My parents were visiting this past week. We spent three glorious days skiing in Fernie.


Please meet Jim and Sally

The first night, Dad and Dan and I stayed up and had a bottle of wine and talked and talked in the ski lodge. There were heated games of Euchre. Delicious dinners. More wine. Skiing.

I came back early because I had an interview. I couldn’t sleep the night before and in the morning I sweat right through the dress I had picked out so I raced around the neighborhood trying to find an appropriate outfit.

When Mom and Dad came back to town we went to the radio station and they told stories about my childhood.

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Anything is possible

Something seemingly impossible happened this week.

Dan and I returned home from a weekend away skiing with the family and I had this little message waiting in my inbox–saying that I won something. I’ve been entering all these contests lately–mostly those ones for a trip to India or whatever that you’ll never ever win–it’s become sort of a joke that I’m determined to win a free trip for us. So at first I thought that’s what it was. But it was even better than that, friends.

I had actually won a writing competition that I almost forgot I had entered way back in October. Now here I am inclined to post about ten exclamation marks (!!!!!!!!!!!!) in order to syntactically illustrate to you how bowled over I was by the words, “Congratulations on being the Best List winner for your entry, ‘The Weekend Warriors Guide to Backpacking the Canadian Rockies.'” I had to read it about 200 times before it really sunk in, and then I just walked around the house repeating, “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.”

Now, I know this not the Pulitzer or anything.  But it’s been a while since I felt any sense of accomplishment around writing/creative pursuits. In fact I spent much of last year feeling like maybe I would just give up.

I once read someone compare writing/creative work to marriage or a long term relationship. He said something along the lines of, we expect our writing to just fulfill us because we fell in love with it. But the writing won’t give back unless we give to it–unquestioning, generous, fully. Any long term love or pursuit is not easy, it’s not a given. You have wrestle with it, you have to give yourself up to it, you have make sacrifices. It’s messy. And sometimes it’s great, sometimes it sucks, and sometimes, when all the stars align, it’s sublime.

So my writing gave me this little piece back. I stayed up late on Sunday because I couldn’t sleep and of course the little buzz wouldn’t last forever, so I just sat in our La-z-boy and soaked it in. I felt my 20-something year old self sitting on my shoulder whispering, You see, anything is possible.

P.S. If you want to listen to my Radio Show from the other week, you can download it here.

Work and dreams and everything in between.

Christmas + Bear Hats!
and sparkly tights- Hooray!

Road to the mountains

I made Dan a photobook for Christmas this year. There, over 50 pages, were all of our photographs 2012. One year of memories.

Playing with new Christmas toys!

I find it so easy to get bogged down in mourning what I don’t have–girlfriends nearby, a job, enough money to travel wherever whenever I want to. (As our friend Matt used to say: white people problems.) That little book was just what I needed to remember everything we do have, and everything we have done.

Dan polished off Where’d You Go Berndaette?A great book!

“What was your favorite thing we did this year?” I asked Dan.

“The cottage at Georgian Bay with Nate, Dana and Brad,” he said. “Or the dance party to Fun. at Laura Lee and Robbie’s house.” He paused. “Florida was pretty awesome.”

Neither of us could settle on one.

Couldn’t resist this shot of my new Cookie Monster mittens frolicking on the antler coat hangers.

We rented this little cabin in the middle of nowhere B.C. for New Year’s (really! We had to snowshoe to and from our car). It was the kind of place where you really can’t do anything so you do all the nothings you crave to do. Like read by the fire for hours and hours with a hot drink in your hand.

This picture pretty much encapsulates the weekend.

I read Just Kids by Patti Smith. It gave me a lot of food for thought about being an artist. She writes, “I would go as far as I could and hit a wall, my own imagined limitations. And then I met a fellow who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple. When you hit a wall, just kick it in.”

I learned a lot about sacrifice and commitment, and how important it is to have someone believe in you before you believe in yourself. Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe nearly starve at points. They live in dilapidated spaces, ones with no bathrooms. Robert keeps telling Patti she should sing. Patti keeps telling Robert he should take his own pictures.

There’s this scene where Patti is consoling Janis Joplin after a guy goes home with a pretty girl over Janis and Janis sobs and sobs to Patti. I thought- by god. Janis Joplin was just a girl too. Sometimes it’s easy to forget.

Dan chopping wood outside our sweet cabin.

There was a moment not so long ago that I was kind of ready to give up on writing. It just seemed too hard, maybe even impossible. It seemed like I would always be only-ok at it.

I nearly froze my hands off to capture this Dr. Suessian tree.

I found an old journal a friend made me. It’s filled with pictures of our adventures and lyrics to songs like “Into the Mystic” and “Visions of Johanna.” Colorful pictures of our mid-twenties blissfully misbehaving–about the ages of Patti and Janis when Janis cried on Patti’s shoulder.  I never quite filled it up because I always wanted whatever I wrote in there to be perfect. To somehow match up with the words of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. But I’m learning more and more that we have to make a lot of messes before we make what we actually intend to make.

Ah, glorious Fernie!

In the back of the journal, I taped the torn-out title page to Dibs In Search Of Self.  A woman I hardly knew gave me that book. We took a writing class together in Minnesota, and on the last day she slipped it into my hand and then rushed out of the room. To Sky, she wrote. Keep, keep writing–I feel like your heart will help heal others just as Dibs got made well by belief and not-giving-up-ness.

Dan is a master dishwasher when there’s no running water around.

That book is one of the greatest gifts I have ever gotten. So is my little journal. So the man who puts up with my mood swings, my despair, my excitement, my frustration, my fleeting highs, and for who-knows-what-reason sticks with me through it all. 

Sometimes I have to stop–take stock–turn it it all over in my hands and pull it in close.

Cabin decor.

I’m not sure how it was for other people–but in my twenties, my dreams felt like these big beautiful things that someday I’d just bounce around in, like a cloud playground in the sky. It has taken me some years to learn that dreams live right here with us on earth, and to live them is just plain old hard back-heart-breaking work. (I’m an easy dreamer, and a slow learner.)

So I am leaving grandiose dreams behind. My goal this year is only to not give up. And maybe–to kick a wall in.

Isn’t life–

Oh, the prairie skies!

Have you ever walked into a place and felt it press its finger right on your heart?

If you look closely, there’s a faint rainbow in this picture

That’s what I felt when I walked into the Banff Centre for the first time. It was like seeing a cute boy at the bar that I desperately wanted to talk to (speaking of when I was single of course :)) and I got all gooey kneed and tongue tied. We drove out last fall for the Mountain Film Festival and met all kinds of climbers and National Geographic Editors and gear reps (all too cool for simple people like us.) The event was neat, but it was the place that grabbed me.

An arts centre in the heart of the Canadian Rockies?! It was like someone put all the things I love the most and delivered them in a glowing package on a shining platter.

So when I signed up to volunteer for WordFest (Calgary’s literature festival,) I wrote, Send me to Banff, please

View from the Banff Centre

I was so busy dorking out on meeting cool authors and gaping at the view that I’m afraid I wasn’t the best volunteer. I listened to writers talk about devotion and dedication and discipline, their mentors and inspiration. I get a real high from this kind of thing, folks. I think it’s being around people who love what they do and believe in bringing art into the world.

Dan and I stayed at a sweet little inn, which we never do. I came back buzzing about the people I met and the things I had heard, and Dan was buzzing about the people he had met and the things he had done around town. Let’s move to Banff! we said practically in unison.

Then we opened a bottle of wine and sat on the bed and buzzed on for a while.

It’s nice to do those little things you never do. 

We walked to town for dinner. Drank the season’s first pumpkin ale. Ate pizza with prosciutto and truffle oil.

Main Street in Banff

 It was one of those days where you’re…something a little bit more than happy.

On the rainy drive home, we said mundane things like, That was so fun. That was so great. I’m so glad we did that. But trying to put words around it broke it apart into something too simple. Sure, it was fun and great, but it was more than that. Like the moment when you find yourself kissing the boy you were sure was too cute for you at the bar.  As if your feet have left the ground. As if the world tingles at your skin.

It made me think of this little quote from Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party:

She looked at her brother. ‘Isn’t life,’ she stammered, ‘isn’t life–‘ But what life was she couldn’t explain. No matter. He understood.
     ‘Isn’t it, darling?’ said Laurie.

Steal Like An Artist

Hello Sweet Friends. 
Today I want to share a little book with you. I love this little book.  One of my best friends sent it to me, and I’ve been curling up in my office with it every morning after Dan goes to work. It’s a book you could read in an hour. But I’ve been savoring it one cup of coffee at a time. 
This is the book. See how cute she is?
Here’s something I’ve been thinking about almost every day for the past 10 years.
Here’s something I needed to hear. 
You might be scared to start. That’s natural. There’s this very real thing that runs rampant in educated people. It’s called “imposter syndrome”….It means that you feel like a phony, like you’re just winging it, that you really don’t have any idea what you’re doing.
Guess what: None of us do.
Here’s a new idea I think is kind of genius: 
There’s been a side project I’ve been thinking about for ages and ages. But I keep leaving it there–on the side–because I think all free/creative time should be saved for writing. After reading this, I closed the book, picked up my computer, and got started. It felt so liberating. Who cares if it’s for no one but me? 
Here’s something I couldn’t agree with more: 
Step away from the screen. 
And here’s something that made me laugh. Dark night of the soul indeed. 

I hope these little pages and ideas inspire you/speak to you/spark something in you. I hope you are dreaming something up. I hope you make it/write it/do it, whatever it is, so the rest of us can see it/listen to it/read it/wonder away at your imagination. 
Happy weekend Friends. I hope it’s a lovely one.
Love, Sky

Adaptation/The Orchid Thief

Last night, Dan and I watched Adaptation. I’ve wanted to see the film ever since I read its source material, The Orchid Thief, for one of my MFA classes a few years ago. Plus, I love Charlie Kaufman
It’s funny how you wait years to read/see/do something you’ve always wanted to read/see/do, but then you when you read/watch/do it at the moment you do, you’re glad you waited. Timing can be everything when it comes to encountering a book, a movie, a song, an adventure.
You see, I’ve been bumping up against myself lately. Or rather the evil, self-doubting, you’re-destined-to-fail-you-talentless-wannabe-writer voice in my head. I know in my heart she’s just a voice, but she sure can be a noisy one.
Rather than tackling the bitch, I often give in to her. I let blank pages remain blank pages. I let a week go by, and then another. And the more distance between me and my computer, the harder it is to return to it. (Just look at the dearth of entries here.)
When I’m not writing, I feel less dug into the world. More apathetic.
So what does this have to do with The Orchid Thief/Adaptation? Well, Adaptation is about a writer struggling to write his film. But more than that, these two works are about passion: about loving something so much you’d do anything for it. You’d give up a piece of yourself for it.
Susan Orlean envies her subject John Laroche because he loves the orchids so. He’ll wade through alligator/snake-ridden swamps to find them; he’ll break laws to bring them home. 
The real Susan Orlean

 In one passage, she drives with him along the swamp:
I passed so many vacant acres and looked past them to so many more vacant acres and looked ahead and behind at the empty road and up at the empty sky; the sheer bigness of the world made me feel lonely to the bone. The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty, but full of possibility. If I had been an orchid hunter I wouldn’t have seen this space as sad-making and vacant—I think I would have seen it as acres of opportunity where the things I loved were waiting to be found.
The idea of an author as talented and successful as Susan Orlean envying a person as odd (and toothless) as Laroche startled me, but I completely understood. 
Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean
 I wish I came to writing with the determination that Laroche went after the orchids. I wish I would do anything for it…that my desire outweighed my fear and doubt.
There is a rare orchid called a Ghost Orchid that Orlean wishes to see throughout The Orchid Thief. She follows Laroche into the swamp searching for it.
It’s almost a too-perfect metaphor for passion, life, art. Wading a mucky swamp, swarmed by mosquitoes in stifling heat, sharing the space with unsavory reptiles and who-knows-what-else in search of one tiny perfect white piece of beauty—a ghost.
Chris Cooper as The Orchid Thief, wading in the swamp.
 That’s art. The process is not always pretty. Sometimes, it’s downright miserable.
At times, I feel like I really am doing this in life. Trying, straining, waiting to stumble onto that piece of beauty and suddenly feel at want for nothing. I love how the book and the film address this flawed idea.
In the book, Orlean never sees the orchid. “I realized it was just as well that that I never saw a ghost orchid, so that it could never disappoint me, and so it would remain forever something I wanted to see.”
In the movie, she does find the ghost. She looks over the tiny white orchid for a long moment. “It’s just a flower,” she says. 

Girl Crush: Jennifer Egan

I was behind the game on Jennifer Egan, and became familiar with her only after she won the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit From the Goon Squad. A Visit From the Goon Squad is a series of interlocking stories, and I’ve heard some complain that in the end the chapters did not come together neatly enough for them. But for me, this book was perfect. I loved that there was no bow to tie it all up. Sometimes, life’s a mess. In real life, we really do lose track of people who once meant so much to us. The characters were loosely connected through space and time, and sometimes we saw what the world looked like through their eyes and sometimes we saw how they looked through other people’s eyes. I find it endlessly fascinating to think about how we perceive ourselves versus the way others perceive us. How vast or narrow that gap can be.

I loved the book because it was:
A. Different than anything I’ve ever read.  It continued to surprise me, right up to the last page.
B. Well-written.
C. Both entertaining and profound. It covered the gamut of emotions. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always true. All of the characters (and there were a lot of them) felt so real to me.

 Anyway. Jennifer Egan is on my mind because I just read her story Black Box in the Science Fiction issue of the New Yorker. It’s indeed science fiction–strange and haunting. But it’s also a very human story , (how much can we sacrifice before we sacrifice too much?)  I was reading it in our extraordinarily comfortable La-z-Boy and got sleepy toward the end, so I took a nap right afterward. I had a dream that I was in the story, the main character, on this mysterious, frightening mission in the Mediterranean surrounded by violent criminals, (perhaps Egan’s use of the second person convinced me that it was actually me.)

Randomly enough, a friend emailed me the link to the story today, and told me that it was originally composed on a twitter feed, which is so dang cool. No wonder each sentence is so careful. Each is a story unto itself.

Being alone with a violent and ruthless
man, surrounded by water, can make the
shore seem very far away.

In a great three part interview with Slate Magazine, Egan says that she tries to create a new challenge for herself with each book. Once, she wrote from the perspective of a prisoner and tried to do away with all lyrical language. Now, she’s writing historical fiction. In a reading that Elissa Bassist (great writer, a woman I knew back when I was involved with the SF lit scene) went to, Egan explained that for Goon Squad:

She set three rules:

1. Every chapter must have a different protagonist.
2. Every chapter must have a different theme and feel.
3. Each chapter must stand alone.

I love this idea of inventing a new framework for each piece. Of committing completely to it. How thrilling for a writer. Each piece a brand new adventure for her to write, and for us to read. I love how she’s willing to toy with format, (one chapter of Goon Squad is a girl’s powerpoint ‘journal.’)  I love that I never know what to expect from her, but that I can be sure that I will be delighted, intrigued, and always satisfied.