).

14. Little Gerald

Little Gerald--she deserves a chapter all to herself. Maybe two. She's good at everything (just about) she's good at art, writing poetry, sewing, and she's popular and smart. Yet, it is still possible for an animal like me to like her (in small doses of course). She's in university now and very busy.

15. Gerry's always busy

She's always has essays and sewing and tests and always something to do. Maybe that's why she's always happy when she just has a chance to talk. We have a gang.

16. The gang

The gang is: Gerry, Cindy, Pam, and me®. Or: Little Gerald, Ballnick, Harrisy, and Graham Crackers. We don't have a name, but our theme song has to be "Give my regards to Broadway" and our password is butterscotch. This is secret! (and well known).

17. My alphabet

Well, i just found out i screwed up my alphabet. Oh maybe not. There's still the other Pam, and Laura, and Deanna and Sue. That's means Deanna and Pam because Deanna's Pam. Or maybe Pam's Deanna. No, they're not Siamese twins, but the closest thing to it. Together mostly, apart rarely. But they're learning. Pam's the one who's really my friend. I think Deanna feels theatened by me, because Pam and i talk. And talk. And talk and talk, and talk, talk talk. Wow!

18. On to Sue

I don't want to talk about Laura other than sometimes she's okay and sometimes she drives me up the wall! So on to Sue. Sue and i have fun. She's in my P.E. class and we share a stinky locker, and share jokes and Winnie-the-Pooh's tiddely pom poem. And also--

19. The great poem war

It all started in a grade nine science class. We had a very boring (but good) teacher and it was Friday (sleepy) morning. The first poem went something like this:
Ode to a Science Class 1st Period Friday Morning

Mr. Cross, please be quiet
Silence is nice, you should try it
Your mouth is going a mile a minute
Open wide enough to put an elephant in it

To which Sue replied:
Sequel to Ode to a Science Class 1st Period Friday Morning

Nancy1 Graham you are so cruel
Writing such things you are a fool
If you wish to have class peace
Your silly poems had better cease

and this just went on and on and on... Now, two years and 30-40 poems later, it's still going (keep on truckin')2

20. I'm sitting in math

and i've done my homework. I understand this, and i am royally bored. (Royally?) Whatever, i'm bored. Hear teacher yap. Yap yap yap. My thumbs are all twiddled out. What to do? Tap feet, tap pencil, yawn, watch other people yawn and check their tonsils. Right, sweetheart.

21. The gang again

The gang got together this past weekend for my birthday; really two weeks late but better late than never, eh? Eh. I don't this... what, what? This. I don't have time for this. Why talk? You're wasting my time and yours. You don't have much time to waste; you're getting old. Any grey in your hair? Lots. Sit in front of your magnifying mirror and look for new ones.3

22. Anyway

Anyway, the gang got together and we had salt and vinegar potato chips and fun. The four of us are a gang when we're together, but we are falling apart. (Let's cling, gang.) We all come from different groups. Gerry has university friends, Pam has horse-type friends, Cindy has Rob, and i have anybody who can stand my company. There's always someone just as desperate as i.


NOTES

1. Up until I was 21 and legally changed my name, this was the first name people knew me by.

2. Yes this phrase is appalling, but not more so that other things I wrote at this age, and hey, this was 1974, what do you want? And cut me some slack, I was 16.

3. This is a little scary. I feel like I'm talking to myself now. I am very grey. I may actually have had one or two grey hairs already at that age--I distinctly remember sitting in a university class three years later and pulling significant numbers of them out.

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