What I’ve learned

I found out last week that I completed all the hours for my Writer-in-Residency early. So I have a week to close up shop, as it were, and prepare myself for another semester of grad school (which I’m actually very excited about, nerd that I am). I’ve also been reading like a fiend in anticipation for my return to school (and not having any more time to do so).

I’m sad to go.

I’ve joked with a friend that this has been, and will always be, the best and worst summer of my life. The best, because I’ve made some awesome connections and know now what my dream job feels like. The worst, because it was so much more … well, everything … than I thought it would be.

Not that that’s a bad thing. Just that … a girl has her expectations (I’m dealing with it).

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1) Exchange District = best place in the summer to work in Winnipeg.

2) Iced lattes will burn a hole in your pocket eventually.

3) Meeting with writers to offer critiques is a yoyo of ups and downs. But it’s always worth it, especially if that person takes away even half of what you’ve told them.

4) Writing is life work. It is not just sitting at a computer and typing little sweet nothings onto your keyboard for your hardware to store for a rainy day. It is soul-crushing, annihilating, exhausting, and mind-numbing work not for the weary of heart. Only once in a blue moon do you actually feel satisfied with what you’ve written that day, and it may be only a sentence. Or a word.

You will shed more tears and layers of yourself than you ever thought you had in you to shed or tear away.

So why do it, you ask?

Last week I said because I have no choice. I’m not changing my mind now, but there is one more element that I didn’t have time to touch on.

And that is I truly believe that words have the power to change one’s very existence.

It is why I chose to write my little crippled heart out this summer, and it’s why I’m going to continue to do it. I don’t know of any other way.

Nor do I want to.

“There would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing.” -Markus Zusak

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How writing isn’t a choice

There have been a bunch of kids in the Writers’ Guild classroom this week. It’s had me thinking about why I’ve made the choices I’ve made in my life. Mainly, the choice to write.

And how it’s not really a choice.

Which I find both comforting and terrifying. Comforting, because it’s a confirmation that I have something to say that wants to come out. (Dealing with the knowledge that I have something to say has been more psychologically taxing than few things I’ve ever encountered, not to mention trying to discern what it is, exactly, I have to say. But that’s another topic for another day.) Comforting, in that there is an outlet available to me to get that out. Comforting, in that I don’t have to keep all that inside me.

Terrifying, because I like to be in control. And letting go of control is pretty scary.

But it’s not like I have a choice in the matter, anyway.

*

The first time I was in a creative writing workshop I was twelve years old. I don’t know if I knew what I had to say at that point, but more just that I wanted to say it.

On one hand, I idealize that twelve-year-old. She knew there was some force within her, and was taking the strides necessary to make it come out. She was definitely a bit naïve, but still strong. Stronger than she knew.

But she was scared, too. She was scared of this thing she knew she had to do and didn’t know if she was any good at and she was scared no one would talk to her when all she really wanted was approval that she was allowed to be there in the first place.

Not much has changed in, erm, seventeen years.

But there has been progress. Some headway has been made; there’s more of a direction to follow. And it’s still scary, but at least there are some lampposts to guide the way. They’re dim, but they’re there.

But if there was never a choice, then I can give myself some slack. Because if I didn’t have a choice, then I’m irrevocably meant to be the kind of writer I am now, at this very moment, and not mess with the things I think I should be by now. (And, who am I kidding, scrap writer for person.)

I can only be who I am. And follow the journey. Not map it out, but follow it.

And watch the show.

“It’s why I am a writer – I don’t say ‘decided’ to be, or ‘became’. It was not an act of will or even a conscious choice. To avoid the narrow mesh of [someone else’s] story I had to be able to tell my own.” -Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

How losing gets a bad name

I just got back from five days of watching tennis in Toronto.

Yes, I did say tennis.

I had a great time. It was fantastic just sitting in the sun in the Rexall Centre watching hours upon hours of superb athletic performance. What drew me to tennis in the first place was that it’s as much a mental game as it is a physical one, and you can’t win a match by only playing a physical game or vice versa. You can be the best player in the world, but your head can be somewhere else, and your opponent will use that against you. And they will win, more often than not.

Which is exactly what happened during the second match I saw on Wednesday. My absolute favourite player got beat pretty bad, all because his head just didn’t seem to be in the game. Not only that, but the guy who beat him went on to win the entire tournament.

It was a classic underdog story. As I often consider myself an underdog in life (for better or worse), it was quite gratifying to see.

It also made me think, though, about how hard we try to “win” in life. When, more than we would probably like to admit, it’s just not our time. That, and winning never really looks like what we think it will. And so even when we lose, we aren’t actually losing out on anything other than what may have been.

What we need to focus on is the process, not just the end result. I imagine that’s how this guy won the tournament: by looking at the big picture, as hard as that might’ve been at the time.

*

I’ve tried to stay away from portrayals of the “woe’s me” disabled person in this blog, but I will be one of the first people to readily admit that the disabled life is hard. It’s hard because we are often praised just for showing up and aren’t really expected to do our best, and are still told that’s enough. It’s hard because a lot of us walk that fine line where we have to justify being “disabled” in some circumstances but “not disabled enough” in others, often within the same day. It’s hard because most able-bodied people have never even considered what it would be like to be disabled (even though, if everyone lives long enough, the likelihood of becoming disabled at some point is pretty high), and so they will say something that doesn’t make a lot of sense just because they’re flustered. Or worse.

But it’s especially hard because the world we’re all familiar with was made for people walking on it to thrive.

And the ones who can’t often feel like the losers; that in the game of life, we didn’t really make the cut.

I say all this because the last night in our hotel, we met a girl with her mom and grandmother in the elevator. She was likely eight or ten years old and was being pushed in a buggy-like stroller. I didn’t notice until later that she had bandages on her legs. And when I got out of the elevator, she just stared at me. Curious, and maybe a little envious.

This beautiful, beautiful girl. Staring. At me. Like all she wanted was just to be on her own in an elevator.

I can still remember her eyes, because I had seen them before.

I didn’t know anything about her life, but when we made eye contact, all I wanted to do was tell her it would be ok. Whatever she was going through, whatever she was feeling, was only going to help her in life. Mostly I wanted to tell her she wasn’t losing; far from it.

She may not have felt like she was winning, especially not if “winning” was based on what it looks like on tv. But it never really looks like that in the grand scheme of things. That doesn’t mean she would be constantly losing, though, either. Winning would just look different.

It would look better, actually. Maybe not at the time, and maybe not right away. But it would be winning, in the bigger picture.

It was a small exchange, and there were no words spoken between us. But I’m telling her now: don’t worry about winning. In the end, winning is nice, but it will rarely ever meet your expectations.

It’s all in the journey. That’s where the real winning takes place.