Final final edit of End of the Rope is now finished! Fini! Fertig! Acabado! Finito! As in – I am so DONE :)

After approximately 10 years, I’m am finally finished my first book, End of the Rope: Finding My Way Through Mountains and Life. On International Women’s Day, I pressed SEND, and off it flew to my editor at Random House, Anne Collins, and now it is with the copy editor. It is completely, irrevocably, terrifyingly out of my hands. I can no longer change a name, remove an incriminating detail, soften a snarky comment…

I am terrified about how the world will receive this book, I always have been, and I almost gave up so many times because of my fear of what others will think. I know I will piss off a few people. Mostly men. I seem good at that, in spite of my deep rooted, almost pathological need to be liked and approved of, but I find Rebecca Solnit’s recent essay in The Guardian reassuring. She says: “Being unable to tell your story is a living death. The right to speak is a form of wealth that is being redistributed. No wonder powerful men are furious.”

Through this whole process, year after year, I wrote, published stories that most certainly pissed off a certain someone (I compared him to a humping bunny, not my most subtle metaphor) and agonized over disapproval, stewing in guilt and fear. But I kept writing. That was the key. I kept forging forward. This is the main theme in my memoir. Momentum. Feel the fear and discomfort and do it anyway. It’s something I’m still learning. I’m a work in progress.

Solnit quotes “Ursula Le Guin: “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” My book, End of the Rope, is my new mountain.

Posted in news etc | Leave a comment

Deal News – End of the Rope: A Mountain Memoir

Deal News- End of the Rope by Jan Redford

I’ve been neglecting my blog and failed to announce my biggest news yet. Could be a sign that I should renew my commitment to this website. My book, End of the Rope: A Mountain Memoir, will be published in spring 2018 with Random House! AND I have an agent, Samantha Haywood of Transatlantic. I like to do things backwards, first get a contract, then get an agent. I’m currently in the throes of yet another rewrite, but this time there is an end in sight, I’m finally getting published, (and paid!) and I’m working with an amazing Random House editor, Amanda Lewis. So I feel I’m in good hands.

By the time 2018 comes along, this will have been an eleven year project – or 55 years, depending on how you look at it (57 by then – yikes!) I have a file of notes for a book of personal essays on the writing process I’ve been through, sort of a what-not-to-do writing book. I wouldn’t presume to write a “how to” book. It has been a long, convoluted path to publishing, but the main thing I’ve learned (or, to be precise, am learning) is to trust myself. I’ve had many many wonderful mentors, and needed each one, but in the end, it is my book, my life, and it is my judgement I have to trust. Writing a memoir, which has a major theme of self-doubt, is not easy to do while inflicted with self-doubt, but  I wrote my way through it and I must say, I’m in a much better place for it. Better than psychotherapy, though I can see I’ll be needing some of that in the near future as I bare my life (and other people’s lives) to the world. As I re-read, this time with the knowledge that anyone who wants to will be reading this memoir, I shake my head and wonder, “Holy shit! What was I thinking?” I’m expecting the next phase of this journey to be as rocky as the first phase. But I’m assuming it will all be grist for the personal essay mill 🙂

Posted in news etc | Leave a comment

A Summit of One’s Own: Women’s Mountaineering Writing

http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web16a/a-summit-of-ones-own-panel-discussion

This is the recording of the panel I was on with a great group of women at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in November, 2015. It opened up a conversation that could have gone on for hours. The feedback afterward was very positive, and showed a hunger for debates about the status of women in the mountain literary community.

Katie Ives wrote:

On November 7, 2015, Alpinist Magazine and Imaginary Mountain Surveyors co-hosted a panel on women’s mountaineering writing as part of the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. We called it “A Summit of One’s Own.” Writers in attendance were Angie Abdou, Bernadette McDonald, Margo Talbot, Jan Redford and Majka Burhardt.

In 1929 the British author Virginia Woolf—daughter of the great mountaineer Leslie Stephen—had famously declared that to become a writer, a woman needed a “room of her own,” a space away from the expectations and conventions of her society. During this panel, we talked about the various ways that women have created rooms for themselves as adventurers and as mountain writers in a genre largely occupied by men. Our panelists and audience members asked many questions, including these: How much has changed in women’s mountain writing since the late nineteenth and early twentieth century? What can be done to encourage greater female participation? What are examples of great female authors who have redefined what it means to roam and to write in the wild? And finally: What are some of the ways in which transcending masculine and feminine stereotypes can free people of all genders to experiment with new writing styles and subjects and to help foster richer, more diverse mountain stories in the future?

Posted in My favourite writing websites and blogs | Leave a comment

Rock, Paper, Fire

Exciting news! Just got word that my “first” chapter, End of the Rope – which is probably no longer my first chapter if I go through with the latest planned rewrite – will be published in Rock, Paper, Fire: the Best of Mountain and Wilderness Writing, edited by Marni Jackson and Tony Whittome (Banff Centre Press, Forthcoming October 2013).

Slowly but surely, or as my buddy, Bruce, says: Poco a poco.

Posted in news etc | Leave a comment

The Next Best Thing

THE NEXT BEST THING

Here I am, FINALLY posting again. Nothing like a bit of “blog tag” to get my ass in gear. We (as in a bunch of writers) are playing a game called The Next Big Thing. Each writer  answers ten questions about their work-in-progress, or soon-to-be published work, then tags five other writers. Those five writers answer the ten questions, then tag five other writers. And so on and so forth…. This way, we get to tell the world about our big projects, discover all sorts of writers’ websites and blogs, and also get more traffic to our own websites. My five authors will appear at the bottom of my post, so check them out!

I’ve been tagged by my dear friend, the talented Ayelet Tsabari, author of The Best Place On Earth, a collection of short stories that will be released by HarperCollins in Spring 2013.  Thank you, Ayelet, for tagging me. At first I thought, oh no, not one of those chain letters! so thanks for setting me straight.  This was fun and took a surprising amount of thought. Hence the turtle pace at getting this posted…

 

What is the working title of your book?

End of the Rope is the title of the memoir I’ve completed, but the working title was Leaving Limbo. I’ve also had several wacky titles: Between a Rock and a Hard Man, Taking Life By The Balls, Staggering Upward. You can see why they didn’t stick.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve always managed to find trouble, even in the most innocuous of places or situations. Most of my adventures are more fun to write about than to live through, so I started a series of light, funny stories about climbing rescues, whitewater kayaking near-death experiences, and other risky outdoor epics. But the more I wrote, the deeper I went, until I found myself getting closer and closer to the why, through my explorations of the what. So my short stories eventually evolved into a longer narrative. Two, in fact.

What genre does your book fall under?

Narrative non-fiction or memoir. Though it began as a climbing memoir it has developed into a narrative about a woman who confronts her fear both in the mountains and in relationships to finally take control of her life.

Which actor would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

How do you choose an actor to play yourself? I first thought of Ellen Page for my younger narrator because she’s my height, 5’2”, dark-haired, tomboyish and child-like, but everyone I polled thought it had to be someone tougher. So I thought, maybe Winona Ryder? Kristen Stewart? Hmmmm….. Can I come back and change my mind?

For the narrator’s husband, it really should be a younger Robert Redford – there’s a strong physical resemblance in real life. But if I had to go with someone younger, it’d be Aaron Eckhart: good looking, blond, wiry, flinty, remote, a bit broody…. I could see him as a logger; he’d look cute in grey Stanfields and orange suspenders.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Soon after her boyfriend’s death in an avalanche, a feisty young climber gets pregnant with a hard-edged Himalayan alpinist and entangled in a tumultuous marriage that threatens to stifle her spirit unless she can find a way back to herself.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

In early October, I queried a Toronto agent who read the first chapter and requested the whole manuscript. I take that as a good sign, but I’m still waiting. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll keep sending out queries – I’m just at the beginning of that process – but I won’t self-publish.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

That’s complicated. I crafted my first chapter, The Pink Wedding Dress, back in 2007. I wrote a few chapters from that point forward, then backwards to events that led up to the wedding. That was with UBC and The Writing Studio at SFU. A few people read it and thought my depiction of my ex-in-laws was ripe for a lawsuit, so I dropped the wedding chapter all together.

It’s safe to say I was close to “finished” the first draft after working with Betsy Warland in her Manuscript Intensive in 2009. But in 2010 I went to Banff Wired and wrote backwards again, adding several childhood chapters. In 2011, still struggling with structure, I went to Banff Mountain Writing, where it was suggested I take the childhood chapters out. So I set them aside and decided I would have two books, a coming-of-age memoir, (working title: Mountains From Molehills) and a “climbing” memoir: End of the Rope.

A few months ago I submitted End of the Rope to Random House, where two editors read the whole manuscript. Apparently they did like it, but they suggested I combine the two manuscripts, the young narrator and the older narrator, and resubmit. Which puts me back where I started.

Now I think I’ll just stick my head in the oven….

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard, Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston, In Zainsville by Jo Ann Beard, The Turquoise Years by M.A.C. Farrant.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In part, incongruity in my life. I’ve always been involved in seemingly tough, high-risk activities: climbing, whitewater kayaking, ski touring, mountain biking. In my twenties, I tried to out-tough everyone: burping, farting, swearing, chewing tobacco, but my façade usually crumbled in a relationship because on the inside, I was soft and mushy, a scared little girl looking for protection. It boiled down to a lack of trust in myself, both on the rock and in relationships, which resulted in my not being there for myself. I gave up on myself. Needed an external protector. This often landed me in dangerous situations.

I felt compelled to explore the origins of my lack of self-trust, to get down on paper my attempts at integrating the tough chick and the scared little girl, the masculine with the feminine.

I see this incongruity as a universal problem, mostly for women. I wish I could say books like The Cinderella Complex are outdated, but unfortunately they are not. It seems many seemingly strong, independent women still feel that if they wait long enough, they’ll be rescued. Reading other women’s stories – short stories, self-help books, biographies, memoirs, novels – has been indispensible in my journey back to myself.

I really relate to this quote by Tristine Rainer in Your Life As Story:

The unconscious story that has driven your life is now made conscious and you choose another. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Most writers struggle with issues of privacy when writing non-fiction. I seem to struggle more than most. It took me a long time to claim my right to tell my story, a story that’s entwined with my former husband’s. Usually, when I try to work something out in my life, I resort to writing personal essays, so a few years into writing my memoir, I did just that. Here are the last paragraphs from an essay I wrote, sort of a pep talk to myself:

Excerpt from: My Messy Glory

…so when things got really bad in my marriage, I went to other women for stories. I wasn’t looking for pretty stories. I wanted to hear messy, ugly, honest secrets. I wanted to hear from women who sometimes felt they would smother their kids if they didn’t shut up, who fantasized about their husband getting squished under a tree at work. Brave women like Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, Anne Lamott. Women who got out in spite of their fear. Or never got in.

Maybe, as other women have passed along their stories, I can pass along mine. Tristine Rainer says,  “…yours may be the words that relieve another’s isolation, that open a door to understanding, that influence the course of another’s path.”  Maybe in sharing my message, I can apply it to my own life: Don’t wait for permission: to grow, to leave, to speak, to write your story. Don’t hinge your life on approval. It’ll never come.

Sometimes I play that little head game with myself, the “what’s the worst that could happen” scenario (trying not to think of that author whose ex-husband committed suicide). Really, the worst that could happen is: I could piss off my ex-husband, receive a few nasty emails and phone calls, feel a tad self-conscious when I go back to my hometown. But it’s unlikely anyone’s going to kill themselves.

At the rate I’m going, there’s a chance that everyone in my book will be dead before I finish this manuscript anyway, but just in case, I’m ready to use all the standard tricks.  For sure I’ll change character names, and maybe place names. Write a full-page disclaimer. When I’m feeling particularly gutless, I consider disguising my ex-husband with a mustache, creating composite characters, using a pseudonym, publishing as fiction. Even publishing posthumously. But what message would I be giving my kids?

I want to share my stories. I want to read them into a microphone. I want to see them in print. I want my kids to see them in print. I still don’t want my ex to see them in print, but if I allow him to sit on my shoulder and play critic, if I allow him to silence me, it’s as though I never got out. This is my story. In all its messy glory.

 

 

Here are four of my five amazing, talented, fascinating, inspiring writers. I’m waiting on commitments from THREE others. Oops. I know it was supposed to be only five….

Gillian Wallace

Rhona McAdam

Morgan Chojnacki

Bruce Elkin

 Message for tagged authors: Rules of the Next Big Thing

***Use this format for your post

***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)

***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?

Where did the idea for the book come from?

What genre does your book fall under?

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Be sure to line up five people in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing – thoughts | 7 Comments

What to do when you can’t write: make a list of what to do when you can’t write….

This morning I’ve been sitting at my computer thinking: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I write? Why are there so many inane distractions in this world? In my office even! So this is what I came up with, hoping to kick my butt all the way back to my manuscript. I’m going to put a check mark (being a teacher and all) beside each thing I do right in the upper list.

And then I started thinking: Oh great, another distraction from writing – write a list. BUT, I’m also writing a blog entry, which is on my list, so that counts for one check mark. Ha!  Tick! And “write a list” is on my list. Tick!

Shit. I really have to get writing…..

Here’s my list….

SO, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH YOURSELF. YOU’RE UNABLE TO WRITE, AND YOU’RE FACEBOOKING, OR WAITING FOR SOMEONE, ANYONE, TO SEND YOU A MESSAGE. PROBABLY YOU’RE JUST STARING AT THE SCREEN LIKE A BOZO. HERE ARE SOME HELPFUL SUGGESTIONS ….

  1. JUST WRITE!!!! WORK ON YOUR GODDAMNED MANUSCRIPT! (not specific enough)
  2. Create a new scene for Who Shall I Be Today?.
  3. Make a list. It’s better than nothing.
  4. Make changes from workshop notes to End of the Rope.
  5. Work on a short story, 1200-1600 words for CBC.
  6. Work on your query letter and chapter summary for other agents.
  7. Update outline for Section 2: Pentecostal Years.
  8. Work on outline for Section 3: When You Can’t Save ‘Em, Join ‘Em.
  9. Prepare short story for Banff anthology.
  10. Read a passage from a book by an author you emulate – like Jo Ann Beard.
  11. Write: I AM A WRITER! WRITERS WRITE! Fifty times.
  12. Get out the markers and stickies and huge roll of paper and PLAY with words, scenes, ideas, charts, timelines, webs….
  13. Write a blog entry.
  14.  Go for a bike ride to knock your brain around.
  15. Go for a run with your notepad and pencil.
  16. Go for a walk. Anything! Don’t just SIT there!

IF YOU DON’T DO ONE OF THE ABOVE, YOU WILL HAVE TO GO BELOW…

  1. Wash the walls.
  2. Paint the walls.
  3. Clean out the fridge.
  4. Clean toilets.
  5. Organize the crawl space. (NO! NOT THE CRAWL SPACE!)
  6. SUBSTITUTE TEACH!!!
  7. GET A FULL-TIME TEACHING JOB!!!!!

SO MAYBE YOU SHOULD WORK ON YOUR GODDAMNED MANUSCRIPT!!!

Posted in Writing – thoughts | Leave a comment

My first review!

There’s a review of Room 35.2 in NewPages, including a wonderful review of my story, God or Boys.  Exciting! Even if they did call me JANE Redford. Hmmmm. Maybe they need a good editor.  This is the paragraph about my story….

God also makes an appearance in Jane Redford’s heartbreakingly funny “God or Boys,” the story of a young, recent Pentecostal convert struggling to balance a crush on her older brother’s friend Cam with the fact that she’s been born again for two months and still hasn’t “led one lamb to Jesus.”
http://newpages.com/literary-magazine-reviews/2012/08-15/#Room-V35-N2-2012

Posted in My favourite writing websites and blogs | Leave a comment

Check out Bruce Elkin’s blog

Check out my buddy Bruce’s blog – Simply Success. Great tips for writers, non-writers, people looking to improve their quality of life … by an amazing life coach!! I have had so many ah-hah! moments reading his posts. One even kicked me right out of writer’s block. In fact, his writing contributed to my finding the courage to take a huge step in my life about 12 years ago – leave my first marriage. He is truly inspirational….

http://createwhatmattersmost.blogspot.ca/

Posted in news etc | Leave a comment

Sage Hill Writing Experience – Summer 2012

Coming out of ten days of workshopping at Sage Hill has been a bit like coming out of a cult – a nice cult, though – in that, it took approximately six days of pounding myself on my mountain bike in the Rocky Mountains to deprogram. The experience was powerful. I don’t know if all groups experienced the same intensity as ours did … maybe there’s something about writing non-fiction – heavy emotional shit from our lives – that makes us more vulnerable than writing fiction would. The writing at times was explosive, heart-breaking, funny, brilliant … always honest. We sometimes felt broken open right there in a workshop, in front of a group of seven relative strangers. Did having an all-female group (not including our wonderful facilitator, John Vaillant) have anything to do with it? I think it may have been one reason why we were able to scoop our guts out and place them, steaming and gooey, on the table. I know. Gross.

 

Maybe the fact that we were living in a monastery contributed to the potency of the experience. Sage Hill Writing takes place at St. Michael’s retreat near Lumsden, Saskatchewan. It’s run by Franciscan Friars, (just like Friar Tuck on Robin Hood!) whom I called Jesuit priests the whole time I was there. Without getting all ‘out there’ on you, I have to admit, there was a very distinct energy about the place. I might even go so far as to call it ‘spiritual’ in an atheist kind of way.

 

I was strangely invigorated the whole ten days, to a point where I was convinced I must be severely ADHD. But I was hyper-focussed, no Ritalin required. I expended so much energy ­– physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, socially – that I thought for sure I’d crash, but everyday I felt more charged up. I was wide awake at 6 almost every morning, (I get an image of Frankenstein coming to life, popping up in bed, arms extended), laced up my runners, ran for half an hour to an hour. And this is after being unable to run for a year and a half due to some undiagnosable knee injury. It didn’t matter how late I’d stayed up, sipping or gulping wine, singing oldies while Brian or Spider accompanied us on guitar, or dancing in the moonlight…. I still popped out of bed raring to go. Well, a couple of mornings, admittedly, I slept till 7, maybe even 7:30 once.

 

After my morning run, the days were packed. For one, we ate constantly – 8 AM, noon and 5:15 PM. It seemed we left the dining room then bam!, it was time to turn around and come back and eat again. The food was good, and the cooks made huge attempts to accommodate gluten-, lactose-intolerant pains-in-the-butt like me, but after about a week, whenever mealtime rolled around, I heard groans of: “OMG, we have to eat again?” and complaints of major sugar-buzzes. I thankfully couldn’t eat the desserts. One night they even had tubs of vanilla ice cream with about twenty toppings – chocolate syrup, fruit, chocolate chips, even Reece’s Pieces! I think someone mentioned they forgot the sprinkles. Was that Elaine? It was a spread fit for a five year old’s birthday party. I, of course, could only eat the fruit. I’m sure a person could pack on a few pounds at Sage Hill, but my metabolism was galloping along so fast I actually lost weight.

 

Between grazings, we had our workshops. Some groups seemed to hold workshops everyday, but we held them every second day for about 2 ½ or 3 hours. We could have talked for ten hours though. We had so much to say about each other’s writing, about the craft of writing, about our emotional processes, our lives … It seems we talked about everything except verb tense (inside joke). The feedback was insightful, thoughtful, full of wisdom, skill, experience. We learned so much about the writing process by delving into each other’s work. Learned so much about ourselves and each other.

 

We had a stellar line up of facilitators: Ken Babstock, poetry; Spider Robinson, science fiction; John Vaillant, nonfiction; Kimmy Beach & John Gould for introductory poetry & fiction; Helen Humphreys, fiction workshop; Lawrence Hill, fiction colloquium. (I cut and pasted this paragraph from Rhona McAdam’s blog – hope you don’t mind, Rhona!)

 

John Vaillant, as mentioned, was our trusty workshop leader. Poor John, he thought for sure he would have two men in the group –  Jan from Sweden, and Carle. Little did he know the “j” is pronounced as “j”, not “y”, and the “e” in Carle is not silent. He spent ten days “herding” us (his word choice) from place to place, or following us. Once he even followed us into a women’s clothing store in the bustling town of Lumsden, where we proceeded to tell the shopkeeper that we were John’s wives. Being a cheeky kind of guy, John asked if they carried any of that full body, scratchy Mormon underwear. After browsing for a few minutes he’d had enough, and as he was leaving, Carle, quick on the uptake, yelled after him, “Honey, could you leave your wallet?”

 

On a more serious note, John was a brilliant facilitator. Generous with his time and feedback, insightful, empathetic, diplomatic, sensitive … all the qualities necessary to manage oft-times emotionally-charged workshops. He is also an incredibly skilled writer, and able to articulate what he does to make his writing work. Probably his biggest asset was a strong sense of humour. We all had many belly laughs over the ten days.

 

When we weren’t in a workshop, or doing one-on-one sessions with John, we were reading each other’s work or writing in our tiny rooms, where we emulated the monks’ lives of austerity (dictionary definition: plain and simple, without luxury or self-indulgence, suggesting strict self-denial, without distractions or decoration) I shared my space with dozens of tiny bugs. A native Saskatchewanian told me what they were called, but the name escapes me. I spent a lot of time dabbing them with wet toilet paper and flushing them down the toilet until by about day eight they got the hint and became less copious.

 

So, what else did we do…..?

 

We spent a lot of time in the lounge area, in overstuffed chairs facing out on the rolling prairie; partly because it was the only place we could get internet reception, partly because there was comfort in being in the same room as like-minded folk, working quietly on our own, or chatting in small groups. It was also a great viewing area for the intense lightning storms that passed through. Unfortunately, one of the storms took out our internet for a few days, but that got us all off Facebook and back to our writing. We also had a tornado warning, but nothing came of it….

 

Evenings were often full – we had a keynote speaker, Bob Calder, and Q & A with Douglas Gibson, two evenings of faculty readings, and two of participant readings. (I’m still not sure what possessed me to read a section of “God Or Boys”, the irreverent recounting of my time spent as an adolescent Born-Again Pentecostal. In a monastery!!) We also did some good old ‘round the campfire singing and guitar playing (sans campfire), mostly of oldies: Beatles, Cat Stevens, Neil Young… even ‘Little Boxes Made of Ticky Tacky’ by Pete Seeger! (We had just workshopped one of my chapters with reference to that song – my 13-year-old vow to myself that I would never, ever, end up like my parents, living in a little box of ticky-tacky).

 

Most people walked a lot – on the mowed trails through the fields near the monastery if willing to consort with the ticks – or on the roads, if not a tick-lover. I visited the trails on day one, looked down and watched a throng of tickly ticks scuttling up my legs toward my shorts, pulled one off that had sunk it’s ghastly grippy grabbers into my thigh, and this wasn’t even in the long grass! Back in my room, the repulsive buggers kept creeping out of nooks and crannies of my sandals for two days. Due to my numerous, dramatic recountings of the event, I got the reputation of “tick lady”. Someone mentioned some people have more of a certain chemical in their blood that attracts the ticks to them. I must have a lot of it. They seemed to love me. People wanted me to walk with them to act as tick-magnet, clear the way like a metal detector. Needless to say, I stuck to the roads for my walks and runs for the rest of the time.

 

Okay, so now I feel like I’m trying to make excuses for why I didn’t actually get much writing done…..

 

I did get a lot of ‘planning’ for writing done. In fact, I had some incredible a-hah! moments. I realized early on that I wouldn’t get any new material written in only ten days, and at first I panicked, because I had been languishing in Squamish, unable to figure out how to go forward in my new coming-of-age memoir. I had about 200 pages already written, but it was all over the place: some full chapters, some short stories, some floating scenes. Big gaps in time, events that didn’t necessarily connect but that I felt were important…. So at Sage Hill, I decided to do two things: find the beginning to my memoir out of a possible three chapters, and get a detailed, definitive structure for all the scenes and chapters I’d already written and still had to write. I accomplished both of these things – even came up with a new method of plotting, which I’ll share in another post.

 

Somehow, in ten days, I was able to figure out what to leave in and what to take out, what was missing, what scene had to come next, and why. And that made the next scene slot into place. Cause and effect. I had that posted in bright purple Crayola marker on my wall. Cause and effect. Every scene for a reason. Every scene fits with the theme. It was like a horizon opening up before me.

 

After a particularly intense session of plotting, I went for a long run and got all metaphorical and sentimentally sappy about the long, straight stretches of road spread out before me. There I was, able to see where I was going for miles ahead, with nary a dip or bend, and it seemed a metaphor for the sudden clarity I felt about my manuscript. I was finally able to see and plan ahead. Right to the end of the manuscript. Just days before, back home in Squamish, where the trails I ride and run are lined with ligament-ripping roots and rocks, lung-shredding hills, dip and doodle after dip and doodle, I’d been stagnating in my writing, unable to see around the next bend. On the Saskatchewan prairie, I saw my way clear.

 

I also had another brain-storm when I went on my longest run – a loop that started on the road, then along the train tracks, and ended up going through neck-high grass back to St. Michaels. I figured out the theme for my manuscript, and thus, for my whole life. This is what Sage Hill did to me: epiphany after epiphany. It couldn’t have been something in the water –  it tasted like shit so I bought a massive bottle of water from town. It must have been something in the air. In the endless sky.

 

Anyway, I was running, and running and running, and it seemed further than it should have been, and I was wishing I’d gotten better instructions from John, and I was hoping I wasn’t lost, like I often am due to my terrible sense of direction. As I headed off the dirt road onto a smaller road toward the railway tracks, I saw all sorts of signs of animals in the mud, and suddenly, I got a vivid image of a pack of wolves attacking me, one ripping out my throat while another one hung off my neck. I thought of the note I’d left on my bed saying I’d gone for a run, and where, just in case something unspeakable happened. Then I realized– Holy shit! It’s a free day! If I don’t show up for lunch no one will notice. Maybe even for dinner. I could be bleeding to death, or getting eaten alive and no one would know. They won’t find my body till tomorrow….

This is something I do often – slip into vivid, bloody, catastrophic fantasies. Then I get down on myself for it. Like this time. I gave myself shit: “You idiot! You always do this! What is wrong with you? All you’re doing is going for a stupid little run. It’s not like you’re climbing Mt. Everest….”

And as I gave myself shit, I kept running. I didn’t turn back onto the safe road and run toward the farmhouses along the route I was familiar with. I ran toward the tracks, further into unknown territory. (I know, I know. I was only a few kilometers from the damned monastery…)

And then I realized what I was doing. I was scared but I was still running, and I said to myself: “Yeah, I have these daymares, I have this fear that keeps raising its ugly head, BUT, I keep going. I keep running.

What an epiphany!

I’ve read so many books with titles like: “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway”, “The Happy Neurotic”, “The Worry Solution”, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life”, and here I am, finally, at age 51 and I can say, I DO IT ANYWAY!

And really, when I look back on my life, something I’m slowly starting to see as I write my second memoir is: I’ve always done it anyway.

 

Anyway, back to Sage Hill. The final evening descended upon us….  At our Last Supper, the friars did their annual thing – they decorated the dining room with butterflies: hanging butterfly balloons, butterfly cut-outs on the walls beside Jesus on the cross, butterfly napkins, tablecloths, wine glasses… We had the absolute worst gluten/lactose free meal of the ten days – heavily breaded (hopefully rice flour) chicken drumsticks and yam fries. We presented John with a very expensive framed dollar bill origami pig (we argued at length about what to get him and the artistically-inclined won out over the expensive Scotch-inclined), but we had no card. We had somehow lost the pig-rolling-in-its-own-filth card, after having all signed it so eloquently (I even drew a herd of ticks marching across the page). The pig theme is yet another inside joke that I won’t get into in this post. It has something to do with Rhona’s story of pig processing plants in Italy, and especially of the photo of the sweet little pig with its snout stuffed out a tiny portal, sniffing freedom before going to a ‘better’ place. Anyway, that’s why John got pig gifts. We also gave him a scalp massager ….

 

So, that’s what Sage Hill was like for me: a spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, physically, socially, creatively rockin’ place. Ten days was nowhere near enough time, but I don’t think I could have stayed much longer. I didn’t want to leave, but needed to leave. I loved my group but couldn’t handle one more workshop. I hated the bugs in my room, but felt mild pangs of regret as I flushed the last one down the toilet…. Very strange.

 

Posted in news etc | 6 Comments

ROOM 35.2 is at the printers!

The next issue of ROOM, Shaping the Spark, has been printed and is on its way to the distributor. It will be on newsstands within the next week or two. This is the issue with my contest-winning story (love the sound of that!) God or Boys in it.

If friends and family want to get this issue in the mail, you are eligible for the special “Friends of ROOM” offer: if you subscribe online using the subscription code FRIENDS, you’ll get your issue mailed to you free, in addition to a full subscription term. Here’s the link to subscribe: www.roommagazine.com/subscribe.

Posted in news etc | Leave a comment