Seventh Week of Birthday and Writing Interrupted

The Writer Nourished by Gourmet Birthday Package

The Writer Nourished by Gourmet Birthday Package

My six weeks of birthday celebrations turns into seven, stretching into April, with the arrival of a personalised gourmet package of souvenirs from my good friend in Hamburg, Germany—some serving as reminders of our travels together—including, among others: Dutch Advocaat (egg liqueur, or ‘ajerkoniak’ as I know it from Poland), which we sipped from the lids of Nivea creme containers in our budget Amsterdam hotel; Ginger Beer, which we looked for in Southeast Asia to sooth an upset stomach; and truffled cheese for the Orange Cardamom Soup recipe that my Hamburgerin friend sends me, and which I finally can try.

Flower-Adorned Bicycle Basket Bearing Mini-Roses

Flower-Adorned Bicycle Basket Bearing Mini-Roses

I extend my birthday celebrations also to my bicycle, treating my new basket to a new bouquet of imitation flowers that my Hamburgerin friend sends me as a replacement for the original ones she sent several years ago. Preparing for my Thorny Roses adventures, I take my basket shopping and stock up on a few pots of miniature roses to give out as gifts of appreciation.

Another friend contributes to my seventh week of birthday celebrations by treating me with a gift card for breakfast smoothies at the Musette Bicycle Caffè, where I sometimes spend my mornings writing down my stories. I promptly go there later in the week, inspired by this idea to do some writing, only to discover that they no longer serve smoothies at this location. I opt for a cranberry turkey sandwich and a vegetarian chili, instead, which I savour while contemplating a particular point in my story that I endeavour to capture in words.

The Writer's Workspace at Musette Bicycle Caffe

The Writer’s Workspace at Musette Bicycle Caffe

Yet another friend brings in the end of my seven weeks of birthday celebrations by treating me to glass of Pinot Noir at The Wicklow Pub, while we recount our various serendipitous chance encounters that appear to guide us along our paths, if we choose to take notice of them.

The Writer Finds Inspiration over Lunch Picnic Cycling through Pretty Cemetery

The Writer Finds Inspiration over Lunch Picnic Cycling through Pretty Cemetery

In early May, I set off for a mini-writing retreat in nearby Victoria, where a work colleague (and friend) invites me to stay in her charming garden suite, and where my Developmental Editor—who has just returned from living abroad—lends me her fancy pregnancy bike to get around on in my own, somewhat compromised, condition. I am working on two projects during my Victorian sojourn: one is a longish chapter in my book; the other is a soliloquy of sorts, which I may share when it is completed. My creative juices are further inspired by delicious breakfast fruit, cheerful potted gerbera, and tasty picnic lunch that I stop to enjoy while cycling through the pretty Ross Bay Cemetery from the Moss Street Market.

Mini-Writing Retreat in Victoria

Mini-Writing Retreat in Victoria

Although my writing is interrupted as life—and potentially new book content—get in the way, I manage to squeeze in a book writing and publishing class and several Artist Dates over the months of April and May.

The recent The Tyee Master Class on “Build[ing] Your Winning Publishing Plan” gives me an opportunity (and, essentially, a deadline) to work out another summary of my book concept, as we are asked to come ready to explain and workshop our intended projects in order to hone our book pitch. I present version 5.4 by now, which I draft with the editorial assistance from my Developmental Editor and my new Strategic Researcher. I am grateful for my Strategic Researcher’s suggestion to use my Spokeman voice amplifier (a glorified term for a personal microphone and speaker) when presenting my “story pitch” to the 20 or so participants in my soft but even voice without causing an urge to strain it for volume.

The Writer's Workspace at Publishing Workshop

The Writer’s Workspace at Publishing Workshop

Still not fully trusting my improved voice, I use the belt-and-suspenders approach—throwing in a few safety pins, just in case, too—to my preparations for reciting the 200-word synopsis that takes me about 3.5 minutes to say.

I write out my book concept summary, in large font, underlining the key words to make it easier for me to read (or to hand to someone to read for me, if my voice proves particularly uncooperative); I ensure my Spokeman batteries are fully charged and check the optimal distance between it and the microphone to avoid the screechy feedback; and I pre-record my reading of my book pitch on my iTouch Voice Memos App, testing the external speaker add-on for sufficient volume on my voice and for battery functionality, in case I need to lean on this strategy. I pack all this electronic kit into my bicycle pannier and basket—along with my notebook computer, camera (for the requisite photo for my post), sliced apple and few dark chocolate squares—and am rewarded for all my efforts—technological and literary—by an appreciative applause from my fellow classmates following my successful performance.

Although I am not yet comfortable sharing the details of my written story, I use this opportunity to gently stretch my comfort zone—and with an open mind, I receive small-group and individual feedback to the details I choose to share in the relative safety of these strangers, bound by writers’ inherent agreement of confidentiality. Two feedback themes emerge for me from the day: 1) it is possible that my story may be too big for one book; and 2) my story personifies for others the ideas of transformation and getting on with life. Next, I need to hone my book pitch into 1-2 sentences—mercifully, they are allowed to be long(ish) sentences!

While not actually writing down much of my story in these recent months, I continue to shape the intent of what I want to express with parts of my story—and the few Artist Dates that I take myself on, support me in my feat.

In particular, the Edward Burtynsky exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, entitled “A Terrible Beauty”, leaves me further grateful for living where I do; for having the opportunities that I do; and for having the challenges that I do. I would not want to exchange those with anyone appearing in the photographs and in the documentary “Watermark” that are a part of the exhibit.

All the while, my heart continues to long for a little bit more of the French heaven.

Les offres de la vie – Offers from Life

The week after I return from my Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, I share in my French class a short homework assignment that uses French vocabulary for “offering, accepting, and refusing”. Mine turns out to be a poetic piece, which I come up with while lounging one day on the Mexican – Barra de Navidad beach.

(French original and English translation)

Les offres de la vie

La vie nous offre des choix :
vivre; ou mourir;
faire quelque chose avec elle; ou passer à côté.
Nous pouvons accepter les choix
et l’offre de la vie,
ou nous pouvons les refuser
et croire que nous n’en avons aucun.
Mais ce qui sera, sera.
Généralement, l’acceptation des choix offerts
nous donne plus de contentement
que leur refus.

French Poetry Inspiring Barra de Navidad Beach

French Poetry Inspiring Barra de Navidad Beach

Offers from Life

Life offers us choices:
to live; or to die;
to do something with it; or to squander it.
We can accept the choices
and the offer of life,
or we can refuse them
and believe that we don’t have any.
But whatever will be, will be.
Generally, acceptance of the offered choices
gives us more contentment
than their refusal.

Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad

I spend a week mid-January adjusting to the time change and unpacking from my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice while also packing for my month’s-end Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, in sunny and warm Mexico. Somehow I feel more balanced in my emotionally draining writing, which demands the re-living and re-digesting of painful thoughts and memories, when I am living more intensely in the present as well. Writing in less familiar and differently inspirational surroundings feels like more intense living. It keeps me motivated to write, and to live.

The Writer's Beach and Patio Workspaces / Sunrise Rooftop Artist Date

The Writer’s Beach and Patio Workspaces / Sunrise Rooftop Artist Date

This organised group writing retreat offers outdoor morning, nearly “hot yoga” classes, followed by writing classes and personalised coaching. Being instructed in the mechanics of storytelling is perhaps useful in the long-run; however, it reminds me too much of high school English class—and I was not a big fan of it then either. I park the information for future reference, but at this stage, I choose to concentrate on discovering where the organic telling of my story takes me. However, inspired by some feedback to a short piece of my writing, and supported with some clarifying instruction, I find that the piece I am working on during this retreat possibly lends itself to applying the technique of “showing”—through a dialogue between the characters—over the descriptive and explanatory “telling” technique that I, thus far, predominantly apply in my storytelling. It goes quite well.

Fellow Retreating Writers (and Food Lovers)

Fellow Retreating Writers (and Food Lovers)

This interesting experience also allows me to reflect on the notion of re-writes. I can see that my dialogue form will need a second look, at least to make it sound more like speaking than the complete sentences I currently have my characters expressing. No one speaks in complete sentences. All manner of speech is indeed imperfect. Spurred in part by this experience, I realise that my view of editorial re-writes of my story is evolving: I am more open to the idea that I will not get my story down perfectly the first time and that drafts will be necessary. I realise that this will be necessary, not only to improve the writing, but also in order to get it written at all. Aiming for perfection, particularly in one-go, tends to be paralysing.

The Writer's Apartment Workspace

The Writer’s Apartment Workspace

Sometimes writing from my apartment, sometimes from the apartment’s rooftop, other times from oceanfront drink bars and restaurants, I look for opportunities to be inspired in an Artist Date kind of way. I am rewarded with at least two.

After one mid-day writing session, I take a short walk to the end of my street, to peruse the world-renowned, tiny hovel: Beer Bob’s Book Exchange, where I find several (book) gems. On my way back to my writing task, seeing my initial carved in ficus-tree in the street prompts me to take notice of an elderly woman on a second-story balcony. She is painting, clearly for the sake of pure enjoyment, not knowing her activity is being observed and is inspiring another person. I take a leaf from this tree of worldly wisdom for my book endeavour.

Book Exchange and Painter Encounter Artist Date

Book Exchange and Painter Encounter Artist Date

My second Artist Date reveals itself during my rooftop smoothie breakfast and writing session at sunrise. I notice the dew beaded across the table to keep me company, thinking myself alone. I take a picture of this one of nature’s beauties, and only when I look at the dew through the lens of my camera do I notice that I am joined for breakfast by a tiny red creature sipping from a dew drop. In that moment I am reminded that sometimes much is revealed when one changes the lens from which one looks at the world.

Mexican Delicacies

Mexican Delicacies

My evening meals, and some of my mid-day ones, too, I spend in the company of my fellow retreating writers. And the food is amazing: delicious, (mostly!) healthy, and oh, so colourful. I simply cannot get enough! My favourites become guacamole and salsa with corn chips, chased with a lemon laced Corona cerveza, particularly on a warm oceanfront patio, shared with my new friends.

Homemade Mexican Breakfast in Vancouver

Homemade Mexican Breakfast in Vancouver

Upon my return home, I keep the memories of being warm and of eating delicious Mexican dishes fueled by keeping my apartment warmer and by reproducing the luscious guacamole, salsa and taco experience from my trip.

In my French class later in the week, I share a short homework assignment that uses French vocabulary for “offering, accepting, and refusing”. Mine turns out to be a poetic piece, entitled Les offres de la vie” (“Offers from Life”), which I come up with while lounging one day on the Mexican – Barra de Navidad beach.

Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice

Though my relationship with Christmas is evolving, and perhaps because of it, I find myself engaging with others more during this Season this year. I continue my Christmas visits with friends and family, on Skype and in person, taking in this year’s solstice lantern festival at Sun Yat-Sen Garden with a few old friends and new. Inspired by several Christmas letters, I decide last-minute to prepare my own—taking stock of my 2013 year’s achievements and blessings, some more in disguise than others—in the form of a Christmas poem.

Lantern Festival at Sun Yat-Sen Garden

Lantern Festival at Sun Yat-Sen Garden

Following a few ancient Polish traditions, and developing some new ones, I celebrate Christmas Eve with a small gathering of friends and the requisite multi-course meal. I try to give up sledzie (the pickled herring) as one of the courses, but simply cannot—and am happy that my dinner companions enthusiastically indulge in this delicacy with me. I greatly enjoy our after dinner activity, too—a game of pick-up sticks, which I had not played for years, perhaps even not since becoming more shaky. With some trepidation at first, I find I thoroughly enjoy it and even do alright with it. Then, most thematically for this Holiday of new birth celebration, I spend Christmas Day dinner with my relatives that now include 3 new babies, all born on the same weekend!

Christmas Eve 2013 Wigilia Dinner

Christmas Eve 2013 Wigilia Dinner

Nice Book Writing Retreat Supplies

Nice Book Writing Retreat Supplies

I spend the next few days packing for my first of two upcoming writing retreats—although I run out of time, and steam, for identifying what specifically I want to work on writing while there—so once again, I improvise. With a few days remaining in the year, I commence my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, in the South of France. I bring along a couple of writing support books among my book writing retreat supplies—and this time, unlike the last, I remember to pack some posted notes and a highlighter. Forgetting, though, to pack the red tape, a roll of scotch tape gets added to the book writing supply kit.

The Writer's Nice Workspace

The Writer’s Nice Workspace

Inspired by fresh fruit and veggie markets of Provence, and reinforced by seeing the movie by its title, I make Ratatouille as my Special Dish for the Week in Nice. There are two daily markets in Nice: one at the Libération tram stop, catering perhaps more to the locals, where I pick up some miel de lavande; and the other in Vieille Ville, so a little more touristy, but that one has the olives and dry herbs and spices! Both markets, a true sensation for the gastronomic and visual senses!

Nice Market Inperations

Nice Market Inperations

New Year’s Eve dinner celebrations see my writing retreat companion and I sharing a charcuterie board of cured meats like prosciutto jambon and speck; a selection of goat cheeses and some camembert; hardboiled egg (left over from my journey there); delicious green olives with garlic and herbs; some nice and spicy Dijon mustard; and a cornichon pickle. Accompanied by a fantastic artisan baguette, with Bio butter (that does not cost $10 per pound like it does in Canada!), and sipping on a small bottle of delightful Châteauneuf du Pape, this feast completes with a piece of Belgian chocolate and a macaroon. We partake in the traditional promenade niçoise (though not quite down to and along the fully traditional for New Year’s Eve Promenade des Anglais). We bring in the New Year 2014 by sipping on wine and watching the film “Amélie”, en français.

New Year's Eve Charcuterie Board Dinner in Nice

New Year’s Eve Charcuterie Board Dinner in Nice

Vieux Nice et Palais Lascaris

Vieux Nice et Palais Lascaris

Throughout my Nice Book Writing Retreat, I weave my hours of daily writing together with exploring the charming narrow streets of Vieux Nice, ducking into souvenir shops and taverns for some vin chaud when the uncharacteristic deluge comes upon us, stumbling onto the Palais Lascaris filled with baroque instruments, and not very successfully avoiding tourist trap restaurants in this off-season period. I do not, however, get the opportunity to experience the Vélo Blue bike share, because I fall in love with the Nice tram. And if there is a cemetery to be found, I will find one—or two—on a hilltop, when possible. I feign a statue at the one in Nice on The Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau), and marvel at the other in the medieval hilltop village of Èze.

Nice and Eze Cemetaries

Nice and Eze Cemetaries

Day Train Trip to Ventimiglia, Italy

Day Train Trip to Ventimiglia, Italy

As I wipe away the tears when I write about the time when I nearly gave up, I keep engaged in life now by taking a day train trip to Italy for the Ventimiglia Friday market, and drop into Monaco for a crèpe and a glass of rosé, at the medieval hilltop Monaco-Ville, on the way back to Nice. How fortunate am I to experience life at such extremes, oscillating between death and life?!

Ventimiglia Friday Market

Ventimiglia Friday Market

Crepe et Rose in Monaco on Return from Ventimiglia to Nice

Crepe et Rose in Monaco on Return from Ventimiglia to Nice

My writing is inspired by following, for a distance, the footpath of Nietzsche to the medieval hilltop village of Èze, along which I picnic in solitude on my croissant de jambon and disguised rosé—as though the surreal Èze was not inspirational enough. High up, towards the skies, the ghost of Nietzsche and I rendez-vous for an Artist Date.

Artist Date Picnic on Nietzsche's Footpath

Artist Date Picnic on Nietzsche’s Footpath

Medieval Hilltop Village of Eze

Medieval Hilltop Village of Eze

The Writer's Workspace at Frankfurt Airport

The Writer’s Workspace at Frankfurt Airport

On my return flight to Vancouver, the frigid weather in Toronto—where one of my two plane connections takes place—delays my flights by a couple of hours. I feel a little annoyed by the inconvenience of the trip lasting 2 hours longer than the regularly scheduled 18 hours of flights, until I realise that the Frankfurt airport makes for as good a place to keep writing as some of my other inspirational nooks and crannies around the world, and my contentment returns. The delays prove to be a bit more trying once I get to Toronto—where my return gets stretched by another 4 hours—but the lovely mid-air chance encounter with a good-looking and kind-hearted Francophone and “Art of Living” breath teacher—who is captivated by my story, and I by his—makes for a gratifying ending to my 30-hour journey back.

Though as usual, while engaging in my Nice Book Writing Retreat, I constantly feel that I am not doing enough: enough of writing; enough of exploring; enough of living. Taking stock of my achievements and experiences like this, in a post, brings a more balanced perspective to my endeavours—and I am glad for having made the trip.