Creativity under attack: surviving quarantine as an artist

I see you.

The creative soul who usually spends days head down in a journal. Maybe elbow deep in paint or fingers dusty with smudged charcoal. Perhaps you prefer quick shutter speeds and wide lenses. The resonance of a guitar string strummed softly. Or rhythm moving through your body expressing pain past and present, like a warm song crying out in a cold night.

I see you.

This bizarre and tumultuous moment in history is supposedly ours, when artists have the time and space to create. The world has slowed to a crawl and actually begs us to stay in, be in our homes and keep each other safe. Remove distraction from the outside world and there should be ample room for art.

But I see you struggling. You feel this too intensely. The fear has snuck in so close you feel it like knotted twine wrapped around your chest.

You know at the heart of this threat is a microscopic enemy, a small viral protein packed with enough power to take away the things you treasure most: your parents, spouse, children, family and friends.

You may have already lost a job, or a business. Maybe even a home. But you barter with this invisible enemy that you would give up all those things three times over if only it would spare the ones you love.

You watched civilization fold like a musty army tent ordered to clear out. As the tent poles fell, you felt the air being sucked out of you, too.

This, all of this is the price one pays for seeing the world through artist’s eyes.

The creatives are trapped in the dark with monsters under our beds, even if they all are dressed differently. If the thread of human existence has taught us anything, it is that life will press on — the monsters will make way for artistry when daylight breaks.

So don’t worry about the dusty manuscript on your desk, the overdue rehearsal, the canvas devoid of colour. Your creative spark has not snuffed out – it’s merely waiting for dawn to reignite.

For now, feel as you must: lost, scared, anxious, timid, bewildered and discouraged.

But please promise me you will never feel alone.

Because I see you – and I’m there, too.

Resources if you need help

BIG hits the shelves in Canada

What a whirlwind week! I arrived home on Wednesday to find my pre-order copies of BIG: Stories About Life in Plus-Sized Bodies had arrived.

Even the Table of Contents is pretty!

Opening the box was surreal. Packs of five books were each plastic-wrapped together, preserving that fresh book smell. The cover is silky smooth and the vibrant colours pop off the page. It is simply a thing o’ beauty.

Caitlin Press Editor Christina Myers has amassed some incredible essays that lay bare the experience of living large in a society obsessed with small.

These stories offer a closer look at what it means to navigate a world designed to fit bodies of a certain size (sometimes literally) and, in turn, invite readers to ask questions about — and ultimately reconsider — our collective and individual obsession with women’s bodies.

There’s promotions planned in the near future, and I know I have more to say on this topic, but let’s cut to the chase on what really matters.

Get your copy now

My husband was just as excited as I was to see this on Page 16.

Today is the official release date for the anthology. Purchase a copy from one of the Okanagan’s best independent bookstores, Mosaic Books.

I’m also a fan of Wendel’s in Langley. They have some copies and you can also order online.

Or you can order it directly from Caitlin Press themselves.

Do you live in the U.S.? Order a copy from Powell’s. Have you ever been? If you’re ever in Portland, GO. It was a spiritual experience.

I’m a fan of supporting independents, but I get that sometimes you gotta go big to get BIG. Here’s some links to pave the way:

Have questions or wondering about readings? Feel free to hit me up.

Finding Your Cape released and now a bestseller

Happy crowd of Mareathoners at Saturday’s book launch celebration.

All that work, reading, revising, mental energy, worry, tears, contemplation just emerged into the world as an incredible book that people are buying and reading.

Mare McHale is the best-selling author of Finding Your Cape.
Me and best-selling author, Mare McHale.

It was an honour to help Mare McHale edit Finding Your Cape: How to Course Correct and Achieve Greatness When Things Don’t Go As Planned. I know the book will help so many people – it features honesty that we don’t see much of in the world. But this makes such a strong argument for being authentic and staying true to yourself.

I’m still amazed at Mare’s strength, resiliency and vulnerability, enduring so much and also recognizing how her struggles can, and will, help others.

The book launch was packed – and the vibe in the room was so positive and celebratory. The early reviews are in (from media like News 1130, AM 1150, Castanet and Penticton Herald), and her publication was also ranked #1 in new releases, grief, mental health, happiness and textbooks on Amazon over the weekend.

There is a lot more to come from Mare on this topic and more. Looking forward to seeing this newly minted author fly to incredible heights.

If you would like to purchase a copy (and highly recommend you do!), visit the link on Amazon.

When a book editor works with a YouTuber

The thing about being a freelance editor is you can’t see the all the reactions your writer has during the highs and lows of the editing process.

I always try to be kind. You can be a ruthless editor without making someone feel like they’ve been run down by a speeding pickup with studded tires. I do my best to FaceTime or Skype my clients during the “low points” of the process, so that all my words are delivered sensitively. I can see their reaction, anticipate their concern or frustration, and try to alleviate their fears. When you’re in the weeds of the editing process, it can be a dark time for a writer — the moment they want to throw the work in a bin and light a match. Not one single writer needs fuel for those flames of self-doubt.

I spend a lot of time hand-holding through the low valleys, but usually we are done before they reach the very peak of the mountain — when they read positive feedback and are floating above the ground with happiness. Or most importantly, that last 10% of the climb they must face alone.

Gotta love that post-delivery glow

That experience has been true for me, until I worked with Mare McHale. She records the entire moment with her video camera — including when FedEx comes to her front door with four very heavy boxes holding no less than 200 books.

You get to hear the squeals of excitement. You see the sparkle in her eyes. That’s when the editor gets to climb the mountain peak too… I actually fell off my chair laughing so hard at her reaction, there was so. much. joy.

Then she unpacks all those lovely books in preparation for mailing out the pre-orders she received. Taking in the magnitude of her achievement, she starts crying in her kitchen and thanking people for believing in her, championing her on, and supporting her on the journey. And then you start crying, too.

Her book will be released on Jan. 23, and she has a special book launch celebration set for Jan. 25. (Tickets can be purchased here. Don’t wait – tickets are going quickly) In the meantime, she has several media interviews scheduled, as interest in the subject of mental health and the woman whose light is helping others find their way out of darkness grows.

I cannot wait for the celebration, when I can offer a toast to her achievement and soak in her joy — all in person.

A heavy load

Being a service member is not easy — those men and women shoulder an incredible load.

But how do you tell that story in a compelling way that resonates with civilians? How do you make annual Remembrance Day stories real to those who will never see the realities of military service?  The Royal British Legion put together this brilliant video for #ArmedForcesDay. Such a simple concept, and beautifully executed.

Each civilian is introduced by name and profession, personalizing them and making the individual relatable. The viewer walks through the civilian experience of loading the bag and trying to lift it.

How telling stories makes us human

As this story by Jeffrey Kluger explains in Time Magazine, stories are part of who we are and the communities we live in. Sharing good stories can positively impact people’s perceptions and interactions with you.

Odds are, you’ve never heard the story of the wild pig and the seacow — but if you’d heard it, you’d be unlikely to forget it. The wild pig and seacow were best friends who enjoyed racing each other for sport. One day, however, the seacow hurt his legs and could run no more. So the wild pig carried him down to the sea, where they could race forever, side by side, one in the water, one on the land.You can learn a lot from a tale like that — about friendship, cooperation, empathy and an aversion to inequality. And if you were a child in the Agta community — a hunter-gatherer population in The Philippines’ Isabela Province — you’d have grown up on the story, and on many others that teach similar lessons. The Agta are hardly the only peoples who practice storytelling; the custom has been ubiquitous in all cultures over all eras in all parts of the world. Now, a new study in Nature Communications, helps explain why: storytelling is a powerful means of fostering social cooperation and teaching social norms, and it pays valuable dividends to the storytellers themselves, improving their chances of being chosen as social partners, receiving community support and even having healthy offspring. Read the full story:

Stories have been part of human history since the beginning — and research has shown that storytellers can benefit from sharing tales.

In print: essay chosen for BIG anthology

Thrilled to share that my essay “Easy Out” has been selected for publication in BIG: Stories about Life in Plus-Sized Bodies – an anthology to be published next year.

Editor Christina Myers has curated a collection of essays and poetry that plumb the depths of size, and the experience “of being large in a a culture obsessed with thinness.”

The second I read the call for submissions, I knew what experience I would share. Talk about getting vulnerable: this essay touches on my past identity as an athlete, and how it ran up against the health-care system in a difficult moment that I struggled to even disclose to friends and family. It was a devastating and isolating experience. Having worked with Christina in the past, and read her brave and bold words in previously published work, I knew my story would be safe in her hands. There is work from 26 other writers in this anthology, and I cannot wait to read each and every piece, to shed the isolation and share in the experience of so many others.

BIG: Stories about Life in Plus-Size Bodies will be published by Caitlin Press in early 2020. Check out the catalogue online.

What I’m reading: Split Tooth

Cover of Tanya Tagaq's novel, Split Tooth.

I used to be the type of person who could only read one thing at a time. No cacaphony of narrative voice – give the author the due respect they deserve! But as a Lit major, solitary focus on one novel is a luxury you just cannot afford. I tried to revert back to my monogamous reading style, but evidently I’m averse to commitment. I tell myself it’s okay: this scattered, read-all-the-things approach means I’m always surrounded by books.

I just finished reading Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth. What an incredible read – experimental, yet evocative of traditional mythology and Indigenous creationist tales. It isn’t very often that you read something that feels like it is breaking ground in terms of form and style. The story offers a raw and unflinching glimpse into life in Nunavut, and there were several times my heart broke in two for the young female narrator, or I had to put the book down. The definition of a haunting tale.

Secret’s out… Mare wrote a book!

Super happy to share today’s news… Mare McHale is writing a book!

That’s right: the CEO of Redhead Mare Media, radio announcer and frontrunner of the Mareathon has been spending some quality time at the keyboard these last few months, in an effort to tell her story. I’m proud to say I am playing a small part in this project supporting Mare through the writing process as an editor and cheerleader.

She posted a video last year about her speaking engagement and how it was the start of a book. It hit me like a ton of bricks, that I was going to help her with this project. I sent her a note suggesting we meet, because I knew she had a book inside of her and I could help get it out of her head and on the page. When we chatted over lunch, she confessed that she didn’t know where to start. And so we began with me supporting her as a writing coach, cheerleader and editor, coaxing her words onto the page. I’m really excited for her!

 Check out her vlog announcing the project:

I love, love, love how thrilled she is. On Friday I delivered the hard copy of the working manuscript to her, and she was beaming. This has been a tough one to keep under wraps, so when Mare said she was announcing the project, I was excited and very relieved!

If you don’t who Mare is, I recommend you check out her YouTube channel and website. Her official bio reads like someone who is in serious need of a vacation. 

Mare is a Canadian YouTuber and radio announcer, sharing her journey in daily vlogs. She created the Mareathoner community on Facebook, to ensure others feel less alone. She’s a strong woman with a strong brand encouraging women to take care of themselves. Mare is an advocate for mental health, women’s health and special needs. She has a son, Thomas, who is deaf & Autistic; she’s determined to help him & educate others by example. In June of 2017 Mare’s husband Jeremy took his life after battling depression and anxiety for years. This tragedy spurred Mare to be vulnerable and honest about her journey, with the hopes of helping others.

I have to say, the woman behind the bio is truly incredible and I am so proud to call her my friend. I struggle to find the words to describe how much she has inspired me, and it is humbling to be there for her during this project, which I know will make a big difference in the lives of many.

So stay tuned as this project unfolds – this is a book you won’t want to miss.