Eco Shop n’ Swap Market @ Eastwood Collegiate

This amazing day includes an Eco-friendly art market in the ECI gym showcasing work from both professional artists and from our own talented student artists. Come and SHOP!

AND don’t forget to check out the awesome clothing SWAP in the cafeteria from 12-3pm. Early donation drop-off 10am.

  • One donated item = one ticket.
  • $5 entry fee for the Swap
  • Buy New items for one ticket or $2 each. Fundraising for the Arts program and ECI impact club, providing recycling program within the school and other sustainable activities.

Live music will be provided throughout the day by our talented Eastwood musicians, and a concession booth will be open selling coffee, tea and muffins.

  • Funds raised from the Eco Shop table rentals will support the Integrated Arts Program at Eastwood.
  • Funds raised from the Eco Swap will be split between the Eastwood Environment Impact Team and the Integrated Arts Program

I’ll be there, with all four books for sale. It’s the perfect place to sell stories about dance, and selling my books also supports arts programming at the high school level. Even if you don’t need to buy any books from me, come out to see what other artists–both professional and student–are doing and support the arts.

Posted on Leave a comment

Writing Novels about Dance

Novels about dance can become too sterile: the ones I read as a teen (I don’t recall the series name anymore) always centered around a protagonist who was trying to make it. Fame had the same premise. A Chorus Line. Billy Elliot. Center Stage. One recent exception so far is Off Kilter. I always knew I’d write a novel about dance, but I wanted to write one that didn’t follow that generic plot line. (Though I did write one when I was 16 that will thankfully never see the light of day.) Although Between Worlds is about more than dance, dance plays a central role in Juliana’s life.

How to Write about Dance in Fiction?

So dance is part of Juliana’s life, but using dance in fiction carries a certain challenge: how to describe what the dancer is doing and feeling without boring the audience.

Dance is a visual art form. I’ve written dance reviews, but just talking about steps wouldn’t have any effect on my readers. Instead, I had to talk about the choreography, costumes, lighting, the dancers themselves, because all those elements worked together. With Juliana, though, I don’t have access to all those elements. Does the reader care about the lighting in Juliana’s dance studio? Or does the reader want a detailed description of her dance outfits?

I also need to remember that not all readers are looking for novels about dance. They’re reading the series instead because they like the premise of the series, or because they enjoy the juxtaposition of a historical storyline with a contemporary one. In addition, steps mean nothing to a reader who has never studied dance.

As I debated my dilemma some more, I realized that when I wrote about dancers for other magazines, we never talked about the steps; we talked about what dance felt like to them, or what they loved about dance. If they were older dancers (like, way older), we discussed how they danced now. But it was never, or at least rarely, about the steps.

How to Write about the Dancer in a Novel, Then?

When I was 14, my emotional self wanted to pull me deeper inside my conscious self, but I was scared of forgetting where I was in my dance and of sharing too much of myself on stage. It means that, when writing storylines about dance, I have to stretch past my own experience. When I describe how Juliana gets lost in her dancing, I’m describing a dream, because it’s not something I’ve ever been able to fully realize for myself. (If you’re able to get lost in dance, tell me in the comments section below what that’s like.)

So I needed to find a balance. Too much description about dance, and I risked losing some readers. Too much emphasis on Juliana’s thoughts, and I risked losing yet others. I was confident I could achieve that balance, so the next question came up: what dance form to use?

Writing Involves Rhythm. So Does Dance.

Dance in fiction often focuses on ballet. Dance in movies currently seems to be more hip hop and street than ballet. I wanted something different, but I also had to be comfortable writing about it. So I chose tap. But how could I incorporate it so that readers who’ve never studied it understand what I’m writing?

Aside from being my favourite form of dance, tap also has the bonus of fairly standard vocabulary, and at least to my ears, the terminology often matches the rhythm (or can be made to do so.) In the last scene of The Move, Juliana taps on her new tap board while working through the major changes that happened in her life. The scene was challenging to write, but I think it achieved the balance needed to express a teen dancer and still keep the reader’s interest.

Let me know in the comments section what your thoughts were on that last scene. Be sure to mention if you’ve danced or not.

Have Questions about Writing Novels about Dance?

If you’re happening upon this blog post because you’re doing a project on dance for school, or if you have questions about writing and dance, feel free to leave your questions below. If they’re personal (i.e., you don’t want the world knowing your question and my answer), email me. I’ll certainly do my best to answer.

Posted on Leave a comment

Hertha Mueller: A Writer You Should Get to Know

I came across German-Romanian writer Hertha Müller* (“Mueller” in English) about two months ago. I’m embarrassed to say, I had no idea who she was, despite having two degrees in German Studies. In my defence, though, I stopped studying in 2005, and it wasn’t until 2009 that she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

She’s in her 60s now, and I believe lives in Sweden. Let me introduce you to her and what the idea of freedom for the arts means.

Who was the Guy and his Wife being Shot?

Mueller was born in the 1950s in one of the last leftover German villages in Romania. (The majority of ethnic Germans had been deported after WWII to either Germany or the labour camps in Russia.) I remember once at Christmas being at my grandmother’s – she and my grandfather were also Germans from Romania but (thank God) never returned after the war – and she had her eyes absolutely glued to the television. (My grandfather had been dead a few years by then.)

A man and his wife had been captured and were being executed. The news was full of lots of death, so I didn’t get why this execution was so important. (I also didn’t get what was so important about a graffitied, cement wall in Berlin and why its destruction was so celebrated.)

All I recall was that she said his name was Nicolae Ceaușescu and she was glad he was gone.

I eventually learned he was a dictator, but that was it. Only recently, with reading Mueller, have I begun to understand what that fully means.

Germans in Romania

I’m reading a book whose title can be literally translated as My Fatherland is an Apple Core: Conversations with Hertha Mueller. (The title refers to a poem or song that I’m not particularly familiar with.)

It’s unfortunate the book isn’t available in English, because she describes in exacting, vivid detail what it’s like to be a writer in a brutal dictatorship that’s trying to silence you and your friends.

As you can likely imagine, being an ethnic German in Eastern Europe during and after World War II wasn’t an enviable position to be in, regardless of which side you supported. After all was said and done, only a handful of Germans remained in these areas. I forget the exact figures, but the German populations decreased by the millions, partly due to deportation to those Russian labour camps, where many died.

Mueller’s mother was schlepped off to one of these camps but returned. (Whether she was lucky was debatable.) Mueller was eventually born and grew up in one of the few remaining German towns in Romania. It might be likened to Mennonite or Amish colonies, where everyone speaks their form of German and continues on with life as they know it, often sans electricity and telephone (though not by choice in this case).

Sneaky and Sly Like a Fox

Hertha Mueller had a fox fur on the floor between her bed and wardrobe, something she and her mother had purchased together from a neighbouring town. She says in the book:

The village tailor was supposed to make a fur collar and cuffs for a coat from it. It was a whole, flat fox with snout and paws and shiny claws. It was far too beautiful to cut up. I kept it for many years as a carpet. One day, I was mopping the floor, and the tail slid to the side. It had been cut off. I convinced myself at that time that it had torn off on its own. I didn’t believe myself that it was an exact, very straight cut, not a tear. (Page 86 of my ebook version via OnLeihe.)

She put the tail back where it belonged. A few weeks later, the first hind leg had been cut off. Later, the second one. Thereafter, one of the front legs. She describes that the cut-off limb was always placed on the fox’s stomach. This took place over months, but during those months, she always entered her apartment and immediately checked if a part of the fox had been severed.

The secret police (the “Securitate”) had a key. They wouldn’t break in, ever, they would just quietly enter. She said they wanted you to know they could come in whenever they wanted to.

Eggs and Onions and Hair

In another episode of intimidation (there were very, very many), she was on her way to get her hair cut. A police officer asked her for her ID and then whisked her off into a hidden room, where she was questioned, accused of blatantly false crimes, and forced to eat eight hard-boiled eggs and an onion. At one point, the agent picked a hair off her clothing, and she said, “Put that hair back, it belongs to me” (page 97 on my Onleihe e-book version). She said he actually put the hair back.

But it Didn’t Stop There

Even after she was allowed to leave in 1987 for Germany, the intimidations and games continued: they stamped her passport with February 29, 1987. That drove the German authorities nuts, she says, because it wasn’t a leap year.

The threats continued. The interviewer also mentions a situation where a Romanian operative was stopped at the German border, allegedly with instructions to kill several who were speaking out against Ceaușescu. Mueller’s address was on his list.

The dictatorship – from what she can gather – even blackmailed a very good friend of hers who had been diagnosed with cancer and was in its last stage. The friend was required to travel to Germany to visit Mueller. It didn’t take long for Mueller to figure out why her friend had come: the passport has visas for many different countries, a kind of passport that was not given out in Romania. Once she called her friend on it, her friend spoke openly and said Mueller would find her name on the death list if she didn’t stop speaking out against Ceaușescu.

We Need Our Openness

I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for our press, publishing industry, and the breadth of opinions out there. It’s not perfect. But it’s not what Hertha Müller had to contend with just to get her voice out there. I know we don’t all agree on how much freedom the press should have, what fake news really is, and how much censorship is too much.

(I recall reading that Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree had been banned by school boards in the past because the tree talked. I draw the line for my kids at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the current cartoons: my kids don’t need to learn a list of names to call people they don’t like.)

But we need to continue having open discussions about all of this, so long as our discussions show respect for the other side. I know there are thousands, likely even millions of artists out there in countries whose work is censored for something as simple as saying they don’t like the government.

It can be frustrating reading comments from people who disagree with you, especially when those comments are rude (and I, too, wish they would be more respectful). I don’t know if this helps, but as I read through this book, it certainly helps me realize that we at least have that right to say something.

*I didn’t add a photo here: the topic is serious, and I’m not an artist who can create something fitting. In addition, I didn’t want to use a photo of Hertha Müller, because, honestly, I feel guilty about using her picture to help promote my blog.

Posted on Leave a comment

Comfort Zones: Potential Danger for Artists, Writers, Performers, and Everyone in Between

Comfort zones are those nice, cozy, warm, fuzzy parts in our mind that convince us to stay put. They have a purpose: respite. But like any spa, too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing (and, frankly, become very expensive).

I recently interviewed a sportscaster for a magazine article, and time and again she emphasized how important it was for her to get out of her comfort zone. She was a trained dancer, but when she got accepted into a well-known musical theatre program in Canada, she spent three years singing in front of others. For her, that was terrifying. But it allowed other opportunities to flow her way.

Hindsight is 20/20, as you know. In my case, my comfort zone in dance became so strong that I even stood in the same spot in the studio as often as possible: the right front corner. I even said I’d have my ashes buried there. The building, though, has since been razed and replaced with a more modern business building. I’ll have somewhere else to inter my ashes.

With writing, it was the same: I wrote about characters I knew, either by attempting a novel for a franchise or copying TV characters from my favourite shows; created plots familiar to me from same sources of inspiration as the characters; and did not expose my heart to my readers, a necessity for creative writing. In my youth, that was a fine path to follow, because I may not have been ready to show my vulnerability back then. This was before social media, of course, but one well-intentioned piece of feedback from a teacher, friend, or parent can hurt you as much as a stranger’s public criticism of your work these days, maybe even more so. I was looking for approval, not feedback, and using my personal creations for that purpose wasn’t the best idea.

Since January 2015, I’ve been working on a novel. It started as a creative challenge to myself: write 10,000 words by December. I hit that goal by mid-February and kept going. (Now, I’m at 92,000.) I’ve submitted the first three chapters to two editors, a friend, and a family member for feedback, and yes, some of the feedback hurt. But age does something to you besides give you wrinkles: it gives you strength and confidence…if you let yourself push past your comfort zone. Their input made me stop writing and go back to character and plot development. I have some major re-working to do, but the piece will hopefully come out stronger in the end. (The feedback is dead on – we’ll see if the writer can make it work.)

Of course, the usual disclaimer: we’re talking about personal goals here, not seeing how long you can wait for a car to approach before you dart across the street without getting hit.

I think it’s wrong to assume that everyone wants to achieve huge monetary success, but I think it’s right to assume that everyone has dreams that will seem big to some and small to others. For some, being able to free their voice and speak up in front of others is a huge dream. For others, it’s normal life. For some, living off $50,000 a year while also saving money is the big goal. For others, that’s reality and they can’t fathom why someone would find that hard to accomplish.

Whatever the goal, it’ll push you. But what I’m finding is that, like my interviewee, you won’t experience the freedom that comes from reaching those goals unless you cross the boundaries of your comfort zone, even just a smidgen. (Just stay out of the path of moving vehicles.)

Posted on Leave a comment

6 Tips to Help You Get Some Creative Time With Kids in the House

A lone tree in the midst of a lake.If you’re a parent, chances are you have to watch your kids while trying to schedule in some creative time for yourself. Sure, you can get down and dirty with them, get yourself covered in paint or mud, and have loads of fun, too. However, you likely once in a while feel the need to work at your own creative pursuits. I’ve found a few ideas that work for times when I need to work on my writing with minimal interruptions. Maybe some will help you in your creative endeavours, too.

Your children’s age will depend on how much you can accomplish. In the early years, when children are very young, you may simply need to arrange for extra help or be satisfied with what you can squeeze in:

  • A tiny human often requires more attention than you have hours in a day.
  • You shouldn’t leave your eyes off a toddler, especially if you want your kitchen cupboards to stay intact.
  • Kids in the midst of toilet training are an accident waiting to happen (that you need to clean up).

My kids are in elementary school and by no means independent enough to look after themselves for an hour or two while I work away at the computer. I’ve found few ways, though, to integrate my work into their lives.

Idea #1:

I rarely write at the computer when home alone with the kids. My kids run to the computer as strongly as most working adults run away from it. I lose my patience easily when I get interrupted so frequently that the period I’m aiming for seems two miles away. My best alternative is to avoid the situation altogether.

Idea #2:

Therefore, I work with paper and pen at a table, usually brainstorming. I have enough projects on the go (paid and personal) that I always have something to brainstorm. Doing this after a meal works best, because my kids are re-energized, usually happy, and eager to play with each other.

Idea #3:

I taught my kids how to knock. (If you don’t have a separate room, teaching them to say, “Excuse me, Mom/Dad,” could play the same role.) I can then finish my thought/sentence and turn off my timer. Then I tell them to come in, and they have 100% of my attention. If my husband’s home, though, they get a very quick, “Mommy’s working. You have to ask Daddy.” Which brings me to Way #4:

Idea #4:

I set reasonable boundaries for their ages. I can set the oven timer for 20 minutes and ask my kids not to disturb me until it beeps. However, because of Rule #1, I only use this when I’m alone with the kids and facing a tight deadline. I’ve also heard that having a box with special activities reserved for such times can help, but it didn’t work for me.

Idea #5:

Ask for help. Whether it’s the grandparents, your significant other, a trusted friend, or paid child care, if you need a long stretch of creativity time, you may need to bring in the cavalry. Kids are programmed to desire their parents’ company, but having someone else in the house who loves them, or at least cares enough about them to have fun with them, may give you that extra space to work on your project.

Idea #6:

I spend scheduled time with them each day, and ensure that work is far from my mind. I don’t write between 3:00 and 4:00 so I can pick up the kids from the bus, have a snack with them, see if they have homework, etc. I also read to them many nights of the week. I limit writing on the weekends, again, depending on my workload.

Think through your own rules carefully to make sure they’re appropriate for your family’s situation, but then gently enforce them. Be understanding that kids need help when things change, especially when the kids are really young. Based on my experience, the angrier I get with the kids, the angrier they get with each other, and I have to frequently stop what I’m doing to break up their fights. Gentleness, patience, and consistency usually ensure longer periods of time for me.

One warning, though: whatever you do, don’t make your creative pursuit appear like something that’s keeping you away from your kids. Children may grow jealous of your hobby/job instead of being inspired by it. Just be gentle with your children. In my few years of parenthood, I’ve learned that patience and teaching generally beat force if I’m looking for long-term compliance.

Do you have any tips on how to carve out some creativity time for yourself with kids in the home?

Posted on 4 Comments

Storytelling or Missionizing?

Robertson DaviesI idolized Jean Little in my pre-teens and early teens. Many of her books helped me understand other children. I do believe they made me a nicer person. One novel, Different Dragons, even helped me get over my fear of dogs (though I still greatly dislike them). I wanted to write similar stories, ones that helped others understand their friends, family, and even strangers better. I didn’t want to scare anyone, or hurt anyone, or embarrass anyone. I wanted to help. But I was still too young to look past someone’s physical appearance into their soul, and that showed in my writing.

My problem, according to Robertson Davies, was that I was focusing on the message and not the story. (He didn’t advise me personally – I simply enjoy reading his essays.) Davies felt that too many writers were trying to missionize. I was in that category. “Write about what you know,” they say. While I don’t think that always has to be true, it did apply to my stories at the time. Jean Little wrote in her first autobiography that she began writing to fill a void in fiction. In her younger years, she used to work with children who faced various  challenges. She loved reading to them, but every disabled child in the books she read magically became abled at the end:

I was looking for a book in which the child’s handicap was present only in the background. The kids I taught were no conscious of their disabilities most of the time. They minded when people stared at them, or when their brothers and sisters got bicycles, of course. But usually they were too busy living to brood. Physio and occupational therapy were like arithmetic and reading, an accepted part of their days.

[…]

Why couldn’t there be a happy ending without a miracle cure? Why wasn’t there a story with a child in it who resembled the kids I taught? Somebody should write one, I thought. It did not yet cross my mind that that somebody might be me. [Little, Jean. Little by Little: a Writer’s Education. Markham: Penguin Books. 1987. Excerpt from pages 224-225.]

She currently has over 40 publications to her name, from 1962 to now. She knew how to capture the soul of each child in her work. The books aren’t about “be nice to handicapped kids.” They describe real children’s growing pains, regardless of what daily challenges they face. The child could have cerebral palsy, be afraid of dogs, or live during the Spanish flu epidemic. I stopped reading Little when I was about 13 or so, so I’m no fully familiar with her current works. But as a child on the quieter side of the spectrum, she connected with me.

Fast forward 20 years, when I have my own children. I had started another book with my boys last night: Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott:

Soonie’s family makes SHOW WAYS – quilts with secret meanings that are maps to freedom. Her family tells stories of bravery that inspire courage. Each generation passes on to the next the belief that there is a road to a better place. [Book summary.]

Beautifully written, it let me read a book to my young boys about American black history over two nights. My youngest is a bit too young – he doesn’t understand that sort of thing yet. But my older son was quite enthralled, despite claiming at the beginning of each night that he didn’t want to read it. The theme described how mothers pass down hope, generation to generation, through quilting. The background was slavery and then the civil rights movement in the US. For older children, they may have recognized some of the photos pulled out of history. For young children, they blended in to the background as my kids listened to my words.

My third example of an excellent children’s writer (because this is a genre prone to missionizing) is Marc Brown and his Arthur series. I get more excited when Arthur comes on in the morning than my kids. And my anticipation increases when I realize it’s an episode I haven’t seen yet. (They’re currently in season 18, so I have lots of episodes to watch out for.) Arthur, Francine, the Brain, George, Muffy, D.W., Binky…all the characters could just as well be my kids’ friends at school. They’ve tackled cancer, Alzheimer’s (with Joan Rivers’ help – awesome episode), bullying, trying to write a story that’s true to you…The last thing I think about is being missionized to. The first thing I see is an excellent story.

I’ve spent a lot of time debating how to tackle topics that are important to me, the kinds that I think people should read about. It’s easy to rant in an op-ed piece for the local paper. Not so easy is writing excellent fiction on a difficult topic that invites the reader in instead of shutting the reader out. You can’t missionize, you have to tell the story.

There is nothing more satisfying than understanding a challenge you’ve carried with you for so long and finally knowing the direction you have to go in to fix it.

Posted on 6 Comments

What Do You Believe About Yourself? It May Affect Your Creativity

Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1884 (age 10)
Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1884 (age 10) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I did a few comedy improv workshops once for troubled teens in a local high school. Most of the scenes were about sex, so I urged the students to try something else. A young man spoke up.

“You know we’re teens, right?”

That young man illustrated for me what many people believe: the stereotype they accept for themselves (“teens think only about sex”) also includes a belief about creativity (“therefore we can’t think of anything else”).

When I was young, I actually believed that creativity = good writing. I didn’t realize that practice and learning = good writing. By the time I got to university, I’d stopped writing fiction, because I couldn’t remember anyone (except my parents) saying I could write well.

It’s amazing how 16 years, two kids, and a daytime job improve your self-esteem. I’ve allowed myself to write fiction again.

I didn’t do it by setting aside “me time” at the computer, where I’d spend two hours completely immersed in my writing. I did it the old-fashioned way: the notebook beside the bed. (I believe L.M. Montgomery did this, though I’m sure many other writers did and do, too.) If I had the urge to write in the morning or before bed, I wrote, usually about ten minutes or so, and then went on with my day.

I ended up writing a few kids’ stories and sharing one with my little ones. They loved it, by the way, and it’s sparked a new bedtime routine for us: practicing creativity by writing a kids’ story together.

What if they hadn’t liked it? I would’ve been ecstatic with the small step that I’d at least written something. Then I would’ve tried to figure out why they didn’t like it, and I would’ve tried again.

But first thing’s first: break out of your self-defined stereotype, and create.