Throughout your writing/editing/literary career/life in whatever form it takes, you’ll constantly hear some version of “build community.” The words and their intent will become so ubiquitous, you might not even hear them any more. Or you might scroll past links to articles with headlines like, “Why You Should Make Friends in Writer World.”
Most importantly, we need to stop using “should” in any English-language utterance. If you ever hear me say that anyone (including you) SHOULD do anything, fergawdsakes, call me on it. I will not be a distributor of “should”s.
But it’s the goddamn truth. Community, I mean. I’ll never be a famous writer. I don't care. I’m a fabulous auntie and a fabulous godmom and friend and sibling and (hopefully) a fabulous daughter. I likely won’t become independently wealthy doing what I do for a living. Also don’t care. I can travel a bit, and I answer to no one but myself. Stu and I have a fairly free life as we never had kids and we decided against owning a big sprawling house in favour of continuing to live in a tiny WWII-era bungalow in the downtown area of a small city, where we’ve lived for thirty years.
Our lives are built on travel, spontaneity, fun, friends, family, and never feeling tied down. We like to joke that we have no kids, no pets, and we’re thinking of throwing away the cactus as it demands far too much of our time.
At the top tier of all this, our lives are about about the people in them. We know how fortunate we are that we both have several family branches, all of whom we love. We’re also (and this is the only cliché I’ll use here) rich in friends.
I have an inner circle that’s smaller than you might imagine, and these are among the people I cherish the most. They’re as varied as the vegetables and flowers in my newly planted garden: high school pals, a college roommate who’s been by my side ferociously for thirty-plus years, university pals who have grown into life-long friends, writer friends I’ve met on retreat or on writing courses, some of them decades ago.
This past week, Shawna Lemay asked me if I’d come give her a hand with a photo shoot she was doing for our mutual friend, Peter Midgley, for his new website. I did what I call “a bomb up” from Red Deer to Edmonton to meet these people who mean a great deal to me.
If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that Shawna did most of the photography for my site and I can never be grateful enough to her.
Peter and I have been editing each other’s work—in one way or another—for nearly a decade, and Shawna and I have been friends for more years than I care to count. Let’s say it was just around the time the University of Alberta got Teh Intarwebs. That’s a lot of years of combined friendship.
For Peter, Shawna was an excellent choice. They’re old pals and they have a fun rapport. The photo shoot was already underway when I arrived, as I got stuck on Highway The Queen for a while, but when I got there, Peter and his dogs greeted me cheerfully, and I was treated to a warm hug from his wife Julie.
She was working at home that day and why she didn't kick us out of the house, I’ll never know. She must be able to tune out everything. The ridiculous instructions and giggling! “Put your arm there!” “Oh my gawd, you’re George Clooney!”
One of the best photos is, in my opinion, this one.
I had just told Peter that his resemblance to George Clooney was uncanny and why wasn’t he a movie star? I was standing at Shawna’s right where she was snapping away, and it was my job to make Peter laugh from across the room. He did that all by himself by looking straight at me, and flipping me the bird with a great big smile seconds before Shawna snapped this. Neither she nor I captured that raised middle finger and I REGRET IT.
This picture tells me something important. It reminds me of the value of friends, and the value of going out of one’s way to see them.
While Peter was changing for another phase of the shoot, Shawna snapped this of me in front of his living room window. The light had changed since I’d arrived, and she’s all about the light, and how it moves through the day. We caught this shot in between the moments of what she was there to do. Not to shoot me, but to shoot Peter. But it came out so well that I’m pleased to use it everywhere and I thank her for it.
What does all this have to do with editing your own work? Plenty! One of the dangerous pitfalls of a life in literature (whatever that means to you) is getting caught up in the much-revered idea of the “recluse”. Think J. D. Salinger, who no one (allegedly) saw for decades. Granted, he had a lot of other stuff going on in his life and his head.
The idea of the recluse writer is (or was) a romantic one. It’s certainly true that one might need quiet and solitude in order to write. I need solitude, but I generally write with very loud music playing: usually music that has to do with the work I’m doing. I had James Bond movie themes on full tilt all the time while I was writing The Last Temptation of Bond. I’m fortunate in that I have a husband who gets it. If the office door is closed, I’m working, but I’ll come out in plenty of time to make the salad and lose spectacularly at Jeopardy.
I need people, though I recharge when I’m alone. I spend a lot of time alone writing, editing, reading, walking, gardening, and all the other stuff I like to do. But then I must have friendship injections.
I can say this for sure —> Do your work. Edit it. Then come out and play. If you’re too busy being a Solitary Artist™—because you think that’s how artists are supposed to be—sooner or later, your friends will figure out where they stand in your life, and move on to that other playground with the better, softer sand.