Sunday, October 24, 2010
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
- hanging out with my nephew, Theo Campbell, and sundry other bright lights.
- participating in one of 3 Writers Workshops, which entailed reading and carefully critiquing three novel beginnings. A very interesting endeavour. Lots of work, on everyone's part, and educational for all. (Fun, as well. Who'd a thunk it possible?)
- doing readings, including:
- -- my short story "Dreamcatcher", from Room Magazine's Speculative Fiction issue, in a group reading with Donna McMahon and Marcie Tentchoff.
- -- the part of the Interrogator for Geoff Cole's short story “Abattoir Blues” from The Blackness Within. (watch for the video!)
- -- performing as one of a panel of literature-mauling Turkey Readers, in which we read TheWorst of the Worst and force unwitting audience members to act out the evil scripts. (We also force witting audience members to pay to make us stop, and start, and stop, and... All in the name of raising pennies for the Canadian Unity Fan Fund.)
- at last I was able to contain my enthusiasm no longer. When Virginia O'Dine rose to read the final Turkey, I offered myself as the Evil Queen, and, bounding from the podium, joined Steph Thevideoguy and an 8 foot tall monster in a diabolical battle of wit and wonder.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Just a reminder that I'll be at the opening day (tomorrow!) of "A Book Arts Mosaic", hosted by the Burnaby Arts Council, features 26 works by 33 Canadian book artists from across Canada. The exhibition runs from September 18 to October 3 at the Deer Lake Gallery. Hand-crafted books and books by local authors.
(Okay, a little time travel here. The above photo of me was taken by "Wild Talent" and "Tales from the Holograph Woods" author Eileen Kernaghan at the Arts Mosaic. Sure wish I could still get blogger to let me arrange my photos the way I want them.)
I will also be reading in the Authors Tent at Vancouver's Word on the Street on 26 Sept.--next Sunday--at 4:30, along with Ashley Little and Lorrie Miller. "The Corpse Pose", from Room Magazine's upcoming "Women and Spirituality" issue, touches on the many aspects of death and afterlife and saying goodbye.
A week after WOTS I'll be at VCon, our local SF convention, which I look forward to every year. (My first was VCon 11, with I believe Frank Herbert, of Dune fame, as GoH. This year is VCon 35...)
Thanks to R. Graeme Cameron, the Writers Workshops have been revived, and I'll be critiquing submitted stories alongside Eileen Kernaghan and undisclosed (to me) others. That's Friday from 1-4 pm -- though I can't imagine we will need all that time, so you may see me creeping around earlier than 4.
On Saturday I join Marcie Tentchoff and Donna McMahon for a Group Reading from 2-4 pm and on Sunday the highlight of the weekend, the Turkey Readings, in which we drive you mad with histrionic renditions of empurpled scientifictional prose.
Here's an example -- a rather mild example (I think I was half asleep when I made this video. The actual event is quite a bit wilder.)
Guests of Honour
Author Guest of Honour : Cherie Priest
Artist Guest of Honour : James F. Beveridge
Music Guest of Honour : Heather Dale
Special Media Guest : David Nykl
Hope to see you there!
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Main Street Magazine Tour was well attended, well put together, and quite enjoyable. Nephew Harper Campbell came along with Clelie and I, and we had a good visit before and after the event. Photographer Skot Nelson posted a number of shots on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/penguinstorm/with/4911333495/
Here are Skot's photos of the Kafka's Coffee & Tea performances by myself and Elena Johnson.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Well, here I am, pointing you toward August’s Broad Pod -- the podcast of Broad Universe. Broad Universe promotes the “voices of women in science fiction, fantasy, and horror”. It’s podcast blog, Broad Pod, features short readings by a selection of writers on a given theme each month. On the theme of Alien Contact, you’ll find me among my colleagues, reading from “Equals”, a story about the ethics of first contact. The full story is in my book Finding Creatures & Other Stories.
“Equals” is “Science made lyrical and passionate.”
—Eileen Kernaghan, author of Wild Talent: A Novel of the Supernatural
Aug 15 2010
The Broad Pod Episode 7: In a Galaxy Far, Far Away
Click here to download:
AugBPod2010m.mp3 (22224 KB)
Welcome to the August episode of the Broad Pod! This month's theme is alien contact. Join our host Jean Marie Ward (URL: JeanMarieWard.com) and four out-of-this-world authors--Gloria Oliver, Casey Wolf, Roxanne Bland and Trisha Wooldridge--as they explore the space ways for your listening pleasure. We think you'll find our universe is very broad indeed.
Please let us know what you think of our podcast.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
I'll be reading "The Corpse Pose" a couple of times in Vancouver this and next month. The story was the first I wrote following my Dad's death in December, and deals with death from a number of angles. I wonder how easy it will be to read it to an audience. With that slight trepidation, I am looking forward to the events.
"The Corpse Pose" will be published in the December Room Magazine's Women and Spirituality issue.
The Short Version:
The Main Street Magazine Tour! Thursday, August 19, 2010, 6:20–6:55 p.m. @ Kafka’s Coffee & Tea. 2525 Main St.
Word on the Street Vancouver! Sunday Sept 26th, 2010, 11 am to 5 pm at the Library Square in Vancouver. Time and room number not yet announced.
The Long Version:
The Main Street Magazine Tour
A celebration of local arts, literary and cultural magazines, the Main Street Magazine Tour sees BCAMP team up with neighbourhood businesses to showcase the local literary landscape of BC magazines. Local poets Elizabeth Bachinsky and Jennica Harper lead you to a free series of 30-minute readings, exhibits and performances, held in various Main Street shops and cafes. The evening culminates in an afterparty with music, prizes and more.
Word on The Street Book & Magazine Festival
Sunday Sept 26th, 2010, 11 am to 5 pm at the Library Square (Central Library) in Vancouver.
"WOTS brings out an estimated 35,000 visitors for literary readings, demonstrations, music, contests, panels and much more. It's one of the year's highlights and is a great way for publishers to connect with readers, current and new."
And vice versa, I should think!
image borrowed from Hindu Website.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
"Sometimes I wonder if God, or whomever is up there somewhere, is weeping. Or if he's mad as all get out."
Friday, July 16, 2010
I just wanted to share with you Elisa's comments on "The Posture of the Infinite", the story I wrote for her (as a prize, using her prompts. See my interview with Bitten By Books).
You are right - the story isn't exactly what I prompted for, but I think that's a good thing. :)
There were moments where the story reminded me of The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is one of my favorite stories from my time at University studying literature and history. I love the idea that Daya had great knowledge (and therefore power) with each life/species she experienced, and yet all she wanted was to help someone else. She didn't complain about an inability to control her fate, nor did she scheme for which incarnation she desired next, she just gave.
And I liked that as she transformed with each position, it symbolized each being she has been or will be. Which of course begs the question: is the posture of the infinite each pose you take, or is it the essence of your soul (no matter what form you've taken) in each lifetime? Personally, I feel her desire to interact with others in a positive matter is the Posture of the Infinite. Perhaps that's my rosy outlook on how humanity should be - I can't shake my naïveté sometimes - but that's what I got from Daya.
A fitting story to be dedicated to me, to be certain!
Thank you so much for tackling my prompt, the result was perhaps experimental and literary, but a great experiment at that.
Now, to send the story out somewhere. (My, I'm lax.)
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about going for a walk once when he lived in a mountain hermitage, and leaving his windows open to the morning air. While he was out the wind picked up violently and by the time he arrived home his writing papers were wildly flung about the room and his belongings were all in chaos. He closed the windows against the still blowing wind, gathered his papers, and put his home back in order before doing anything else.
He tells this story to illustrate the necessity, when confronted with internal chaos, of closing off the source of disturbance if we are to re-establish order and calm within ourselves.
This applies to writing, too. It is very hard to settle down and write when windows are unfastened and winds are whipping around our mental domiciles, particularly when we suffer from fatigue and can be easily thrown off course by such things.
One of the unceasing winds with which most of us are confronted is the internet. Some of us cool-nerved souls are able to ignore its presence and do the work before us without stealing a peek at Facebook or Twitter, or checking out how the gang at the SF Canada listserve is doing, or responding to just one more email. Some of us are not sucked into the airstream of YouTube to be spat out hours later, dazed and uncertain where we have been.
I was once strong, like these peerless fellows. I was shocked by reports of nightlong YouTube binges, I scorned the inbox, thumped with discipline on the keyboard in the direction my plans, and not my impulses, led.
Of course, it helped that the old laptop I was using for writing fiction wasn’t connected to the internet, and that the old desktop had (and still has) such a formidable hum that I can’t stand to use it for very long.
Since reluctantly wiring up my laptop to the internet when abdominal surgery made it impossible to sit on a chair, I have occupied the increasingly wind-struck world of—maybe I’ll just check that fact before writing another word. Oh, look. What a fascinating article. And all these links. I should forward this to my friend—oh! I really ought to answer that email. It’s been sitting there for ages. Haha. A funny video from so and so. (Looks up hours later. What was it I turned the computer on for, again???) This isn’t, of course, simple foolishness. I’m chronically tired and even without the help of the internet it’s hard for me to remember what I’m doing at any given moment. With a dozen windows open—literally and metaphorically—I’m pretty much doomed.
My weakness is so pronounced that I start avoiding the power button in self-defense. A dark screen is a happy screen. Unbridled computer immersions—whether word processing or internet surfing—are exhausting enterprises to the person suffering from fatigue, and can be neatly sidestepped by pretending the computer isn’t there. Indeed, days off are a good good thing. But they might not be so necessary if I didn’t get discombobulated by the many distractions of the internet while trying to get a simple thing done.
So this week I unlinked my connection to the internet. I closed the windows, gathered up my papers, put away what wasn’t needed and took a grateful, relieved breath. Now when I write I can’t flick, without pausing to consider the consequences, to check out an assumption or grab some extra intell or find a picture to help clarify something I’m working on. That’s a nuisance. I like being able to do that.
But it means I get to stay on track. I don’t lose the trail entirely and use up whatever energy I have just finding my way back to my chosen task. I make a note or just ignore the impulse and carry on, till at length I decide to stop and do something else. A process that is clearer, cleaner, less exciting, nice…
With the result that I’m a whole lot less frazzled when I turn the computer off. Which I do earlier. Cause I’m not surfing the endless billowing updrafts of the net.
I’m not cured of my distractibility (or my fatigue). I approach the router nervously, fearing being sucked back in to entertaining, pleasing, boring or distressing but myriad and infinite distractions. I haven’t caught my breath for long enough to want to be blown away again. I’m on retreat. May I remain here (I pray). I sympathize with those who have signed off of Facebook. I suspect those who aren’t just worried about privacy are trying to close a few windows, themselves. Whatever works, compadres. Whatever works.
Turning off the router is one means of taking back control over what comes blasting in on us. The internet is still there when we have the courage and energy to enter it, but the necessity of asking yourself whether this impulse really justifies walking across the room to re-open the windows to that impetuous wind, whether we really want to risk wandering off without finishing this bit of work we’ve set out to do today, or whether it might just be something that can wait… What a wonderful difference this moment of hesitation makes.
This blog entry was written using a word processing program (not Blogger) with the internet router turned off. On a peaceful afternoon in Vancouver, BC.
Photo of Wind Storm: Pal Hermansen—Stone/Getty Images
Friday, May 28, 2010
New Review May 27, 2010
Reviewed by Simon Petrie.
C. June Wolf is a specfic writer who lives in Vancouver. Finding Creatures is her first collection of stories, several of which have appeared previously in various small press magazines and anthologies.
“Claude and the Henry Moores” features a failed artist security guard who works at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and becomes gradually captivated by the gallery’s collection of Moore’s abstract sculptures. Claude is convinced there’s more to the objects than meets the eye. This is a closely informed story with an intriguing premise. It works well, although the “aurora” scene carried less power than I felt it should have. But all up, it’s an effective and memorable story that does a good job of introducing Wolf’s style to the reader.
“Thunderbirds”, the collection’s longest story, has nothing to do with the marionette rescue specialists. Instead, it’s the story of Norman, a native North American who struggles to balance the ways of his ancestors with the necessities of modern life. It’s also the story of Chitta, a doomed alien explorer who crashes on Earth, in the woods behind Norman’s home. Told in alternating slices centering on the two protagonists, “Thunderbirds” attempts a separate resolution for the two of them. Does it succeed? I’m not completely sure, but Wolf is nonetheless adept at crafting stories that stick with you after the telling, and this is no exception.
“The Ziz” sounded, to me, to be a made-up word, which only goes to betray my level of ignorance. Ziz is in fact the aerial sibling of Behemoth and Leviathan, and Wolf’s story here is an irreverent and didactic retake on the biblical fate of these colossi. This one didn’t particularly resonate with me, but it’s nonetheless a short, fun tale with a serious subtext.
“The Coin” is a token given several times to Likner, a young Haitian streetkid, by a mysterious middle class woman who tells him each time not to lose it. There’s a sharp edge to this one, which manages to present itself as both intense and subtle. A good example of contemporary urban fantasy.
In “Finding Creatures”, Bernadette is a pious young girl who longs for a miracle to prove God’s existence. What she gets is a horse… but can anyone else see the horse? This is a charming story that plays to Wolf’s strengths: she seems most assured in characterising introspection and solitude, and these are attributes very much at play here.
“Miss Lonelygenes’ Secret” starts promisingly, but throws a few too many ingredients into the mix. Rosaleen is a phenotypic profiler, a career for which she has her pioneering, Nobel winning mother to thank, although the sentiment would not be reciprocated. For Rosaleen uses her skills to the end of pairing up lonely souls with safe, compatible lifemates. So who is she holding out for? The ideas explored here are very interesting, though I ended up feeling the overall story didn’t do them justice.
“These Old Bones” has previously appeared in the anthology SF Waxes Philosophical which, as it happens, I’ve also reviewed. Back then, I described it as “a subtle, atmospheric tale of the interaction between two loners who share an interest in palaeontology. It’s an intriguingly elusive story that’s reminiscent in style to the work of Kate Wilhelm. For me, it echoed long after I’d finished reading” and my view of it hasn’t changed.
In “Aggie’s Game”, the young narrator’s sister is overly given to theatricality, perhaps not without reason. This one is charming, principally for the exactitude with which the sister’s foibles are drawn.
In “The MagniCharisma Machine”, two young lovers attempt to make the world a better place by collaborating on a machine which engenders empathy. Despite the serious premise, this one feels more light-hearted than many of the other stories accompanying it.
“Equals” is one of the collection’s more overtly SF-leaning tales. It jarred somewhat with my own tastes in SF – and to my mind, it doesn’t quite pull off what it’s attempting – but the central ideas are intriguing.
“After Hours At The Black Hole” is a whimsical fable on the dangers of shovelling awkward things and unwanted memories under the carpet – or, as in this case, into the mouth of a black hole.
I didn’t fully fathom the significance of the title hand in “Dana’s Hand”, but it’s nevertheless a well-crafted and unsentimental story of the bleaker attributes of senility. If there’s a speculative element in this one, I missed it.
In “Kouzen Zaka”, fifty-year-old Vancouver resident Isabel is haunted by memories of her time in Haiti, with Denys, a young journalist committed to revealing those resposible for the entrenched abuses of power. Such idealism is, of course, dangerous. For my tastes, the story’s pivotal scene is inappropriately muted, but the depiction of Haiti and its people remains effective.
“Mr. Cowmeadow’s Sky” is a closely observed story of resilient old Mr Cowmeadow, whose existence creeps along in a world gone to ruin.
“Saint Francis and the Green Man” explores a mythical meeting between the two. It’s a story about belief, which manages to avoid pushing any particular barrows (and is the stronger for that.)
These are the fifteen stories in Finding Creatures . There’s a variety of tones and themes, but if I had to tease out some common threads from what I found in its pages, these would be a tendency to focus on loners (and therefore on solitude and introspection), a persistent concern with the past in all its forms, and a subtle yet unflinching quietness of observation. It’s not a book to attempt to read in one sitting, nor did every story succeed on all levels. But there are enough memorable moments here, including “Claude and the Henry Moores”, “These Old Bones”, “Aggie’s Game” and “Dana’s Hand” that I found the overall collection to be enjoyable and worthwhile.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Sent off my first writerly newsletter, inviting people to sign up at Yahoo Groups for the occasional followup missive. Here it is below, sans links. If you want the links as well, have a boo here. Unfortunately, Yahoo can't cope with accents and so on, so the letter looks a tad silly there, but what the heck.
One good use of the group is the File folder. I've placed pdfs of three stories there, which I will add to from time to time. So far you may help yourself to:
"Claude and the Henry Moores"
"After Hours at the Black Hole"
Casey Wolf Writes: The Inaugural Newsletter, 21 May 2010
A number of months ago I was interviewed on video for the book review site Bitten By Books. At that time I was persuaded by Rachel, the site owner, to start up a periodic newsletter to let people know what I have been doing in my writing life. Shortly after that my dad became very ill and died. Most of my life went on hold at that time, and I am beginning to reorganize now.
This newsletter will be very occasional--2-3 times a year tops. If you want to continue receiving them, please go to the Yahoo group site Casey Wolf Writes and sign up.
You will find on the site a few photos, links to interviews and social networking sites I participate in (you are welcome to join me there), my blogs, etc. Feel free to contribute to the site if you wish.
I'm also uploading pdf files of some of my stories for you to read and pass on as you wish. Please, if you want to quote extensively from or publish them, do get in touch with me about it first. Otherwise, enjoy!
************ ********* The News******** ********* *****
* "The Brideog"; a modern nod to an ancient Irish goddess. Published in Escape Clause: A Speculative Fiction Annual, edited by Clelie Rich.
* "The Dreamcatcher" ; set in British Columbia. A white artist uses native imagery in an unexpectedly powerful way. Room Magazine, (32.2) , edited by Fiona Lehn.
* "Triona's Beans" with Paivi Kuosmanen; too odd to describe and keep face. Pending publication of Fun Times in Strange Lands, edited by Ahmed Kahn.
* "The Corpse Pose"; a woman sits with her father as he dies. Accepted for Room Magazine's upcoming "Women and Spirituality" issue. (33.4)
Writing for Rose and Elisa:
Rose Gabdul and Elisa Jankowski won the most interesting (to me) prizes in the Bitten By Books contest. Each gave me hints on what they wanted, and I wrote a poem ("Roksana") for Rose and a story ("Posture of the Infinite") for Elisa. Each in its way was a challenge, and took me into territory I wouldn't necessarily have arrived in without their promptings. Most enjoyable work!
I was interviewed by Robert Runte for Strange Horizons speculative fiction online magazine.
Book Club News:
Vancouver Public Library now has a book club set of 10 copies of Finding Creatures & Other Stories, in addition to the circulating copies. So have at it, those of you in the local area, if you dare.
The second draft is close to being finished. With the earthquake in Haiti and the effect this has had on my friends there, and in me as a result of that connection, I'm returning to work on the story, which is set in pre-earthquake Haiti, with renewed acuity after neglecting it in favour of other projects for the last year. (Sorry, novel.)
I don't want to make this newsletter too long. If you want to know my current thinking on how writing fits into my life, please read the posting A Necessary Change at the Den Page of C. June Wolf.
"Where I want to focus, how I want to carry on." This question is different in weight than when I first asked it in my teens. I realized then I had to choose between a flood of interests, that I would benefit from narrowing in on and really exploring just a few of them. Years later, I wanted to focus still more tightly, to become adept at one or two things and let other activities--beloved or unfulfilling--go. Now, with chronic tiredness and pain, and a very slow thought turnover rate, I have to cull as never before. Yet after Finding Creatures & Other Stories* came out, I actually did the opposite. I opened up my sights and welcomed in the world...
Finding Creatures has gotten some lovely reviews, which is very gratifying, and I am happy to be receiving very positive responses to my current work, as well. Sometimes a note from a fan or a long lost friend can come by to lift the writerly spirits as well. Such is the following from musician/songwriter Nathen Aswell. Thanks Nathen!
Dearest Casey -
Just wanted to let you know how thoroughly I'm enjoying your book (MASSIVE understatement! ). I marvel and delight in the richness of your imagination come alive on every page.
Reading your words is like eating the best chocolate: every mouthful is a celebration, and moderation (not more than a story or two in one sitting) is the best way to enjoy it/them. THANK YOU, my talented friend!
- Nathen xo
P.S. I'm halfway through, and my favourites, so far, are "Claude and the Henry Moores", "Thunderbirds" , and "Finding Creatures".. . :-)
Best to you in all of your endeavours, and in your non-endeavours, too.
What seems at first a cup of sorrow is found in the end immortal wine.
That pleasure is pure:
it is the joy which arises from a clear vision of the Spirit.
.......................The Bhagavad Gita 18:37
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Back in the mists of time I did an interactive interview and chat for Bitten By Books. The prizes included a poem and a story written to specs given by the winners. (Within limits. See the bottom of this post for details or check out the video interview and text chat at the BBB site.)
I wrote the poem "Roksana" for Rose last November. This is what she'd said: "Ok, protagonist's name is Roksana, and the ability she has is shape shifting to any animal. Roksana loves paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Chocolate is her life." Rose mentioned that she was from Uzbekistan, and told me a bit about what is important to her. I tried to bear all this in mind while crafting the poem, which turned out to be about a were snow leopard. It was great fun to write it and to be in touch with the delightful Rose.
Elisa took longer to decide what she wanted her story to be about. (I can relate! I took much longer to figure out how to write it!) She came up with this: " Based on the types of things you have in your repertoire, I think a story that touches on the process of a character finding his/her path in life would be great. I think most of us ask ourselves every now and again, “What is my purpose? Surely, I was meant to do something!” It’d be great to see this question answered by a divine someone in this character’s life. Be it a fairy, goddess, grocery clerk, you name it. Does that make sense? Actually, it would be pretty neat if the person directing people to their “right paths” was someone you’d least expect. Like that grocery store clerk, or perhaps the homeless man you pass by at the corner every week. Or a bus driver."
Elisa hasn't yet seen her story. I have a little editing left to do on it. But it is not quite what she or I probably expected, based on her notes. The thing that I stumbled on was the "purpose in life". I have a hard time with that concept; I don't believe we have a single purpose, a single path that will suit or fulfill or be best for us. But I do believe we get knocked off any good path at times and people, situations, unorchestrated epiphanies can bring us to a new awareness that will help us get onto a path worth following. That is what I ended up writing about in "Posture of the Infinite", which features a woman who remembers countless past incarnations, and is a human for the first time.
Both of these writing projects were challenges for me and I loved that about them. My contact with Rose and Elisa was a great pleasure, too. I wondered if I was biting off more than I could chew by offering these prizes, but I am very glad I took the chance. I hope Rose and Elisa are, too! I regret the long delay in delivering Elisa's story--after my dad's death I lost all feeling for writing for several months--but I'm glad I got to ponder it long enough that I finally came up with something I think is worth giving her.
Prize 1: A story written for You. You choose the genre and the time period. Tell me up to three things about the protagonist (a name, an ability, something she hates or something she likes – it’s up to you) and I will do the rest. Or you can choose a theme - say, art and the paranormal or alien shopping or whatever you’re curious about, and I’ll come up with the character, etc. Or you can leave it all up to me. In any case, tell me a little about yourself and what you like or what is important to you, and I will bear that in mind as I write. The publishing rights remain with me, but the story is dedicated to you and you see it first. I’ll send you a signed printout when it’s done. Heck, if you like I’ll call and read it to you. Plus you will receive a personalized signed copy of Finding Creatures & Other Stories. (Note: writing a story takes time! This won’t come instantly but it’ll get there soon enough.)
Prize 2: A personalized signed copy of Finding Creatures & Other Stories plus a poem in the genre of your choice. Choose one element of the poem and I’ll do the rest. See Prize 1 above for details.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I’ve been quiet on this blog recently. Besides dealing with the death of my dad, a motley of illnesses, and difficult unplanned events, I’ve been thinking. About writing, about self-promotion, about blogging, and primarily about my life. Where I want to focus, how I want to carry on. A change is needed, and though this was evident before Dad died, I was managing okay and planned to finish up the projects I’d chosen to do before making any alterations to my lifestyle. Dad hastened all that along. With the bottoming out of my energy and the going to sleep of my work-related brain, I’ve been forced to do what I was able to more or less ignore before. Rest. Take care of my physical health. Lower the stress in my life. And ask myself what my priorities really are, because clearly, there isn’t enough of me to do the many things I want to do.
“Where I want to focus, how I want to carry on.” This question is different in weight than when I first asked it in my teens. I realized then I had to choose between a flood of interests, that I would benefit from narrowing in on and really exploring just a few of them. Years later, I wanted to focus still more tightly, to become adept at one or two things and let other activities—beloved or unfulfilling—go. Now, with chronic tiredness and pain, and a very slow thought turnover rate, I have to cull as never before. Yet after Finding Creatures & Other Stories* came out, I actually did the opposite. I opened up my sights and welcomed in the world.
Is it 19 months since my book came out? Something like that. With that event I no longer settled down to ponder stories and flesh them out. I waded into the world of self-promotion and social networking, and I began working on other people’s writing projects more. It was a lot of work, often fun, and I learned a great deal. I even got a few stories written and some of them published. I wrote the second draft of a novel I’d written the year before. All good. But all very wearing, as well, and instead of waking up and wondering what writing I’d do that day, I woke up wondering if I’d ever have time AND energy to write again. Not a good thing.
Writing is nothing new, and it’s not the only thing in my life that matters. But it is the lens through which I revisit and interpret and re-experience life, the way I return with heightened senses to matters that fly too quickly by, to realize and appreciate them deeply. You could say it's my meditation, or part of it—you could call it my prayer. When I'm worried about who I'm keeping waiting or whether I'm making sales or how to keep my profile up, when I'm digging in to help other people lift their careers and am investing too much time in that, I don't come back to that still place where I remember why I chose writing over singing and art, why I chose it over science and religion and all my early loves.
The nearest thing I can compare writing to is staring. Being a kid, and a young adult, with nothing I had to do and lots of time to do it, I would stare close up at a spider web, a slick of machine oil on dusty water, crumbs of cement, shadow on tile. I would notice precisely the air touching my skin. Would stare at an idea, a book, an animal, a friend. Stilling to wait for the next breath of an insect, the next turn of a leaf, I found something far more profound than I could guess at when headlong. In not rushing by, I was discovering some part of them, and in discovering, bringing them into myself.
When I write, I touch these things once more, bring them out of me again, hold them up, meld them with other ideas, beings, sensations, questionings, and offer them to the page, where with luck another person will pause some time, read, and see still more than I have seen.
It isn’t about producing something, but about making contact with what already is, with noticing and perhaps celebrating it; at the very least, whispering it aloud.
Last week for the first time in months I was able to start and complete a piece of creative writing. I had to give up the thought of writing a story I owe someone, or working on the novel, or any other such constructive thing. Instead, I just wrote like I used to, letting the words and images that needed to come, come, and welcoming them. Not surprisingly, it’s a three page observation of dying and death. It made me cry. It made several other people cry, too. And talk. And smile. Those are very great rewards.**
The last 19 months of producing and promoting have changed my life, and they have changed the way I write. Although the output has slowed, my writing has deepened, or at least my sense of things has done. Doors have opened in my mind and heart, I have greater expertise in bookish things, and my appreciation of my own and other people’s limits has sharpened accordingly.
But it isn’t the life for me. I would love to support all the inspired people I find around me, and to learn well the skills of layout, cover design, and editing. I’d love to hang out online regularly with all sorts of writers and readers, share ideas and promote our work. But what I need is a quiet life where I am rested and cared for enough that I end up moved and inspired to write a little, now and then, rather than dragging myself from commitment to commitment with the guilty feeling that I’m just not doing this right. That someone with more energy than I have should be taking these things on.
I’ve never, luckily, been interested in being famous. The idea scares the bejeezus out of me, actually. I’m unlikely ever to write anything that hits big in the popular canon, and I’m unlikely to fill a bookcase with publications before I die. But I can let writing be the essence that makes the details of life weave together for a moment, now and then, into a pattern I can recognize and delight in and not forget. I can let writing be an oar, not a compass. An awareness, a sensation, instead of a statement, a summing up, a pressing on. Something to rest in, in other words, rather than something to grapple with. And if my writing can offer the same for a reader, well—wonderful. I couldn’t ask any more.
* Finding Creatures & Other Stories, by C. June Wolf.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I'm happy to report that my story "The Corpse Pose" has been accepted for Room Magazine's Women and Spirituality issue, coming out in December 2010.
"The Corpse Pose" is the first thing I have completed since my dad's death in December. I tried to write about something else but, as you might guess from the title, death is still very much on my mind. I'm happy to say that the story is getting wonderful reactions. One reader said, "You've written about death, but you've given us life." I'm grateful for this kind of response.
The submission details are below for those who are interested. I know there is not a lot of fiction coming in, so if you have something, fire away.
Room Magazine's Call for Submissions on Women and Spirituality
Room's 2010 December issue (33.4) will examine Women and Spirituality. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines "spiritual" as "...relating to the human spirit or soul; not of physical things." How do you define it? We're looking for writing that transcends the material realm and explores what lies beneath, beyond, and above. Send us your best original, unpublished fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. We are also looking for suitable artwork and illustrations. For submission guidelines, click here. Submit to the attention of Clélie Rich by June 30, 2010.
Monday, April 05, 2010
Okay. You are getting the idea that I think TED is great. A rich store of short films offering ideas, inspiration, observation--wonderful! Here is a talk by Shekhar Kapur on the creation of stories.
Where does creative inspiration spring from? At TEDIndia, Hollywood/Bollywood director Shekhar Kapur ("Elizabeth," "Mr. India") pinpoints his source of creativity: sheer, utter panic. He shares a powerful way to unleash your inner storyteller.
'...When I go out to direct a film, every day we prepare too much, we think too much. Knowledge becomes a weight upon wisdom. You know, simple words lost in the quicksand of experience. So I come up, and I say, "What am I going to do today?" I'm not going to do what I planned to do, and I put myself into absolute panic. It's my one way of getting rid of my mind, getting rid of this mind that says, "Hey, you know what you're doing. You know exactly what you're doing. You're a director, you've done it for years." So I've got to get there and be in complete panic. So it's a symbolic gesture. I tear up the script. I go on [unclear]. I panic myself. I get scared. I'm doing it right now. You can watch me. I'm getting nervous. I don't know what to say. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't want to go there.
And as I go there, of course, my AD says, "You know what you're going to do, sir." I say, "Of course, I do..."'
"He was completely and utterly unusual, and deeply unafraid."
Cate Blanchett, in Time
Friday, April 02, 2010
What storytelling can be.
"...the theme of Lobo's career: breaking down stereotypes while reframing the landscape.
"Since 2001, Lobo has been taking haunting stills of everything from Yakuza tattoos and the illegal organ trade to the Indian middle class. He's worked as a field producer on many nature-oriented shows for National Geographic and founded Mad Monitor Productions, a production company based in Bangalore and Washington, D.C. There's no scientific, economic or sociopolitical boundary Lobo isn't willing to cross. His intense fieldwork continues to illuminate his traveling (you can read about his journeys and see photographs on his blog) and a forthcoming book project."
The transcript (which on TED Talks is interactive: click the words in the transcript and it starts the video at that spot. Is that cool or what?):
My name is Ryan Lobo, and I've been involved in the documentary filmmaking business all over the world for the last 10 years. During the process of making these films I found myself taking photographs, often much to the annoyance of the video cameramen.
I found this photography of mine almost compulsive. And at the end of a shoot, I would sometimes feel that I had photographs that told a better story than a sometimes-sensational documentary. I felt, when I had my photographs, that I was holding on to something true, regardless of agendas or politics. In 2007 I traveled to three war zones. I traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and Liberia. And over there I experienced other people's suffering, up close and personal, immersed myself in some rather intense and emotional stories, and at times I experienced great fear for my own life.
As always, I would return to Bangalore, and often to animated discussions at friend's homes, where we would discuss various issues while they complained bitterly about new pub timings, where a drink often cost more than what they'd paid their 14 year old maid. I would feel very isolated during these discussions. But at the same time, I questioned myself and my own integrity and purpose in storytelling. And I decided that I had compromised, just like my friends in those discussions, where we told stories in contexts we made excuses for, rather than taking responsibility for.
I won't go into details about what led to a decision I made, but let's just say it involved alcohol, cigarettes, other substances and a woman. (Laughter) I basically decided that it was I, not the camera or the network, or anything that lay outside myself, that was the only instrument in storytelling truly worth tuning. In my life, when I tried to achieve things like success or recognition, they eluded me. Paradoxically, when I let go of these objectives, and worked from a place of compassion and purpose, looking for excellence, rather than the results of it, everything arrived on its own, including fulfillment.
Photography transcended culture, including my own. And it is, for me, a language which expressed the intangible, and gives voice to people and stories without. I invite you into three recent stories of mine, which are about this way of looking, if you will, which I believe exemplify the tenets of what I like to call compassion in storytelling.
In 2007 I went to Liberia, where a group of my friends and I did an independent, self-funded film, still in progress, on a very legendary and brutal war-lord named General Butt Naked. His real name is Joshua, and he's pictured here in a cell, where he once used to torture and murder people, including children. Joshua claims to have personally killed more than 10,000 people during Liberia's civil war. He got his name from fighting stark naked. And he is probably the most prolific mass murderer alive on Earth today.
This woman witnessed the General murdering her brother. Joshua commanded his child-soldiers to commit unspeakable crimes, and enforced his command with great brutality. Today many of these children are addicted to drugs like heroin, and they are destitute, like these young men in the image. How do you live with yourself if you know you've committed horrific crimes? Today the General is a baptized Christian evangelist. And he's on a mission.
We accompanied Joshua, as he walked the Earth, visiting villages where he had once killed and raped. He seeked forgiveness, and he claims to endeavor to improve the lives of his child-soldiers. During this expedition I expected him to be killed outright, and us as well. But what I saw opened my eyes to an idea of forgiveness which I never thought possible. In the midst of incredible poverty and loss, people who had nothing absolved a man who had taken everything from them. He begs for forgiveness, and receives it from the same woman whose brother he murdered. Senegalese, the young man seated on the wheelchair here, was once a child soldier, under the General's command, until he disobeyed orders, and the General shot off both his legs. He forgives the General in this image. He risked his life as he walked up to people whose families he'd murdered.
In this photograph a hostile crowd in a slum surrounds him. And Joshua remains silent as they vented their rage against him. This image, to me, is almost like from a Shakespearean play, with a man, surrounded by various influences, desperate to hold on to something true within himself, in a context of great suffering that he has created himself.
I was intensely moved during all this. But the question is, does forgiveness and redemption replace justice? Joshua, in his own words, says that he does not mind standing trial for his crimes, and speaks about them from soapboxes across Monrovia, to an audience that often includes his victims. A very unlikely spokesperson for the idea of separation of church and state.
The second story I'm going to tell you about is about a group of very special fighting women with rather unique peace-keeping skills. Liberia has been devastated by one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars, which has left more than 200,000 people dead, thousands of women scarred by rape and crime on a spectacular scale. Liberia is now home to an all-woman United Nations contingent of Indian peacekeepers.
These women, many from small towns in India, help keep the peace, far away from home and family. They use negotiation and tolerance more often than an armed response. The commander told me that a woman could gauge a potentially violent situation much better than men. And that they were definitely capable of diffusing it non-aggressively. This man was very drunk, and he was very interested in my camera, until he noticed the women, who handled him with smiles, and AK-47s at the ready, of course. (Laughter)
This contingent seems to be quite lucky, and it has not sustained any casualties, even though dozens of peacekeepers have been killed in Liberia. And yes, all of those people killed were male. Many of the women are married with children, and they say the hardest part of their deployment was being kept away from their children.
I accompanied these women on their patrols, and watched as they walked past men, many who passed very lewd comments incessantly. And when I asked one of the women about the shock and awe response, she said, "Don't worry, same thing back home. We know how to deal with these fellows," and ignored them.
In a country ravaged by violence against women, Indian peacekeepers have inspired many local women to join the police force. Sometimes, when the war is over and all the film crews have left, the most inspiring stories are the ones that float just beneath the radar. I came back to India and nobody was interested in buying the story. And one editor told me that she wasn't interested in doing what she called "manual labor stories."
In 2007 and 2009 I did stories on the Delhi Fire Service, the DFS, which, during the summer, is probably the world's most active fire department. They answer more than 5,000 calls in just two months. And all this against incredible logistical odds, like heat and traffic jams. Something amazing happened during this shoot. Due to a traffic jam, we were late in getting to a slum, a large slum, which had caught fire. As we neared, angry crowds attacked our trucks and stoned them, by hundreds of people all over the place. These men were terrified, as the mob attacked our vehicle.
But nonetheless, despite the hostility, firefighters left the vehicle and successfully fought the fire. Running the gauntlet through hostile crowds, and some wearing motorbike helmets to prevent injury. Some of the local people forcibly took away the hoses from the firemen to put out the fire in their homes. Now, hundreds of homes were destroyed. But the question that lingered in my mind was, what causes people to destroy fire trucks headed to their own homes? Where does such rage come from? And how are we responsible for this? 45 percent of the 14 million people who live in Delhi live in unauthorized slums, which are chronically overcrowded. They lack even the most basic amenities. And this is something that is common to all our big cities.
Back to the DFS. A huge chemical depot caught fire, thousands of drums filled with petrochemicals were blazing away and exploding all around us. The heat was so intense, that hoses were used to cool down firefighters fighting extremely close to the fire, and with no protective clothing. In India we often love to complain about our government bodies. But over here, the heads of the DFS, Mister R.C. Sharman, Mister A.K. Sharman, lead the firefight with their men. Something wonderful in a country where manual labor is often looked down upon. (Applause)
Over the years, my faith in the power of storytelling has been tested. And I've had very serious doubt about its efficacy, and my own faith in humanity. However, a film we shot still airs on the National Geographic channel. And when it airs I get calls from all the guys I was with and they tell me that they receive hundreds of calls congratulating them. Some of the firemen told me that they were also inspired to do better because they were so pleased to get thank-yous rather than brick bats.
It seems that this story helped change perceptions about the DFS, at least in the minds of an audience in part on televisions, read magazines and whose huts aren't on fire. Sometimes, focusing on what's heroic, beautiful and dignified, regardless of the context, can help magnify these intangibles three ways, in the protagonist of the story, in the audience, and also in the storyteller. And that's the power of storytelling. Focus on what's dignified, courageous and beautiful, and it grows. Thank you. (Applause)
Friday, March 19, 2010
Gody, in La Vale, Haiti, sent me this video link: "Haïti, retour au pays dévasté". Temps Present: Magazine de Reportage presents footage and French language discussion of the current situation in Port au Prince.
For those of you with Facebook accounts, you can view Gody's slide show of the situation in La Vale at this link: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1321332146295&ref=mf
A film showing La Vale de Jacmel before the quake. Focus is on the people's credit union. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2hoPY30ul4
TIME Magazine looks at the cultural inheritance of the larger center, Jacmel itself, and efforts to save it. http://youtu.be/p2hoPY30ul4
Carla in Port au Prince sends this update: