Monday, March 26, 2012

Shift work.

(Sometimes I write on my sunny little balcony, wispy curtains swirling around me.)

For me, writing isn't exactly a sedentary activity. I can't imagine spending a day with my butt in a chair, pen in hand. If I get stuck on a word or an idea, I like to walk around a bit, figuratively jog it out. (At home, this takes the form of going to the kitchen for a cookie, or a cup of tea, or another cookie.) At the convent, it means walking around the garden, moving my chair to a sunnier/shadier spot or watching the birds flit and flicker in the almond trees.

The other day someone said to me that most writers here have found a spot inside the convent, tucked themselves away where there aren't distractions. Besides the fact that it's literally stone cold inside, I can't imagine anything worse than that -- only a blank wall to distract me from a blank page.

Sure, it feels great when a poem is really cooking and I'm so immersed in it I don't even think of cookies. But I also love to dip in and out of a piece -- even for seconds or minutes -- because every time I come back to it the light hits it from a different angle and I see some new possibility that wasn't there before.

I like to feel I'm part of the world -- not removed from it -- when I write. And I hope that makes my poems feel that way too.

Of course, this might all be a way of rationalizing lazy work habits. Or just a luxury of the poet's life. (I can't fathom the focus it would take to write fiction. I'm certain that novelists couldn't get away with roaming around after every few words.)

Still, I've always felt a connection between movement of the body and the mind. (At work-work it takes the form of trips to the bathroom. In school it was pacing the house while I wrote essays.) I do some of my best writing and thinking while I'm running or walking, even moving in/out of sleep. (Never while driving though -- safety first!)

What can I say? I've got stanzas in my pants!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

At home on the range.

My Edouard was, for a time, a cowboy. (Until he grew so tall his legs dragged on the ground when he rode. Tragic, yes?) So, I find myself -- a person who has never even ridden a horse (though I did feed a donkey once... does that count?) -- writing cowboy poems.

Sure, it helps that I'm currently in a rural setting, where horses clip-clop by my balcony from time to time (and the most swayed back horse ever grazes at the stream below the house), where I pass sheep and goats and chickens every time I head to the convent to write, and where I hear cattle mooing from beyond the walls of the garden.

But what helps even more is Google. I can't think of a better invention for a writer, except maybe the alphabet. In the past few days I've Googled: "treating lump jaw in cattle," "how to castrate a calf," "how to stop a horse from rearing," "how to start a fire in the rain," and so many other oddball things I can't even remember. (Side note: as I start to type "How to" into Google, the option that pops to the top of the list is How to Tie a Tie. Maybe there's a poem in that too.) I've also become a big fan of eHow.

I don't expect the poems will ever sound like they were written by a cowboy, but I hope they might have some moments of authenticity. And, in the meantime, I'm learning about all kinds of interesting things. (Just like I'm learning how to light a gas stove, how to perk coffee, how to navigate this hive of a town, and how to sit with my head in the shade and body in the sun.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The writing life

It seems sort of crazy now, but among the many items on my To Worry About list before leaving home was "what if I'm not able to write?". I've never had writer's block, but then again I've never had time devoted just to writing. At home, if I don't feel like writing or don't have anything I want to write about, or am at a crisis point in whatever I'm working on, I just don't. I bake cookies or watch Modern Family.

Or, I'd find some other writing-type work to do. Actually writing new material makes up a smaller percentage of my "writing" time than you'd probably think. So much is spent on editing -- the big life-altering changes and the tiny picks to line breaks and commas. And then there's submissions and researching markets and all those other business-end parts of writing.

So, even though I've long craved such an expanse of time just to write, I wasn't exactly sure how I'd end up spending my time.

But, other than my first day sitting here, sitting down, opening my notebook and thinking: "OK, now what?" none of that has been an issue. And sure, it's only been two weeks -- plenty of time for things to go awry -- but so far my time has been remarkably productive. It's really amazing what you can do with a whole day sprawling before you.

Most mornings have started with a leisurely sleep in and reading myself awake, followed by some puttering and possible exercise, and breakfast. (I'm so thankful yogurt is the Esperanto of food.) Then I make my way to the convent, where I spend 5 or 6 hours writing and following the sun (or shade) around the garden.

Then it's home for Facebook scrabble, whatever Internet research is required for the next day, dinner, wine, some more writing. And then it's a bedtime gmail chat with J. before he leaves work* and, perhaps, an episode of Mad Men. (* some variations on weekends.)

So far, it's working.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Someone asked me the other day if the setting for this part of my writing adventure, a convent, had any relation to my current project.

I didn't think it did, other than the sense of isolation I imagine prairie pioneers -- and anyone measuring 8'3" -- must have experienced.

I thought the rural surrounding was a stronger tie, the agricultural life that is so evident here (every day I pass cows, goats, horses and chickens, which seem to be more or less in people's lawns) and particularly at the convent, where the large garden is currently producing spinach and chard (in March... a miracle to a Canadian!), and where they've just finished planting chick peas and will soon start on potatoes, everything sown according to the moon calendar. (Andalucia, it's the Saskatchewan of Spain.)

But then J. reminded me that the Willow Bunch museum, which has a room dedicated to my giant (complete with giant bed, giant sock, giant ring), is in a convent. And then I remembered that Edouard's sister was a nun. So, there are ties.

And, working outside helps me imagine a life that was lived much more out of doors. Birds and plants are finding their ways in to so many of the poems. I've been here only a week but already I'm noticing buds on trees that weren't there when I arrived. And every day the garden is raucous with spring.

I just have to make sure the olive trees and the amazing hoopoe I saw the other day don't make their way into Willow Bunch.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Under the Andalucian Sun

As you might imagine, the life of a writer in the Spanish countryside is pretty damn sweet.

Here's my house:

(with mimosa tree!)

Here's my castle:

(with storks!)

And here's where I go to work every day:

(with sweet-baking, basketball-playing nuns... on the other side of the wall)

But, god help this hardy Canadian, it gets cccccold here when the sun goes down. (Aside from a certain fellow, I'm most homesick for my green hoodie.)