At my last writing group meeting, we talked about the authors who had significantly influenced us as writers. One woman talked about a poet who helped her make the connections between art and politics. Another woman brought in poetry texts from her early university days, blushing as she read passages most meaningful to her. Although I hadn’t planned on it, I found myself recalling and talking about the summer when I was eighteen. That year, I was learning about feminism and was continuously drawn to the musty McMaster Mills Library (infamous for the Mills Masturbator who I happened to be surprised by twice during my time at Mac–but that is another story) where I took out one Margaret Atwood book after another. Every few days I returned the one I had savoured and then had my fill of the next. It was terribly satisfying that there were so many to choose from, and that the books lasted through the summer and into the fall, when I got busy with course readings once again. I loved her feminist voice, a novelty for me, and one that influenced my own burgeoning sense of what it meant to be a woman. Later, I binged on women of colour and dyke writers to help me with this process. But that summer, it was all Atwood.
I was having lunch with a friend a couple of months ago at the By The Way Cafe in Toronto and saw Atwood there. I saw her go into the bathroom, and since I needed to go, I followed her in there, excited to catch a close-up glimpse of the famous author. While she washed her hands, I shyly said, “I love your writing,” and then ducked out of there before she even had time to look over her shoulder at me, her fawning fan. Later, I felt that I should have said, “and I am a writer too…”. I have since had fantasies of us having a full-blown conversation right there and her taking an interest in me a la Vincent Lam (and you know the rest of the story). But that’s OK, I finally met the woman, and in the intimacy of the women’s bathroom of the cafe, I had a chance to tell her what she meant to me.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I mailed out the Stealing Nasreen galley, marked up with anxious notes and strikethroughs and last-minute edits, to my publisher this past Monday.
It’s been emotionally difficult to stop editing the book, to quit fussing over it, to let it go. I’ve heard many writers talk about being unsure when a writing project is finally “done”.
Sometimes, when I read my previously published short stories, poems and chapters (pieces I would have deemed “finished” when I sent them in), I find myself mentally making tiny changes and additions to the work; adding a comma here, italicizing that word, deleting that paragraph. And why? They’re already published, bound up, out there in there world.
I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it? To release the writing, to finally let it go beyond the private and into the public is the difficult and exhilarating part of the work. So bon voyage, Stealing Nasreen! Go out and be seen and may your travels be safe and smooth and full of new adventures…
My writing group did a free writing exercise on why we write this week. I like to express myself politically, socially, professionally. But why I write fiction is a little harder to explain...Sometimes, I feel like my characters “visit” me. They give me a glimpse of what they look like and who they are; I see snapshots of facial features, or feel elements of their moods. Once in a while, as I sit on the streetcar or rinse conditioner out of my hair in the shower, a few lines of dialogue or a snatch of description will “arrive”. And then I feel it’s my job to string all of that together. I wish these glimpses and images and bits of prose would come more often, and stay longer. It would make it much easier to write, wouldn’t it? … At other times, especially when I am busy with marking and consulting, I listen distractedly, write down what I can on scraps of paper, and vow to make time later… So here’s what I wrote during the 10 minute free-writing exercise:
His voice whispers
Sound seeping out of walls
Passing through sheetrock
Four layers of latex paint
Her’s comes in dreams
Prodding me to sleepwalk through dark hallways
Tap out their messages
Like morse code, imperfect