A moment of contrasts – it’s 7 p.m., dark and cool with torrential rain, and my mouth is on fire. Picked some peppers – not a pint, not even close, and not pickled, but my own peppers from the garden, red and green, to have in my salad at dinner. Luckily I discovered that the red one was not just red but red hot before I bit into it. I removed every bit from the bowl, but my mouth and nose are still steaming. That was one HOT mofo. And there is one MASSIVE rainfall out there right now. Happy garden.
And I am a happy writer. I had planned out the week – re-read, check resource material, cut, re-read. This morning, Kaplan’s Law had come into being. I tell my students that you know your manuscript is finished, at least at this stage, when you realize that if you read it once more, you are going to throw up. This morning, that’s where I was. So I re-read quickly and gathered the other materials to go with it, threw it all in a plastic bag and cycled madly to the xerox place on Parliament to get it copied. (My Cabbagetown neighbour Michael Ondaatje uses this place. Just sayin’.) Closed till September 3. Cycled to the Ryerson copy place on Gerrard. Closed forever. Is this a plot? Is God telling me to rewrite? I found a place a couple of blocks further and left it there. He did a lousy job but he did it – copied its nearly 300 pages. I tried to straighten it up at home and made it worse. Wrote a cover letter, got it in the plastic bag again, rushed to the post office, got it addressed and sent special delivery to New York for the massive sum of $33. Because it weighs 3 pounds. 74, 000 words. My poor agent.
That was the day. By 5.30 p.m., I was on the deck with a very large glass of rosé. It’s like the Tour de France – you train and train, which is the research and the first drafts, and then the actual race begins, which is the later stages. So this feels like the early stage of the Tour de France. Then we climb hills and fight to stay in the race, as the next bit unravels – the agent isn’t interested, or he is but there are problems etc.
As I write, my mouth and nose are still on fire and I didn’t eat a bite of the pepper – this is just from bits being in the salad bowl! I’m proud of my peppers. Even as I run screaming in the other direction.
More good news today. My student Odette Foronda came this morning to give me a copy of her just out self-published memoir.
In the Philippines, Odette was a highly educated Vice-President and actuary of a large firm with 500 employees. When she got to Canada, she could not find a job at the same level or even close, and now works at L’Arche Toronto as their accountant. She’s incredibly accomplished and hard-working, so she set out to write her story with the same focus and stamina. And she did. It’s a beautiful, heart-breaking book about her life, incorporating the political upheaval in her country and her own brave struggles. She wrote the book for her 4 children and her grandchildren, but I’m sure it will have a life outside her family. I was moved to see that I’m the first dedicatee and that she begins with a quote from my book about writing, which she attributes to me. Only I’m sure I cribbed it from someone else.
We write to send a message to the future and shine a light into the past. Who actually said that?
Brava to you, Odette. And also to Phoebe Wright, who today sent her final project for U of T, an excerpt of a haunting memoir. Phoebe also is a focussed and extremely successful businesswoman, like Odette, who learned the hard way that writing is not like business, and yet achieved her goal.
So – successful students, a productive garden, my own opus stepping out in the world. Time to do the laundry that’s been festering since Mexico, to see the Woody Allen and other stuff, to clean up the chaos of paper in this house. Another week and a half of summer, and then it’s over.
Had a great summer, thanks.