Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Turning Opportunity Into Crisis Into Process

One of the joys of returning to the city I moved away from over a decade ago has been reconnecting with some very lovely people in what promises to be much more sustained ways than occasional visits in the interim have allowed. And one of the advantages of knowing very lovely people, at least some of whom think there are a few things that you are moderately competent at doing, is that when you reconnect with them, they offer you opportunities to do those things.

Sounds great, right? Well, yes, it is.

Except I had a rather surprising density of such possibilities put before me on Monday (along, later in the day, with a fairly substantial amount of alcohol), and it threw me into a mini-crisis that rather derailed my work day on Tuesday. Which is not to say that I am at all ungrateful for the various potential opportunities that were raised in conversation that day, nor that I have yet made anything resembling a definite decision about how to relate to any of them. The crisis, rather, was sparked by the way that having to think seriously about these potential courses of action has forced me to take my slow, gentle, and I'll admit somewhat meandering process of returning to more-than-bare-bones writing practice after four months away, and make it way more definite and clear.

At the moment, my single biggest commitment is to my weekly, half-hour, interview-based radio show, Talking Radical Radio, which broadcasts weekly on 8 or 9 stations across the country and much more occasionally on a handful of other stations, and can be heard online at the site linked just above and at That work has kept going through the ins and outs, ups and downs, tos and fros of moving. What was set aside was, most significantly, work on a major writing project that I first envisioned a couple of years ago as an entirely separate thing, but that has evolved into an effort to make use of the vast stores of wonderful content that I'm collecting through the radio interviews; to put together some ideas about knowing the world through encounter, relation, and movement; and to say some suitably critical yet accessible things about this thing we call "Canada." As I've mentioned before, earlier in the year I wrote about two-thirds of a chapter in that project, and it's the sort of thing that could become a book, or it could fizzle out and become one of the many false starts that litter any writer's life.

In returning to a more capacious writing practice, I have deliberately chosen not to plunge full-tilt back into that work. Partly that's because there were a couple of other, smaller things I needed to get out of the way first (including last week's book review). But it's also because even back in the early months of the year, I was feeling quite dissatisfied with my limited scope for making stuff that was not either A) the show or B) some project so big that, even if it does come to fruition, noone will see for years. Not only was this state of affairs unsatisfying, it also did not feel like it was a very strategic way to build my own capacities and opportunities moving forward. I didn't come up with any good ways to address that dissatisfaction pre-move, but it kind of feels that the current moment – with the freedom of being in the middle of a break not of my choosing, and with certain other writing and community obligations left behind, however sadly, in Sudbury – is as good a time as I'm ever going to have to see what I can figure out.

The sense of crisis that briefly engulfed me yesterday was a result of being presented with a few very concrete somethings that I could occupy myself with, including one or two which might even generate some income, and feeling that bump up against, and even threaten to muscle aside, this precarious combination of intense desire and equally intense vagueness and uncertainty around my writing practice.

As I said, no decisions have yet been made. But whatever I do about other opportunities that Hamilton might present, I need to figure things out around writing, and yesterday's mini-crisis has pushed me to be more definite, sooner, than I might otherwise have been about doing that.

The goal is to have a framework for approaching smaller-than-a-book writing projects that balances spontaneity with a certain amount of deliberateness to make sure I have a sense of direction and forward movement when it comes to substance, craft, and audience. Which is a pretty broad thing to say, and deliberately so. It just means that I want to make sure that I'm doing things that (might?) help me keep getting better at figuring out what I want to say, figuring out different and better ways to say it, and connecting more effectively and/or more broadly with readers and folks who publish stuff. So, really, what most people who write try to do, each in our own ways.

In practice, in the short term, that means writing more pieces and more kinds of (mostly shorter) pieces for this blog. Even before yesterday, I was already thinking that a practice of that sort might be in order, though it would probably have taken me another while to work myself up to it. And it didn't hurt that, last night, I ran across this interesting article by a graphic designer who has developed a practice of producing and publishing a piece of work that he identifies as 'awful' every day. I'm not going to shoot for daily or for 'awful' (though way back at the beginning, blog publishing helped me get more comfortable with having done not-great work that other people could see, and that will certainly continue) but I am going to write.

Some of what I write will likely look more like a standard blog post than what I usually publish on the site. Some might respond to specific short pieces of writing – like book reviews, but in response to an article and or an essay rather than a book. Some might be vaguely experiential or memoirish, though I suspect still tying whatever the focus is into the social world in a pretty explicit way. Some may not feel like they fit at all, and deviate from my usual while actually getting farther from any sort of dominant, readable, bloggish norm. And some, I suspect, will be like this one (or at least similar in spirit, if in content quite different) and talk about writing process, in general or in relation to the nascent maybe-book, which I will also ease into relating to more directly in the coming weeks. (That last was actually the idea of another lovely person, this one not in Hamilton, whom I spent time talking with about some of these things yesterday morning. Thanks, M!)

But, really, I don't know yet what it's going to look like, or whether any of those possibilities will actually end up being part of what I do in the next month. And I don't know how long it'll last, just that it will be more and different, and that for the time being it will be here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm way behind on editing next week's show...

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