broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Atwood’

Happy Canada Day!

In cities, culture, History, travel on July 1, 2013 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

This is the week I celebrate both my countries — July 1 is Canada Day. I was born and raised there, (Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal) and the U.S., where I’ve lived since 1988, celebrates July 4.

We have a big Canadian flag we’ll hang off the balcony. After my hip replacement, in February 2012, I walked the hospital hallway, thinking it might be fun — with ceramic and metal in me for good, now — to look like a super-hero.

caiti flag

It’s odd to have become a long-term expatriate, (a word often mis-spelled, with an interesting twist of meaning, as ex-patriot.) When do you become an immigrant? When you take the citizenship of your new land? I will probably do so here because of estate planning issues; I’ll be able to retain both passports.

Ironically, my ability to come to, and stay in, the U.S. was thanks to my mother’s American citizenship. She now lives near my birthplace, Vancouver, and I now live near hers, New York City.

I do miss my Canadian friends and a shared set of cultural references so Jose and I head north usually 2-4 times a year.

Will I ever move back? Hard to say. Living in the States is rougher professionally, but new opportunities come much more easily here, I’ve found.

Here are some fun Canadian facts:

— Insulin was first produced by Frederick Banting and Charles Best at my alma mater, the University of Toronto.

English: Frederick Banting ca. 1920–1925 in To...

English: Frederick Banting ca. 1920–1925 in Toronto, Ontario (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– The singer Neil Young had a very nice guy for a dad, Scott Young, who worked in the same Toronto newsroom as I did, The Globe & Mail, as a sportswriter.

– If you love the work of smart, tough-minded women writers like Margaret Atwood (who attended my Toronto high school), Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence and Miriam Toews, you’re reading Canadians.

– If you’re in Canada and need a painkiller, ask a pharmacist for a bottle of 222s, which have codeine in them (forbidden in the U.S. without a prescription). They work great.

– Canadian candy bars rock! My favorites include Big Turk, Crispy Crunch, Aero and Crunchie , all of them in milk chocolate. American mass-market chocolate, like Hershey’s, is a contradiction in terms.

– To truly understand how Canadians ran the 18th. and 19th-century fur trade, kneel in  a wooden canoe and paddle for a week or so. Then do some really long, twisty, slippery, muddy, rocky portages, swatting away black flies and mosquitoes as you hump the canoe and all your packs on your shoulders between lakes or rivers. Visit the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario to see a replica of a voyageur canoe, used by the earliest explorers. They are simply amazing. It’s one of my favorite museums in the world.

– There are some astounding fossils to be seen in the Badlands of Alberta. The Royal Tyrell Museum is well worth a stop!

– A great way to enjoy Vancouver’s Stanley Park is to rent a bike and ride the whole thing. As you circle the seawall, you’ll see huge freighters off-shore and dozens of float-planes zooming overhead.

Splurge on a helicopter ride from Vancouver to Victoria; the cheapest fare is $150. The views of the ocean and the Rockies are stupendous.

– Did you know the Vikings arrived in Newfoundland? I’m dying to visit L’Anse Aux Meadows, the curiously bilingually-named site from the 11th. century.

– If you enjoyed the movies Superbad and Juno, and the star Michael Cera, he’s Canadian, from Brampton, Ontario.

– If you’ve never tried poutine, tourtiere, a butter tart or a Nanaimo bar, go for it! They’re all caloric suicide, but well-loved: cheese curds with gravy; a meat pie; a sweet small tart and a chocolate, icing-covered brownie. Hey, those long cold Canadian winters require some metabolic stoking!

Nanaimo Bar at Butler's Pantry, Toronto, Canada.

Nanaimo Bar at Butler’s Pantry, Toronto, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And here is my favorite short video of all time, Canadian Please.

Enjoy, mes cher(es)! C’est un pays bilingue.

Have you been to Canada? What did you see?

If I build a circus, will you come?

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, domestic life, life, women, work on September 15, 2012 at 1:37 am
Toronto skyline

Toronto skyline. This is where I started out…who knows where I’ll end up?! (Photo credit: Mike UCL)

I did it when I was six.

We lived in Toronto and we had a long, deep, narrow backyard. I decided to create a circus (which was extremely small and didn’t even have animals beyond our black dachsund, Henry Stook Bowser von Hound Dog) so I could invite all our neighbors. I think I wanted to charge admission (I wanted to buy a typewriter) but I can’t remember if I did.

But I look back at that crazy self-confidence and chutzpah and wonder — where on earth did that come from? What made me think it would work? I’m not sure it occurred to me that it wouldn’t.

And why do I keep wanting to erect a large striped tent and fill the seats with an appreciative audience? To bring a bunch of people together and send them away again happy?

(Why I love throwing parties and big dinners. Sort of like this blog, actually.)

Do you ever step back from your daily life, searching for the underlying, even invisible/unconscious, patterns within it?

Taking inventory, as it were, of what you do, and have done, that has filled you with joy and turned into the most satisfying successes — and the holyshitwhatwasIthinking moments that led to the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.

It’s challenging to step away from the non-stop everyday must-dos, from the brushing of teeth and preparing of food to caring for kids and pets to ask, in a non-narcissistic way:

Who am I? What fuels me? Am I really happy?

If not, now what?

It’s easier to sleepwalk through life, doing what our parents want and our friends think is cool and our teachers praise and our professors think well-done and our bosses agree with. Then we die.

So much easier to step aboard a moving conveyance and let it take us somewhere that looks sort of pretty than the terrifying notion of making it up as we go or questioning whether we’re even on the right train, bus or boat in the first place.

Since I was very young, my impulses have remained consistent: create, share it, connect with others, connect them to one another. 

It hasn’t been easy, simple or smooth. I could certainly make a hell of a lot more money being less “creative” and more docile, that’s for sure.

I also became a lot more comfortable in my own skin — sad to say — after two hyper-critical voices in my life since childhood were stilled, my late step-mother, who died in 2007, and my 76-year-old mother, with whom I no longer have a relationship.

Create

It’s my oxygen. I start to feel restless and bored if I’m not working on my own projects — usually three or more at once. They may be in totally different phases (vague idea, general outline, asking for advice and input) but without multiple irons in my fire, so to speak, I get so boooooored. I like being able to leap from dyeing and sewing a pillow cover to working on a book proposal to making butternut squash soup for dinner.

Share it

I’ll be lecturing at my old high school soon about writing, (Leaside High, Toronto, alma mater for Margaret Atwood), and I once compared writing without publishing to masturbation. I had no idea the principal was in the room! But I meant it. It’s too easy to clutch your work, Gollum-like, to your chest, terrified of others’ judgment. Go on! Creativity is a great gift and one best shared with others, whether on-line, in your backyard, sold on Etsy, donated to a local women’s shelter.

Truth be told, I do like to be paid for mine. I sold my own bead necklaces on the street when I was 12, hand-made envelopes at 15, my photos at 17 and my freelance writing starting at 20. If I’m  not out there selling something, I feel a little lost.

Connect with others

The greatest value of my working retail for 27 months, the basis of my memoir, was finally understanding what I love most about my work as a journalist and author. Not writing. Not researching. Not travel. But connecting with others, people I would never have had the chance to meet or speak to otherwise. These have include convicted felons, Olympic athletes, royalty, politicians, a female Admiral, cops, a milliner and the parents of soldiers killed fighting in Iraq. I’ve wept at work (quietly) and suffered nightmares and insomnia from secondary trauma while researching my first book about women and guns.

But the more I learn about the world, the more it’s obvious to me that connecting with one another, with empathy and compassion whenever possible, is what it’s all about.

Connect them to one another

So fun!

In 2008, I organized and planned, (with four hard-working volunteers’ help), a panel discussion in Toronto that required two writers I had never met to get on airplanes from New York and arrive at that room on time. They did. Whew! The room was SRO and the goal was to help Toronto-based writers sell to American editors. It was so satisfying to make this happen.

One of my favorite examples was getting to know a young, smart writer then in Vancouver, who I finally met and had dinner with on one of my visits there. He’s 30 years my junior (younger, I think), but a lovely guy with great manners. A former colleague from Montreal in 1988 then re-found me on LinkedIn — and needed a smart hire for his new political website in Ottawa. Cha-ching!

Now I’m trying something crazy-ambitious, creating a conference from scratch. The women I’ve reached out to so far for advice and input seem really excited, so let’s see if I can make this one fly. The goal, once more, is to put cool people together to spark ideas and create mutual support.

Do you know — yet — what drives you?

And are you OK with it?

Ten Ways To (Seriously) Improve Your Writing

In behavior, business, culture, entertainment, Media, Money, work on September 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm
Author Margaret Atwood attends a reading at Ed...

Margaret Atwood: "Put your bum in the chair!" Image via Wikipedia

It’s commonly said, (among writers who do it for their living), that blood to a surgeon is like rejection to a writer — a necessary part of every day’s work.

Whether a surgeon likes blood is irrelevant. Do professional writers — and ambitious amateurs — enjoy rejection? Irrelevant.

It’s not a game for delicate souls, whether you are paid for your work or hope to, or do not.

I’ve earned my living selling my writing since my sophomore year of college; here are ten issues professionals/ambitious writers take seriously:

1) Study writing. No, you don’t have to sign up to be an English major or get an MFA or try to get into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But if you truly want to improve your work, you’ll put your bum in the chair (as Margaret Atwood told me when I asked her how to write) and put your work before the skilled, experienced eyes of a teacher. That might be a workshop, a writers’ group led by a professional, an on-line class. Great writing, like everything that’s excellent, demands discipline and some training.

2) Study with more than one teacher. Every writing teacher has his or her quirks and habits, and the worst students learn to mimic them in order to curry favor. Bad idea.

3) Know what you want to say. Simply emoting about your mean Dad or drunk Mom may feel terrific and be cathartic for you, but without adding clarity, insight and polish, it’s rarely sufficiently satisfying to your readers. What larger, ongoing, universal truth(s) do you also plan to elucidate?

4) It’s all about the reader. Not you. Not impressing your BFF or writing pals whose enthusiasm and support are lovely, but ultimately totally distracting. They are to a writer’s growth as a Mom’s cheering your soccer game are to a coach’s whistle, drills and experienced observations.

5) Who is your reader? Who do you want to read your material? Everyone. Bah! Think again. Car manuals and cellphone instructions and IKEA literature are written to appeal to “everyone.” Who’s your best reader? Do you crave the undivided attention of suburban moms? Ex-addicts? Current addicts? Fellow lovers of hummingbirds/hiking/sushi/petanque? Decide who you most want to grab by the lapels and write for them. Because not everyone is going to love your work. If they do, be very nervous. It’s not necessarily a good sign.

6) Read your work out loud. Yup. Your dog/cat/budgie won’t mind a bit.  Artists look at their paintings in a mirror to catch it from a different angle. Reading your words out loud immediately alerts you to their cadence, rhythm, alliteration. Do they sound good? Do you want to hear more?

7) Let it cool down. Baked goods removed from the oven and consumed too soon — before cooling into the finished product — shred, crumble and waste the energy you spent creating them. Good writing should wait a while before it’s consumed by anyone other than yourself. Great writing can wait even longer. Write something and put it aside for 20 minutes, two days, two months. It will always read better after distance and reflection because you’ll see its flaws and have the dispassion with which to fix them.

8) Criticism is key to success. You’ve got to put your work out there — for review, criticism, thoughtful replies. Your work must be read by serious and ambitious writers/teachers/agents/editors. Some of them will have the skill to offer helpful insights, (some of which may surprise you or make you uncomfortable), and the generosity to do so.

9) You are not your writing. Until or unless you can separate yourself from the most intimate and private thoughts you share publicly, you’re toast — because you’ll overly personalize even thoughtful-but-challenging comments on your work as an attack on you. Wrong! As one pro writer friend told me, when I had to revise 10 chapters (there are only 12!) of my new memoir: “You’re a mechanic. Fix the engine.”

10) Rejection is essential. For many reasons. It means you’re actually putting your work and ideas out into the intellectual marketplace. Picture a bustling farmers’ market. Is everyone selling the same amount as quickly? Probably not. They know, and hope for, the best — a percentage of their goods to sell. If they go home with an empty truck, score! But they are wise not to expect it because they, like many others, took the risk of working hard to grow it, truck it and put it out for sale. No farmer expects buyers to coo over the beauty of their rutabagas. They have nutured their products with much hard work — but are able to remember that they are selling a product.

I have sold two non-fiction books to two commercial publishers. (And written another four or five  full-length book proposals, circulated to many editors, that did not sell.) I’ve been through six agents, three of whom were very good, one of which — the final one — is truly excellent.

She’s very tough! We’ve even had shouting matches on the phone, as two hard-headed perfectionists hammer it out. Better to have so demanding an expert than some chatty, happy milquetoast who can’t sell my stuff.

Every day, these editors and the agents who put our work before them, are inundated with competitors. Both of my books were rejected by 25 others before they were bought. My agents kept on plugging because, as good agents do, they believed in the projects and in me.

What if  I’d just given up, in floods of weeping and teeth-gnashing despair, after the 11th or 14th — or second — rejection?

Here’s a great post on this subject. And another.

Ten Gifts For The Would-Be Journo/Non-Fiction Writer; Good Luck, Grads — You'll Need It

In business, education, Media on May 17, 2010 at 8:39 am
Cover of "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions...

Cover via Amazon

I never studied journalism, but have taught it many times since; I was an English major at the University of Toronto. But I knew from the age of 12 this was what I wanted to do — and the only thing I wanted to do.

I also knew it would be, as it is and continues to be, damn hard. This industry is filled with rich, connected kids — of all ages — bringing social capital, huge confidence and parental financing that allows them to work for nothing. They, and thousands of others, are your competition.

Today’s fresh grads — good luck! – are clambering into the leaky, sinking lifeboats of our profession. It’s tempting to beat them off with our shredded oars, so few and so precious are the remaining seats.

From The Times of London, in a very long (but very wisely written) piece on why journalism and why it’s so damn hard:

Indeed, Justin Lewis, head of the school of journalism at Cardiff University, says that part of his role is to temper the high expectations of students.

“Some of them do come here with very idealistic notions of what being a journalist is all about,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to hammer that out of them, but we need to be realistic about what those opportunities are. Research we’ve done within the school has shown that each journalist produces three times as much copy today as they did 20 years ago. So it’s tougher. It’s tougher to get a job, and it’s tougher when they’re in a job, and we need to be clear about that.” Lewis, one expects, also tells his students that journalism is often wonderful. Return to the class of 2008, and you see young reporters enjoying extraordinary experiences. Kate Mansey, for example, was sent to Afghanistan in 2007 for a month, where she wrote a memorable story about a family of heroin addicts on the outskirts of Kabul. The youngest addict was a nine-year-old girl.

Jerome Taylor, meanwhile, has talked through the night with asylum seekers in Calais. Claire Newell went undercover to tease prominent MPs into admitting their role in the cash-for-honours scandal and the cash-for-influence scandal which sank Stephen Byers. Helen Pidd spent a day being rude to people in Perth, after it was voted Britain’s most polite town. The list goes on.

There will be those who could think of nothing worse than meeting poor Afghanis, or hoodwinking politicians, or testing the patience of Scotsmen. Fair enough — sell cars. But there will also be those for whom the idea of such encounters is intoxicating, and the prospect of reporting such experiences more thrilling still. These people, if they are lucky and tenacious enough, become journalists.

Yet several of my favorite young journos are doing just fine: one at a website; one at a small newspaper, one as a business writer at the Los Angeles Times and one as a staff shooter for the Denver Post, his first job. Woohoo! So there are jobs and these bright, talented young ‘uns are getting them.

What gifts might I offer a fresh ambitious grad hoping to enter our insane, lovely, terrifying, brutal industry?

1) A really good, comfortable chair you’ll be happy sitting in for hours and hours and hours. At home, alone, in silence. Not sitting in a cafe with with your laptop being groovy and listening to tunes or chatting with your peeps via webcam. Working. Writing is not easily or well done with a ton of noisy people all around you. It is not meant to be something people watch you do and admire you doing. It’s not the Olympics.

2) A bicycle or a good pair of walking shoes. You need to get outdoors often. Fresh air, exercise and sunshine on your face will remind you there is a world outside your apartment or car. Pay attention. Take notes, always.

3) A fountain pen. Writing is still a sensual activity. And being able to inscribe your beautiful signature will be so useful when you’re signing autographs and books.

4) Thick, lovely stationery, or a gift certificate for personalized cards and envelopes; try Papersource.com. When it’s time — and it often is — to write a thank-you note, or an attaboy, using good stationery offers an elegant, immediate point of difference from your many competitors when your recipient gets a lovely real letter, sent within a day or two of your meeting. Email, schme-mail.

5) Great business cards. Thick stock, letterpress, with your name, website(s) and phone numbers. Not: cheap, shiny, cheesy. You don’t need a job to have a card. You don’t need someone else to decide you’re a writer. Networking will open many, many doors and part of your lasting first impression is having a card and having a memorably stylish one. Just don’t call yourself a “wordsmith.” Ever.

6) A gym membership. You need to stretch, run, sweat and tap into some endorphins un-related to staring into a computer. Some of your best ideas will come when you are least focused on your work.

7) A gift certificate to a terrific bookstore, preferably a great local indie like Posman in Manhattan or Munro’s in Victoria, B.C. or The Tattered Cover in Denver. Make it as big as you can, so the pile will include reference books, a good dictionary, thesaurus and at least a dozen books of inspiration, whether Follow The Story, by James Stewart, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or Random Family, by Adrian Nicole Leblanc.

8) The offer, when it seems right, to send your young writer to the conference of his/her choice. That’s where they’ll meet agents, editors, fellow writers of all levels. It might cost $1,000 if they have to fly/stay in a hotel and pay conference fees. Yes, a string of pearls or a handsome watch are more traditional choices, but this is one (costly) thing s/he really needs.

9) A passport and plane ticket to somewhere more than a six-hour flight off the continental United States: Mexico, Central or Latin America, Asia, the midEast, India. Anywhere but Paris/London/Prague/Berlin. They’ll get there on their own. When you’re young and (somewhat) fearless is the best time to try something new and scary. No mortgage, no kids, no spouse. Go!

10) A really good atlas. My favorite reading. Helps to know where you’re going and gives you places to dream of visiting or living in or working in. Reminds you the world is a large, complicated place.

Plus: a Teflon soul, the utter determination to get it right, compassion, a sturdy and unshakable sense of humor, a good set of fall-back skills (carpentry, languages, a teaching certificate, anything!), some money in the bank, the ability to discern a story from corporate BS. Here’s my list of “what it takes”.

What would you give? What, writers, have you gotten that you loved?

I loved this list of 10 gifts for the budding novelist by Margaret Atwood.

Do You Love Or Hate Your City? Noisy? Expensive — Or Consolingly Filled With Friends?

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2009 at 8:50 am
An easychair is set up next to a window overlo...

Shanghai...your city? Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Do you love your city? Hate it? Feel neutral?

I grew up in Toronto, a city many find lovable today, less so when I left 20 years ago. Today, some compare it to Houston in its flat, endless sprawl and unlovely architecture. I’ve been to Houston and Houston doesn’t have Lake Ontario and its lovely little islands a 10-minute ferry ride away — or, perhaps most crucially, my history. Cities are collections of roads and buildings and parks, more or less polluted, more or less pleasant, with fantastic/lousy public transit systems.

It’s the smaller, more intimate charms that may bind us to our cities of origin or choice. I love Toronto’s many funky old diners, dating back to the 1960s, 1940s, even several — often used as film sets between customers — from the 1930s. I miss its enormous, lovely, generally safe parks and its deep ravines, memorialized in Margaret Atwood’s book “Cat’s Eye.” I love the indoor St. Lawrence Market, one of the world’s best, an enormous hall filled with every possible food, the peameal (“Canadian bacon” to Americans) bacon sandwiches a favorite classic.

But most of all, I miss my friends and the history we have. I’ve also lived in Montreal, London and Paris and have spent much time in Manhattan, just south of where I live. I love visiting Montreal, but I loathed living there: long, bitter winters; nasty French-Anglo relations; insanely high taxes; corrupt police; lousy libraries and hospitals; high crime rate and potholed roads. For a long weekend, terrific! But I have a small soft spot for it, having met and fallen in love with my ex-husband there. I adore Paris, but as much for the life-changing fellowship year I had living there as for its famous, well-known charms. Its streets are filled with memories for me.

Here’s an interesting piece from The Guardian on why we love, or hate, where we live.

How do you feel about your city or town? What makes you love or hate it?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,057 other followers