Nervousness, kids. It's all true what they say.
The Starlite Diner Car in Bowden, Alberta, is a good solution when your writing apprentice lives in Calgary and you live in Red Deer. A little over half an hour for me, and an hour for her seems totally doable when the reward is learning from and inspiring one another for a few hours.
I like the Happy Days atmosphere there and aside from the fact that they now charge 25¢ for a packet of honey for my tea (WTF? #reminds self to sneak some in next time#), it’s the perfect meeting place. I don’t say it’s a perfect place, but I do say that its meeting place potential is high.
They play Sunny 94 out of Lacombe on the radio, so it’s a virtual guarantee that you will hear “Dancing Queen” and Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time” at least once during your lunch, with a bit of “I’m On Fire” by The Boss thrown in if you’re lucky. I sometimes think those are the only three records that station owns and it’s a good thing I love them all. (DISCLAIMER: I truly do like that station, especially when I’m gardening and want to sing along).
I waited here with (honestly) a hint of nervousness and trepidation for my current Writers’ Guild of Alberta writing apprentice, Erin Emily Ann Vance, to walk in the door. I had my usual shit-thoughts. Am I good enough for this? Why would she want to listen to me? I AM AN OLD LADY. Is my shirt clean? And of course, I AM THE WORLD’S MOST TRANSPARENT IMPOSTER.
That last isn’t true, and I know it, but it takes ages to come to that place. And I’m not sure I’d ever want to get to a place where I was thinking, “I’m all that. Every word I say is gospel.” I know people who think this way about themselves. We don’t hang out much.
The other day, I was at the Edmonton Poetry Festival: one of my favourite literary events of the year. I was able to take in a workshop led by my friend Peter Midgley, a man who’s been editing me in one form or another for nearly a decade. He was talking about vulnerability and leadership in editing, and while I know those qualities are necessary, it’s different to hear an editor talk about your own work in that public a setting.
In the workshop, he used a rough draft of one of the pieces we edited for my fifth collection of poems, The Last Temptation of Bond. He talked about the wacky ideas he’d give me years ago for great things we could do with it, and waited to see if I’d give it a shot. He passed around the finished piece for the participants to look at. As it happened, I did give it a shot, and it’s still one of my favourite pieces in the book.
This is a high level of trust and mutual respect, both in his work on that piece, and in his discussing how we did it in a workshop years later. He was open about the nervousness he felt before he made this (truly out there) suggestion to me to finesse and lift up this one difficult piece.
I endeavour to gain that trust with authors I work with, because I know it’s a collaboration, and I know that it’s supposed to be exciting and fun.
I wait for Erin, drinking my tea and being nervous, and in she walks. I always hope the new people in my life are huggers and she certainly is. We take poems apart, we put them back together, we eat poutine and grilled cheese, we talk about Anaïs Nin, Irish folklore, Stephen King, publishers we love, publishers we love... less.
To paraphrase what Peter was saying in his workshop, a touch of nervousness goes a long way in editing. Even in editing your own work. If we storm into our work with a battle axe and a cast-iron frying pan, the work is going to cower and push back to save its very life. If we pour some tea, put on our favourite music, and come to our work saying, “I’m a bit nervous,” it always seems to open up, doesn’t it? That leads to courage and to understanding where we need to take it.