The Importance of Joy

For those of us who are news junkies, last week was tough (one could argue that news junkies have had it tough for the last two years, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog). I spent way too much time focused on the Ford/ Kavanaugh testimony before the U.S. Senate, and listening to the analysis afterwards. It brought up a host of emotions for me, not the least of which was how difficult, painful and costly it can be to speak your truth, even when others attempt to deny it.

After a while I had to switch off, switch gears, and seek out something lighter. It was a good reminder of how valuable joyful fiction can be during difficult times.

That started me thinking about joy as a whole: where we find it, how we nurture it and why it matters. That led me to this Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee. It’s a fast listen – less than fifteen minutes – and it will make you smile.


Slow Living . . . Slow Writing

The universe has such a sense of humor.

A few weeks ago I started reading The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo. Literally within a day of cracking chapter one, I accepted three rush writing jobs. I used to take on quick turnaround projects fairly often, but it’s been a while since I’ve done it. In this case, two of the jobs were for editors I knew and respected (and I’d written for them before so I understood their needs) and both were on familiar subjects. The third job was a referral from another writer on a subject I knew nothing about, and one completely out of my comfort zone. Deciding that I needed the challenge of stretching myself and learning something new, I took it on too.

Soon after, my world became a frantic, one-note song. As Louise DeSalvo waxed on eloquently and with great passion about the joy, the need and the benefits of slow writing, I wrote faster and faster. My focus became insular, my thoughts revolved around the jobs I had in front of me, the looming deadline, the fact that I couldn’t let these editors down. Write, write, write. Quick, quick, quick. One of the jobs became problematic; another simply took longer than it should have because the subject demanded considerably more word space than I’d been allotted.

As one week stretched into two and my deadline loomed closer, my attention to the outside world – family, friends, Team Sheltie, the garden, even the hour I normally devote to making dinner – faded along with my patience, my serenity, my ability to focus on anything beyond the work. My self-absorption was complete.

I saw it happening. When emails and calls to sources weren’t returned as quickly as I expected (or wanted), my inner toddler began to pout. I pacified her, dug deep and stayed in adult mode but, in truth, I expected the world to speed up right along with me.

There’s a reason for that. As DeSalvo points out in her book, we are a society in ‘hurry up’ mode. We’re conditioned to expect, appreciate and reward speed. Rather than putting a letter or a card in the mail and waiting a week or more for it to arrive, emails can be delivered electronically in a minute or two. Text messages are even faster, pinging their arrival in mere seconds. It’s a far different world than it was before air mail. Back then, overseas mail went by ship and could take weeks, months even, to reach its destination. In the sixteenth century, DeSalvo says it could take years to receive a reply to a letter you sent to Europe.

DeSalvo believes we’ve internalized the idea that the only things worth doing are those things that can be accomplished quickly. Writers, particularly those writing commercial fiction, equate their worth with the speed of their output. In the world of sales, reps are rewarded by how quickly they land the client. World leaders are judged on what they can accomplish not just in their full term, but in their first one hundred days.

Don’t get me wrong, fast isn’t always bad. A delicious stir fry can be made and served in fifteen minutes. A heartfelt apology can be delivered in five. Reading haiku takes mere seconds. So does saying ‘I love you.’

I’ll take on tight deadlines again. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, probably from years spent in radio and TV news where putting together a story for that hourly (or daily) newscast was, well, a rush. But I’m not going to ignore or think less of the writing I do that requires time and attention to come to its full potential. I’m not going to stay in hurry up mode as a matter of routine.

As my sat down to write this blog, Mr. Petrol Head gave me a ‘just because it’s Wednesday’ gift: he came home with a Bluetooth speaker, something I’d lusted after for a while. So I’m writing this to music. So far I haven’t heard a single one-note song. One-note songs apparently aren’t all that common. I’m guessing it’s because playing a one-note song – living a one-note song – means missing out on the beauty of life’s orchestra.

And who would want to miss out on that?

Overheard This Week

140474989A poignant plea caught my ear as I visited Victoria’s new indoor market last week. Two women were bent over a plate of tacos and guacamole with corn chips. One of the women was marshmallow pale and her eyes were bloodshot with fatigue. She sighed, flipped a nubby brown scarf over her shoulder, leaned across the table and said:  ‘Can’t we just talk about shoes?’

No surprise there I guess. Wilma and Betty were big on shoe talk back in the Flintstone era. But this week the plea hit me with the force of a Louboutin to the solar plexus. Sometimes we want to set the serious stuff aside. That woman certainly did. Right now, I do too.

I’ll admit it: I’m drawn to the dark stuff. My books inevitably end up being a mix of light and dark. Life isn’t all sunshine and I don’t think it pays to pretend it is. But these last few weeks the happenings have been grim:  hundreds of thousands of people killed or impacted by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The impact is being felt in my city where many residents are worried sick about loved ones overseas.  On a national scale, the mayor of our largest city has been embroiled in a Molotov cocktail of addiction, out-of-control rage and alleged ties to organized crime with widespread calls for his resignation.   On a personal level, a dear family friend died a couple of days ago and a step aunt is facing her last days too.  Needless to say, the nightly talk around our dinner table has been as heavy as braised short ribs and sweet potato mash, though not nearly as satisfying.

I guess that’s why I found myself repeating the plea from those anonymous women the other night: can’t we just talk about shoes?

Or maybe coffee beans? Okay, maybe not coffee because Teen Freud is sure to point out how child labor and exploitation is rampant in the cultivation of coffee in Colombia and Guatemala. Then how about we talk about the cute new puppy next door and how it falls on its bum every time it walks up the (basically negligible) hill between our houses?  No, Teen Freud, they did not get it from a puppy mill. Yes, Teen Freud, it is a pure bred Bichon Frise; yes, we are aware that there are many abandoned, mistreated and mixed breed dogs in the world.

As a matter of fact, I’m painfully aware of all of it. I read the papers (or those that are left).  I surf the ‘net (too much sometimes).  I talk about it and think about it and live it. We all do.  Our first two dogs were rescues from an abandoned litter.  I’ve witnessed (up close and way too personal) the devastating effects of addiction.  I’ve grieved more than one loss.

We all have. That’s why sometimes we need a few minutes to forget about it. That’s why sometimes we just want to talk about shoes. flowers-shoes-by-scherer-gonsales-spring2009-red



Truth Lies in Fiction . . .

TV reporter1I started my professional life as a journalist, and I loved it. It was challenging and stimulating. I met some cool (and not so cool) people. But from the very beginning, fiction had my heart. I was never content with the ‘who, what and where’ of the reporting world though I never deviated from its rules. I used to think that facts didn’t always tell the real story. I still believe that.

Fiction is capable of telling hidden truths, loving truths, painful truths – the truths that make up our lives. The truths that haunt us or inform us, the ones that make us who we are and sometimes make us who we wish we weren’t.

Recently a plane crashed at the South Pole. Three Canadian men were on board. A helicopter was able to land near the crash site and a search team retrieved the cockpit voice recorder from the back of the plane. Sadly, the front of the plane was buried in snow, ice and rock. That means the bodies of the three men will stay there for months until weather allows for an easier retrieval. The news has provided details about the plane (a de Havilland), the company that owned it (Calgary based) and conditions and life at the South Pole (fascinating). The names of the three men have been mentioned too; there was a shot on the news of a ceremony held in their honor near the crash site.

Those are the facts. But the story – a multi-layered story of larger-than-life characters, of love and loss and horrendous grief that will shadow people for years – was missing.

The news can’t tell the story of the conversation between veteran polar pilot Bob Heath and his wife, Lucy, where he promised her that, after nearly a dozen trips to the Antarctic, this would be his last. Or the sweet details of 25-year-old Mike Denton’s wedding to Carlyn this past September. Or how Perry Anderson was a Rush fan and how he’d crack friends up with his play-by-play of Aussie dart matches.

The news isn’t about personalities, or emotions, or relationships. It doesn’t trade in small details. Not really. But fiction does. Fiction is about the stuff of life  . . . stuff that rarely makes the news. It portrays real life in a way that news can’t. And that’s why I write it. I remain a news junkie; I follow it closely – too closely sometimes. But fiction still has my heart.

For those who want to read about the details and personal lives of the three men lost in the Antarctic crash: