In honour of Maya Angelou:
Also, in her honour, I wanted to talk about beautiful titles for books, because the title of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, has long been one of my favourites.
Titles are tricky things, especially these days, with so much attention paid to the supposed science of marketing. In many cases, choosing the title of an author's work is a decision made by committee (editors, marketing experts, author input), rather than something the author comes up with on their own. Usually, the book has to be finished before a title can be chosen. All the thematic cards have to be on the table. Fathom Lines was called The Depths for a long time, until I realized the stories were more about the charting of those depths rather than the metaphorical deep waters themselves.
So, I have no idea how these titles came to be, but congratulations to whoever is responsible for putting these particular words together:
I could keep going with this list for a long time, but what about you? What are your favourites?
I really like the Latin roots of this word (man, my word-nerdyness is really showing now. That is not really something you hear a person say ever) because it is like a tiny, two-word poem: almost shadow. You'll find this word mostly in science writing, but I think this is a great descriptive noun to start using more regularly.
Okay, so remember way back when I made my resolutions? If not, here's part of my plan: Submit at least 2 short works per month to different literary journals/online journals. What you will read below are the results (so far) of this very humbling project:
I love that you are so sure of this Metazen. Thanks for the weird (and not entirely trustworthy) compliment!
Dear Erin Bedford,
I'm not sure if this is worse or better ... "So close--you just missed it by that much ..."
This is one of those times when I think maybe they just didn't like the piece that much, for whatever reason, and had to come up with something that sounded plausible because I submitted this as a flash fiction piece (under 1,000 words) which doesn't leave a whole lot of room for backstory.
Dear Erin Bedford,
Insert sad faces here.
But wait! I know this seems bad, but really, it's not. The major thing I've learned from publishing Fathom Lines on my own, is that some people don't like the way I write, or the stuff that I choose to write about (the agents and publishers that sent me rejections, for starters), but there are people out there that do. I just have to keep searching for them.
If you know me well, you know that me saying this, and sharing these rejection letters here, is a HUGE deal. Because I personalize almost everything. Not joking---I spent a lot of my life avoiding certain activities because I was afraid that I wouldn't be perfect at them and people wouldn't think I was a quality human being --even things that are supposed to be ridiculously fun when you're a kid. For instance: Musical chairs? Never. It's so obvious when you're not perfect. Bowling? Hated it. Mini-golf? Have you seen the way that windmill spins around? There's no way I'm getting a hole in one. Forget it.
But, I think I'm over it. I'm not going to lie, there will always be a pang when rejection comes my way, (and I will always have a little sarcasm to mutter under my breath at the rejector!) but I'm being a good duck now, letting it all run off my back. People won't be able to snub work that I keep hidden away in the closet, but they won't get a chance to love it either. And if Birdfeast magazine is less than impressed, that's fine. No one will think less of me for that, and if they do, then I can think less of them because they're probably not nice people. Now, I'm looking at it like this: rejection is built into what I've chosen to do with my life. It's part of my job to take it in stride.
So, who's up for some ten-pin?
Does anyone else feel like a really desperate member of the lonely-hearts club when it comes to the weather this year? This is exactly how I feel when I'm outside now, the sun on my face, the leaves and birds and people all out and about: I know Weather was a complete jerk all winter and spring. I know I deserve better, but Weather is here now and so beautiful. I won't complain about anything ever again. I promise. Please don't leave me.
Anyway, this past weekend was beautiful and so productive! That almost never happens!
On Saturday, I was able to get out to Toronto Island for a peek inside the Gibraltar Light as part of Doors Open Toronto:
And on Sunday, I was at a Small Press Literary event at the Gladstone, hawking copies of Fathom Lines. Sales were less than brisk, but the other sellers were such amazing people--gracious to anyone who had a question, generous to their fellow vendors, and so enthusiastic about their work.
As I was sitting there, waiting for customers, I got to thinking about how artistic-types get a bad rap sometimes. Maybe it's the non-conformist clothes or haircuts, or the fact that we tend to be poor so very often, but the general population sometimes takes the view that artists are lazy. Well I tell you -- I did not meet one lazy person yesterday. All of the people I met had jobs, or school programs or families that take up most of their lives. And then, when they have a free minute, they spend it doing something they love in hopes that other people will love it enough to give them a couple of dollars.
Can I say how very weird it is to sit at a table, though, and have random people come up to your life's passion, pick it up, turn it over, put it down again, and walk away? Sure, not everyone is going to love what I love. And I know I've been that customer, too. But I'm going to try harder next time when the creator-seller is sitting right there in front of me. My new rule? Smile. Always smile. I know what the discerning eye feels like now, and it is kind of like when Superman blows things up with his red-hot lasery vision. Your dreams? Poof. My favourite comment was from an older woman who said she thought my book sounded so interesting and the writing looked excellent, but unfortunately she couldn't buy it because she doesn't read anything written in the present tense. Well, we all have to draw the line somewhere, I suppose.
Which makes the experience sound much more difficult or less fun that it actually was. I had a great time. I was so nervous to do this, but I would do it again with pleasure. Because being out in the world and being able to talk about this thing that I love to do, to other people who want to know about it, is pretty fantastic.
Like balaclava, you may know what this word means, but maybe not how it came to be. This is a word with a good story.
There's been a lot of discussion in the last few days about gender equality, thanks to the craziness that is happening at the New York Times, so when I came across this beautiful photograph, I thought it and the story behind it were a good fit this week. Way to go Ashol Pan!
In the last couple of weeks, I've read some sad, beautiful books. After attending a panel discussion at the Toronto Public Library where Helen Humphreys spoke, I picked up and read her most recent book, Nocturne: On the Life and Death of My Brother in an evening. It is an elegy for her younger brother, an accomplished concert pianist who died of pancreatic cancer in 2009.
And then there was a new Miriam Toews novel to read: All My Puny Sorrows. Like her other books, Toews' humour and straightforward writing style made me want to keep reading what might otherwise have been a tragic and too-sad story-- the protagonist's older sister, a world-renowned pianist, is suffering severe depression and wants to die. Difficult material already, but now consider: Miriam Toews' sister committed suicide in 2010.
It can be hard to start books that we know could upset us, but these books are as much, if not more, about what it means to love and be loved by a brother or sister as they are about losing them. Grief is a condition of love. And there is a lot of love to be found in these books.
We don't need to look to other planets to see whole new worlds. Photographer Vyachesla Mischenko helps us see some of them.
And, in honour of mothers everywhere, one of my favourite poems about them, The Lanyard, by American poet Billy Collins:
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
Suddenly everything is dead or dying. Twitter is in death throes, and Facebook, well, it's already a rotting corpse. Also, blogs are dead (in lieu of flowers, you can buy my book.) The bookstore is dead, because physical copies of books are dead, as is all of literary fiction. The short story has died and been resuscitated more times than I can count. Poetry? Haha, don't make me laugh. Newspapers are dead. News is dead. Everything is dead, or on its way there.
Since Gott ist tot (God is dead) was written--as a lament for the end of a system of order, and a warning that humanity would slip into chaos--people have been predicting the next big dead thing, because alarmism (not dead just yet) gets attention. The end of western civilization was predicted. The end of capitalism. The end of the world. Whether or not we're convinced of the alarmist argument, we still can't turn away as the crazy guy marches by, shaking his placard, yelling, The end is nigh. And sure, this sort of argument can be entertaining, if only for the shock value, but I wonder, wasn't anyone listening when their parents read them Henny Penny? Quick reminder: If you run around yelling that the sky is falling, you end up with no head. (How's that for alarmist?)
From my point of view, when Y2K came and went, the tone of the eulogies changed. We, along with our computers, survived the big switch from three nines to three zeros--kachunk, like the dials on an alarm clock(RIP) flipping over--and we woke up and the world was a new place, a modern place, and we did not have time to waste.
Now, there seems always to be something better that we could be doing.* Because of that, our eulogies switched from alarmism to trend prediction. And we're all interested in reading these predictions because nobody wants to be the last person doing something.
This leaves me with the bad feeling that sounding the death knell for a particular thing is all just a lot of taste-arbiting, a popularity contest. You're wearing pink? Pink is dead. No one wears pink anymore. When someone tells you that journalism is dead, or photography, or the symphony, are you more or less likely to want to be involved with those particular things? If you are human, and you are telling the truth, I'm guessing you'd have some reservations you didn't have before you heard the bell toll. But we need to think about where these dire pronouncements are coming from. If Twitter told you that Facebook was dead, or vice versa, you might think twice about believing it. Sometimes, too, I think it's less that ___________ is dead, and more _________, you're dead to me. Whatever it is that once was loved and known intimately has changed so much that it can't be recognized anymore, and so have the original feelings. That doesn't mean there aren't whole lifetimes of interest and new feelings to be had by others.
Also, writing a great obituary is an art--a brief reflection on a life-lived (hopefully) well and long, weaving together the touchstones of accomplishment, family, love, joy, sometimes tragedy, and always, inevitably, loss. Certainly, an obituary is more than Jim is dead. Once alive, now not. Oh, and if you're interested, here's how we know he's dead. All these eulogies seem intent on predicting and proving the death, and spend little to no time celebrating the good of the life.
Eventually, everything dies (or changes so much that we have a hard time recognizing its attachment to the original). But it doesn't matter. We didn't stop living and enjoying our lives when we found out that at the end of it was death. So, if you love bookstores, support the ones that are left. Love poetry? Read and write it. Go ahead and post that status update on Facebook while it's there to enjoy. Who cares if it's dying? You are too.
*Do you doubt me? Take a look around the next time you're at a restaurant. How many of the people (including you, maybe?) are with a friend or a loved one, but also have their phones on the table so they can keep track of the other people in the world that want their attention?
Ah, the good old days, when even the snake wranglers wore suits and ties.
This week in the stacks: I found a poem, To the Lady Charlotte Rawdon: From the banks of the St. Lawrence, written by the Irish poet Thomas Moore at the beginning of the 19th century while he travelled through the United States and Canada. There are some beautiful images of the pristine countryside that used to be, and I wanted to share a little bit of it with you:
I dreamt not then that, ere the rolling year
The full poem can be found in Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems (1806). This volume describes the rest of Moore's travels in America and Canada and is available as a free ebook from Google Books.
Erin Bedford, writer.