Tag Archives: inspiration

What I Came Home With

IMG_20160522_163421So Steve and I are back from the Writer’s Festival. We had a great time – well, I did; I think he did too (his favourite was a workshop on Bears In Poetry; he got to read one of his latest pieces). I came back with a bunch of new books, a small jar of iron gall ink (more on that below), and a ton of inspiration and encouragement.

I think the one main impression, the key idea, I took away from this conference is this: There is no one way to doing things as a writer. It came out over and over in presentations, in workshops, in discussions, in Q&A sessions. There are pantsers, there are plotters. There are people who crank out novels every few months, there are ones who take years. Some write in third person past tense, some use first person present. There’s traditionally published authors, there’s self-published ones. There’s outliners, there’s free-writers. And you’ll find any stripe of them in any category – not all plotters are trad-published, not all self-publishers are pantsers (or vice versa). In other words, do whatever works for you and for what you’re working on. As one of the presenters (the most excellent Jodi McIsaac) put it: It’s not a rule, it’s a tool.

And speaking of tool, the last workshop I took, and probably the most fun one (even though it wasn’t directly related to the kind of writing I do, with keyboard and screen and stuff), was on ink. That’s right, the black stuff (or blue) that flows from the end of your pen and makes words on paper. The presenter, Ted Bishop, has written a whole book on it: The Social Life of Ink: Culture, Wonder, and Our Relationship with the Written Word. I haven’t read it yet, but yes, of course I got a copy. And he signed it for me – in my own ink. You see, being one of those suck-up-to-the-teacher types, I brought him a jar of my walnut ink (and a walnut with the husk still on it, to show what they look like).

But what we actually did in the class was make real, honest-to-goodness, classic iron gall ink. The kind of ink that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in, and the earliest existing copy of the Quran, and Magna Carta, and of course all of Shakespeare’s stuff and Jane Austen’s and pretty much anyone who is anyone’s and every nobody’s as well, up until the early 20th century.

IMG_20160523_115438_1While Ted was talking about the history of the ballpoint pen (fascinating!), we passed around a mortar and pestle with an oak gall in it, taking turns grinding it down to a fine powder. Then we ground in a chunk of gum arabic (the stuff that’s the binder in watercolour paints), mixed it in water (it was still a boring buff colour at this point), then added a teaspoon of ferrous sulfate, which is a pale green powder (I got to stir). And – voilà! – the mix  instantly turned a deep black! And then we got to try it out – and the funky thing about this particular kind of ink is that it doesn’t go on as black as it becomes later, but looks quite watery to start with. I thought the pen hadn’t been loaded correctly on my first stroke, and re-dipped it and re-drew the lines – but what happens is that it’s actually the chemical reaction with the air, aka plain old oxidation, that makes it go really black on the page. Kind of like Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map, where the letters appear pale at first and get stronger and stronger (Ted’s description, not mine). It’s a beautiful ink, a deep blue-black (once it’s done oxidising), and completely waterproof – I soaked the sheet of paper in the picture here after I’d written it, and it didn’t smudge or run at all. And it could last for millennia…

So, that’s what I did on my weekend. And now I’m itching to get back to writing (I’ve even played with the idea of handwriting a story sometime – not with iron gall ink, of course; dip pens are far too tedious – but then I always end up back at the keyboard).

So I’ll sign off, with Life, the Universe, a Writer’s Conference and Iron Gall Ink. Talk to you later!

PS: Check out Jodie Renner (the Blue Pencil presenter who was so great), Susan Fox, and Robert J. Sawyer, as well – all their workshops were excellent, and I learned a lot.

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Guest Post: Baby Groot Interviews A.M. Offenwanger

I did a guest post! Baby Groot, who is Kate M. Colby’s writing mascot, interviewed me. Honest, he did! Ask Steve, he was there.

Kate M. Colby

I’ve never done a guest post before. Is that kind of like being a guest speaker, where you get bottles of water and an honorarium? What, no honorarium? Drat. Water bottles, at least? Oh, thank you, Baby Groot. [Takes a sip] So how do we go about this?

<I AM GROOT.>

You’ll ask me some questions, and I’ll waffle on from there? Sure, no problem. Let’s do this thing. [Squares shoulders, makes an intelligent face.] Go.

<I AM GROOT.>

Yes, thank you, I’m very glad to be here, too, and to get this chance to talk to your esteemed audience. So what would you like to ask me?

seventh son<I AM GROOT.>

Where do I get the ideas for my writing? Ah yes, that’s a question Us Writers get asked a lot. [Takes on faintly supercilious facial expression, then wipes it off again when she realises…

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Magistra Artium, or: I’ve Mastered the Arts

3607So this past Thursday, I finally got to walk across the stage of my university in a hood and gown to have my hand shaken by my prof, and I now get to call myself an MA.

Actually, technically I’ve been able to call myself that ever since last September, when I got the parchment – that folder they handed me on stage was just a prop; it had a piece of paper inside that said, in effect, “Congratulations; this is a piece of paper which we would like you to give back to us afterwards.”

But for some reason, having done the hood and gown and pomp and ceremony makes a difference. Getting the parchment in the mail was nice, but there wasn’t much to it – I didn’t particularly feel any more graduated that day than the day before. But attending convocation, striding into the auditorium to the rousing heartbeat of the First Nations drum, sitting on the stage under the glare of the spotlights and watching graduate after graduate going across the stage, then taking my own turn and looking into the sea of darkness that was the audience, knowing my family was out there somewhere (and though I didn’t know it, some were even watching the livestream from more than a 1000 km away); receiving that black folder, shaking the hands of several official people in fancy chairs of whose identity I was rather clueless (I believe one was the university president), and then walking in the procession back out of the auditorium, through the double line of our professors in their gowns cheering and applauding our achievement – I really did feel different then. I still do.

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The prof and I big on the screen on the right, and small and blurry on the left on the stage

No, being a Master of Arts doesn’t mean I’m any different than I was last Wednesday, or last August, for that matter. But all the lovely ritual brought it home to me that I really did finish that degree, that it is a big deal to have put in all those years of work – seventeen, to be precise, for the equivalent of five years’ full-time study, during which I also birthed, raised, homeschooled and graduated several of my children.

I don’t mean to brag – although, actually, yes, I do mean to brag. I think we don’t brag nearly enough about the right kinds of things, sometimes. I know I’m very prone to getting down on myself, to not acknowledging to myself what I have, in fact, accomplished. And what that does is raise the bar for everyone else. If all we’re doing is looking at our failures, it’s very easy to get the impression that nothing we have done matters, that success is an elusive thing. But it’s not. It’s totally possible.

And that was the key phrase in the hugely inspiring speech my awesome friend Desi (whom I finally got to meet face-to-face after three years of online friendship) gave to all of us graduates: There is no “impossible”.

That’s why I dare to brag about this, to show off my hood and gown: to let you know that it can be done. I got my whole degree by distance education – last Thursday was the first time I ever set foot in my university and met some of my professors and classmates face-to-face. It was exhilarating. One of the students who was graduating that day was a frail white-haired woman who needed a supporting arm to lean on to make it across the stage. She had begun her studies in 1979 – that’s right, nineteen-hundred-seventy-nine – and last Thursday, she got her Bachelor of Arts degree. As she turned to be helped back to her seat, a man’s voice in the auditorium yelled out, “WAY TO GO, MOM!!”

Yes, I cried. In fact, I’m doing it again as I write this. There is no “impossible”.

Life, the Universe, and at long last, a Master of Arts. It can be done.

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They don’t call it a hood for nothing

PS: In case you’re wondering, my uni is Athabasca University, the Canadian Open University (which isn’t just for Canadians, either). I’m not sure what the equivalent US institution is (I’ve heard something about the University of Phoenix?), but I’m sure there is one; and in Germany, there is the FernUniversität Hagen. Where there’s a will there’s a university. Oh, and here you can click through to my final Master’s project (the link goes to quill and qwerty, the blog that I kept for documenting my research).

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