Erasure II: Reshaping the Path

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Oops! There isn’t an eraser big enough for this ball of fur

I’ve heard from a lot of people in response to my Erasure post which I wrote over a year ago about turning 30, erasing stuff, and how we’re not getting any younger so I was going to carpe all the diems, make mistakes, and learn Portuguese. One of the best responses was from one of my oldest friends, Abe, who sent me a giant eraser and some comics I drew of our group of friends in high school. Good times. Actually, the comic was aptly named: The High School Times. Anyway, Abe recently started a brilliant blog, which you can read here. And you really should because he’s a brilliant, insightful writer and all around awesome person.

So, a lot of things have happened since I wrote that Erasure post. I’m now headed toward 32, and not really worried about being 30 anymore, and the Portuguese thing got complicated. It’s actually a pretty funny story.

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Then: Novo Avenida

Last fall I went to Montreal. Hilarious story, right. Wait, here comes the funny part. I have never had a desire to learn French. While my mother and both of my sisters studied French in school, I studied Spanish. When my friends traveled to Paris in college, I studied Japanese. When I finally went to Europe, I avoided the continent all together and stopped in Ireland.

So anyway, there I was in Montreal with my Portuguese textbook, ready to use my spare time on vacation to complete the last few exercises.

Then things got French. Fast. People in Montreal that I talked to were all bilingual, but I quickly felt myself falling for the charms of the language and the culture. I’ve always dreamed of spending time in a place that would challenge me to speak another language, yet I’ve been feeling a pull back east as I get older too, and feeling like there is limited time to travel to new place while still staying connecting to all the places I’ve been. Quebec is lovely and hilly and mountainous, there are huge deciduous trees and all those wonderful things I miss about the east coast. Being in that place sparked memories of my past and reminded me of the future I’m chasing.

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Now: Comme un Gant!

So when I got back to Winnipeg, I put Novo Avenida on the shelf and enrolled in a French class. Wait, I’m not a quitter. I have justifications:

1) I got to take French for free through a government funded French for Immigrants program. It feels like I’m learning a lot faster than I was learning Portuguese through studying on my own.

2) I live in Canada. French is by far the most useful second language for me to know. It’s useful at work (when visiting Montreal) or just whenevs I feel like Frenching. That’s what they call it, right?

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The High School Times

3) I am no longer erasing. I read a book about mindsets recently, and how we can grow from mistakes. It made me see opportunity where I used to see failure. Maybe you don’t always have to erase, but can constantly improve. Such as reshaping a letter written in ink, turning a mistake into something new, not worse. So anyway, the justification is: French and Portuguese are both romance languages. Learning one will help me learn the other, and I have the ability to take French classes for free, so why not start there and build Portuguese on top of the skills I pick up along the way? It might not be the most efficient way, but how can you ever complete an objective if you’re erasing and starting over? Especially if you happen to be really indecisive and always want to try something new…

I think there was maybe a 4), but I forget.

Oh, wait, I forgot the really funny part. As in ironic funny. There is a chance I’ll be going to Brazil in the coming months. And I just might bring a French book to study while I’m there. *upside-down-smiley-face-what-a-crazy-world emoticon*

 

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Erasing and Evolving

Abe is one of my oldest friends (as in since childhood, not as in he’s really old…) and he writes awesome stuff that you should check out on his blog. We met in kindergarten, and years later we are still erasing and evolving together. I’m still planning to write a follow-up to my original Erasure post, but this is going to be a tough act to follow after Abe’s post…

Thursdays with T

A while back my friend Will (who’s blog is awesome, seriously stop reading this right now and go check out his page) wrote about how he suddenly realized one day that he had reached a point in his life where he wasn’t expected to need erasers anymore. He gets a bit deeper on the subject but in summary, he realized that as children we are expected, heck encouraged even, to make mistakes. It’s how we learn. It’s how we grow. But then we reach adulthood and overnight we’re supposed to have our entire live worked out. No more erasers. No more do-overs.

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That post really hit home for me. Partially because I, with age 30 peeking right around the corner, am nowhere near having my life in perfect order. True, the past few years I’ve started to figure things out, but compared to the typical adulthood timeline…

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Invisible Ink

My eloquent sister on writing and where words go once they are written.

Brenna Layne

IMG_20160507_125618929Almost-invisible ink.

Novel-writing is an act of wild optimism. It is for any writer, I think, but particularly for those of us who aren’t published. When I begin writing, I write not for an audience, not even for myself, but for the story–because there is a story that wants to be told. When I revise, though, it is with audience in mind. Will my thoughts come across clearly, my images vividly? Are these characters believable, sympathetic, real?

The initial drafting is a kind of possession. The raw material of story seizes you, sinks its fingers into your windpipe, and refuses to let go. Revision is different–a smoothing, a subtle shaping of worked clay. The story is birthed and must now undergo its metamorphosis. This is the point, for me, at which audience truly begins to matter.

But here’s the rub–there is no audience. This is true for published writers as…

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Out of joint

Brenna Layne

the time is out of joint~Shakespeare, Hamlet, I.5.190

Lately, the idea that I have anything to say feels patently absurd. It’s probably also patently absurd that I use expressions like “patently absurd.” My intention has been to post weekly, on Thursdays, and I’ve not been doing a fantastic job of it. Thursday slides closer and then slips by in the backwash of the week’s end, trailing a tinge of that quiet but uncomfortable remorse one feels when one promises oneself that one will do something and one doesn’t. That is a lot of ones, but I’m feeling archaic. The time is out of joint.

I went backwards in time on a 1920s steam engine last weekend in Buffalo, NY. I went backwards in time on a 1920s steam engine last weekend in Buffalo, NY.

Perhaps it’s autumn that does this, that works its strange magic through the waning days and lengthening nights. When the leaves flame out against the hillsides and the nights…

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Transformation

I made it all the way to #DareToExcel Challenge 2! I honestly didn’t know if I’d make it this far, but I’m enjoying the prompts as they’re helping me explore something that’s been weighing on me lately.

Challenge 2 is to answer several questions to create a project brief.

Project Title: (a tentative title is fine)

Transformation

Since writing up the question from Challenge 1, I’ve clung to the metaphors of Brahma and Shiva as a way to understand the black_hole_interstellarforces of creation and destruction. What really stands out to me is the idea of the cycle. Destruction is not necessarily negative, it is the spark of Transformation.

The Problem: State the problem you’re wanting to pursue in one sentence.

The problem is that creativity has taken my time, energy and money, and left me with less than I started with.

The Feeling: Articulate the feeling that you’re driven to give shape to through this project. 

The feeling is a bitterness toward creativity, like it owes me something for all I’ve sacrificed to it. The sacrifice of time and money — three years and thousands of dollars for an MFA which has resulted in a debt larger than my annual income (by the time I pay it off, it will be more than double my annual income.) This is just one example, but prioritizing creativity has left me feeling sour in a lot of ways. It’s not only money. It’s the time I’ve spent writing (time that I could have invested in friends and family, building my resume, or learning other skills.) I’ve been in a creative rut lately, where the very idea of creation makes me feel exhausted and defeated. I’m hoping the Dare To Excel challenge can help me figure out a positive way to balance my life.

Wonder & Curiosity: What are you curious about in relation to this project?

I’m curious to explore what I have gained from creativity, why I can’t give it up, and how I can learn to value it again. To realize how it has transformed me. As far as wonder goes, I guess I am in awe of the strength of the force of creativity, how I am compelled to answer to it no matter how many times I try to push it away. I have given writing up for good 3 times in the past year. Each time I began a new short story a few hours later.

Dare To Excel Challenge

I’ve been meaning to get in on the whole Quest thing for a while, and am finally giving it a go! Thanks for the nudge, Brenna. 🙂

I’ve been struggling a lot with creativity lately, and the spaces it allows me and forces me to carve out of my life, and I would like to better understand or appreciate the give and take of creativity. Why I struggle so much with it, and why I need it. So here is my question:

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I’m already feeling a pull towards the iconic struggle of Brahma and Shiva, and an acceptance that the riddle of my question won’t have a clear answer, but a tangle of half-answers. Maybe it’s because something has to be destroyed for something new to be created. Whatever the case, I’m going to peer down the abyss.

More about #DareToExcel here: trackingwonder.com/DareToExcel

My muse is hairy and has bad breath

Some awesome thoughts from my sister…

Brenna Layne

Quest2015: twelve days with twelve visionaries to envision my best work in the next twelve months.

But these twelve are not exactly the Twelve Days of Christmas. The gifts of these prompts are loaded ones; they are not light, fluffy offerings, but rather, invitations to sit with the darkness, to grapple with giants, to push off the edge of the map into the bits past the cautionary label “Here Be Monsters.” Like the magical objects offered to the questing third sons in fairy tales, these prompts come loaded with powers that can turn on the wielder like the slip of a sharp knife.

Today’s prompt, from visionary Seth Godin, is titled, “Who Will Miss You?” Seth asks

Who would miss you if you were gone? If you didn’t show up to work, didn’t send out that newsletter, didn’t make that sales call, didn’t tweet that tweet… who would miss it? How…

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Passport Update

The first renewed passport that was issued in June finally arrived! My identity is safe!

On my vacation at Lake of the Woods last week, I found a copy of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls in the house. I don’t read much nonfiction, but I am a Sedaris fan, so I picked it up and enjoyed the read. I particularly enjoyed the pieces about life abroad, but one essay mirrored my own recent passport fun in that unsettling and enlightening way only good literature can.

“A Cold Case” is about Sedaris’ experience having his passport stolen when he was a permanent resident of England, and losing that document with the passport.

Here are my favorite parts:

When hassled by Border Security: “Who was I to feel at home in another country, to believe that filling out forms and scoring high marks on a test guaranteed me the same sense of belonging I take for granted in the United States?”

When he tries to get a new passport:

“Nobody likes having a problem, but having a convoluted, bureaucratic one is even more galling. When I explained it to people face-to-face I would see their eyes glazing over, and when I explained it over the phone, I could feel them turning on their computers and checking their retirement accounts.”

“I hung up thinking there were worse things than being deported from England. What’s with a country that takes six months to replace a sticker in somebody’s passport, this when it’s all right there on the computer? Then I thought of other things I don’t like about the place…There are problems everywhere, of course. It’s just that without my passport I can’t adequately appreciate them.”

So here’s why I’ve been trapped in Canada for the past 3 months…

My passport was to expire this month, and since I live in Canada now, I had to renew it by mail. Sending in the form was easy enough. But it all went downhill from there. I had to send my old passport with the form, so I was basically stuck in Canada without it. There are worse fates, but when possible, I prefer not to be stuck anywhere.

Here’s where things got fun. I checked the status of my new passport online, and it was processed and shipped within the allotted 6 weeks. I was told I would receive it by June 17. June 17 came and went with no passport. As did June 18, 19, 20, and so on, well into July.

I called the passport center and was told that they have no way of tracking passports mailed to Canada and that they couldn’t say for sure what happened to it. They had “no way of knowing” where in the world my passport was. Good. Great. Awesome.

I saved the passport center’s number into the contacts list on my phone so I could easily call them on a daily basis. But the fun part was, this wasn’t the office that actually processed my missing-in-the-mail passport. That office did not have a phone number and could only be contacted by mail. Yes, good old gets-there-in-7-to-10-days paper mail.

These calls went on well into August. I was eventually told to file for non-receipt of passport. (More snail mail.) Then once the form was received, I was contacted by the real issuing office! But they told me the policies had changed in the months since I sent in my old passport and they now required a photo copy of an ID to process the non-receipt form. Oh, good.

Long story short, they let me fax in a copy of my Canadian driver’s license. And just two days later I found my new passport on the doorstep. Yes, they sent it next day and let it sit there on the doorstep all afternoon. I could have had two lost passports out there. But I got it. It’s a fancy new hardback book with pictures of American history throughout. And most importantly, I’m free! The only problem is, somehow they’re holding me responsible for the still-lost-in-the-mail passport and I need to follow up on it. Stay tuned for updates…

 

Happy Fourth

I realized today that this is the fourth 4th I’ve spent outside the US. The first was when I was in Ireland for the summer of 2007, and the other three are the last few years which I’ve spent in Canada. Earlier this week was Canada Day (July 1) which is like the Fourth of July but with only red and white and no blue.

I have mixed feelings about the US as I do about most things (I’m an overthinker). It is a country that I’ve watched turn away my friends and loved ones while others cross the border illegally every day. But it is my homeland, and I am grateful to the US for all of its great qualities: its diverse landscapes and peoplescapes, its refusal to be anything but itself.

I am also grateful to Canada for the opposite reason. It is content to be another country in the world without having to claim it is the only country in the world. It cohabits the continent and the world like a friendly neighbor who offers you a cup of sugar before you have to ask. On the other hand, the US wants to build fences along its borders to keep the neighbors the hell off its lawn while it continues to invade other neighborhoods (usually with good intention) – it is a statement that says “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine as well.”

Sometimes this concerns me, like when I see the buzzfeed lists of why America is the greatest country ever. I know its a joke, but I also know it isn’t. And I saw a similar post about why Canada is better than the US this Canada Day and that concerned me too. As Canada grows and matures, is it hitting the adolescent arrogance of the US?

With age and time comes perspective. I sometimes miss not living at the center stage of the world, the focus of the universe, having access to all the stores and websites and getting everything first. (Those of you reading this in the US–you wouldn’t believe the reputation of coveted things like “American Netflix” which has access to more and better shows and movies than its lesser versions around the world.) But I’ve never really liked being at the center of attention, which is why I write my words more often than I speak them.

There is something to be said for the grandness that is America. While anyone or anything claiming to be the greatest in the world makes me wary at best, today is a day to put those feelings aside and remember what a great country the US truly is. It birthed most of the wonderful people I know and love. I must remind myself that that adolescent arrogance has lessons to teach me about pride and confidence and taking ownership myself and what I hold dear.

So today I put my overthinking and my mixed feelings aside, and I say, “Happy Fourth of July!”