100 Days to 100!

Honestly, it’s hard to remember what it felt like to blog regularly- given that I haven’t done it since returning from my last writing sabbatical in 2015. Being a full-time school marm can really put a damper on one’s online self expression 🤷🏻‍♀️ But today marks an important countdown and rather than just counting down the days, we’re going to dig in and make them count.

My twin, Tara, and I are turning 100, yep 💯 in 100 days! Trust me, I’m not making it there on my own. So collabs it is. I’m still waiting for the driverless cars (never got my license) while hoping to avoid the murderous robots 🤖 the untold future may hold.

I’m returning to my blog to help me stay accountable to some ‘Century’ priorities and goals I’ve set for myself and because I’m inspired by Tara’s return to blogging after quite a departure. And her successful commitment to personal challenges – right now another buy-nothing-new-year.

For the moment I’ll mention my writing ✍️ commitments. I finished the 4-month Story Intensive with Sarah Selecky’s writing school in December and have signed on for the Workshop starting next week. Although I’d been interested for years, I wasn’t sure how I’d like the online format but it was incredibly positive, practical and productive, and the deadlines have been essential for me during the frenetic school year.

So on 100 Days to 100, my first commitment is to meet every writing and posting deadline for the Workshop and 2 other submission deadlines as well. I will also commit to posting about my progress and the other priorities and challenges I’m focusing on and facing.


30th Anniversary of Breakfast Club – Nothing Simple About Those Minds

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I’m going to try to do a few things in this post. First of all, thanks to Eileen On at http://www.eileenon.wordpress.com for nominating for a new blogging challenge: 5 Photos – 5 Days. She encouraged me to share more from my SXSW experiences in Austin, Texas, which I’ve been slow to do, since the end of South By Southwest coincided with my return to teaching full time after 9 months off – a jarring jolt of a time, to be sure.

The second thing I’m going to try to do is incorporate some videos into this blog for the first time ever! My Banff Centre friends would be so impressed – if it works, that is!

During SXSW 2015, a real highlight for me was the 30th anniversary rerelease of Breakfast Club. If you came of age in the 80’s, this movie was your touchstone (first date, anyone? anyone?) and John Hughes had plugged into your psyche, and was downloading (before that was even a thing) your emotional topography. They screened it at The Paramount – an historical theatre in Austin, and the venue for the biggest SXSW Film Festival events.

We were greeted with pink doughnuts photo 2(7)

and a choir of elementary schoolers singing a gorgeous acoustic version of Don’t You Forget About Me, photo 3(3)

and finally, a real live interview with Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy! I was beside myself when I realized that Molly and Ally were right beside me – that’s how dark it was. They were adorable, and I am hopefully going to be able to share a tiny bit of their interview. My photos are poor quality, and the video amateurish, but what a delight to have been there, and in those good seats! My 16-year-old self would have spontaneously combusted!

Here’s Ally Sheedy talking about that sandwich – the one she poured pixie stix onto and crushed chips and who knows what else. (at least she saved the dandruff for her art work)  *** APOLOGIES – CAN’T ATTACH VIDEO…Working on it!

And here’s Molly Ringwald talking about John Hughes, who must have considered her a major muse. *** MORE APOLOGIES – working on attaching video! Wrong format 😦

I loved the part when both actresses talked about how John Hughes basically (and quietly) (and individually) told everyone in the cast that “Really, I was you…” so that they all felt his most personal connection was to their character! I won’t forget about them. I just wish you were all there too.

Also, Molly mentioned that she had watched Breakfast Club with her 11 year-old daughter last year and interviewed her before, during, and after for a podcast for This American Life. On my way to check that magic out NOW! Like I said, nothing simple about those minds.


Muskoka Novel Marathon and Adult Literacy

You might love reading the long form narrative of novels; you might prefer the brief staccato punch of twitter updates and texting. Wherever your literary loyalty lies, picture the profound impactnovel marathon win of a sudden loss of your basic literacy: you can’t navigate the internet, you can’t fill out job applications or government forms or do simple math; your options are rendered terribly limited. I’m doing the Muskoka Novel Marathon again this year, in support of Adult Literacy. Last year, we raised $23,000 & changed some lives – AND – total gravy – I won the manuscript contest! Please support me in this very worthy and uplifting cause, so close to my heart:
https://www.canadahelps.org/…/tena-laing-at-muskoka-novel-…/


Surprising Tapestry of Sessions at SXSW – South By Southwest…

SXSW is a 3-part festival, with Interactive going the first 5 days, Music the last 5, and Film stretched through the full festival.

In regular life, you just don’t get this kind of variety in a 10-day stretch. I love that when I come to South By Southwest (SXSW), I’m not here for work and with a platinum pass, I am entirely free to sample any offerings that catch my eye. With so many overlapping sessions, I couldn’t make them all, and some didn’t really lend themselves to interesting photos, but what rich pickings!

Here’s a taste of what made my short list this week, mainly from the Interactive part of the festival. I’ll talk about Film and Music a bit later.

~Robot Petting Zoo (Don’t Feed the Animals!)

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~Books Are The New Vinyl

~Debunking the Disruption Innovation Myth

~When Your Devices Decide to Touch You Back

~Story Structure Secrets

~Is The Internet Disappointed In Us?

~The Invisible Salary: Why Money Doesn’t Matter

~Wearable Technologies 3 & Will Wearables Bring New Purpose to Fashion?

~Made in Brooklyn: A Craft Foods Revolution

~Failure As A Creative Catalyst

~Dramatic Reading by Programmers of Bug Reports (with Puppets)

~Jedi Mind Tricks For Entrepreneurs

~Can Sports Help End A Culture of Violence

~You Can’t Sit With Us: Craft Beer Subculture

~Minimal Viable Pub: How to Open A Pub on $5K

~Cuddly Drones

~The Future Is Short-Form: Storytelling For Today

~Making Art While Entertaining the Internet

~How To Rob A Bank: The Vulnerablilities of New Money

~ and finally one unofficial 6th Street session that almost pulled me in – less for the title than the first instruction: “Reconsider”twerk 1 twerk 2


Hitting the Wall…

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Wall.”

I build walls around me when I write in Texas. Maybe it’s because there’s so much space in that house compared to the one in Toronto.

The walls I build are displays, where I cover the surfaces of the large blank walls with my writing plans. This year, I moved to a new section of a large empty space just so I could have a fresh stretch of wall to festoon with my plot maps and word count targets and the like.

I love the idea of these organizational walls. I’ve done this before, though with index cards rather than in a map, and found the display very inspiring. Did the wall work this time? Sometimes. But there were times when I had to drag myself to the library to escape the expectations the wall was reflecting back at me.

This writing sabbatical year is over in one week – and since I’m spending my last 2 weeks traveling (and attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin –  & promise to blog about it soon) I’m already missing my writing walls.


Denver for Writers

I just spent 4 days in Denver – first visit ( & the beginning of my winding down the Sabbatical year tour) – and while I found myself a bit afflicted by the altitude, it was a beautiful, walkable city with a lot to offer a writer passing through in the way of writing spaces & writing surfaces & writing snacks and other refreshments. I absolutely loved their big Union Station overhaul. What a destination for creatives.

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It’s Muskoka Novel Marathon Sign-up Day! Stressful? Yes! Worthwhile? Absolutely!

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(SPOILER UPDATE: just found out I made the 40 writer cut off!)

This will be my 3rd year signing up for the Muskoka Novel Marathon – and the competition to be among the 40 writers is fierce. I am traveling this week, and so when 7:00 pm Muskoka time hits (that’ll be 5:00 in Denver – or just 18 minutes from this moment), I need to be glued to my computer, refreshing their site, fingers crossed for no wifi weirdness, until the magic button appears and I can register.

If you have never attended a novel marathon, you’d be in the majority, and while some writers might assume that nothing good can come of writing like you’re running desperately from a pack of starved wildebeests snapping at your heels (that’s how I picture the ticking clock as the 72-hour writing marathon ticks down), you’d be wrong. Here’s what’s so great about a writing marathon:

In 3 days (or 72 hours) at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, I’ve somehow written 110 pages (2013) and 77 pages (2014). In the Real World, It’s taken me 3-6 months to double those lengths. Kind of unbelievable. I mean, I could strap myself to my desk, and in fact, this year has been a writing sabbatical for me, where I took a break from teaching and alarm clocks (and paycheques too!) and still, the magical alchemy of writing amongst a group of driven writers, where all of your physical needs are met in a retreat setting that is impossible to beat AND all that plus raising funds for the worthiest of causes – ADULT LITERACY – over 72 frenetic hours where you pretty much NEVER leave your story long enough to lose the thread or the thrust is not to be underestimated.

And did I mention, last year I WON THE MANUSCRIPT COMPETITION!

http://www.muskokanovelmarathon.com – check out their website. They do amazing things.

Ok – ten minutes left. I’ll report back – fingers crossed.


Taking This Show On The Road…

It’s no secret that I’m All Over The Map (Just check out my About page if you want to know) but my Writing/Reading/Swimming Sabbatical (based mainly in Texas) is winding down a little earlier than originally planned and to cap it off, I’m embarking on another few exciting trips before heading back to Toronto and my teaching life – A life I thought might wait until September, but since it won’t (it’s going to be starting up again on March 24), we’re closing off the Sabbatical with a bang (and a highly unfaithful ode to Shakespeare)!  I’ve got to fit a few days in Denver & Dallas, over a week in Austin, (for SXSW!!!) and finally home to Toronto into these suitcases…

Packing to wrap up the Sabbatical...

Packing to wrap up the Sabbatical…

But packing….

Ah, there’s the rub, for in this suitcase we call Big Red, (& her little sister)

What I’ve forgotten, or could not fit despite my toil,

To fill, to store, to bundle, to stow,

must give me pause…

Here’s hoping that anything I forget will be ok until May, when I’m back for a short stint to celebrate Birthday weekend with the husband.


Grandparents Are a Precious Unrenewable Resource

“Grandparents are a precious unrenewable resource.”

That’s how an uncle put it when I lost my second grandfather.

Somehow, I reached the age of 30 with 4 grandparents still living. And then at 40, I still had 3. There is no doubt that some magical thinking began to take place, because although my Nannies and Poppy were undeniably aging and growing weaker, it was still impossible to conceive of the world without them in it.

My twin and I were the much-loved result of an ill-fated union between two Newfoundland teens who found themselves working up on the Mainland after graduating. Our childhood was spent All Over the Map, moving from Toronto to Newfoundland, to Nova Scotia, back to Ontario, then for me, on to Quebec, Japan, Alberta, and back to Toronto. We attended 13 schools before finally graduating with 2 degrees each.

Our grandparents provided the continuity we desperately needed during our annual anchoring summers back on the island. Nanny and Poppy Stuckless and Nanny and Poppy Laing all lived in their little Lanes from the early days of their marriages until the ends of their lives. These were houses that they had built themselves and filled with their many children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren and beyond.

Grandparents and grandchildren get to take a delight in each other that is often lost in the daily grind of front line parenting. Our grandparents could be parental, but we always wanted to please them, never wanted to hurt them, and there was so much love and wit shared. When I lived in Japan, I spoke to my grandparents more than my parents even, and we all marveled at how I could be oceans away on that other island, and yet sound like there was nothing between us.

My grandparents and their generation in Newfoundland had an experience quite different from most Canadians. Things like cars and televisions came to the island a few decades behind the rest of Canada. Until their children were mostly grown, you could only travel between many communities by boat, and you survived the long winter by freezing and canning and jarring all you could manage to gather in the summer months, because no supply ships could get through. You dressed yourself and your family mostly in clothes you sewed or knit yourself.

When I think about my grandfathers, I think of the most manly men I know: men who built everything from scratch, fixed anything that was broken, caught anything they ate, drove anything that was mobile, skippered ships, and raised barns. But these were also the gentlest of men, men who loved to laugh and yarn, and men whose faces lit up just to see you walk through the door.

When I think of my grandmothers, I think of comfort and duty, and how for many years in Newfoundland, there wasn’t much time to rest or ‘have a spell’ as they said, because there was always so much physical toil. And yet, my grandmothers passed on their skills joyfully. For my Nanny Laing, my last beloved grandparent, and the one I lost just last year, knitting was both work and solace. Although we learned the act of knitting at their knees when we were about 6 years old, it was only in the last several years of my grandmothers’ lives that we began to knit ‘things’.

The photo gallery includes some pictures of those first deeply flawed knitted things, the most obvious example being my first ever pair of mittens. The first mitten was knit perfectly under the watchful eye of my Nanny Stuckless, who rarely needed a pattern and just gave me verbal instructions to remember. Alas, I was on my own for mitten #2 back in Toronto, and the result was in Nanny’s words: “just like a lobster claw!”

The small blanket I knit for my grandfather the year before he died. I remember noticing the mistakes I was making, but having neither the time nor the skill to fix the mistakes to get the gift ready in time for his anniversary. I didn’t mind them so much, though, since I knew that he would be able to see and feel that it was really me who had made this imperfect thing – and that some of those womanly island arts were being passed down after all.

When things on the island opened up and you could buy anything you wanted and drive without difficulty to a big town, some of those artisan and handmade things fell by the wayside for a while, devalued in the face of unlimited commercial options. Now, I think we appreciate again the value of the home made, rare as that is in our plastic world.

Without a grandparent left in the world, we inch closer to our own mortality. Poppy Stuckless, the first to leave us, would have been 101 this week. We raise a glass and eat his favourite Chinese food every year in memory.

I can tell you, they were hard to let go of and I miss my Nannies and Poppies every day; even more, the world with them in it was a less fearful and much brighter place.


Blogging 101 – Day 3 Checking out the Neighbourhood

Blogging U.

 

Today’s Blogging 101 task involved looking for new blogs to follow, both from other participants in this 3-week course as well as searching through tags that are relevant to me.

It was the type of task that could (and did) take you down a rabbit hole, and I’m sure I spent 3 times as much time as I planned on it, and still feel I barely dipped my toe in. Just by participating, over the last couple of days, not only have my own humble number of followers tripled, I have found blogs to follow, through the commons, some from people whose interests seemed aligned with my own (writing, reading, travel), or some who just stood out in a lovely visual/design/human sense. Here are some of the highlights so far:

http://www.jahangiri.us

http://www.alyssambrown.wordpress.com

http://www.noveltreks.wordpress.com

http://www.lilypupslife.wordpress.com

http://www.ilovejenscupcakery.wordpress.com

http://www.rachelsbooknook.wordpress.com

http://www.adventurespastandpresent.com

http://www.hksounds.wordpress.com

http://www.emstockley.wordpress.com

http://www.thepbsblog.wordpress.com

http://www.dysfunctionalliteracy.com

http://www.lisenminetti.com