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.

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.

Pre-Christmas Busy-ness

Christmas at Maggie's

Christmas at Maggie’s

In this pre-Christmas season, I spend one Sunday evening with the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group learning about the practical dos and don’ts of book publishing at a workshop presented by a highly knowledgeable and super helpful local book designer and producer. I pleasantly discover that “French flaps” is the proper name for one of my preferred covers for paperback books. Another tip gleaned from this lesson is to allow 3-6 months for book production once the book is written. After several years of writing, this step will seem to take no time at all!

I continue my education on the book production process and industry by attending a panel presentation of self-published authors, once again organised at the Vancouver Public Library. The stories of overcoming personal and social challenges that these authors have written resonate with me and my story, encouraging me that my story indeed needs to be told. Three main themes emerge for book production and promotion. Obtaining book reviews on advance copies before officially launching a book is critical to promotion. A noted advantage of the self-publishing process is maintaining of control by the author over the choice of book title and cover, as well as the composition of the book editing and production team. And, whether traditional or self-publishing, 90% of the marketing and book promotion is up to the author—so it is best to learn to like this part of the book production process.

My education intensive extends into learning the French language, when in the past 2 weeks I study, write, speak, and pass 2 sets of French tests for the Fall course. I look forward to continuing to practice it, and to the next course in the New Year. J’aime beaucoup apprendre le français, et j’aime même l’étudier !

I will get a chance to pratiquer mon français enconre during one of my two upcoming writing retreats that I have been beavering away to organize for this winter. Just for fun, the details shall remain top secret until my retreat posts in the near future. But needless to say, I am super excited to be setting aside the time, once more, for some concerted writing!

My Artist Date takes me once again to the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), but this time I try FUSE: a live performance night. My favourite activity of the evening consists of indulging in a glass of wine as part of the roughly one hour queue for a half-hour playtime with LEGO! Immensely fun and super neat sensuous experience—completely physically and mentally consuming—as we work in teams of two to design and build multicoloured LEGO towers, which will eventually form a part of a Douglas Coupland exhibit at the VAG in May 2014. As my reflections during my writing clarify for me, I spent most of my life inside my head, and in some ways, I would like to learn to be more of a kid, living equally with the body—and this experience shows me that perhaps I still can.

Another Artist Date inspires in me a continued will to live, and to live with spunk, to the end, as do the “Fabulous Fashionistas” in a film from the UK. It, in deed, does not need to be too late to start something new, and to remind oneself to keep up one’s fabulous living.

Noel chez Maggie

Noel chez Maggie

The month also sees much Christmas-related activity, from decorating my apartment with lights from behind the crown mouldings, red bows on my 2 ficus trees, and cut cedar wreath for my table; to attending several Christmas potluck parties; and meeting with good friends and relatives for pre-Christmas visits. The season is shaping up to be much more enjoyable than around this time last year, when my plans were in flux to the end.

As a result of all these educational and social engagements, I hardly have the time for cooking, and other than snapping photos of my last few Special Dishes for the Week, I haven’t been documenting them—till now, by which time, I have nearly forgotten the secret ingredients that made these dishes uniquely delicious, ranging from French-Thai-Indian Fusion Ratatouille, and Shrimp and Peppers Stir-Fry with Lentils, to Cardamom Chickpea Muffins.

Storytelling Poems, Songs and Plays – with Poem

The Writer's 2013 NaNoWriMo Workspace

The Writer’s 2013 NaNoWriMo Workspace

November turns out to be popular for pseudonyming. It goes by Movember, and more related to my book writing efforts, also by NaNoWriMo. The National Novel Writing Month is an international event that encourages and supports writers and would-be-writers to buckle down and …well… write! It adds a social dimension to the solitary activity, by holding write-in sessions at coffee shops, pubs and other creative-inducing venues. I don’t officially sign up to the 50,000-word novel in a month commitment, but I do check out a write-in—partly because it happens to be at the Storm Crow Tavern—a medieval-themed pub in East Vancouver that I have been meaning to drop by. The decor of board games, swards, goblets, and yes, crows, is a feast for the creative senses, as are the menu items—I feast on the chickpea fries and gulp down the mead. The other dozen writers are super friendly and welcoming, and I observe in amazement how they create in an atmosphere slightly too rowdy for me. I plan to return to the Tavern, just perhaps not at peak gathering hour.

Storm Crow Tavern Write-in

Storm Crow Tavern Write-in

The novel, however, is but one means of storytelling. In the last few weeks, I contemplate three others—the poem, the song, and the theatrical play—for telling my own story and for the stories told by others.

I have found throughout my years that when I want to boil something that I need to say down to its essence, I write it as a poem. I turn to this technique for some parts of my story, for which the narrative form would perhaps be simultaneously too confining and too revealing. On another day, inspired by my good friend’s work and our related exchanges, I likewise capture my existential contemplation breakthroughs in a poem, entitled ““Simply Because”. And I marvel at my own accomplishment: how often does one contemplate the meaning of life and come up with an answer?!

One foggy day,
the meaning of life
emerged:
contentment.

The purpose of existence
crystallised:
to live,
simply because we can.

Everything else
is an evolutionary bonus.

Taking my contemplations down a few notches, I ruminate on the story being told by those who wrote it as a song and chose it as the National Anthem for my current home country, Canada. More specifically, I consider the exclusivity of two words, “our sons”, in reference intended to invoke Canadian patriotism among its nationals. What about those nationals who are not “sons”? Since recently becoming aware of this as an issue from a national CBC radio program, I reflect on what story these words in the Anthem—as well as the reactions of some people to efforts to make these words more gender-inclusive—tell us about our history, our present, and our future. I am confounded by the resistance and the apathy, alike. Yet history, which I learn in the process, reveals that those lyrics in this song were changed 100 years ago, in 1913, from referring more inclusively, back then, to “us”. It appears that we regressed as a nation of purported equals. Sadly, the story being told by this song is quite telling. More than pondering, I think I do my part by expressing to my politicians my support for restoring the original gender-inclusive wording in this story. Words are very powerful among our kind.

And it is a powerful quote about “always having the power, but just having to learn it for yourself”—which resonates with my own story—that entices me to attend the “Wizard of Oz” musical. Having missed this wise tale during my childhood in the Eastern Block, I only discover its creative genius first in 2010, through the London musical, “Wicked”, then through the 2013 film, “Oz the Great and Powerful”. My childhood memories are better reflected in the moving theatrical performance from Montreal, “Moi, dans les ruines rouges du siècle” (“Me, in the red ruins of the century”), which I see en français avec surtitres anglais au Théâtre la Seizième. This real life tale of Sasha Samar growing up in the 1970s and 80s in the Communist Ukraine jogs my memories of certain small and seemingly insignificant details in my own story, which I promptly capture in my story ideas spreadsheet upon my return home. I also find this performance so affective and clever, because it is written and played out by the very man whose life it tells. Though it is really a story of an ordinary man doing relatively ordinary things while he lives out his life in a setting very familiar to me, nonetheless it captivates me, and encourages me to believe that these stories are worth telling. There is another common theme that weaves through the stories of Oz, Sasha, and my own, and it can be summarized with a quote from “Wicked”: “…where I’m from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it—”history”…” This I, likewise, contemplated earlier, while writing in London during my Book Writing Tour 2013: what really happened?

I augment these various forms of storytelling, which constitute my inspiring Artist Dates, with the practical matters of learning the book production process and industry by attending a panel presentation of professional self-publishers organised at the Vancouver Public Library. I try not to get too discouraged by hearing that in getting a book published and in the hands of readers, writing the book is the easy part—at the moment, I simply cannot imagine it getting any more difficult, but perhaps the speaker was not referring to the writing of memoirs! On the other hand, I find that reading about the book publishing process on the internet is well enhanced by the physicality of local self-publishing entrepreneurs sharing their practical experience in-person. Once again I am heartened by my fortune to be already working with a committed and supportive Developmental Editor.

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine Dish

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine Dish

On the culinary side of cooking up my life’s adventures, three of my tried and true dishes make their encore presentation one weekend. This version of the Zucchini and Chickpea Tagine features black beans (in place of the chickpeas) and matching fun sprinkling of black sesame seeds. Not much can improve the Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup, so I just follow the recipe shared with me by my friend in Hamburg during my Book Writing Tour 2013. And once again, craving the seasonal fungi, I prepare another Mushroom Risotto with the Asian assortment of wilder looking mushrooms. And for this week’s Special Dish for the Week, I whip up a Split Green Pea Mini Bouillabaisse of my own invention. I wonder how capturing the essence of such culinary delights might read like in a poem…

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine

Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto

 

The Craft Draws Me Closer

Saying “yes” to life keeps proving to be rewarding, but admittedly, it can be also tiring. In the recent weeks, I arrange several Artist Dates for myself. On some of these, I take just myself; on others, I share myself with an interested friend. I start with a play, then a film, proceeding to a seminar, followed by a couple of dinners—all in a build-up to my 2nd Vancouver Writers Festival, where I shall begin my story.

The idolatry of Margaret Atwood

The idolatry of Margaret Atwood

Of the three events at the Vancouver Writers Festival that I take in this year, the one I attend with the greatest anticipation has the literary equivalent of rock star fame, for me and for the packed auditorium: Margaret Atwood. I decide to try out the idea planted in my mind during my last year’s attendance of her reading and commentary: I request her autograph for one of her books. It turns out to be a meaningful experience for me, though it stems from the very dissatisfying impersonal signing transaction. Perhaps this is how it feels for her as well. I confirm for myself that I prefer to engage in idolatry from a distance, mainly because I realise that the relationship I develop is with the idol’s work and not the idol: the person.

The experience, and my analysis of it—which I naturally undertake by writing about it—give me much insight into my own book writing and eventual publishing process. Mine will be a book about some details of my life. When it is finished, it will have the appearance of a self-contained story. Those who read it may feel like they have developed a relationship with me, where in fact they won’t have—though they may not realise it—because the relationship, if any, will be with their own images that my words will have conjured up for them—and I, as the writer, will not even have the privilege of knowing anything about some readers of my work. Yet, I think it will be important to remember to acknowledge the person reading my work, as a person, and not merely as a reader—while not taking their reactions to my work too personally.

Other events’ commentaries resonate with some of my own deliberations for my writing and my book: In which voice (I…, she…, you…) do I write which parts of my story? Would it be beneficial for me to use a pseudonym (in part because most non-Polish speakers will have trouble with my real surname)? And would it be easier to write as someone else (fictionalising the story to gain some more distance from it for myself)? One author suggests that non-fiction is a misnomer because it is all made up: facts, too, are created before they come into existence. I am heartened to hear from a seasoned author that it takes 4-5 years to write a book even when you have done it a few times—I am coming up to 3 years. Another lesson I glean for writing, and for life itself, is to remain obsessively curious.

With these insights working themselves out at the back of my mind, I return to moulding my own story. Feeling that I have sufficiently wrapped my head around my recent log jam of thoughts, I give myself permission now to work on other stories in parallel with resolving that jam. I dedicate a weekday evening to writing other stories, and my Friday day-writing time to that more intense self-analysis—and then, I improvise during any other writing time that I may have in the week or on weekends, when I am not learning French or taking myself out on Artist Dates.

Another recent Artist Date is a play, entitled “All In”, about the practical challenges of incorporating diversity into daily life, no matter how much agreement there is that it is a good idea to do this, and no matter how good it sounds in theory.

The film that I see, “The Escape From the ‘Liberty’ Cinema” (Ucieczka z Kina ‘Wolnosc’), is shown at the Vancouver Polish Film Festival. This 1990 film is a good reminder for me, and for my story, of how life used to be in Poland when I lived there a decade earlier, including the state of physical dilapidation of the infrastructure, and the imposed but also accepted concept of doublethink (unlike what happens today in Canada and other democratically capitalistic countries).

Balancing the artistic inspirations with some learning about the latest in brain science, I attend a morning session at the Vancouver Conference on Neuroplasticity. A very brainy presenter and the equally brainy exhibitors and participants confirm what I have recently been hearing and reading. Only within the last decade has the ‘learned’ community been increasing its acceptance of the brain’s ongoing potential to physically adapt to a person’s deliberate changes to how their body performs some activity. There are many clues in this topic and this confirmation for me and my story.

Obsessively Curious About Steak

Obsessively Curious About Steak

After feeding my soul and my mind, I take a culinary time out from my cultural Artist Dates, and apply the concept of “obsessive curiosity” to a couple of my dinners. There, I try out two varieties of steak as my source of iron: tenderloin and t-bone. I am not sure about the relative iron content, but taste- and texture-wise, the tenderloin comes out on top. I also get adventurous with sampling some purple cauliflower from the downtown farmers market. Though it is a keeper for its novelty and the possibly higher antioxidant content of purple foods, I do not find it to be particularly any more flavourful than the more typical white variety.

Obsessively Curious About Purple Cauliflower

Obsessively Curious About Purple Cauliflower

My other recent culinary delights, in the form of Special Dishes for the Week, are of seasonal and somewhat traditional persuasion, and include: Mushroom Risotto with Tomato, Cardamom and Coconut Sauce with Tofu and Water Chestnuts, and Ground Turkey Chili. The backlog in my freezer—which now needs clearing in order to free up the glass lunch containers for new dishes—conveniently coincides with a busy weekend of the Vancouver Writers Festival events, which leaves little time for additional cooking for this week.

Last Friday, we also say goodbye to Jody, ‘my’ cat, that has been my Mom’s companion for the past 19 years. Meow…

Goodbye Jody, Meow

Goodbye Jody, Meow

Reconnecting with The Craft

Reflecting on a thought from an earlier story post—that “life tends to be a little full when you’re trying to live it and write about it”—I give myself permission to occasionally lapse a little on my current goal to post bi-weekly stories, which I established upon my return to my day-job from my Book Writing Tour 2013. Easing off the pedals is a strategy I am learning to implement in order, among other things, to keep from imploding on myself under the vastness of life-engaging possibilities.

Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

One of these occasions is the birthday weekend getaway for a friend, together with a few of her girlfriends, which we spend in the relaxing, if rainy, Roberts Creek on BC’s Sunshine Coast. We spend our days together savouring an abundance of very delicious dishes made with ingredients obtained during a damp but enjoyable walk to the village and a likewise damp but fruitful mushroom picking expedition.

The Writer at Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

The Writer at Roberts Creek Weekend Getaway

Most fortunate for me, many of our companions come from the publishing industry, and some, too, are writers; thus, we enjoy many a chat while relishing the beachfront hot tub, warming fireplace, and elaborate candelabra. The sun does make a welcome appearance at the very opportune moment when I step down onto the beach to snap a few photos whilst the rain lets up. Sunday morning, before we depart, I get adventurous and make mulled wine out of the left over red wine, orange juice, honey, and some cinnamon that I find among the kitchen supplies—the Glühwein is a hit! And the Roberts Creek retreat inspires two consecutive Special Dishes for the Week: Quinoa and Chickpea Salad and Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Soup.

The following weekend, I spend feeding my soul at the Vancouver Art and Book Fair with a performance of a short story, entitled “I Fell in Love with Black”, from which I soak up the wisdom of the “Sky Cathedral” sculpture: “I only speak to those who listen.” The Art and Book Fair is held in the old Courthouse Chambers within the Annex of the Vancouver Art Gallery—itself a treat for me to see for the first time, and to momentarily feel transported back in time to another age. I learn from another presentation about a personalized yet affordable publishing-on-demand option that I may look a little more into when I get closer to that stage in my book process.

Vancouver Art and Book Fair 2013 at the Vancouver Art Gallery Annex

Vancouver Art and Book Fair 2013 at the Vancouver Art Gallery Annex

With two weeks passing since I braved, with mixed results, going dancing—and with publically tested affirmations of a less wiggly body this weekend—I decide to get back onto the dancing horse once more. Much to my relief, the evening proves relatively uneventful for my ever-vigilant self, and I find that I even enjoy myself, the music, and all the people who appear to be in a good and non-judgmental mood that evening. The one person, who distinctly misinterprets my facial expression, readily receives with a genuine smile my brief explanation that it was not intentional on my part; I feel relieved to have been able to get my voice to work; and we both get back to enjoying ourselves, perhaps a little more accepting.

Mid-week, I take myself on another Artist Date—this one, a play: “Assassinating Thomson” at the Firehall Arts Centre. I revel in appreciation for how this lone performer weaves his own story with the mystery surrounding the death of a famous Canadian painter from a century before. I leave this clever performance reflecting on several meaningful for me quotes, including: “Maybe you get to the point when you no longer grieve what you’ve lost, and you celebrate what remains” and “The story changes with the telling and with the teller”.

Turkey Livers and Multicoloured Veggie Dish

Turkey Livers and Multicoloured Veggie Dish

In my culinary adventures, one night, as an accompaniment to a colourful plate of orange carrots, green peas, yellow potatoes, and red tomatoes, I try out the iron-rich turkey livers that I previously acquired at a downtown farmers market outing. Prepared similarly to fried-up chicken livers, with sautéed onions, salt and pepper, and a dash of red wine, the turkey livers prove likewise tasty, though more gamey and not as tender. I may try them again, as a paté! On another night, I harvest more greens from my herb garden, grate a carrot, hard-boil an egg, make up some lentils, slice up an avocado, toss in some baby plum tomatoes, and sprinkle these with olive oil, balsamic vinegar glaze, and black sesame seeds, for a deliciously balanced—in flavour, colour and nutrition—super salad. Naturally, I enjoy both meals with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon each!

The Writer's Herb Garden Super Salad

The Writer’s Herb Garden Super Salad

Cette semaine, mes études françaises ont aussi recommencé pour les dix prochaines semaines, so that my French homework will once again compete for my limited book-writing time—but there is method in my madness!

While seeking balance between engaging in life and easing off, I plod away at my recent log jam of thoughts, and feel that I am reaching a possible resolution on one significant part.