Incognito Press

truth. knowledge. freedom. passion. courage. Promoting free-thinking, activism & rogue writing.

Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

A Year of Light and Darkness

Posted by E on December 30, 2016

elisa-dec2016As 2016 comes to an end, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what has been a very transformative year for me. An extremely difficult one as well since this month marks one year since my mother’s death last December, and her loss still feels altogether raw and very recent.

But it’s also been marked by some personal and professional accomplishments: I travelled to South America for the first time on a research project, and I’ve finally completed my last course for my Social Media Marketing Certificate from George Brown college! I must confess, I was waiting to earn this degree before I publish my new Art of Social Media Marketing for Creatives book, and now it’s going through the final edits before heading off to the printer.

I wanted to also touch upon some memorable highlights. When it comes to publications, there are three I am most proud of this year:

1. In March I published my literary novel Daughters of the Air, which interweaves the tragic tale of Adele Hugo, a retelling of The Little Mermaid fairytale and a modern-day timeline into a story of obsession, reincarnation and exploration of everlasting love. It’s tone is similar to The Red Violin and Posession, in that it’s a haunting love story that spans three continents, three timelines and three hundred years – a search for the root of heartbreak that involves mermaids, political activists and haunted geniuses. It flows from Paris to the Channel Islands, from spiritualist séances to the austere coastlines of Nova Scotia.

I am extremely proud of this book and I really hope you guys will get a chance to read it, because I poured all my heart into this one and it’s by far my most ambitious novel.

Daughters of the Air  CV2 cover  CV2 poem

2. In April, my villanelle poem One Europe was published in one of Canada’s oldest literary journals Contemporary Verse 2: The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing (CV2). It’s the only national poetry magazine that continues to publish four times a year and I was so excited to be included in the Spring 2016 edition. I was inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art to create a similar pattern, and I’m so very glad that I wrote it. A villanelle has a very complicated rhyming pattern and creating it was a lot of work, but the joy and sense of accomplishment I felt for being able to create something this complex was tremendously rewarding.

3. In July, my editorial article was published in the Canadian Jewish News in a three-page spread. Moreover, it actually made the front cover for that week’s print edition! Nothing beats receiving a congratulatory message from my former university professor, mentor and self-described “Jewish uncle”, renowned Canadian poet Seymour Mayne, praising me for having my article featured on the cover – he’d just received it in the mail hours before Shabbat, and it made our weekend.

cjn-cover cjn1 cjn2

Although I would gladly have written the piece for free, getting a cheque from the CJN for the article was a great feeling. Depending on Patreon, writing grants, freelancing projects crowdfunding sites to keep writing full-time is a haphazard, unpredictable process that can get stressful. A lot of people read my blog but very few realize just how time-consuming writing can be, and how generating money is a persistent issue. If everyone who reads my blog donated a single dollar to my Patreon fund each month, I would have a full-time income.

I’ve been a blogger and freelance journalist for years, but my work often went unpaid. My experience with CJN taught me that I can effectively pitch and sell articles to major publications, which has shifted my perspective and made me more ambitious about pursuing paid gigs with established publications. Who knows, lighting could strike twice and I might get another article to grace a front cover someday!

Elisa HasdeuIn the coming year I intend to work more on commissioned articles and less on regular blogging. Actually, I spent the early part of summer taking online courses to earn my certificate in Journalism from Michigan State University. Although I don’t believe that a formal degree is necessary in an oversaturated field where very few can find full-time employment, I see reporting, blogging and freelance work as a continuum in 21st century journalism. In a world where an increasing number of mainstream reporters are being laid off and digital publications redefine the profession, the lines between mainstream reporter, blogger and independent journalist have become blurred.

But don’t fret, my friends! Even though I will be making paid freelance work a priority, I could never give up blogging altogether – it’s become second nature to me. I started blogging in 2007 or -8 and it’s been such a helpful outlet of emotional and artistic expression for me, not to mention that I’ve met so many great people through it.

But time will be an issue. This spring I am booked for approx. eight to ten speaking engagements throughout Ontario and Quebec. In March I will be a speaker at a conference where Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion, former Attorney General Irwin Cotler and several United Nations staffers will also be presenting. It’s also a great opportunity to meet others involved in human rights, genocide documentation and social justice issues.

Afterwards I will be interviewed for a PBS special which will be filmed in NY state. I’ve also been asked to speak at SUNY that week.

Between the speaking engagements, a commissioned book I’m working on for a client, writing my own memoir and trying to finish my MFA (I only have a semester left), time is a commodity that I will have to plan carefully. Still, the excitement of achieving so many personal goals is more powerful than my ubiquitous jitters of speaking in front of large audiences.

Under a Trump presidency and alt-right governance, more than ever, it’s an important time to be a journalist and activist. I look forward to bringing my story, knowledge and expertise about extremist movements to a broader audience.

This year I was a consultant on a short documentary about Ernst Zundel‘s former home, titled ‘206 Carlton‘, produced by a Ryerson University Documentary Media student. I was also quoted in several articles about the resurgence of the ultra-right wing in Canada, such as:

CityNews: Alleged Toronto neo-Nazi publication expands west, pestering downtowners

National Post: ‘Hitler actually wasn’t that bad’: How Neo-Nazis are using attractive young women to boost their movement

All of this has led to a sharp rise of hate tweets, Facebook messages and threatening emails coming at me from social media trolls emboldened by Trump’s win to the point of delusion. Par for the course, I suppose – though the vile anti-Semitic, misogynist words reveal the persons behind them for the pathetic cowards that they are.

Lastly, I’m proud of an extensive, in-depth interview I did with author Samita Sarkar of Blossoms Writing. It’s a worthwhile discussion to check out if you’re interested in knowing more about me, the story behind Race Traitor and its aftermath.

So on this note, I wish all of you love and light for the New Year. May your 2017 be bright and inspiring, and remember – tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one!

new-year-blank-page

 

If you enjoyed the read and wish to support a creative writer, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂 

Advertisements

Posted in news, poetry, politics, white supremacy, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tracing the footsteps of Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil

Posted by E on November 4, 2016

elisa-ouro-preto-bridge-2016

Like many people, I discovered Elizabeth Bishop one evening in 2013 by scrolling through the newest offerings on Netflix, and choosing a movie called Reaching for the Moon. Unbeknownst to me, the story I watched that night would be the start of a new adventure – one that would lead me into foreign territory and transform my poetry in infinitesimal ways.

Much like Elizabeth’s own journey, in fact.

elizabeth-bishopWhen she was 40 years old, American poet Elizabeth Bishop decided it was time to leave New York. She had reached a dead end both in her personal life (after a break-up with a long-time lover) and in her stagnant creativity, which resulted in a dry spell from publishing. Also struggling with alcoholism, Elizabeth longed for a new start, some way to rejuvenate her spirit and retrigger her inspiration. Receiving a fellowship from Bryn Mawr College was a godsend, and she decided that she would travel around the world.

She telephoned the naval port and was told that the next available freighter was leaving for South America. Impulsively, she reserved a spot.

In November of 1951, Bishop boarded the Norwegian freighter S.S. Bowplate. Unbeknownst to her, the journey would change her life forever. The first port she arrived at was Santos, and what was meant to be a brief sojourn to visit with an old school chum from Vassar, Mary Morse, turned into an eighteen-year stay that would profoundly affect the rest of her life.

Toward the end of her vacation, Elizabeth fell ill from a violent allergic reaction to a cashew fruit and had to be hospitalized. While being nursed back to health, her relationship with Mary Morse’s Brazilian lover Lota deepened and grew more intense. Soon Lota de Macedo Soares, a self-taught architect from a prominent upper-class political family, broke up with Mary Morse and persuaded Elizabeth to stay in Brazil and move into Lota’s sprawling estate home at Samambaia, in the hills above Petropolis.

With Lota’s affection, Elizabeth flourished. It was there, amidst the lush jungle foliage and under Lota’s care, that Elizabeth wrote the poetry that would win her a Pulitzer prize and turn her into a world-renowned poet.

elizabeth-steps elizabeth-b reaching-for-the-moon

After watching Reaching for the Moon, I was convinced that I couldn’t stand Elizabeth Bishop. Her weakness, her repeated cheating on Lota, her complete dependence on alcohol as a way to relinquish personal responsibility. But out of curiosity, I wanted to see for myself if she was all she’s cracked up to be. Soon I would discover just how inaccurate the film was, and run into interviews that revealed director Bruno Barreto’s obsession with stylistic themes over historical accuracy. Like many biographical films, truth and historical fact was sacrificed to the artistic vision of a straight male director who’d never heard of Elizabeth Bishop before he read the script.

I would also discover that Elizabeth’s characterization in the film paled in comparison to the real person, both in physique and in spirit. Bishop didn’t resemble the tall, slender, cool, passive-aggressive character played by Miranda Otto. The real Elizabeth was short (only 5’4) and stout, intensely emotional, at times difficult, with an inner fire that was apparent to all who knew her. As the years progressed, her relationship with Lota became increasingly codependent. Paradoxically, the stronger she grew, the weaker Lota became. It would all come to a tragic end after Elizabeth traveled back to the US to teach at NYU and recently hospitalized Lota (against medical advice) decided to visit her in September 1967. On her first night in New York, Lota took an overdose of tranquilizers and fell into a coma, dying a few days later.

lota-house-photo

Lota de Macedo Soares

After Lota’s death, Elizabeth was shunned by her Brazilian friends and Lota’s relatives. She was forced to sell her Ouro Preto home and the Rio apartment bequeathed to her by Lota after Lota’s sister contested the will. Elizabeth soon realized that she had no future in Brazil without Lota and reluctantly moved back to the United States, eventually teaching at Harvard until her death in 1979.

Over the weeks and months to come, I would devour all Bishop-related material I could get my hands on. Soon I discovered that she had written much more than just poetry, and I was hooked. After Poems: North & South. A Cold Spring and Questions of Travel, I ordered her prose, correspondence, her incomplete, posthumously-published drafts and at least two biographies.

It started out as a hobby – reading all of Bishop’s writing. I spent an entire summer in my garden, reading book after book. Why? I still don’t know. Like Bishop’s feelings about Brazil, liking her didn’t come naturally. Some of her writing made me angry or befuddled me. I complained to my partner of how much I couldn’t stand Bishop-the-person, only to find myself returning to Bishop-the-writer’s work the next day.

It might sound crazy to most people. Why would I become inexplicably obsessed with a woman who died nearly forty years ago, a poet who was my complete antagonist? Why did I keep going down the Bishop rabbit hole instead of putting away her books? What kept me so engaged even as I complained about how weak and conflicted she was?

For all its flaws and incorrect depictions, Reaching for the Moon was a watershed moment for Bishop’s memory, leading many to look up her biography and (re)discover the small body of writing she had left behind. Until the film came out Bishop was a minor poet, largely forgotten by the masses and hardly ever studied in creative writing classes.

elizabeth-bishop

Elizabeth Bishop in college

In all my writing classes over the years, Bishop’s poetry has never been covered. It’s easy to see why – shy and reticent to share the personal or make it political in an age when her compatriots (see Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton) found their stardom by turning their inner angst into poetic magic, she isn’t exactly an obvious choice for later generations, for youngsters who have been taught that the personal is political.

In contrast with the passionate, vibrant experimentation of the Beat Generation, Bishop’s classic approach to literature and her staunch avoidance to confront political and feminist discourse in her work rendered her an almost obsolete vestige of a repressed generation.

As a young poet, I was dazzled by the raw honesty of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Bukowski, swept away by Plath’s confessional brutality. Writers like Bishop and her idol, Marianne Moore, did nothing for me. I saw them as Vassar-reared, elitist upper class dilettantes who refused to address the sweeping changes of their time – they met in cafés and parlours to exchange and review each other’s couplets rather than discuss the Second World War that raged around them, the civil rights movement that brought equality to racial and sexual minorities.

Our poetic styles couldn’t be more different. I was as bold as Bishop was reticent; I challenged the establishment with the same ferocity she had retained while ignoring any criticisms of the government of her day. Her refusal to be included in feminist or women-only anthologies (underscored by the belief that it would somehow reduce her worth as a poet), her reluctance to openly come out as a lesbian even after the advent of gay liberation, all go against the grain of my own belief system.

lota-de-macedo-soares

Lota de Macedo Soares

Only in my late thirties could I have begun to appreciate the quiet strength that resides in Bishop’s poetry. I still can’t say that I like the woman on a personal level, but there is something about her that fascinates me. I’ve read passages of her letters (as addressed to Robert Lowell) that I found incensing, even borderline racist and contemptuous toward those less privileged than her – opinions no doubt amplified by being in the company of the Brazilian elites of the day. But there is also an overwhelming defiance in her writing, interweaved in equal parts with fear, hope and childlike wonder all at the same time.

Emboldened by my connection to Bishop’s work, I wrote my first villanelle One Europe after being inspired by One Art. And as soon as I submitted it, it was accepted for publication in Canada’s oldest poetry journal, CV2 (Contemporary Verse 2). I wrote a second poem, set in Brazil, and once again it attracted attention and a mentorship with a renowned Canadian poet. Clearly, Elizabeth Bishop’s influences on my own writing had produced results.

A year later, after I’d made my way through her entire correspondence and translations, going so far as to acquire some first editions of her books (including Life World Library’s Brazil), I realized that I had become a self-taught Bishop scholar. With that realization came the knowledge that I had to confront my own feelings and try to understand what it was about Elizabeth Bishop that both attracted and still repelled me. As it often is, people who trigger strong feelings in you are actually reflections of your own self, mirroring some part of self-identity that you refuse to see.

I realized how much I was like her. All the things I hated about her work were things I hated in myself. I wished she had been stronger, that she could have come out as a feminist or lesbian poet, but it took me years to allow my own identity to seep into my writing.

elizabeth-bishop-with-tobias-cat-1954

Elizabeth Bishop with Tobias the Cat in 1954

We live in an age that worships youth and carries the unspoken message that if you haven’t “made it” as a writer by your late 30s, you’re a nobody. Her success later in life, in spite of depression, personal struggles with a dark past and substance abuse, inspired and rejuvenated me in all those dark moments that come to all writers, when I felt down and hopeless.

And then came the day when I knew, more than anything, that I had to travel to Brazil.

I craved to see for myself the influences that had created the greatest phase of her career, and the years that she admitted were the happiest of her life. Brazil was where Bishop’s path took a new turn, where she produced work whose lasting power would outlive her.

I was 40 years old too. I often felt hopeless and burnt out.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I wished to touch the same spark – that intangible, luminous magic – of inspiration that had struck Bishop. Some places have that effect, you know; just like some plants only bloom in certain soil, the fertility of creation comes easier in certain spots than others.

img_5629

A view of Guanabara Bay and Flamengo Park – Lota’s vision. Taken from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

The 2016 Rio Olympics made it easier to travel to Brazil. The visa requirement was waved for the summer, security was at its best, and by booking far ahead I was able to line up affordable accommodations both in Rio and in Ouro Preto. Ignoring the dreadful headlines about killer Zika mosquitos and roving favela gangs, I spent most of August and the first week of September in Brazil, working on various projects which included researching the life of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares. Needless to say, I skipped the mosquito repellant and was not bitten once.

During my Brazil sojourn I wanted to stay a few days on Copacabana beach, just to take in the atmosphere, but didn’t realize that the hotel I’d booked was literally next door to Elizabeth and Lota’s old Leme apartment. Its street address and entrance might have been on Rua Antonio Vieira 5, but the balcony actually fronts onto Avenida Atlantica.

It was an amazing coincidence. Every day I’d look outside my window onto Leme beach, I realized it was essentially the same view they’d had back then. Every evening I went downstairs to have dinner and cashew fruit caipirinhas on the patio at Jaquina’s, which is actually on the main level of the same building. Lota’s apartment was the penthouse – which you can see on the highest floor. It’s the unit with the wraparound balcony and a walk-up to the rooftop (click photos to expand).

dsc00354 dsc00352 dsc00353 dsc00347

img_5272

The view from a similar balcony at Av. Atlantica and Rua Antonio Vieira, 5.

img_6059 img_5110

img_5026

Copacabana beach – on the left is Leme hill, and on the right is Sugarloaf Mountain.

A few days after I arrived, I hired a driver and guide to take me up to Petropolis and the hilltops of Samambaia. Once the depressing urban jungle of Rio’s favelas gave way to mountainous vegetation, the road turned steep and narrow. I could only imagine how precarious it must have been back when Lota had to maneuver her Jaguar regularly on a winding, partially-unpaved road; now a two-hour drive, it took nearly twice as long back in the 1950s.

Here are some photos taken on that day. The actual Samambaia house is private property so we were not able to go inside, but the hilltop views reflect the fierce beauty of its surroundings. I also took photos of downtown Petropolis, Quitandinha Hotel (a Grand Hotel-type place where the millionaires, celebrities, movie stars and the elites of Petropolis congregated in the 1950s) and the Crystal Palace (click to expand photos).

elisa-petropolis petropolis-downtown  crystal-palace petropolis-samambaia-hills

During the last week of August, I flew to Belo Horizonte, the capital of the Minas Gerais region, and hired a car for the two-hour drive to Ouro Preto, which was even more spectacular, quaint and tranquil than I’d imagined. Once known as the biggest city in the New World, Ouro Preto is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site and the soul of Brazil’s 1700s gold rush. Its surrounding hills are stippled with gold mines and reddish clay earth.

It’s hard not to fall in love with its timeless, rustic beauty, which (oddly enough) reminded me quite viscerally of my grandmother’s Transylvanian village, where I spent many childhood summers. Safe and friendly, it’s easy to imagine living here for an extended stretch of time and just write. If I could afford it, I would return in a heartbeat.

Ouro Preto is a quintessential village with sloping cobblestone streets and several white stone bridges connecting different parts of town – a tapestry of eighteenth-century dwellings and ornate churches standing next to simple, whitewashed colonial houses. A sprawling main square dotted with baroque buildings next to an arts-and-crafts market.

img_5107 img_6294

img_6283 img_6282

dsc00514 ourop-vista

The sunshine spills over an explosion of tropical plants sprouting prickly red flowers, then flows downwards to an abundance of purple-and-yellow wildflowers that grow in the sidewalk nooks. A smell of smoke and burning wood lingers after sunset, a dog barks in the middle of the night, the cackling rooster screeches at the crack of dawn.

img_5054

dsc00737 dsc00733-2img_5049 img_5051   dsc00518 ourop-street

A narrow, cobbled road connects Ouro Preto to its sister city Mariana, located a fifteen-minute drive away. High up in the hills overlooking the town, Elizabeth Bishop’s former home boasts an incredible vista that overlooks lush foliage, baroque churches and coppery-red shingled rooftops. In 1960 Bishop purchased a home here, at 546 Mariana Road; she called the house Casa Mariana (click on photos to expand).

elizabeth-bishop-house dsc00622 elisa-elizabeth-bishop-house

It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Brazil, and I can only imagine how traumatic it must have been for Bishop to leave her adopted home, everything she had loved and lost here. But what made me sadder was how few people remembered Lota de Macedo Soares. Although her spirit is embedded in the beautiful Flamengo Park which circles Guanabara Bay, nobody I talked with in Brazil knew who I was speaking about.

img_5631

My guide, a gay man who prides himself on having a history degree, announced that the park had been designed solely by Burle Marx. Even when I tried to impress upon him the significant work Lota did in the design and construction of the park, he (like others) wasn’t particularly interested in knowing about her. Even the small commemorative plaque in Aterro do Flamengo has misspelled Lota’s name and was never corrected. Sadly, in death Lota’s memory has been brushed aside and replaced with the names of powerful men who were determined (and arguably succeeded) in erasing her identity from the history of the city she loved and helped to transform.

Someday all our memories will be forgotten and lost – such is the fate of time and mortality. But I do hope that in the beauty of a blossoming garden, in the delicate verse of a poem that takes someone’s breath away, a shred of ourselves still remains.

Surely this is what Elizabeth and Lota would have wanted.

copacabana-rio-de-janeiro

If you enjoyed the read, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂 

Posted in literature, poetry, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Latest Poetry News

Posted by E on May 13, 2016

CV2 coverLast month (April) was all-together a great month as far as poetry goes. My first – and so far, only – villanelle poem was published in one of Canada’s oldest literary journals Contemporary Verse 2: The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing (CV2). It’s the only national poetry magazine that continues to publish four times a year and I am so excited to be included in the Spring 2016 edition.

I first heard of the acceptance last year, and didn’t know which particular issue my poem would appear, so I kept waiting. After nearly a year, I was starting to wonder if it had been back-burnered forever (what should I do? Would it be a major faux-pas to query the editor? yikes). But then – as if by magic – a small, nondescript white envelope appeared in my mailbox. It was just thick enough to contain a magazine, and there it was – CV2’s annual poetry-only edition!

In this day of online publishing, I consider myself fortunate to have my poetry appear in print. There’s no comparison to the great joy of holding a periodical or a book in your hands, a palpable thing you can touch, smell and (after much pride and celebration) put on a shelf. If you’d like a copy, you can pick up the latest CV2 edition in any major bookstore or order it online directly from their website. I’m in the company of some really great writers!

I first tried my hand at a villanelle after reading Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, a poignant piece about loss and heartache. The most famous villanelle of all is, of course, Dylan Thomas’s eternal Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night (one of my favourite poems of all time). Nothing compares to the sheer power and awe that poem contains, the magic cast through its hypnotic (heart)beat of repetition.

CV2 poemAs I soon discovered, villanelles have a notoriously difficult pattern and have fallen out of use largely because of the time and labour involved in creating this haunting pattern. Wikipedia defines a villanelle as:

“a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines. The rhyme-and-refrain pattern goes like this: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 where letters (“a” and “b”) indicate the two rhyme sounds, upper case indicates a refrain (“A”), and superscript numerals (1 and 2) indicate Refrain 1 and Refrain 2.”

I wrote One Europe soon after returning from my journey to Romania, where I researched my father’s past and tried to access his dossier from the Securitate archives. It was also an observation of the current state of emotional numbness and brutality that lingers in the post-communist era.

It was a lot of work, but the joy and sense of accomplishment I felt for being able to create something this difficult complex was incredibly rewarding. My recommendation to all you poets out there is to try your hand (at least once) at an ornate, complicated archaic format just to experience what poets of other generations had to work with, back when rhyme was the only accepted form. If anything, it will whittle your words into a sharper, tighter poem. It’s worth the exercise, believe me.

Given the fact that my first-ever villanelle was accepted for publication so quickly (most poems get peddled through quite a few editors before they find a home), I plan to write a few more this summer. But first, I need to work on edits for my existing pieces.

This brings me to another piece of good news: a few months ago, the in-house editor at ARC Poetry Magazine recommended me for a free mentorship program with their resident poet, a renowned and very established Canadian poet who gave me some really useful tips for revising my poem Voyage to Brazil, which they are considering for publication. So hopefully (fingers crossed) it will appear in ARC sometime this year – but either way, the mentorship and keen eye was invaluable. The poem is that much stronger and powerful thanks to ARC’s help, and I’m sure it will find a home soon.

And speaking of Brazil, it’s where I’ll be spending part of the summer working on my book and other poetry & research projects. Stay tuned for details.

Posted in poetry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

So Badly My Eyes Hurt, So Badly – a Romanian Folk Song

Posted by E on February 4, 2016

I first heard this song when I was in Romania in the spring of 2015, digging into my family’s secret past. My family defected from Romania in the mid-eighties, before the Revolution that ended Ceausescu’s dictatorship, but there were Securitate records and secrets that I still had to uncover, so I returned to my old haunting grounds, my bullet-scarred Bucharest.

Perhaps I’d heard this song before, sometime in my lost childhood, because a curious sense of deja vu and aching loneliness came over me with those first notes. It was like I received a punch to the gut….and since I blocked so much trauma from my early childhood, I realized that I had something to learn from this experience. Impulsively, I grabbed a sketchbook and decided to set upon translating this old folks song, if only because I couldn’t find another translation into English anywhere online. Its Romanian title is Rau Ma Dor Ochii, Ma Dor – which roughly translates to Badly my eyes hurt, hurt me.

As a poet and someone who cares more about the feeling and meaning in the words, I chose to do a looser translation that focuses more on the meaning of the lyrics rather than the literal translation. I kept most of the authentic words wherever possible, but hopefully I succeeded in conveying the deep, bottomless longing and painful sadness that lingers in this song and makes it haunting…..at least to my own ears.

For the first week I kept listening to this song, I couldn’t stop myself from breaking into tears: it reminded me of the essence of why I was in Romania, chasing ghosts and demons and being unable to stop until I understood WHY. Why did my family’s path take the turn that led me into a cold and foreign country, and why did CNSAS, the authorities who inherited the Securitate Archives, prevent my father’s files from being released more twenty years after his death.

Could it have something to do with him being murdered within 24 hours of his return to Bucharest in 1988? Could it have something to do with the fact that I was followed by a plain-clothes agent in Bucharest and told in no uncertain terms that I should stop asking questions about my father’s death?

The song is called “So badly my eyes hurt, so badly.” There are countless renditions of it, but this one – sang by these two young women of the Romanian Armed Forces, haunted me the most – and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

As I mentioned earlier, I found no English translation online so I gave my best effort to convey the sentiment of this old, traditional Romanian folk song from the mountains of Transylvania. It’s pure heartache in song, a deep sadness and ache that I’m certain I failed to describe within the simplicity of this translation – but the melody transcends the language.

So badly my eyes hurt, so badly
From the brightness of the stars
And I go, and then again I go
Down to the river under the walnut tree
I make myself, and again I make myself
Chop wood from fir and wood from birch

So badly my feet hurt, so badly
From walking all the beaten paths
And so badly my eyes hurt, so badly
From witnessing the pain of those leaves

So badly does my heart ache
That you love another one
But I will leave without knowing
And I go, and then again I go
Down to the river under the walnut tree
And I make myself, and then again I make myself
Chop wood from fir and wood from birch.

Where you have gone, I do not know
Just that my soul is empty and hollow
And so I go, and on I go
to the river under the walnut tree
and again I make myself, and make myself again
chop fir and to chop birch
and so badly my eyes hurt, so badly
from feeling the pain of those leaves.

field haystacks

If you enjoyed the read, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

Posted in music, poetry, romania | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Power of Magic – Eight Powerful Ways to Regain your Self-Confidence

Posted by E on September 15, 2015

Young woman enjoying sunlight

Do you remember the day when you forgot how to fly? When you stopped believing that you were a secret princess spirited away from an enchanted realm? When you stopped speaking out of turn, because others told you that you were too loud?

After you stopped believing in magic, the world became a much harder and grayer place to be. When you no longer believed in your ability to make things happen as effortlessly as a child building a sand castle along the seashore, everything seemed much more complicated. More hurdles to jump, more self-help books to read, more eventual “settling” on the idea that maybe we were never “meant” to become our childhood heroes.

Little girl on a grassy hill looking into a mountain landscapeSomewhere along the densely-forested path to adulthood, your confidence in yourself got lost.

The biggest factors behind low self-confidence are Shame, Guilt and Fear. Most of these splinters were seeded in us when we were children – often by people who were damaged or frustrated in their own ways, and forced their pessimistic view of the world upon us.

Low self-confidence and self-esteem are among the most crippling personality traits you can have, because your worst enemy becomes your Self. Not a boss, a competitor or a pragmatic parent, but YOU transform into your worst obstacle. That monster sitting on your shoulder, whispering those awful things in your ear? You put it there, and it’s that voice that will limit your opportunities and jeopardize your chances of success.

girl reading a bookFive traits common in people with low self-confidence and self-esteem:

1. Taking blame when it is not their fault – being overly critical of themselves

2. Being preoccupied with negative outcomes and past failures

3. Being overly shy and reserved – fearful of new things or spontaneity

4. Doing things to please others or because they fear confrontation – staying in jobs they hate, not speaking up when saddled with extra work, remaining in abusive relationships

5. Undervaluing their own worth – working for free, being underpaid, giving their energy without compensation

How can we make-believe again?

what if fly1. Believe You Can

This is the truth: Nobody is better than you. Sure, there are people who are more proficient at certain skills than you are, just like you’re way ahead of a novice when it comes to your particular craft. But on a fundamental level – and despite the screwed-up socio-economical hierarchies we have created – all human beings are equal. There is absolutely no reason you cannot strive to become the best you can be. I don’t want to put down those who feel afraid, because I’ve known that sort of apprehension. We’ve all experienced fear – the fear of being judged, of stumbling or stuttering at the worst time, the fear of somehow failing and being seen as inferior or worthless.

I grew up in a communist country where corporal punishment was a daily occurrence. If you didn’t do your homework or forgot your notebook at home, you got the ruler over your hands or got strapped with a belt in front of the whole class. I saw a teacher once make one student strap another until he cried. Not that I was impervious myself: I was smacked in the head and had my pigtails pulled when I forgot to bring my science scrapbook to school that day. Small brutalities like this will, over time, embed microscopic fissures into your spirit. The ugly things other brutalized kids say to you, the bullies who call you horrible names – the escalation of pain and fear – further splinter your spirit.

i believe flyUntil, one day, you cease to believe in magic, in your ability to fly. You lose that fairy-tale, innocent fearlessness all children have, the faith that you can do anything. Fear and doubt replace the beauty and get internalized into your psyche, your emotional DNA. And everything that happens after that – every insignificant failure, every stumbling step, no matter how unrelated – becomes “proof” that you’re not good enough.

But what if you CAN fly? What if there really IS a higher purpose to all this – to everything that you’ve experienced, to all that heartbreak? What if you used those terrible things as motivational building blocks to keep you moving forward? You can defeat all those who harmed you in the past by becoming stronger than they are, and by achieving more than they ever will. If you don’t have the confidence to do it for yourself, do it to spite them. Fight back – as I did against those who exploited and harmed me.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

You-never-know-how-strong-you-are2. Improve the Lives of Others

If you think that nothing you do has any impact in the world, try improving the lives of the less fortunate. Few things made me feel better as an impoverished student owing a gazillion dollars in student loans than stepping into the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre as a volunteer with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada. For the couple of hours I was there, creativity abounded – prisoners who spent all their days, weeks and years behind bars were free to get creative. They painted their nails, they sketched pictures, they talked about their lives while we thought up creative projects. One afternoon several of us volunteers arranged for a KFC party for the women – we brought in a couple of 20-piece bucket meals and the excitement and gratitude from the prisoners left all of us moved.

flying girlEven though it took a lot out of me afterwards, when leaving the prison and hearing door after automatic door slide shut behind me, I knew that I had made their lives that much better. In that moment, that was all that counted.

Later in life, I sponsored a few overseas children through organizations that allowed money to be transferred directly to a local community officer who took the child and her family shopping for necessities. For every $100 I managed to scrounge up, I would receive stacks of photographs of the family with the supplies they’d received, and heartfelt, handwritten letters of thanks. Even though I might have put that $100 toward a new dress or pair of shoes, something that might have benefited me – I derived so much more enjoyment from realizing that such a small sum of money (in western societies) can have a dramatic impact in providing impoverished people with items that I take for granted every day – like having a bed, or a rice cooker.

By working with a disadvantaged teen, or volunteering in a soup kitchen or an abused women’s shelter, you quickly begin to realize how good you have it. It’s a sobering lesson, but also one full of power. You owe it to yourself – and to those who don’t have the opportunities you do – to accomplish something that will leave the world a better place.

thinker little girl3. Empower Yourself with Knowledge

Millions of people in this world would trade places with you in a second, if given the chance. You’re literate (I assume, since you’re reading this now 🙂 ) and had the opportunity to go to school, to access a library, to live in fairly regulated, sanitary conditions. Having full bellies and amusement galore has left so many westerners complacent and superficial. With TV, the internet and our electronic gadgets – never mind YouTube and the free movie streaming sites – we are drowning in entertainment. Our society might say that it values education, books and the pursuit of knowledge, but people’s behaviour speaks to the contrary – indifference and self-centredness rules.

Just because everyone around wants to talk about what they did on the weekend or share cute kitty pics from I Can Haz Cheeseburger doesn’t mean you have to keep yourself at the same insipid level. You don’t need to enroll in formal classes, or pay for education – it’s all out there, within grasp. Hundreds of years of literature, history, art, discourse, creativity and insights…all at your fingertips. Online, in libraries, in museums… knowledge is yours for the taking. And the more you learn, the more confident you will become. The more you will understand yourself, the world you live in, and how to relate to others.

girl jumping4. Accept Who You Are

How can you grow your self-confidence and platform if your image hinges on a fabrication or an illusion? I’ve known too many people whose résumés were a lie – one woman I knew indicated she’d attended Havergal College, a private, elite Toronto high school for wealthy girls (tuition is upwards of $10,000 a semester) as well as a Swiss boarding school, when in fact she’d grown up in a Barrie, ON slum. Another person took short-term, sporadic volunteer gigs found on Workopolis and listed them as real, year-long jobs on her LinkedIn profile – tantamount to me listing myself as a correctional officer simply because I’d volunteered inside prisons, or as a legal secretary because I’d once worked in a law office.

In an age when competition is fierce, desperate people will resort to desperate things in order to make themselves be noticed. A 2012 Globe & Mail article estimated that close to 40% of job seekers lie on their resumes.

But the best way to boost your confidence is not to pad your resume, but accept who you really are. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and minimize interactions with naysayers and pragmatic, sarcastic individuals.

Accept your good qualities and acknowledge your flaws. To believe in yourself you have no choice but to love yourself, for better or for worse.

phoenix5. Have Your Own Goals – not those others wish upon you

What gives your soul purpose and meaning? What are the things that make your spirit feel like flying? What accomplishments will make you feel like a phoenix rising out of a pond of ashes? You’ve got to figure this out, and get to it. Maybe it’s taking that once-in-a-lifetime journey, or running that marathon, or becoming proficient in a particular hobby. What you enjoy, and gives your life purpose, is what is valuable. What one person thinks is a great accomplishment might mean little to someone else – someone pursuing an MBA versus taking a year to write a novel. Value is relative, and when it comes to building your self-confidence, anything goes.

Believe-in-Magic6. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

There is only one YOU in this universe. You are unique in every way. If you think about it, everybody battles adversity – everybody at one point or another thinks, “I don’t know if I can do this.” It’s part of our human experience. And that’s perfectly okay. According to Charles Bukowski, a seriously messed-up and utterly brilliant writer, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

emerson meme7. Have Patience & Think Differently

Pain and frustration have their purposes – they push us toward discovering new solutions, new ways of thinking that might illuminate a path previously unseen. The last thing you want to do is quit before you’ve had a chance to properly develop a proficiency and pathway toward accomplishing your dream. Just like how young teens can literally have growing pains when their bones lengthen, you too might experience negative emotions when things don’t happen right away. Sometimes you can get so frazzled by the lack of immediacy in results that you might miss an important clue sitting there, right in front of you!

Trust me – I’m probably the most impatient person you’ll ever meet. I know how waiting can feel like the most terrible thing in the world – but the rewards can often be the sweetest.

dance-in-the-rain8. Take Care of Yourself

As someone who has battled depression all my adult life, I can’t stress how important it is to make sure you look after yourself. The better you feel when you look in the mirror, the more confidence you’ll have about getting out of bed in the morning. Pay attention to your grooming. Try to exercise. Dress as nicely as you can, given your budget. There are wonderful finds for every budget. A friend of mine owns a consignment store and I’m constantly amazed at the luxurious, wonderful designer clothing that she sells for a fraction of the original prices.

Make sure you eat well and get enough rest – it might sound like really basic advice, but caring for yourself is a crucial building block toward loving yourself and developing your self-confidence.

Walt Disney, the creator of so many magical stories of our childhood, once said, The secret of making dreams come true can be summarized in four C’s: curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.

You CAN fly, even on broken wings. I know you can, because I’ve seen it. The thing is, those wings are inside your mind. And that is where the magic lives – and everything is possible.

girl running  dandelion dreams

If you enjoyed the read, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

Posted in books, inspiration, poetry, psychology, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Parasitic Twin – a Poem about Mermaids

Posted by E on March 3, 2015

 

pearlsisters

Note on this poem: when I was a teenager, I belonged to an extremist group. By age 18 I turned against the group, gathered information on them, testified against its leaders and went underground because of threats to my life. In the meanwhile, another girl from the same white supremacist, neo-Nazi organization (who had done nothing to shut down the group) capitalized on speaking engagements, film and media opportunities. This poem is inspired by that situation.

 

On my knees for a thousand years at the bottom of the ocean,

I have finally began to reclaim myself – one fragment at a time:

innocence, loss, shame, guilt, anger, hate, redemption, LOVE

And now, a face takes shape within the mosaic

of a thousand pieces of shattered glass

 

My knees are bloody, glass is embedded in my barbed-wire hair

– my only gift from my Jewish father, who inherited the wire

and passed its thread of hate within my veins –

and yet (I don’t know how, or when, or even why)

I have begun to unspin the lies, at last;

I’m taking back my identity

Reclaiming what is rightfully mine:

 

The exploited, worthless little girl who was cast aside

In favour of the middle-class Canadian girl with the pretty pink bedspread

whose mother hand-sewn a mermaid costume and paid for university

(my mother left me in the numb hands of an unfeeling monster)

 

The “university student”, the “normal”, Christian girl loved by the media

who did absolutely nothing to stop the terror

– assaults, rapes, fire-bombings, stalking, wounding, destruction and more –

but who looked better on the news, precisely because

she was a “normal” child of the suburbs who had done nothing

except swim and lay with those who helped her get ahead,

 

The “normal”, middle-class girl who volunteered to impersonate

the girl with the scarred soul and the foreigner accent, who had nothing at all

and yet, the one who did everything.

Mermaid sisters

 

The scared, scarred girl who ate from dumpsters, rummaged for scraps in garbage,

looked into the eyes of evil men and put them in prison, and yet

had no profiteers and managers to barter for favours, for media gigs

and so the other, “better”, new-and-improved version

 

– the parasitic twin –

 

Reaped all the benefits with none of the dangers

and the world continued just as before,

ignoring, as usual,

the exploitation of the weak, the unconnected and marginalized

by those who capitalize on the bravery of others,

while the scarred-faced, barefoot girl with no pink bedspreads, no mermaid tails

and no well-connected managers to groom her for the spotlight

who never got something for free

became me.

 

But I am still broken, a mosaic of a thousand fragments of shattered glass

glued flimsily back together, at a crossroads

where nothing matters, except

falling from a great height into the greenery of the ravine – to see

nothing but vastness, the blueness of above and below.

I hate the world I was born in, a world where the unworthy

thread on the broken backs of those considered worthless.

 

The little girl who always stood on the outer side of the window

has run out of matches. The fire has been extinguished.

The breath inside my mouth has turned to ice

And I have nothing to lose but the truth

mermaid

In life, there are battles where you swallow your pride

and then there are those which – if you back down – can swallow your soul;

battles which, if not fought with all your strength and might,

will render you just as complicit as the conspirators of the initial injustice.

 

Years after the wreckage, I struggle to free myself from the boats and rudders

that weighed down my ribs and kept me at the bottom of the ocean.

I disentangle myself from the underwater reeds that had encircled my wrists,

spit out the dirty water that filled my lungs, swim up to the surface

and, peering at my reflection in a pearly cochlear shell, realize with wonder

 

that maybe I was the mermaid all along.

mermaid The_Mermaid

Posted in personal, poetry, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Protected: You’re not going to read this anyway

Posted by E on July 19, 2012

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Posted in activism, agent, anonymous, art, artist, books, canada, culture, depression, identity, literature, longing, media, news, perseverence, poetry, politics, publishing, rejection, revolution, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Enter your password to view comments.

The freedom to dream, the courage to belong

Posted by E on July 13, 2011

 

I guess you can chalk me up as an aspiring, unpublished hack. You know, like 99% of artists out there reading this post 😉 A hack who’s part of this ever-changing world we live in, and who knows more than my fair share about the business. So having said all that, you know what kills me? I’ve accepted that I’m never going to be the next hot new bestselling writer out there. That I’m not going to make much more than minimal wage, and that’s taking into account the artist bursaries I may occasionally win. But the thing that kills me, more than the non-existent fame and fortune all of us writers secretly hope to stumble into, more than anything, is the knowledge that I will never be able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on a shelf.

This image has haunted me since I was a little girl. It has propelled and encouraged me to take my dreams of writing stories and make them unfold from hunches, intermittent thoughts, stray words, into something that takes a life of its own. It’s this dream, this vision of my books on a shelf or on a store display under the Staff Picks section, that hurts the most to let go. To know that everything I have done in my life, all the hard work I’ve put into creating these manuscripts, means nothing at all.

Yes, bad writers self-publish all the time. Breathtakingly mediocre manuscripts get uploaded onto Kindle at every hour of every day. That was my assumption when I first encountered the notion of self-publishing, when I secretly dismissed self-published authors as untalented hacks who couldn’t earn their stripes in the real literary world.

Yes, I was a snob. WAS. But that was before I started downloading self-pubbed books on my Kindle, and realized just how many amazing, incredibly-talented people have been forced by this screwed-up industry to take this route.

There is no karmic justice in this industry. Truth of the matter is this:
1) Bad writers DO get book deals. I’ve met a few in my day, people who either never wrote more than a chapter of a book and still managed to make it onto bestseller lists. Terrible writers also manage – through nepotism, inside connections and affiliations with college writing programs – to land publishing deals for their inferior magnus opuses. I’ve seen it happen. Half of them are out teaching creative writing programs. I can’t name names, but trust me. It happens more often than you think.

2) Good writers DO fall through the cracks. On the brink of extinction, the established literary industry operate like a flock of piranhas – editors concern themselves more with keeping their jobs and minimizing the risk it takes to take on unknown writers. Often they will adopt an unspoken policy of not showing interest in something unless other editors show interest. Simply put = nobody wants to take risks anymore. And nobody wants to edit.

3) Gone are the days when a diamond in the rough could be scooped from the slush pile and whittled into brilliance. Editors, for the most part, are lazy. There – I’ve said it. Not all, because I’d hate to generalize, but a HUGE majority of large publishing house acquiring editors prefer to do just that – acquire. Not edit. Not even bother trying, actually. If the manuscript in their inbox is not pitch-perfect in terms of what they’re looking for, they’d rather reject than invite a revision.

4) Publishing houses are going extinct because of bad financial practices. Case in point:
a. At the last Book Expo America, Random House rented an ENORMOUS booth to show off how much money they had. They spared no expense in putting off the image that they are doing peachy

b. Publishers will spend a million dollars for an advance to buy on a single manuscript (again, see the bidding war piranha frenzy I mentioned earlier), and add another 500K in marketing costs to justify their gamble on one person, while the money could be spent on acquiring ten talented writers (at $100K advance each). You don’t have to have a degree in investing to see how screwed up this is.

c. A reluctance to adapt to new publishing models, save for continuous attempts to unashamedly and brutally screw over inexperienced, first-time authors over their already-meagre royalties. Example: You sell your soul if you spend a year or more on a book only to find out that you’ll make fifty cents per every ebook. But if they didn’t do that, how could they afford the huge salaries of top executives, those travel expenses to international fairs, those roomy booths at Book Expo America?

So by now you’re either cheering me on, or you’ve already written me off as a bitter industry loser. As in, I didn’t win the lottery jackpot and got a book deal yet – because this is what this really is about – LUCK. Not talent so much as sheer, unadulterated luck: the RIGHT editor, the RIGHT submission, at the RIGHT time.
FACT: the vast majority of published authors out there only received one offer. That’s right: ONE offer. There was no bidding war. No hundred grand advance. Just ONE editor who had an empty slot in next fall’s line-up. THAT alone is what separates the unwashed masses like me from the “respectable” folks in the Chapters-Indigos and Barnes & Nobles of the world.

But if it was up to the industry, that’s not where I’m headed, or where most of us younger writers trying to put our work out there are headed. By misfortune of being born in this generation, at the cusp of the extinction of the bricks-and-mortal bookstores (may be another 10-20 years, but they’re going), we are being shut out of that dream we’ve all harboured: the vision of walking into over to that store display and seeing your baby in print, ready to captivate the world.

It doesn’t mean we can’t make a name for ourselves, or serious money. People have been so successful through Kindle, it would be insane not to consider it. But what I’m taking about is your work being out on the bookshelves of a hundred stores, reaching a mainstream audience that is kept away from you by virtue of the gate-keepers.

I’ve done everything right. I’ve played by the rules. I’ve gained a few prizes here and there, won substantial artist grants, gotten my name out there. I was even accepted by the most prestigious MFA program in Canada this spring, but because I have no money whatsoever, I’ve had to defer my spot.

I’ve had not one, but two literary agents. The first was more lazy than money-hungry and spent his entire day on Twitter playing the role of big agent man but not making any sales. At all. So I fired him and started fresh. The second agent seemed more promising. I listened to him, for a while, when he told me to add more violence, more of a 24 (the TV show) plotline and more “dirty lesbo sex” to my novel so it would sell – and I did all this out of fear that he would not submit my book to publishers. Until I couldn’t take it anymore and told him I was finished. With the power struggle, and with the proposed changes. Really finished.

For the last two years I’ve allowed myself be bullied by this industry – by agents, by writer forums where self-aggrandizing, arrogant assholes who published mid-list books pull rank on new writers, by editorial rumours of what sells, by everything. And at the end of the day, what did I get?

A manuscript that has been so twisted it seems foreign to me, but meets the vision of what the industry seems to want. And sure enough, it has received several generous editorial compliments over the past month, yet it keeps getting rejected. The rejections, of course, are all over the map – editor X will praise this and complain about that, and not a day later, editor Z will complain about this, and praise that which someone else had taken issues with. But nobody wants to take a chance on me.
Nobody.

The truth is, the literary world these days is a shitty, soul-wrenching crapshoot in which only the lucky and the well-connected will find a spot to land in. And if you are like me, if the only thing you ever had to cling to in your life was writing, you’ll keep on struggling, crying, and creating.

You belong. Don’t let them convince you otherwise.

If you enjoyed the read or found it useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

Posted in agent, art, artist, belonging, books, bullshit, commentary, freedom, life, literature, manuscript, news, perseverence, poetry, press, publishing, rejection, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

On nourishing the best minds of our generation

Posted by E on July 22, 2010

Writer colonies, retreats, artist centres, whatever you call it, are intended to provide that all-too-elusive sense of belonging and recognition to writers who otherwise labour away in the seclusion of their own abodes and their own idiosyncracies and particular neuroticisms.
Coming up for a breath of fresh air, as in attending a colony and being able to create while at the same time surrounded by a whole bunch of other creative minds is invaluable. The colonies are more than just a place to eat, sleep and write — they might just lead to new friendships and new perspectives that can enhance our otherwise solitary work.

Luckily for US artists, the United States provides an abundance of colonies and fellowships one can apply for. Places that have been frequented by artists like Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, Patricia Highsmith, Toni Morrison, etc. I could start rattling off the names of a whole lot of places, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is, for something like 30-50 bucks and the cost of mailing in a portfolio, you can apply to attend artistic residences where all your accommodations, meals and board, etc, are completely covered up to 8 weeks.

We in Canada are not so lucky. Although arts councils are there to provide much-needed support to artists as they work on their projects, they don’t fund colonies or retreats, at least none that I know of. And all the ones I’ve checked, including the famous Banff Centre for the Arts, charge a hefty thousand bucks for five days of accommodations and meals….which, to be frank, who can afford unless they already have a day job, and therefore not exactly a full-time writer to begin with?
I witnessed something odd at the Humber Summer Workshop I attended (on a scholarship, thankfully!) two Julys ago: most of the participants were made up of middle-aged professionals, otherwise-known-as weekend warriors. Not to generalize, but what I’ve observed is that often those who can afford those expensive workshops are the same people who hardly have the time necessary to complete a full-length work, quality notwithstanding.

It’s a damn shame that we can’t offer as many possibilities as the US and other European nations provide their artists. People here bitch and moan every time funding gets cut at the individual level, but sometimes I think that perhaps if there was a place we could escape to for just a little while, where we wouldn’t have to worry about distractions, finances, etc — that it might be as useful as a big-ass cheque. And equally inspiring. Not that I’d be willing to trade my OAC and CAC funding, thank you very much 🙂 but still…. wouldn’t it be wonderful if such a place existed?

I know, going to a writers’ colony for a month is no guarantee that you can produce something substantial, but then again, neither does getting a huge chunk of money insure that a writer is able to commit to the page. But having said all that, the only place that I’ve found which subsidizes Canadian writers is Berton House in the Yukon, but you have to already have published at least one book to go there. And, well, it’s quite desolate and not exactly large enough to accommodate more than one or two persons at a time.

Sadly, even though financial assistance might be provided to one or two people per program, overall it seems that Canadian writing centres seem more geared toward weekend-type writers with large bank accounts than toward the younger or less affluent people who could most benefit from an opportunity to allow their brilliance to shine through. And in the end, through this insidious practice of cultural and financial elitism, everyone suffers.

Oh, I know — writing programs are basically lucrative cash cows that keep MFA grads and other senior writers employed, but at what cost? By excluding the talented in favour of the rich (though if you’re both, you’ve hit the jackpot!), how exactly does our culture advance?

One of my biggest dreams is to someday own a place where people can come and work on their projects, a place where all costs would be absorbed, and the artist is free only to create. But until I sell a crapload of books and maybe close a movie deal or two, this will remain a wishful dream.

Posted in art, beauty, canada, commentary, freedom, poetry, thoughts, Uncategorized, usa, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

On Winning an Ontario Arts Council Grant

Posted by E on June 30, 2009

There is nothing more affirming for a writer than the day when he or she earns her first coins for a story or a poem. So much of our lives are spent in the solitude of a closed room, in the reflective light of a computer screen, battling with our own, unique critical selves that keep themselves perched upon our shoulders and echo back at us the doubts of the world – you’re not going to get this done, this project is too ambitious for your own good, who are you kidding, etc.

And then there are moments of illumination, when everything becomes possible again. Like when a blind jury of four judges sift through hundreds of applications and select only twenty or less writers in all of Ontario to receive a significant award such as this.

Last week I suddenly found myself among them. Last week, I earned the privilege of calling myself a paid writer. Last week, I realized that somewhere out there in this world of ours, four authors who knew nothing about me saw enough merit and potential in my project that they decided to fund it.

Last Monday night I opened the mailbox and found a thick brown envelope from the OAC, and all the butterflies in my stomach started to flitter: finally, I would have my answer. I had been praying for a sign that my work possesses the value I believe it has. At the kitchen table, I tore open the envelope quickly, not wanting to allow the seepage of doubt to intrude into this moment I’d been waiting for. Then I read the first words: “On behalf of the Ontario Arts Council, I am pleased to inform you that you have been awarded a Writers’ Works in Progress Grant towards ______ in the amount of $12,000” and out slipped the blue $12k cheque as well, and I don’t remember much after that except that I jumped up and down, screaming: “I got it! Oh my God, they gave it to me!!”

When I sent in 40-some pages of my non-fiction manuscript to the Ontario Arts Council back in February ’09, I hoped against hope that I would be one of the few to be awarded a Work-in-Progress grant. I took the application as both a testing of waters (“let’s see if others see some promise there”) and a desperate attempt to generate some funds to go toward the research costs I need for this book. I didn’t have any expectations of winning the $12,000 award – in fact, I spent the excruciatingly long four months that followed vacillating between blind optimism and total disbelief. I pity those around me who constantly urged me that my writing was indeed good enough, who kept saying “You’ll get it, I just know you’ll get it. How could you not?” You know who you are – and I thank you for being there when my confidence had failed me entirely.

Sometimes I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Why is it that I have such persistent doubt in my ability to complete this manuscript? It seems that everything else in my life that I put my mind to, I have been able to pull through. But writing is another world – it is like standing naked in front of a mirror, staring at yourself. You see yourself for who you really are – you see all your flaws and imperfections, and all your demons and your scars and all the things that you hope nobody else can tell just by looking at you.

When I am alone in front of my computer, I see not only all that I can accomplish, but all the places where I have been broken. I see my weaknesses crumple in front of me like a nest of snapped bones gathering at my feet. There is no ego left – there is only the pain that I am trying to translate into words, that I am trying to expel from my body so I can be sane again. This effort is what’s earned me this $12,000, but it has come at a price – the price of having to be brutally honest with myself and my past. The price of blood-letting my life onto crisp paper.

But as of today, my manuscript has become a full-time job. I no longer have the excuse to procrastinate, now that I have entered into this contract with those faceless benefactors who have glimpsed the value of my vision and have decided to fund it. Writing my book is no longer an optional exercise but a real job. It would take someone working minimum wage over 7 months to make this kind of money. I have not failed to realize this – and this awareness is such a powerful thing.

The OAC money will definitely go a long way in covering my expenses as I work on my manuscript; most importantly, however, it is the surge of confidence and motivation that it generates in my own soul, the impetus that others’ faith in me creates, that will always be priceless.

Thank you to all those of you who believed in me – despite my best attempts to dissuade you.

Posted in art, books, canada, life, literature, news, ontario, poetry, publishing, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »