I used to work a monotonous factory job, 7pm-7am. It was easy, but it was long, and the machines were so loud, we couldn’t socialise. I learned how to keep my brain busy while my hands were working.
One thing I would do was challenge my memory. I would write all the lyrics to songs I knew. I would recite poetry. I would make a list of every US president. It’s worth noting that this was the early years of Wikipedia, but well before the iPhone, so it didn’t even matter. If I couldn’t remember something, there was no way to look it up. I had to wait out my shift before I could satisfy my curiosity.
With all the publicity about the 150th anniversary of Confederation, I wondered if I could name all the Canadian Prime Ministers. We’re a hundred years younger than the US, and we don’t have term limits, so the list is much shorter than presidents. I wondered if I could name more US presidents than Canadian PMs. That would be embarrassing.
So I made two lists in my notebook. I looked up the numbers, so I knew what to aim for. I missed 9 from both lists, which is a weird coincidence. Of course, by the percentages, I lost my challenge. I named 80% of US presidents, but only 61% of Canadian PMs. The most embarrassing Canadian PM I forgot is John Diefenbaker, which is a name you’d think I’d remember. The most embarrassing US president I forgot is James Madison, who is a main character in HAMILTON. Sorry, Oak.
I like to drink my coffee with milk, no sugar. But I’m out of milk, and I don’t get paid until this weekend. This shouldn’t be a problem. I can drink tea. I didn’t even like coffee until a few years ago. But this morning, I woke up wanting it. Maybe that had something to do with waking up at quarter to 6.
I made my coffee my regular way, then drank it with sugar, no milk. I liked it. I’m thinking about how we tell ourselves what we like and don’t like, what we can do and can’t. How our parents and teachers tell us the same thing. We’re so quick to decide before we actually try.
I was a very picky eater as a kid. I hated that fatty bit on a pork chop. I ate around bell peppers. I didn’t even want to try raw fish sushi. It took a very long time for me to try new things. I’m still trying to figure out what changed for me because there’s more I want to try, and I haven’t yet been brave enough
(To be fair, I tried coffee. Turns out, my mom loves the darkest roasts, and I really don’t. As with most things in this world, I had to do it myself before I realised I loved it.)
As good as my coffee was hot this morning with oatmeal, it’s even better now, at 2 in the afternoon, with ice.
Because I was going to be downtown to meet some friends, I went a little early so I could visit Emily Carr at the Vancouver Art Gallery. That’s the benefit of being a member–sometimes I go to the gallery to see just one floor, even one painting. They’re in a transition period right now, so 2/4 floors was all there was to see on Saturday.
The VAG holds the largest collection of Carr’s work. The fourth floor is usually hers. Until December, it’s an exhibit of her forest paintings, my favourite paintings. I haven’t seen Scorned/Beloved on a wall in years. That tree trunk up above is an early painting, as Emily was putting aside her totem pole project to explore the BC wilderness. That tree trunk below is a photograph by Karin Bubaš, a Vancouver artist in the second floor exhibit, Pictures from Here.
I only did a quick walk through the second floor (I’ll be back), but Bubaš’s photos struck me as I had just come out of Emily’s forest. It’s the same forest. They’re the same trees. Bubaš placed women in all of her photographs, faces obscured, like my own reflection in that selfie above.
We’re all making the same art, but in different ways.
There’s probably a good chance that you’re not going to write a life-changing hit song right now, and that stops us from creating.
I needed to hear this about how to write bad songs from Dave Monks, who plays in Tokyo Police Club. This advice is not limited to songwriting. It’s so important to let yourself write badly, draw badly, dance badly. Just do the thing. If it’s not good, the next time will be better.
But sometimes it is good! And you can’t know that when it’s still stuck in your head. You have to get it out, any way possible.
The weekend (or whenever your day off) is the best for this. It’s the time of least pressure, when you can do your own thing, at your own time. Challenge yourself. Find a notebook with empty pages and a brand-new marker, and fill one page. One color, one page. Make marks. Lines, circles, letters. Then do it again. Maybe pick a different color.
When you remove the pressure to make everything into A THING, you’ll find a lot more things are possible.
After a pretty bad morning of getting out of bed at the absolute last minute, skipping breakfast, hiking up the hill in the rain, only to get to therapy and find out it had been cancelled, I found $10 on the sidewalk. Sometimes the world is looking out for you.
With some time to kill before work, I stopped at the dollar store and spent five dollars on a few things to make me happy. I bought a package of those eraser caps that go on the ends of pencils. I’m writing with pencils these days because I have dozens of them and because pens are so much more expensive (at least the ones I like). I bought a rubber ball (“Hi-Bounce Pinky”), the kind you throw against the wall and catch when it comes back at you. I bought two cans of Play-Doh (pink and blue).
All of my students have fidget spinners now. (I’ve been looking, but they’re not in the dollar store yet.) Today in class, a grade 2 boy explained how he doesn’t bottle flip anymore because it’s too 2016. Fidget spinners are 2017.
Play-Doh is the 1950s, but I loved it in the 1980s, and it’s still on sale today. It’s not a trend, and it’s not a memory. It’s right here in my hand. And it makes me so happy to feel it squeeze through my fingers.
When you have too many different places to write, sometimes you don’t write at all. I bought some new notebooks last month — a 10 pack of steno pads. I should finish the first one tomorrow, which is two weeks instead of the one month I usually aim for. So I’ve been writing a lot with paper and pencil instead of on my laptop, in Scrivener, or in this text field where I can post it online. It doesn’t matter much to me where the words go just as long as I get them down, just as long as I get them out of my head.
But I’m trying to build a habit here. I think it’s important to blog, especially as a writer. It’s important to get into the habit of sharing your work. Even if you’re not sure it’s good. Especially if you’re not sure if it’s good.
This blog posts might not be the best blog post, in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not. But it won’t be at the top of the page for very long. I have the chance to make something better tomorrow.
The time is ripe for a cover of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s Don’t Give Up. All I could think about on the way home tonight was Harry Styles and Stevie Nicks doing it.
Something making me happy right now is the BBC historical farm series. Starting with Tales From The Green Valley (or Tudor Farm) in 2005, Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn, and Alex Langlands have been working and living together in the past. They made Victorian Farm in 2007, then Edwardian Farm, and Wartime Farm. After ten years, it’s understandably harder to commit to a whole year on a farm, so their last series was a more classic history documentary about the British railroad. There are related series to be found, but these five are the five with Ruth, Peter, and Alex, and those three together are why I keep watching.
As I watch the series again, in order from the beginning (I’m in the middle of Edwardian Farm right now), I’m thinking a lot about why they make me so happy. The chemistry between the three presenters is so good. In the Tudor Farm series, Peter was only brought in last minute. Alex was chosen as the young farm hand to do labour, but injured himself before filming began. He brought in his university friend, Peter, to help out. Because it’s the first series, it’s very different: five historians and only 30 minute episodes. But you can see the core of the show forming.
Ruth is older than the other two, and she’s a historian, while Peter and Alex are both archaeologists. She’s in charge of the house; they’re in charge of the farm. Alex’s first words in Tudor Farm are how he’s always wanted to be a farmer. By the time they get to WWII in Wartime Farm, the roles are set. Alex is the gentleman farmer, Peter is the blue collar farm hand, and Ruth is the keeper of the house. It might sound like a patriarchal system, but the lack of a marriage means a different dynamic. Yes, the woman does the cooking and cleaning, but Ruth’s enthusiasm for domestic chores makes clear how much this is her choice. Alex brings his own chickens from home to their Edwardian farm, and Peter is never happier than when he’s covered in dirt. The three of them are just so happy to be together on the farm, no matter the time period.
If nothing else, at least I’ll know what to do to survive when our civilisation collapses.