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.
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.
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.
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…