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K.I. Press on writing • literature • publishing

Tag: writing life

The Final Frontier

What I’m talking about is SPACE.

Somewhere along the way, someone took my space from me. Okay, everyone took my space from me. I didn’t have it for very long, and I miss it so.

I remember as a child, how I longed for my own room. Do kids even share bedrooms these days? It seems like you aren’t middle-class enough if you don’t have more bedrooms than people in your family.

I shared a bedroom with my little sister. The room was one of the many additions my dad had built on to the house. It didn’t have a door. There was a curtain, a home-made one, of course, on a home-made curtain rod, which it seems may have been a broom handle at one time.

It was a big room, but as a girl approaches adolescence, a girl wants her own space. Finally, my parents let me move upstairs, to the cold, cold upstairs, with an electric blanket. The two rooms up there had been vacated by my older sisters some years before, and were just full of storage. We piled all the junk into one room, and I got the other.

It was heaven. Even with the shivering, the mice, and, in summer, the 3:00 a.m. birds singing in the tree right outside the window. I stayed up late doing awesome school projects with popsicle sticks, taping songs off the weekend hit countdown on the radio, and worrying about adolescent stuff in private. Sometimes I stayed up as late as ELEVEN O’CLOCK!!! I’d have stayed up later, but my mom came upstairs and made me go to bed.

This arrangement lasted for two years, until my mom got a job in the next town over, and we decided to get an apartment there for during the week instead of commuting. We liked the idea of going to a bigger school—plus there was no way we were living all week with just dad, who cooked, among other disgusting things, spaghetti chopped up in little pieces because he thought it was easier to eat that way.

And then my older sister and her new baby (who now has a math degree—hi, Suz!) moved back home and decided to join in the fun. So, it was now dad, with his poor cooking skills, alone in the big country house, and us five gals in the two-bedroom apartment laughing it up. It was the kind of apartment building where you tried to ignore the blood smeared on the hallway walls on Sunday mornings.

Here’s a capsule life story told in terms of when I did and didn’t have to share a room. There were ups and downs. My parents went back to school and we moved into family student housing (my sister and I were both teenagers by then, so this was definitely a down); they bought a house and renovated the basement, where I got to live alone in university (up!) briefly, until said older sister (now with two kids) needed to join me. I still had my own room at this point, but someone had measured wrong when renovating, because there wasn’t room for a wall in-between the closet to one room and the closet to the next room, which resulted in a toddler and a preschooler emerging from my closet at any time with no prior warning. AND ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS MAKE OUT WITH MY BOYFRIEND.

Grad school brought with it the best “up” years in terms of personal space, as I made enough in scholarships to live alone most of the time. Early working life in Toronto, not bad, own room and only a small war with mice and with cockroaches along the way. Even once I moved in with someone (whom I eventually married), I had a little office of my own to work in. And at work? I had my own office at almost every one of my significant jobs until… 2008.

That’s when I started teaching. And got pregnant. And now I have a cubicle, a house full of stuff and rooms and not a stitch of private space anywhere.

Woolf said you needed money and a room of your own in order to write. I think we can translate money as “time,” which anyone who’s every applied for a project grant knows.

This is all to say that one of my many, many, unreasonably large number of goals for the nine weeks of relative calm I have this summer, is to set up better what personal space I have in my own home. I might try the old “make a wall out of bookshelves” trick – goodness knows I have enough books. Or maybe I could use a sheet and an old broom to make a curtain between two pieces of furniture and hang up a “Stay Out – Mommy’s Space!” sign. I don’t know.

But I’m adding it to my to-do list.

 

 

Windows

It’s been a long time since I had a book out. This saddens me, but is also freeing. For one thing, when you don’t have a new book out, you don’t obsessively auto-Google for new reviews. And then if you hit a bad review, you get briefly depressed and angry and vow to just put your nose down and write and never auto-Google again. And last time I published a book, we didn’t even have Goodreads and Twitter and stuff.

 

I’m on Draft 8 of my “new” poetry manuscript at the moment. Draft 9 by Christmas, I hope. Draft 10 and I think I’ll be ready to approach my publisher. I say “my” publisher in that they published my last two books, but there is nothing to say that they will publish this one. I say “new” manuscript only in that it’s newer than my previous work (mostly; it does contain a few old salvaged parts). I’ve been working on it since roughly 2006, when I holed up for a month in a farmhouse/museum in Eastern Iceland (that was 2006, right?) and wrote a bunch of stuff about the death of my father the previous year.

 

Between 2006 and now, I did a whole lot of things, including write and abandon a novel, learn how to teach, and have a baby (more or less in that order.) The baby is now in school. And I just bought her a book called My First Kafka. At first, instead of sleeping when the baby slept, I scribbled Mommy Poems (few of those have survived). Holing up in farmhouses in Iceland (or Scottish castles, where I worked on the previous book) is no longer an option, though I did manage to carve out two weeks to live in a dorm room in Vancouver last summer, and hope to again next summer. (Note to students of an artistic bent: whatever you do, start seeking out residency opportunities as soon as you can! Don’t wait—the window closes. I have no doubt that it opens again someday, but it closes pretty hard for a while.)

 

It’s been A Difficult Manuscript. I made big, big changes each round from about Drafts 3 through 6. For a while I was obsessed with Objectum Sexuals and worked on getting them in the manuscript. For a while I was compiling found poems off of Twitter. Then I decided that what I needed to fit all this stuff together was cyborgs. Yes, cyborgs. Some of that has stayed, and some of it has gone. I got a lot of inspiration and a 13-page poem out of last summer’s Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination show that ran at the WAG.

 

I took creative writing courses whenever I could in school for a lot of reasons, but the main one was that they gave me windows, windows to do the work that I cared about the most, but that it was hard, even then, to carve out time for. That I’m even blogging about this manuscript shows that I’m feeling good about it (for now), and being close to “finishing” something gives me more motivation to create my own windows. (I put “finishing” in quotation marks, because, even if I start sending this off a couple of drafts from now, there are likely still several drafts to go publisher-side, assuming I even find a publisher.)

 

Windows to create new work are also one of the reasons I’ve enrolled in my MFA. Someday, I will have to come up with a window-carving strategy that does not involve paying tuition. “Get up two hours before everyone else and write before they wake up” is the conventional wisdom trotted out for writers, but since my daughter frequently gets up at 5 a.m., and I frequently go to bed at midnight, this strategy does not work for me. (I do know from experience that my most productive hours for writing are from about 12 midnight to 4 a.m., which are unfortunately the best hours – sometimes the only hours—for sleeping in my world.)

 

A better piece of wisdom than the “sacrifice two more hours of sleep” nugget is to remember that writing is not just writing. It is research, reading, and living, because you need to do those things to “provide content” (to co-opt that heartless word for what creative people do)—to provide ideas, thought, depth–for what you write.  So I’m trying to look back on the past seven (!) years not as a time with few windows, but as time when I created a whole lot of content.