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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.