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January 22, 2019

On Revising—or How I Learned to Spell ‘Excruciating.’

The title of this blog post is a lie, because I still don’t actually know how to spell “excruciating.” When I initially typed the title here, I spelled it the same way I spelled it in the image above, which I posted to Instagram, and some people thought my misspelling was the point. Ha ha, oh yes, Of course, it was. (Oh, good heavens, why haven’t they invented spellcheck for handwriting yet. Why?? Why??) But I am going to keep the blog post title anyway, because maybe I know how to spell excruciating now. (I do! For the time being.) And because the above comment is pretty typical of what I come up with in my own revisions. Because you’re never going to get it perfect. Revising is all about showing your work, and about accepting that many parts of your literary house may not necessarily be sound, and then getting on with it anyway.

For me, learning to revise was such a revelation. Because I’d come up as a writer in blogging, you see, where getting to Publish was the point. Any blogger too focussed on revising is never going to be a blogger for long, and I’d argue that revising, or “polishing” blog posts is really procrastination, a way to avoid that terrifying moment when your piece goes live. A blog post is always a bit imperfect, somewhat raw, a work in progress—it’s intrinsic to the form. But a story or a novel is very different, and before you get to Publish, you’ll be revising it over and and over again.

I’m writing this post now, because someone emailed me last week having just completed the amazing First Draft milestone. (Huzzah! Crack open a bottle of wine!). And she knows, of course, that this finish line is only just the beginning of another marathon, and she wondered if I had any advice to share as she launches forth. And it happens that I do.

  • Celebrate all the milestones. This is a bit of wisdom I learned from Sarah Henstra a few years ago, and it’s the truest thing in this whole endeavour. A story idea, 10 000 words, getting to THE END. Sometimes you’ve got to throw your own party.
  • Take breaks. When the First Draft milestone is reached, put your story away for a few weeks. Do something new and difference. Change it up. You’ll come back to your project with fresh eyes and a more open mind.
  • I like to read through my draft first without making changes, but just reading it to see what I notice, what it’s like to encounter the text from the outside. This is where I make general notes (like the poorly spelled one above) that provide me guidelines for when I really get down to work.
  • Notice the good bits. The stand-out lines, the great scenes, the twist that works—I leave check marks scattered throughout the ms as encouragement to my future self and to remember that it’s not all bad.
  • Set quantifiable goals. I find this easiest in first drafts (1000 words a day!) but with revisions, you can set page goals or time based goals. An hour or two a day of a social media-blocking app makes a very good clock.
  • Change your font, or the spacing, or the layout of your document upon embarking on a revision. Changing the look of your manuscript will open your mind to more possibilities and untether your mind from the idea that your draft is fixed.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut, even your favourite bits, the ones that don’t work, no matter how much you hope they will. I find it easier to create a new file to copy-and-paste these “scraps” to. In the end, I usually end up deleting the entire file and its contents, but a temporary storage space makes the process less painful.
  • I love the metaphor of sculpting for writing, and I love the revision process because this time I don’t have to conjure my materials out of the air. Now I’ve got the clay, but it’s raw, and I’ve got to shape it. Or else I’m using a chisel to scrape the layers off and reveal the real shape that’s underneath. Alright, you can probably tell I don’t actually know how to sculpt anything. But my point: everything you need is there now, and this is the part where you get to dig deeper.
  • Digging is different from polishing, Keep that in mind. Once again, polishing can be a procrastination—worrying about word order, or where to put your comma. These details are important, but you can worry about them later, and preoccupation with them can keep you from ever moving forward with the real work (which is DIG DIG DIG).
  • My favourite scene in Mitzi Bytes is one that was written in a later draft, and the goodness of that scene, to me, underlines my faith in the revision process. There will be parts of your book that you’ll end up writing down the line that will feel like they were there all along just waiting for you to discover them.
  • Revision is an opportunity to make your book the best that it can be. It helps to embrace this opportunity, and love it. It’s a process of discovering what your book is really about, and it’s kind of amazing and mysterious that you—its author—might not even know what that is yet. It’s actually helpful to never be too sure.
  • If you’re lucky, you might have someone in your life who is willing to read your unedited manuscript (which is a big request to make of anybody). Make sure it’s someone who cares about you and your work, and someone whose opinion you respect. Remember that every time someone reads your work, it is an opportunity to practice the art of receiving feedback.
  • And understand that the moment of realizing that your entire manuscript is garbage (which is also EXCRUCIATING) is a part of the process too. It’s always devastating to realize that your art that was perfect in theory in reality is never quite the flawless piece you imagined. But that’s what revising is for. Onward, and better and better all the time.

January 21, 2019

Bowlaway, Elizabeth McCracken

There is a house in Elizabeth McCracken’s new novel, Bowlaway, that defies all the rules of conventional architecture. It’s got eight sides and a cupola, a spiral staircase up the middle. “The walls were filled with lime and gravel and ground rice, and stuccoed with a combination of plaster and coal dust.” And in terms of narrative architecture, McCracken has similarly tossed out the rulebook aside for this, her sixth book and third novel. (Her two most recent books are the short story collection Thunderstruck and Other Stories, and a memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.)

The unconventional house is not actually the novel’s central edifice, however, although they’re both commanded by the same character, a woman we meet in Bowlaway’s very first sentence: “They found a body in the Salford Cemetary, but aboveground and alive.” This is Bertha Truitt, of the gapped teeth and enormous bosom, who claims to be the inventor of candlepin bowling and is utterly uninterested in delineating the story of where she came from. (For the most part, so is Bowlaway itself.) Like everything McCracken writes—sentences, paragraphs, characters, action scenes—Bertha Truitt is vivid. The heart and soul of the book, one would think, or at least its foundation or supporting beam, if we’re back to architecture. But forget the rules, remember? Because Bertha Truitt is deceased by page 78 (and no, this is not “a spoiler.” Bowlaway is a book that could not be possibly be spoiled), swept away to her death in the Great Molasses Flood, Boston, 1919.

I will admit that at first I was unsure of my footing as a reader in this narrative, because it really is one in which the bottom can fall out at any time. Because I’d arrived at Bowlaway with fixed ideas about the way a narrative should go, ie the protagonist should not necessarily drown in molasses on page 78. Because this novel isn’t easy, and it’s full of tricks and play, and ghosts, and babies who die before they’re born, and sons who are actually ex-husbands. It’s not an simple read, and the reader has to pay attention, but the rewards of that attention are considerable, immense. Her previous novel, Niagara Falls All Over Again, which I loved, was about two vaudeville performers, and Bowlaway is similarly larger than life (McCracken is also author of a novel called The Giant’s House), a spectacle.

But instead of a stage, the setting is a bowling alley, Bertha Truitt’s candlepin alley, Truitt’s, later named Bowlaway two generations following (although the family tree is complicated). Scene of one spontaneous combustion, as well as a murder, and home to a ghost, McCracken follows the alley and its regulars through three-quarters of the twentieth century in a novel that is unlike any other book you’ve read before, as rare as an eight-sided house inhabited by extinct avian species. With sentences and imagery that are shocking in their freshness and perfection—the mother who gives out love in homeopathic doses, say. There is no other writer who writes like Elizabeth McCracken, and I’ve never read a book quite like Bowlaway.

January 18, 2019

The Back to the Blog Movement

“I blog to make sense of the world,” is the way that I’ve always explained my attraction to blogging, the way that I use my blog as a workbook, a scrapbook, part of a process toward understanding. But in the last couple of years, the world hasn’t made very much sense at all, and in ways great and small, I’d started to suppose that blogging was futile. Certainly people weren’t reading blogs anymore, and enticing readers to do so required wading into the mires of social media, where standards of behaviour were abysmally low and one gets the sense that with every scroll, the world becomes a place that’s slightly worse. But still I kept scrolling. “I’m not getting off twitter,” I’ve said on more than one occasion too late in the evening, scrolling, scrolling, “until the world becomes a place that I can understand again.” But it turns out the Twitter is even more futile than blogs are for sense-making, plus it’s passive, hijacked by capitalism, stupid algorithms, and rife with violence and abuse.

Last fall I experienced a distance from my blog, which I continued to update, but mostly with news and book reviews. I wrote fewer personal posts, though that was partly because Instagram really has taken over as my receptacle for quotidian things. I wrote less about my children, but that was more because they no longer exist in the world solely as extensions of my existence. I didn’t write many of what have always been by favourite posts, random explorations of connection-making, experiments in thought and narrative. I was always busy with paid work, and I was writing a novel, so much so that I didn’t worry so much about what was happening with my blog. But I was beginning to lose the habit of writing a blog, and the habit of thinking like a blogger, which is going out in the world with my eyes open to story and connections and questions. In losing some faith in the world, I’d also lost faith in those questions and connections’ ability to bring me closer to answers, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy when the end result is endless scrolling on Twitter.

The blog posts I was writing last fall didn’t always feel satisfying, didn’t seem to illuminate my understanding. I think I was feeling dispirited and and a little bit sad, writing posts about the crime of underfunding public education or about what it was like to have published a novel that was not a commercial success. By October, it had been a year since I’d last taught a blogging course or workshop, the longest break since I’d started teaching in 2011. “And really, I’d be happy never doing it again,” I remember saying, because I didn’t feel comfortable claiming to be a blog authority. Having forgotten, apparently, the cornerstone of blogging form, which is that having questions is far more important than having answers, and that no one is an authority ever.

Teacup with reflection

But I did remember one thing I always told my blogging students, which is to write your way toward any answers you’re seeking. So a random post about a missing hat, or another about how I was looking for a babysitter. These were posts I wrote because it felt good to be writing and employing the first-person perspective again, though I wasn’t sure what they all added up to. In some ways, it felt like I was learning to be a blogger all over, learning to be uncomfortable. Questioning what this space was for, what stories I was telling, and what my voice was. So what’s the point? There usually wasn’t one.

Then in late December I spent a week and a half offline.

And when I returned to the internet in the new year, I realized there wasn’t much about the internet that I missed at all. I still liked Instagram, but that’s only because it is essentially a blog. Twitter brought me no pleasure. Facebook seemed like a waste of my time, and I would leave the site altogether…except for the people I like there. But then, if those people really want to hang out with me, can’t they come over to my blog? I’m really not hard to find—and suddenly the possibility this online space permits me seemed wide and exciting. I felt hopeful about life online for the first time in a long time, because I can conduct it on my own terms, in my own place. What if we stopped spending our time on websites owned by multi-million-dollar corporations that are demonstrably making the world worse all the time? What if the forty-five minutes I spent this evening having my brain turned to jelly trying to fathom the perspective of some guy on Twitter cheering on a right wing politician had been spent on anything else? What would life online be without the bots and the manufactured outrage, stupid algorithms, the trolls and the racist uncles? Totally meme-free, with unlimited characters, and nobody’s sharing any fake news article created by a shady network in Outer Siberia.

It would be a blog, of course. Right back where we started in Web 2.0, with stories and voices in a range that the world has never before been able to read, voices not in chorus, but not so polarized either. Connected, but not in a thread, more like a quilt, if we’re thinking in textiles. Niche onto niche, something for everyone. With room enough for stories, and questions, and nuance, and reflection, and changing your mind. And also for changing the world, in the small and subtle ways that blogs have always mattered—turns out I’m not ready to give up on that one just yet.

January 18, 2019

Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me, by David Gutnick and Mathilde Cinq-Mars

My youngest daughter feels she is on intimate terms with Ludwig van Beethoven, because he’s rendered as a cartoon character in her piano book, and while she’s never heard any of his music properly, she’s played several simple songs inspired by his music, and when we picked up Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me, by David Gutnick and Mathilde Cinq-Mars, she was very impressed and excited to learn that other people know about him too.

David Gutnick is best known for his CBC Radio Documentaries, and his first book for children is inspired by one he created about the legacy of Montreal music teacher Daniel Mergler. The book begins with a young girl who has recently arrived from China whose family meets and elderly man in the park, and as the girl’s father and the man talk together, it is shared that the young girl has a talent for music and that the elderly man, Mr. Mergler, has taught piano for many years. Mr. Mergler agrees to take on the girl as a student, and is not concerned that her family does not have money to pay for lessons: “Something tells me that she understands the magic that music can bring to her life. If she does, that is all the payment I need.”

She begins attended classes at Mr. Mergler’s warm and cluttered studio, evocatively rendered in Cinq-Mars’ illustrations. On top of his piano there is a bust of Beethoven, and he’s scowling. When the girl manages to play her songs with no mistakes, however, she begins to wonder: “Was it my imagination, or did [Beethoven] look a little more friendly?”

Now I have written before about my household’s intolerance for books about death, no matter how much I try to infuse our reading with my own morbid nature. They’re having none of it. And so what is so very excellent about Mr. Mergler, Beethoven, and Me is that the music teacher’s death is handled in a way that is neither corny nor devastating, although the girl certainly is sad, of course. But Gutnick shows how Mr. Mergler’s spirit lives on in the gifts he gave his students, in their passion for music. It’s the most delicate balance, but Gutnick achieves it perfectly.

January 17, 2019

This Keeps Happening, by H.B. Hogan

Don’t get too comfortable with the stories in H.B. Hogan’s debut, This Keeps Happening. Although even if you wanted to, you couldn’t, because you’ll only end up with eviscerated squirrels and a woman whose mother’s gross boyfriend has shit running down his legs, and where’s the comfort in that? But even still, it’s hard to look away, and each of these stories are really compelling, although the first couple conclude on notes that aren’t as illuminating as they’d like to be. By “A Fare for Francis,” about a cab driver in Thunder Bay whose fare doesn’t take his racist bait the wait he intends, however, I was locked in to this collection and read the entire thing on Sunday evening while soaking in the tub.

Hogan’s characters are shackled, all of them, whether by poverty and low expectations or else suburban lot lines, and if the alternative to the former is the latter, then one can see where the problems arise. In “The Babysitter,” a ten-year-old girl risks an encounter with a precocious teenage neighbour. In “The Princess is Dead,” a man despairs of his life while his wife sits in their house weeping over the death of Princess Diana. In “Empties,” a teenage girl longs for freedom and opportunity as she and her friend walk across Oshawa in an attempt to make six bucks returning bottles to The Beer Store. A conflict resolution class gets difficult in “Louis Remembers.” In “Esteem,” Alison’s middle-class dreams get trounced on and she ends up lying on the pavement. And then, “The Mouths of Babes,” which was so gross and horrifying that I had to tell my small children about it, and the darkness underlining, the mother stirring Kool-Aid, that reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye.

This is a book that grew on me, and a collection whose stories, characters and geographies I’ve been thinking about in the days since I read it. The opposite of being comfortable, this is a book that—in the best ways—gets under the skin.

January 16, 2019

Sparking Joy on the Radio

I got to talk about collecting books and keeping books and purging books on CBC Ontario Morning today! I come on at 34.30. Listen here.

January 16, 2019

This is Not a Metaphor

I understood it as a metaphor: it is okay to fall. It is okay to fall, to flail, to plummet. As much as can be expected from an ordinary human, I know this. I have lived it. Accepting, and even embracing, imperfection and failure has been key to any success I’ve managed to achieve along the way. But I have never managed to embrace this idea on a concrete level, concrete being the word, which is a hard and painful surface to have one’s body strike even at a moderate velocity. And it doesn’t even have to be concrete—for a few winters midway through my childhood, I used to go skiing, and I hated it, the terror. Where is the pleasure of sending one’s fragile physical self down a steep icy hill? I used to weave my way down slowly, slowly, repeated the mantra: Please don’t let me die. And then one day I occurred to me that I didn’t actually have to endure this anymore, so I didn’t. Why would I?

I took up ice skating four years ago with my daughter, who was five at the time. The task of teaching her to skate would fall to me, because it turned out I was the best skater in the family, even though I hadn’t skated in 25 years and never really enjoyed it as a child. Winter sports are not my thing. Sports in general even really aren’t, but at least in summer it’s not cold. I have memories of skating on canals when I was little, and these are mostly memories of freezing. And sore ankles. I mean, at least with skating you aren’t sending yourself down the edges of icy mountains, and the fall is never going to be so far. But still, there is falling. Even worse, there is fear of falling.

But for the last four years, I’ve been trying to commit to enjoying the winter outdoors, and skating has been part of that. It’s fun. Of course, I don’t enjoy skating as much as I enjoy having skated, which is my favourite part of the process, followed by hot chocolate. But I like it, and it’s free, and it’s been interesting to relearn an old trick, and to be learning alongside my daughter. I think it sets a good example for her too to see that acquiring new skills is not just the jurisdiction of children, and is important to keep doing this throughout one’s life. Her father and her sister have since joined in our skating life, all of us learning together. Harriet now gives me a run for my money as the best skater in the family, and last night Iris skated around the rink multiple times without holding onto my hand at all.

But we are slow. We are slow, and we skate in terror of those fast skaters who weave in and out among us slowpokes, or else the little kids who are skating haphazardly in the wrong direction and moving right into our path without consideration for the fact that none of us actually knows how to stop. None of us skate with ease, although my children have a bit more ease than I do because they’re more comfortable with falling. They’re closer to the ground anyway, and they’re fundamentally bouncy and less breakable, and with all the padding from their snowsuits they’re well protected. Neither of them likes falling, but it happens, and that’s okay.

I, however, have never fallen. Hardly something to brag about, because I’ve only never fallen because I’ve never being moving fast enough. From the metaphor, I know that the only people who never fall are people who’ve never been high enough to do so. As a skater, I am so cautious, nervous. I have been skating for four years with so much fear of falling—and then last night it finally happened.

I skated over a leaf, a dead leaf that had blown onto the ice, and I don’t know why it so destabilized me, but I felt it, the ground no longer steady beneath my feet. “It’s finally happening,” I realized, and there was so much time to think as it did. A brief attempt at re-finding my balance, but then then it was all over, and down I went. Landing with a spectacular crash on my bottom, which was better than my head taking the impact, or my wrists. “And it’s actually okay,” is what I was thinking as I lay there on my ice, except it wasn’t entirely because I’d knocked my littlest daughter over in the process (let’s not make a metaphor out of that, okay?) and she was screaming. Attracting the attention of the ice skating attendant, who came over to see if she was okay, and, “She’s fine, she’s fine,” I said, dismissing her pain. (But she was fine. Walk it off.) And then he helped me up, and I was almost euphoric, so much so that I forgot to even be humiliated.

Because the very worst thing had happened: I had fallen. And I hadn’t fractured my elbow or even sprained my wrist, or received a concussion. I didn’t break or shatter, which is what I’d always imagined. That I was fragile—but it turns out my body is stronger than I thought. And there really isn’t even a lesson beyond that—I’m still going to skate slowly, I’m not thirsting for opportunities to fall down again. It wasn’t like one of those Instagram memes where I thought I was falling, but it turned out to be flight, because it definitely wasn’t flight as I lay there on the Dufferin Grove Ice Rink staring up at the glow of the artificial lights. It was falling, but it was fine.

January 14, 2019

Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss

I’ve been avoiding bookshops lately (except for a trip to Type Books’ new location in The Junction in December!) with a focus on reducing the overwhelming number of books on my to-be-read shelf. Which I’ve been pretty successful at with a huge tower of reading completed over the holidays, and also a clear-out of more than a few books that I decided to finally accept that I would never read. And when I finished reading Did You Ever Have a Family, by Bill Clegg, on Saturday morning (acquired from a Little Free Library; has been sitting on my shelf for months; is so incredible but also very sad) and we had no further plans for the day, I decided that what I really, really needed was a bookshop venture, and my family was kind enough to accompany me, obviously with the promise of snacks.

And what a wonderful thing, for me at least, although probably not my family, to arrive at the bookshop without an idea of what I was looking for. Something more uplifting than Did You Ever Have a Family, was my premise, though I wasn’t exactly successful on that front, but then a book need not be uplifting when it is brilliant, original and completely affecting. The book was Sarah Moss’s new novel, Ghost Wall, which only just came out (super exciting—I tend to be either six months or decades behind on all the newest things) and I’d read the review in the Toronto Star that morning. Beginning my Sarah Moss discovery, which I’ve been longing to embark upon on reading Rohan Maitzen’s reviews of her other books, which sound as intriguing as they are wide-ranging.

It’s a slim little novel whose design (in Canada, at least) is delicate and exquisite, a book made up of all kinds of competing tensions. Silvie is a teenager from Northern England whose bus driver father is an Iron Age enthusiast in his spare time, and she’s been raised on his rambles and fascinations of ancient Britons, and therefore knows how to forage for bilberries, which makes her an object of fascination for the university students her family is spending her dad’s annual leave with on their experiential archeology course. The professor and Silvie’s dad couple their skills and knowledge, leaving Silvie with the students, just a few years older than she is, worldly in a way she’s never been able to fathom. Her time with them is a brief reprieve from her father’s rigid control, but then she’s defensive around them, knowing they’re judging her parents’ accents and background. She also knows that aligning them too much will provoke her father’s wrath, whose force and dangerousness gradually becomes more apparent as the narrative progresses and underlines the novel’s idyllic setting and celebration of the natural world with something much more sinister.

Unabashedly feminist, Ghost Wall dares to question what people are really reaching for when they’re yearning for a simpler time, for an authentic kind of culture, or whiteness, or Britishness. Just what is fundamental about who we are and where we come from, and who gets to be in charge of that? It’s sharp, fast-paced, and disturbing, an exercise in minimalism and subtly. I loved it.

January 11, 2019

I think your bullet journal is stupid.

Slightly insulting confession: I think your bullet journal is stupid. I’ve always felt one could get her shit done way faster if she just does it rather than mapping out a plan to do so in especially decorative ways…but then I have really terrible handwriting and always lose my good pens, so I would think that, wouldn’t I. It’s also possible that I’m jealous of your bullet journal, because if I had one, if would probably look like my grade nine math book. And that I wanted to write a provocative headline to get you to read this post.

Which is unfair, kind of, and I also don’t really know what bullet journals are, except that people share images of theirs on Instagram (and I swear I once read a post where a person was complaining about how difficult to was juggle all seven of the bullet journals she maintains, which seems pretty obvious). I’ve also been very fortunate in that I’ve not really required lots of strategizing in order for professional opportunities to happen for me. This spring marks ten years since I quit my job to become a freelance writer, which is something I did without any of how to make it work. It seemed slightly scary at the time, but I was also caring for a new baby, which was ten times more terrifying, and my professional life really did seem to require less maintenance in comparison. So if you asked me now to recommend a route to making a living as a writer based on my own experience, my advice would be mainly: wait for people to email and ask you to do stuff. NOT HELPFUL. (Note though that nobody’s going to do that if you’re not chipping away at building your blog oeuvre, which would these days be considered “building your profile,” but I wasn’t thinking in those terms, which is probably why I was even enjoying what I was doing.)

Part of the reason I’m also resistant to bullet journals is because they seem to be part of the online entrepreneurial culture that I’ve been resisting with all my heart and soul. The kind of culture where you use hashtags like #GirlBoss and #SheHustles, and sell skincare products via a pyramid scheme, and it’s so entrenched in capitalism in the very worst way, and for most people is a dream that never comes true regardless of the hustling. I was once trapped on an airplane full of women arriving at a multi-level marketing conference, and as we were stuck on the platform, the woman beside turned and said, “So: what’s your Plan B?” And I wanted to die and there was no escape, and sometimes the internet in general feels a little bit like that.

And it’s the opposite of everything that, for me, is fundamental to blogs and online connection. It’s about human voices, not selling products. It’s about telling stories, being a human, not being a brand. My blogging courses have always been defiantly anti-marketing, anti-strategy. Don’t target your audience. Don’t outline your goals. Instead, make it up as you go along. Figure it out and grow in the process. Dare to get lost, and then report back from the place you ended up. My blogging advice was never for people who wanted to grow their audience, but instead for people who wanted to write a blog that could serve them and be sustainable. And while these days I feel like I know less about blogging than I ever did (not necessarily a bad thing— ‘It’s the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.’ —Tom Stoppard, Arcadia), I still believe in all that. A blog, like all the best things, is a wild thing, and should refuse to be tamed with plans and bullets.

And yet. I know that while this is true, I also know that part of my resistance to being more strategic and entrepreneurial in approach to my career is that I am afraid any other approach might end in failure. When your aim is to get lost, it doesn’t really matter where you are, but when you’ve got a plan, a goal and a strategy, and well, if you fall flat on your face, people are going to know about it. But something else I’ve learned from blogging is that sometimes being afraid of something is the very best reason to go there.

But then I start to worry again—and of course I am overthinking this. To be a successful blogger is to have made a career out of overthinking things. But I also think that 75% of the nonsense people are peddling online in terms of empowerment and entrepreneurship is absolute nonsense. I probably wouldn’t even be writing this post right now if it weren’t for these sponsored posts I kept coming across on Instagram by this woman—who I hadn’t even followed because she was way too much of a shallow marketing shill—about how I can grow my business via Pinterest. Which at first I dismissed as meaningless to me and irrelevant to my interests…but then at a certain point I thought, “Gee, maybe I should sign up for her free webinar!” And there it is: I have brainwashed. The moment I consider engaging with anything called “webinar,” it’s all over. Next up, I’ll be hash tagging #bossbae. It’s like a cult, and I don’t want to join it.

But I also know that I could certainly use a little direction, professionally. How many more books could I sell, followers could I get, opportunities could I receive, readers I could find, if I set out with intentions of being more deliberate in these areas? If I gave any considerations to being deliberate at all, instead of wandering, exploring, making it up as I go along. I’ve got a lot to show for ten years of approaching things in that direction, but aimlessness comes with its own wasted energy. I’m not saying I want to hustle, but surely there is some way we can meet in the middle.

Today I listened to Amanda Laird’s Heavy Flow Podcast with Kelly Diels on “resisting the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand,” which articulated a lot of my discomfort on this topic. Sarah Selecky does much of the same in her novel, Radiant, Shimmering Light, which surprised me when I read the book because Selecky herself has been so successful with an online business, and yet she’s also able to critique it in a really pointed way. I still don’t remotely know what I think of anything of this yet, but I’ve decided to find out by setting three professional goals for this year relating to developing my career. Which is really scary, actually, but also exciting, and I’ll keep you posted—and if I get lost, at least I’ll have something to report back on.

January 11, 2019

Deep Underwater, by Irene Luxbacher

I love Irene Luxbacher’s playful collage illustrations, and they really shine in Deep Underwater, her latest picture book. Shine literally even, because the cover features sparkles. It’s the story of Sophia, who lives by the sea and knows its secrets, and takes the reader on a journey deep underwater to share what she knows. “Deep underwater, tentacles, antennae and teeth disappear into darkness…and an abyss becomes a bottomless pit of possibilities.” Full page spreads to get lost in, with urchins, and anemones, jellyfish and seahorses. Sea turtles, starfish, sardines, and a submarine. A sunken ship where “lost treasures wait silently, patiently hoping to be found.” Sophia tells us, “Deep down, I never feel alone,” contemplating her reflection in a handheld mirror, and we see the mermaid that she is in her mind, and really, who can’t relate?

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Coming Fall 2019

Mitzi Bytes

The Doors
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