magical thinking

There is an essay in Zadie Smith's collection, Changing My Mind, called That Crafty Feeling. It is a version of a lecture she gave to the students of Columbia University's Writing Program in 2008.

Section 4 of that essay is titled, Middle-Of-The-Novel Magical Thinking.

Simplified, it's the point where, when writing a novel, or in my case a collection of short stories, something strange happens.  Everything you encounter, flows freely into your writing.

By everything, she means: your home, the street, dialogue on the bus, the newspaper, your pets, your partner. Just...everything.

Zadie writes: "...there is nothing in the world except your book. The middle of the novel is a state of mind.  Strange things happen in it." 

Here are a few strangely magical things that have happened lately:

One of the stories I'm working on doesn't have a title yet. The options, presently, are: Confessions of a Chronic Voyeur, Slash of Red, Out There, Identification, The Naming of Things.

I think The Naming of Things isn't the best choice.  

The strange magical thinking part:

I stopped to pick up some wine to celebrate a couple of well timed epiphanies after a meeting with my mentor, Sarah Selecky and found this document sticking out of the garbage (pictured above) outside the LCBO It's an outline for a film titled, The Power of Naming and Identifying Information.

The story without a title yet is, partly, about a woman who has reoccurring dreams of a plane crash. In the dreams, she sees bits of things falling from the aircraft and landing around her. A plastic glass, part of a shoe, handles from suitcases, a slice of apple. 

The strange magical thinking part:

While listening to CBC Radio One on the Saturday morning drive out to the drop zone for Safety Day, I heard a news story how a piece from one of the planes that crashed on 9-11 was found wedged between two buildings in New York City.  

After the news, I switched the station to CBC Radio 2 where Stuart McLean was doing a reading before The Vinyl Cafe.  The story was all about the Sunshine Coast in B.C. and following it, they aired the show he had taped in Powell River.

The strange magical thinking part:

The story without a title yet, partly about a woman who has reoccurring dreams of a plane crash, is set in the Sunshine Coast.

The story without a title yet, partly about a woman who has reoccurring dreams of a plane crash, set in the Sunshine Coast also involves a character who suffers severe, life threatening injuries.  To better write about her condition, I decided to make a list of "things that are watery".  I thought it might help evoke images of what it feels like to lose a lot of blood, experience weakness, be in shock, lose consciousness, etc. 

The strange magical thinking part:

Aforementioned mentor, Sarah Selecky tweets writing prompts.  Her prompt from today was: Write a list from 1-20 titled, "Things that are watery."  

In no way have we discussed this character with the injuries, or how I came up with "things that are watery" or how she did or why she posted that very  

It's got to be the magic.   

Another story in my collection has a protagonist named Val. I recently changed the name of Val's daughter from Jamie to Molly. (Molly is working much better). I did this before reading Tenth of December, the title story in Tenth of December a new collection of short stories by George Saunders. It is worthwhile mentioning I am a big George Saunders fan.

The strange magical thinking part:

In Tenth of December there are characters named both Val and Molly.

This one doesn't really fit with the others, but I'm going to include it anyway.

The other morning, I saw a photo of two newly hatched baby penguins on Facebook after several weeks of absence from the site. Rushing out to work, I quickly saved the .jpg to my computer. The next day, I realized I had not saved the image incorrectly.

There were no penguins.

I went back to Facebook to try and find the photo that I had seen it on a post via a friend of another person, or maybe it was an ad for a Japanese writer, I think, but I couldn't remember his name, even though I thought I saw him in that "The Strategist" section of the Globe and Mail last week.


Sweet little creatures lost in a virtual vacuum never to be seen again.

Look at this photo.

You see the urgency I had in finding it.

At work I googled "baby penguin images" and it gave me 28,000,000 pics to choose from.

I enlisted the help of my tech support colleague and from his computer, tried a couple of targeted searches on Facebook.


For fun, I showed him how I had googled the search earlier and...there they were.

"Quick, save it!" he said.

And there they are.
Just a couple of newly hatched Gentoo penguin chicks in Antarctica.

And they, along with a few other things right now, are most certainly magical.

Photo by Richard Sidey was National Geographic's Photo of the Day on January 8, 2013.

big deal

Last night, the 100th Grey Cup was played in downtown Toronto, where the Toronto Argonauts defeated the Calgary Stampeders 35-22.  

On Saturday, three writers I know were listed on the Globe's top 23 Canadian fiction books of the year.  Eva Stachniak for The Winter Palace, Grace O'Connell  Magnified World, and Heather Birrell for Mad Hope. 

Earlier this month, my writing teacher, friend and inspiration, Sarah Selecky had the US launch of her book, This Cake is for the Party.  
And, last Thursday, I was awarded the Random House of Canada 2012 Student Writing Award for my short story, Let Me Call You Lovely.

Each of these accomplishments is, in my opinion, a big deal. And deserves the recognition it receives. 
The publication where my short story appears, Three, is small but, a big deal. U of T faculty, Random House staff and the contest judges all had very positive things to say about my writing and the finalists writing like, "remarkable literary outcomes" and "fine writers" and "a fantastic achievement". 

I didn't realize just how big a deal the award was until I arrived at the U of T Faculty Club on Thursday night to celebrate the win along with the finalists and read this, from 2009 winner Anne Perdue, underscoring the importance of the award to her career.  

"A year later, Insomniac Press published my book. I am hugely grateful to the Random House of Canada Student Award in Writing for providing opportunity, prestigious acknowledgement, and validation."

Pretty big deal.

The evening was a tandem celebration for the award's 10th anniversary and at the door, one of the organizers told me they only had name tags printed for VIP guests, faculty, and finalists.  When I introduced myself, she said, "Oooooh, you are the winner! Congratulations. Of course you have a name tag."  

I was the big deal.

I also had to read an excerpt from the story, something the editor had failed to mention to me.  Finding out then and there saved me the worry and concern and neurosis of deciding which bit to read. No rehearsing, no overthinking it, no breathing exercises.

No big deal.   

I am more writer than sports enthusiast lately.  However, I am from Saskatchewan so that makes me a Roughrider fan by default.  My best Grey Cup experience was 23 years ago when I still lived in Saskatchewan. With two seconds left in the game, Dave Ridgway kicked a field goal giving the Riders a 43-40 victory over the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the 1989 Grey Cup.  We jumped in the back of a pick up truck and drove around downtown Regina after the game.  

It was a big deal.  

On Friday, my nephew and his girlfriend came to Toronto for the weekend to attend the game yesterday. They are huge fans (pictured here, front and centre, in green) and along with many other keen CFL lovers, have been roaming the city for the past week. I went to Nathan Philips Square and Yonge and Dundas with them where we did yoga on a makeshift field, tasted new flavours of Frank's Hot Sauce and tossed a football at some tires in a cage. Next year's Grey Cup is in Regina. 

It will be a big deal. 

Whether it's sports or writing or any other thing you want to make a big deal about, below is some wise advice from Natalie Goldberg, a big deal in her own right.  

“Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.”