Classes I have researched this summer:

  • Bird identification
  • Sailing
  • Golfing
  • Flower arrangement
  • Gardening
  • Tennis

Researching these classes brought up so many questions. What led me to be curious about some of them? For instance, I have never been interested in golf in any way, shape or form. What made me think of it? And what is the true cost of pursuing these activities after the initial lessons? Sailing lessons were much more expensive than I’d anticipated, but I imagine golf comes with a hefty list of supplies for later on. And does one golf alone? Would I have to make separate golfing friends?

Sometimes I feel the process of research is more fun than the actual results.

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Whenever summer rolls around, I start to crave a visit to Port Dover. About an hour’s drive from me on the shore of Lake Erie, it’s been a favourite day trip destination for several years. I even named one of my blogs after that particular coastline when I was homesick in Calgary – and I wasn’t the only one to have that idea. The name is also used for an “adult lifestyle community” that was built in the area recently.

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It was cloudy when my husband and I went, but still hot enough to attract crowds, some opting to swim, some to fish for perch off the pier, others to sail around. I wished I could be doing the latter – I’ll never understand why I love being around and on the water so much when I can’t swim and am afraid to ever learn.

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Instead, we got our customary lunch – poutine and a cheeseburger – from the usual place, instead of the seemingly more popular Arbor, below.

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Here’s how the pier looked on my first visit, a rainy April day nine years ago:

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Much as I’ll always prefer to visit a lake when it’s a little cold and rainy, there’s just something deeply satisfying and right about the combination of humidity, French fries, and boats.

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A friend of mine told me that Macondo Books in Guelph was going out of business, and were having a sale this weekend. I went, not just for the sale, but to say goodbye.

Maybe that sounds corny, but it’s true. I always found at least one great book every time I went there, and the environment itself was welcoming. It never smelled musty, it was bright, and there were books stacked on every possible surface, as proven in this photo I took in 2011:

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I bought a few books, lingering in the store longer than was probably necessary, and then my husband and I walked around downtown on our way to lunch.

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Two high school friends of mine went to university here, and during that time I made several weekend trips to visit them, both on-campus and off. Then I moved to Calgary, and my visits to town became nostalgic. One of those friends took me there a few years after graduation, and we walked around the university’s campus, noting all the things that had changed.

I don’t get to Guelph as often as I probably should, but I always have some sort of emotional response when I do. Usually it’s the aforementioned nostalgia, but sometimes I start to think about the educational path I took, about how I only ever viewed university life as an outsider. I’m happy with the way my life turned out, but my relationship with traditional education has always been complicated and knotty, and I think it always will be. But I’m getting too old for wistful what-ifs now, and in fact I’m starting to find them annoying. So while I’ll never believe the closing of an independent bookstore can be a good thing, to me it felt symbolic to visit Macondo for the final time.

For lunch, my husband and I went to a restaurant I’d never been to before. The diner my friends and I always went to for breakfast was closed for renovations. Some of my old familiar landmarks were gone or changed. I discovered a bookstore that wasn’t there last time I visited. Maybe there’s a little symbolism in those things, too. Symbolism all over the place! I would be a terrible writer if I didn’t go looking for it, right?

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What was going on with your writing then?

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At the time, people weren’t talking about books. They were talking about TV plays, fringe theater, cinema, rock music. Then I read Jerusalem the Golden by Margaret Drabble. By this time I’d begun reading the big nineteenth-century novels, so it came as an absolute revelation to me that the same techniques could be applied to tell a story of modern life. You didn’t have to write about Raskolnikov murdering an old lady, or the Napoleonic Wars. You could just write a novel about hanging around. I attempted to write a novel at that time, but I didn’t get far. It was pretty bad. I have it upstairs. It was about these young students drifting around England one summer. Conversations in pubs, girlfriends and boyfriends.

When I read Never Let Me Go last fall, I was also realizing just how strongly I connected with Margaret Drabble’s work. Last year, I found this interview with Kazuo Ishiguro in the Paris Review and it was, as I wrote at the time, “like a love letter straight into my brain.” The revelation he describes is the sort of feeling I was trying to express with my answer to the second question in my last entry.

 

Kali, who writes one of my favourite blogs ever, nominated me to answer some questions about writing. I’ve read other writers’ answers to these questions and enjoyed discovering new perspectives and philosophies about writing, and reading about everyone’s projects.

I can’t promise my own answers to these four questions will be as interesting, but I’ll give it a shot!

What am I working on?

At any time, you can ask me this and my answer will probably be, “Two or three short stories.” They probably won’t be the same two or three short stories every time you ask, but I do seem to always be juggling a few.

I’m not one of those writers who has a huge cache of work, much as I wish I could be. To me, my stories can be quite temporary, and the one I’ll love this year can seem silly and wrong in two years. Still, I do try as much as I can to develop and nurture the two or three I’m working on at any given time. I like to think that my frequent bouts of “Argh, I hate all of this, I’m starting over” are down to me simply being in a growth phase as a writer, and soon I will be able to stand behind something I wrote years ago, but we’ll see.

In 2012, I saw Paul Auster read and be interviewed at the International Festival of Authors. In that interview, he said, “It’s impossible to describe how much I dislike my own work.” I felt comforted by that.

How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?

I used to think my writing was old-fashioned, too wordy, too many commas. It felt like literary magazines were full of experimental writing or snappy, plot-driven stories with twists and lots of dialogue. But lately I’ve started to notice that other writers write in the same way I do – both emerging writers and established ones – so I suppose I can say my writing doesn’t really differ too much from others in its genre anymore.

That said, I do write long so it’s hard to find literary magazines to submit to. Many of my favourites accept stories of up to 4,000 or 5,000 words. I can’t even imagine writing a short story that short anymore!

Why do I write what I do?

I wrote a novel once. It wasn’t for me. I can’t remember when I settled into the short story as a form (I started out writing poetry), but it suits me very well. I love to read novels, but as a writer I want to focus one one or two themes and a very small cast of characters. Though I do write short stories on the longer side, they are still short stories, and I like working within those constraints.

As for blogging, I suppose it’s habit! I’ve been doing it since I was 17, and I’m 34 now. Though the world of blogging today is often frustrating, I can’t really imagine my life without some from of written expression online.

How does my writing process work?

It usually starts with a setting, or a theme. For example, in 2010 my husband and I were stranded in England when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted. Not only did that event seem huge on its own, but it also magnified other, more ordinary things. Watching the news, buying food, spending a day out – these things became more complicated. For me it was a perfect foundation for a story, even if the ash cloud itself was always in the background.

I also often begin with general ideas I want to explore, and a sense of who the people are who will help me to explore it. I rarely have a strong idea of plot. I’m more interested in letting the characters observe themselves, the people around them, what changes are happening and why. These days, I tend to write a lot about memory/memories, personal histories, navigating a space as an “other,” and the way relationships change without people noticing. When I’ve been thinking of something it comes out in my writing over and over, whether I plan it to or not.

Thank you to Kali for inviting me to answer these questions – it was fun! I’d love to read anyone’s answers to these questions, but I nominate Jane, Leesa and Lindsey.