June, on balance

I decided that after an unexpected two-month hiatus from blogging (yes, life!), it’d be worth spending some time meditating on what it means to find balance. How do we, as writers, find time to write when juggling full-time jobs, parenting and family obligations, volunteer work in our communities, and a plethora of other demands on our time that may invade our lives and prevent us from setting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?

In her book, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Julia Cameron talks about “The Time Lie”. She writes that “One of the biggest myths around writing is that in order to do it we must have great swathes of uninterrupted time”. Like Cameron, most of us probably don’t have those great tracts of time available to us. We have to write while trying to make the best of what she calls “a patchwork quilt” of time that is available to us.

For me, part of that patchwork requires discipline, and a belief in the power of writing first thing in the morning. Those of us who prefer this kind of approach may already be part of the #5amwritersclub, which allows us to commiserate on our steely determination (or craziness) as we haul ourselves out of bed to write.

I think a related part of that patchwork is commitment. According to Louise DeSalvo in her book, The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity, writers should have “no excuses”. DeSalvo points to two memoirs she keeps on her shelf: one written by an author in prison (with barely any paper on which to write at all), and the other written secretly by a marine during WWII (even though this was not permitted). DeSalvo uses these memoirs as examples of people writing in extremely difficult circumstances, who were so committed to what they were witnessing and experiencing, that they forced themselves to write, no matter what. As a result, DeSalvo allows herself no excuse when it comes to the work of committing to her own writing, and she urges her readers to do the same.

But what happens when all the discipline you’ve built for yourself goes out the window? What happens when life intervenes so much that somehow both your discipline and your commitment are disrupted?

You start again.

And that is exactly where I find myself now at the start of June. Starting again. So here I am , re-committing to my discipline, to my writing practice, and to blogging. And while life has thrown me a few curve balls the past couple of months, I nevertheless managed to edit a poetry anthology, and am pleased to announce the publication of Written Tenfold (published by the Poetry Friendly Press), which I compiled and edited on behalf of the Brooklin Poetry Society.

So, as I continue to meditate on the art of finding time to write through the beautiful month of June, I don’t pretend to have a slick and easy answer, or a downloadable guide on how to adequately squeeze in all of our commitments and still find time to write. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe there is no one perfect answer for everyone. Maybe we each have to carve out our own paths in order to find balance. How will you carve out yours?


Birds, barbecues, and beginning again…

The birds are at it again. March has barely begun, and the birds (I think they are European starlings) seem to have returned early. And they’ve decided for the third or fourth year in a row that they are going to build a nest in my barbecue.

I’ve looked up this phenomenon online. I am not the only homeowner to experience the birds-building-nest-in-barbecue, and that is a relief, to some small degree. From my online reading, I’ve learned that of course, it makes sense to want to build a nest in a warm and sheltered environment that, especially when said barbecue has only recently been vacated by humans who have grilled something there making it extra toasty and a great place to start a family.

But, equally of course, the whole thing annoys me. I’m terrified of opening the barbecue lid while the birds are busy at work building (has anyone seen Alfred Hitchcock?). So I’m always tentative when I have to clean it out. I’m also disgusted by the thought of whatever bacteria the birds may have left behind on the grill – they don’t seem to differentiate their pooping grounds from their nesting ones. And lastly, I’m reminded by my ten year old child that birds need a place to build a nest, so I am very conscious (and guilty) of the fact that I am somehow interfering in nature’s larger plans.

Yet it is my barbecue, to which I remind my child that if she prefers her hamburgers grilled rather than soggily fried in a pan, I have to address the bird problem. And so I do. And it is at that moment, when I gingerly lift the barbecue lid, that I am amazed by the birds and their ingenuity and tenacity. There are sticks in there, bits of mud, leaves. I can clean out the barbecue, scrub the whole thing down, put it back together, close the lid and call it a day. And then I will find the next day, the birds have simply gone back and done the same thing all over again. Once, they had even rebuilt their nest overnight so that it was larger than the day before.

So what do birds and barbecues have to do with writing? Persistence. In the field of writing, as with so many artistic endeavours, it’s easy to get knocked down by a rejection letter (or several). Our ability to give up on a project because it isn’t working, because we don’t feel “in the right headspace”, or motivated enough to continue can readily take us off our intended course, and lead us to incomplete works, or worse, the loss of the desire to write at all. I think all artistic people go through such phases. Perhaps at times we need to allow ourselves fallow time, to reconnect with ourselves, our inspiration. But at some point, we have to be like the birds. We have to be tenacious. We have to decide for ourselves that, yes, we will not give up.

When I think about those birds in my barbecue, I’m pretty sure they’re not asking themselves if their nest is good enough. They’re not concerned if the nest is the best nest they’ve ever built. They’re just concerned that they get into that protected space and that they build the foundations for their progeny. And when they face adversity from their human foe (in this case, namely me), they don’t give up, and just build and rebuild again. Until, of course, I leave the lid open and make the barbecue a less desirable space for hosting bird nests. But then they just go build somewhere else.

My thoughts for this March blog and the hopeful approach of spring are to be persistent, to rely on one’s own tenacity. These are the skills that allow writing to proceed and to achieve success. And, like the birds, who somehow manage to return from their winter vacation down south with a flight path that leads them directly to my barbecue, it’s persistence and tenacity that will lead a writer’s work to its rightful home. So where will you build your nest?

February asks: why write poetry?

I was asked recently to speak about poetry to a class of students in an elementary school. As a “real”, living and breathing poet, the teacher asked if I could talk to the students about what poetry is like “out there” in the “real world”, and, more especially, to explain why people write poetry. The experience had me thinking about what it means to write poetry. Why do people write it? Why do I write it?

I’m not sure I could ever truly answer the question as to why people write poetry. There may be many reasons for many people. I can only speak for myself then, and my response to these questions links to what is fundamental about humanity. Human beings are creative beings. We are here to express ourselves, in whatever form appeals to us. For some of us, that might be creating the most beautiful and delicious cake. For others, it might be creating a community organization that helps alleviate or address some kind of social problem. Of course, Elizabeth Gilbert discusses this idea in her book, Big Magic, where she talks about each of us finding our own creative outlet, and nurturing that, regardless of whether or not we become professional cake decorators, singers, or writers. I agree that we each have our talents, and that we should nurture them. But from a deeper, more philosophical perspective, what does it mean that we all need to create? And, more to the point, why have I chosen poetry as my form of expression, and self-expression?

Writing poetry is an art. It enables the expression of ideas, emotions, thoughts, and questions. It challenges us. It asks us to stop for a few minutes, and to see the world through another’s eyes, to see things from a different perspective. It is an art form that requires precision. Regardless of the form of poetry, there is little room for error or inattention to detail. That’s because it is so exposed. The words in a poem must fit together, must flow in a way that makes sense, or in a way that opens us up to new emotions, new ideas.

I write poetry because I have to. Poetry is the means through which I express my creativity. It allows me to speak about the world around me, and to shape those thoughts into a wondrous art form that depends on language, my muse. Poetry is also musical, and captures rhythms in the printed or spoken word. And music is also fundamental to human nature. Whether we like rock, hip hop, classical, jazz or blues, we all share in the connection that music provides for us.

So, why write poetry? To engage with life, with art, with humanity. What better reasons could there be?

And so begins 2018…

I’m excited to say that 2018 has begun with the publication of three of my poems! (You’ll find them listed on the publications page.) Thanks to Anne Burke of The Prairie Journal,  http://www.prairiejournal.org/  and Bunny Iskov of Verse Afire,  http://www.theontariopoetrysociety.ca/. )

This looks to be a promising year as I complete the editing of Written Tenfold, an anthology of verse by poets from the Brooklin Poetry Society, https://brooklinpoetrysociety.com/. I`m also busy working on revisions to a novel manuscript, as well as keeping up with my poetry practice. So 2018 has its work cut out for me!

And so, with the best of all New Year’s resolutions, I’m resolving as well to write a monthly blog post.

So here’s to 2018, to new ideas, and new literary adventures!



Acclaim for Renée’s poetry:

Review of “To a poet in old Havana”: “riveting poetic journey … where ‘a cigarette dangles blue words'”, Debbie Okun Hill, Past President, The Ontario Poetry Society

Honourable Mention: “Drift, After Souster’s ‘The Six Quart Basket”, The Banister: Niagara Poetry Anthology, Vol. 31, Niagara Falls, ON: Canadian Authors Association, 2016       Contest judge: Keith Garebian

Honourable Mention: “Pulsing”, Open Heart 10: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry, Compiled by Gail Peck, Toronto: Beret Days Press, 2015.