Day four of the writing residency. I was up early this morning – I wanted to see the early morning sun on the mountains. Also, somebody on the fourth floor of Lloyd Hall had a case of the six a.m heaves, and it was quite quiet otherwise, so I was awake. I’m fine, thank goodness. But somebody was feeling poorly today. So it seemed like a good idea to just get up and get an early start to the day (I reported the six a.m heaver to Community Services today, just in case somebody is truly ill with something…I’d hate to think of somebody sick with a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door – how on earth would you get crackers and ginger ale that way? Community Services said they’d check it out).
It is freaking beautiful here in the morning. Better than sunset.
Totally worth being up at the crack o’ dawn.
It feels a bit strange to say to people that I’m working on a collection, or that I’m finishing up a manuscript. But the truth of a writing residency is that you need to have a blurb ready – a short answer to the ‘what are you working on?’ question that doesn’t a) minimize the work, b) sound incomprehensible, c) make you sound like a self-aggrandizing dork. I’ve been saying that I’m pulling together a short story collection, and it still feels a bit scary-exciting to say that I’m finishing a manuscript. But I am. It’s exciting. I know it. I love it.
The work stress has melted away, too. I’m feeling pretty darn relaxed and content.
Nice, eh? I’m sleeping well, eating so well that I had to make a call to the Registrar to add money to my meal plan, and I think the quality of my writing right now is phenomenal (even though that makes me sound like a self-aggrandizing dork when I say it). But there’s an air to a place like the Banff Centre – a feeling that it’s okay to brag a bit about your work, to forget that you’ve got a regular day job and imagine what it would be like to be Alice Munro or Stephen King and just write all the time. And I feel okay with saying that my work is going really, really well.
I finished reading the 2009 Pen/O. Henry Prize stories, and I was looking through the comments from the writers and the judges. And this caught my eye…it’s from Anthony Doerr, on one of the prize selections:
If it works, a good short story can show us something thorny and sublime and fabulously complex beneath the text, something trembling behind the little black symbols on the white page, some truth we can only feebly grasp, as if we are peering
up at the stars through thin clouds.
Writing stories is not, despite appearances, about spending lots of time with oneself. It’s about learning to be able to look beyond the self, beyond the ego, to enter other lives and other worlds. It’s about honing one’s sense of empathy so that a story might bridge the gap between the personal and the communal.
Aha! says I. That’s what I should be trying for when I write short stories. It seems to encapsulate the experience of writing short fiction – or reading good short fiction. And I’m hoping that my short stories will someday come close to measuring up to that standard.
I’ve got one more full day of work ahead of me. I think I’ll be up early again. Work through the day. Have dinner in the dining centre, and then go to watch the opening ceremonies for the Olympics – the lounge on the second floor of Lloyd Hall has been booked for it, so they’ll be showing it on the big screen projector. A girl could even hope for popcorn. Then maybe work a little more, and then call it quits. Saturday morning will be for breakfast, for a walk, some journal writing, and maybe some reading if there’s time. And then it’s home.
But not quite yet. One more day of writing ahead of me. My glasses are smudged, my hair is askew, and I’ve been walking around with a pencil stuck in my hair. And it all feels pretty darn good.