Walking and writing

I think that human tenacity inspires me. Our bounce back-ability, you know? That we can recover from so many things. And I think something else that inspires me is that we really have everything in us that we already need. Who we are is already inside of us, is already there, and it’s just a question of unearthing it. So, when I write stories, novels, I think they are about people unearthing themselves.

A little while ago, I thought it might be interesting to do an occasional series on womxn creatives. The focus is to interrogate womxn’s writing processes and to generate a space for all writers to investigate and reflect on their writing practices.

I’m beginning my series with the talented and amazing Gwen Tuinman (https://gwentuinman.com/). Gwen Tuinman is a novelist, short story writer and poet. Fascinated by yesteryear and the landscape of human tenacity, she fashions troubled characters shaped by nature, nurture and circumstance. Gwen is also creator of The Wild Nellies (https://thewildnellies.com/), womxn’s creativity collective and co-creator of Poetry and Spoken Word Quarterly Readings and Performances. Born and raised in rural southern Ontario, she currently resides in Whitby, Ontario.

My interview with Gwen was conducted in Whitby on May 24, 2019. It has been edited for length.

RS: You are a writer, community organizer, event planner. You run the Poetry and Spoken Word Collective, the Wild Nellies – how do you juggle all of it?

GT: I’ve gone through waves… I try to meditate in the morning just to still my mind, and to state an intention and the intention that I state pretty much every day is that I will focus on the task I’m doing to the best of my ability. My friend, Ellen Wong is a Happiness Expert, and she recently printed something on her blog that mindfulness is focusing awareness on what you’re doing at the time. I try to be more purposeful about that, so that when something from another project is creeping into my mind, I’ll say: “not now” or I’ll just jot it down, put it on a sticky note, tack it up somewhere, and I’ll get back to it later. I’ve also found that it’s easy for the business side of things to creep into my art, but my art is at the core of everything, so I need to really protect that.

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Sometimes I do feel a little bit swamped, but then I find also that the things I will naturally eliminate from my schedule, like taking time to go for a walk, or going to the gym are very easily swept aside. When that happens, I feel everything crowding in on me. But when I make time for those things, it does something to me mentally and physically, and I find I’m more able to continue on with the task at hand.

RS: How important do you think it is to contribute to the community? How does it affect your own work as a writer?

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GT: I think it is important because the statements and observations that people in the arts make through their work need to be shared with the community. I think people can sometimes see themselves reflected back in what they hear in a poem, or see in a piece of art, or in a piece of music or what have you, and then we see that commonness of the human experience. It’s so easy now to be isolated with our technology and our busyness, and our long commutes, so to be able to share that, to be in a community, and to be able to share those connections through art I think is necessary.

Through the work that I’m doing, I’m meeting so many extraordinary people. They encourage and inspire me to think bigger, on a bigger scale in terms of projects, and I find that really exciting. I’m also really inspired by other creative people’s process, and usually when people talk about that, there comes with it a story, and so, hearing those stories opens my heart, and it shows me different ways that I can conjure a world in my writing, whether I see it done through poetry, or through a sculpture or through painting.

RS: You do a lot of work for womxn – the Wild Nellies for instance is all about encouraging and supporting and engaging with womxn creatives. How important is it for you to engage with other womxn creatives? Why do you think it’s necessary for womxn to have these kinds of spaces?

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GT: When I first had the idea for the Wild Nellies, I just thought it would be really neat for womxn to get together and then I had conversations with a couple of other womxn creatives who are close to me, and tossed some ideas around. We started developing this idea of having groups of womxn who would perform together, and then the idea that came to me was that we should diversify, not only in terms of the types of art that the womxn create, but also to diversify in terms of culture, age, and so on.

I remember reading Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, and the thing that I most strongly remember about that book is that I was so smitten with the notion that the womxn gathered, and they entertained and told stories to each other, and they cooked for each other and it was a time just for them. And they cared for each other, and I think that truth be told, the idea for the Wild Nellies is kind of like my “red tent”. I shouldn’t say “my”, because I’m not possessive of the space. It’s a metaphoric red tent open to any womxn (and nonbinary) creatives.

I think when it’s a group of womxn, we communicate, and we share our stories more freely, and it feels like a safer space in some way. There’s no deferring to men, and we’re like a big circle, you know? I really like that and the feedback from other womxn is that they enjoy that aspect too.

I also think that as artists, our work reflects humanity, so we need to be among people, many people from different walks of life. If we don’t connect with our community, interact socially and creatively among people, our view of the world is much restricted. We need to escape the garret and live.

RS: I want to ask about your writing process. What do you find works for you?

GT: I’ve been thinking a lot of the “why” of my writing, you know, trying to figure that out, and when I simmer down everything that I write, I think, whether it’s poetry, short stories, or the novel work, I’m writing about characters, particularly womxn, who are navigating the social restrictions of their era.

The first novel I wrote, I was very proud of saying it was “organic”, which I think is just a “hip” way of saying I was pantsing it! (laughter) I knew my characters like the back of my hand, I knew what was going to happen, I knew how it was going to end, but I didn’t have a really tight plan. I just wrote as I went along. On the second novel, I did in fact draft a written plan, so I knew, not necessarily chapter to chapter, but I knew the plot more precisely, and I had drafted out the events that would unfold, and I’ve been sticking to that. The characters do throw surprising zingers sometimes, so overall, I really have to remain flexible.

I do write the novel for the first half of every day. I find it really hard to take a break from writing. As a matter of fact, I feel really agitated if I take a day or two off from writing. I feel really antsy. It’s kind of like that feeling that you have when you’ve made a list, and you know that there’s one thing from a list that you forgot, and it eats at you. That’s kind of how I feel.

I also walk around my neighbourhood with a tape recorder at the end of the day, and I record my thoughts as I go. I’ll say, “Oh, I think my character would do something like this, but wait a minute, what if…” You know, that kind of thing. So I talk it out. I rarely go back and listen to that tape recorder, but I’ve said it, and it’s on there. I find it helps me a lot to talk that through.

RS: What inspires you?

GT: I think that human tenacity inspires me. Our bounce back-ability, you know? That we can recover from so many things. And I think something else that inspires me is that we really have everything in us that we already need. Who we are is already inside of us, is already there, and it’s just a question of unearthing it. So, when I write stories, novels, I think they are about people unearthing themselves.

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I’m writing pieces about empowerment for womxn, but really about a woman empowering herself, and believing in herself. Coming back to that place where she believed in herself, before all this “stuff” happened, just having that attitude, really having that belief that the universe is going to deliver, you know? Just keep doing your thing. It’s like the thing that you need, or the person or people you need, they’re coming towards you. You can’t see them right now, but they’re coming, and you’re drawing them towards you, so just keep on keeping on. I find that notion inspires me.

RS: Whose work (which writer) inspires you the most?

GT: Richard Wagamese, particularly Medicine Walk, and I really appreciate Joseph Boyden. I’ve really enjoyed some Louise Erdrich and Margaret Atwood as well.

Where’s your voice?

When I was young, I used to take singing lessons. I had a romantic dream of singing in musicals, especially ones like West Side Story. In my fantasies, I would, of course, play the role of Maria, the star-crossed teenager, styled after Shakespeare’s Juliet. If I couldn’t be Maria in West Side Story, I would have accepted my close second fantasy, and play the role of Maria in The Sound of Music. (Yes, perhaps it was only a fascination with characters named Maria.) Although my voice lessons progressed well and I participated in many local Kiwanis musical competitions, and sang in choirs well into my university years, I wasn’t gifted with an exceptional voice that would lead to a career as a vocal star. Continue reading “Where’s your voice?”

Are you renovating your writing?

Clouds move swiftly across a gorgeous blue sky on this winter morning as I sit at my computer. It’s a distraction from the noise going on all around me – contractors doing all manner of work in the process of making major renovations to my home. It’s the first time I’ve had work like this done, so I am new to the disruptions, changes, and general chaos of living out of boxes, and living with boxes. In fact, there are boxes everywhere: in the living room, in the bedrooms, even in the bathroom.

 

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It’s also a process that, for the moment, is painful (mostly because my ears are struggling to withstand the assault of all the banging, drilling, and hammering). But it’s useful to think about renovations because they are so similar to the editing and revision process of writing.

I’ve read somewhere that when editing, writers should “murder their darlings”. All the beautiful lines, elegant phrases we constructed, or that came to us as if through some magic genii are often the very ones that we have to sacrifice in order for our piece to make sense.

For instance, in order to prep our house for the renovations, we had to get rid of things we once valued. Some of those things were easy to dispose of, but some of them were a little more challenging, and required a bit of a KonMari approach.

Of course, with writing, we don’t really have to throw everything out. We can save those “darlings” for another piece, another time. But for the short term, we have to move them out of the way so that the writing can take the shape it needs to – so that the writing can breathe.

I know that the renovations in my home won’t last forever. Eventually the work will be completed, the contractors will leave, and the modifications will allow us to have greater flexibility in our lives. In other words, we’ll be able to live and breathe in our home, in a way we couldn’t before.

As I struggle to work on my writing during this renovation process, I think I’ll turn to editing some work that needs sharpening. And yes, I’m prepared to sacrifice some of my “darlings”. What will you renovate?

Community

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While I was growing up and imagining my future life as a writer, I had the image, like many people, of the lone writer in her garret. I imagined myself up in a large room at the top of a house, papers everywhere. The room would be cold, so I would have to wrap myself up in a blanket, and there would probably be dried-out cups of tea and coffee all around — the warm fuel both for my body and my writing. No doubt this imagined writer’s garret came to me from movies and stories I’d read about famous people like Marie Curie and Beethoven, studying and working alone in their rooms, producing works of sheer genius.

Yet in the midst of all my imagined hardship as a future writer, I saw myself as happy in that space. I would be happy because I was alone, doing what I loved to do best: write.

Now that I’m carving a landscape out for myself as a poet and a writer, I realize how adorably romantic, naïve, and laughable my younger self’s image of the writing life actually was. Writing is obviously a solitary act, but one of the most wonderful things about being a writer is finding a community of like-minded people.

Being part of a writing community — whether in a casual setting in someone’s home, or as part of a more organized group that meets monthly — is a writer’s lifeline. Sharing work with other writers, hearing different perspectives, or discussing the strengths and weaknesses of a given writing practice all work to inspire, support, encourage, and better our abilities and lives as writers.

I’m fortunate that I have a number of writers in my life with whom I can share my work, writing issues, and the like. Being part of several writing communities has inspired me to write in new ways, and to take risks I might not otherwise have. And I love that I can discuss my writing process with others who share in the writing life. What a far cry from the image of a writer I had developed for myself as a youth!

So, as we continue to move through the holiday season, I’m thinking about community, and what a gift it is to be part of one. If you haven’t already become part of a writing community, there are several out there (see list at the end of this post. Several of these sites have lists of their own). And to my fellow writers and poets within the communities I’m a part of, many thanks for another great year, and best wishes for a fabulous and productive 2019!

Writing communities:

The Ontario Poetry Society   http://www.theontariopoetrysociety.ca/

Writers’ Community of York Region  https://wcyork.ca/

Writers’ Community of Durham https://wcdr.ca/wcdr/

Writers’ Community of Simcoe  https://www.facebook.com/simcoewriters/

Brooklin Poetry Society  https://brooklinpoetrysociety.com

 

 

 

Patience

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The other day, I picked up the second volume of Marcel Proust’s, In search of lost time. It is probably my third attempt to read Within a Budding Grove. My previous forays were failures because I didn’t have the time, or couldn’t feel connected to the volume somehow, or, or…. well, something always seemed to get in the way. I didn’t have this problem about ten years ago when I read Swann’s Way, the first volume in the magnum opus. In fact, I was so enamoured with the volume, I couldn’t put it down, couldn’t detach from it at all. I lived and breathed it.

So, years after my initial failed attempts at reading volume two,  I decided it was about time I return to Proust, to À la recherche du temps perdu, to patience.

Patience means slowing down and waiting. It means letting the words of a novel or poem sink into your consciousness. It’s a process of immersion, of allowing the story to direct you where it wants to go, where it wants to take you. And in this day and age, part of that process means letting go – of the cellphone, the TV, the dog barking in the distance — of all the distractions that keep us from engaging with the words on the page, and with our thoughts. Immersing ourselves in a book means observing how its words wash over us, how the reading process unfolds over time, for as long as it takes for us to feel immersed.

And that process requires patience.

Like reading, our writing too, requires patience. We must be patient with ourselves as we work out the tangles of our manuscripts and writing projects, especially against the backdrop of our very busy lives. The late Louise De Salvo wrote about the importance of taking our time, of having patience with ourselves as writers in her book, The Art of Slow Writing. De Salvo pointed out that many writers have taken years to produce works of art, and that time gives us distance and perspective on our work.

I was saddened to read about Dr. De Salvo’s passing this October 31st, but perhaps it’s no accident that I reference her work while writing here about patience. And perhaps it’s also no accident that, as a reader, the book I’ve chosen to return to, and the book that requires me to have patience, is Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

As I proceed through the remainder of November and my journey to recapture lost reading (if not lost time), I’ll reflect on the importance of patience, both as a reader and as a writer. I wonder if you will too?

Architecture

I’ve been thinking about architecture lately.  Maybe it’s because I read my poem, “Ex-house” recently at the launch of The Banister (Niagara Poetry Anthology). It’s a poem that uses architectural metaphors to explore the breakdown of a relationship.  For instance, the poem’s first line begins with “I am exploring architecture”. This line sets the tone and image for what follows so that lines like: “I am carving to see daylight” take on symbolic meaning within the context of the poem’s dominant image and theme.

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But I’m thinking of (or exploring) architecture differently here — not in the ways we tear down existing structures, and wander painfully through the ruins of past relationships or events — but in the ways that we structure our lives, especially our writing lives.

As writers, we are constantly building fictional worlds, or attempting to assemble in meaningful ways the truths of our actual, lived worlds. As builders of these imagined or actual worlds, how do we assemble our structures? What kinds of practices do we use to scaffold the work so that our poems, stories, novels don’t fall apart? What are the elements that keep our selves and our work glued together so that the frame doesn’t lean, the bricks adhere to the mortar, and eventually, our building will stand independently?

We each have our own way of dealing with these kinds of questions, and this includes the way we structure our writing time. How do we organize our lives so that writing becomes a routine, daily practice? Are we 5am writers? Or part of the late-night writing club? And what effect do these writing practices, these writing scaffolds have on our lives, our personal relationships, our families?

I’ve been asking myself these questions as I’ve been struggling to juggle work, family, a new relationship, running a poetry organization, oh, and maintaining my own writing practice and focus. And at least for me, the answer so far has been architecture. If I build a reliable, functional, and well-organized structure with excellent foundations, then I know the other parts of my building will stand. And part of this building relies on the various communities of writers I am so privileged to be a part of, and that have been such a support.

So, although my poem has been published, I guess I’m still exploring architecture, albeit in new ways. What metaphors will you explore in your work and writing practice?