March 2020 Wrap Up

I have been reading a lot recently about how many creatives are feeling scattered and unproductive. It’s not a surprise considering that the situation we are facing with COVID-19 is new to everyone plus there is no knowledge of how long this situation will continue. Be gentle with yourself at this time.

I am glad that I made a schedule at the beginning of the year, because for the most part it’s what is keeping me going these days.

Here is what I did during March, despite the major obstacles:

You can click here to read what books I read for the Mount TBR challenge.

I read two memoirs from the library.

“Birds Art Life” by Kyo Maclear, which I blogged about in this post.

During a difficult time in her life, Maclear decided to start tagging along with a musician who watches birds. 

I feel a kinship to Maclear perhaps because she was raised similarly—an immigrant mother who was embarrassed by her lack of English fluency, for example. As well, she writes this about her father: “Prepare your mind for the worst, my father taught me, this is how you stay alive”. My father taught me the same philosophy. Maclear has a way of articulating so many things I think. 

I am going to buy this memoir and read it again and—something that I don’t normally do—put notes in the margins.

“My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past” by Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair

This memoir was not technically published within the last five years, but it is so good, I decided to include it. 

Teege, who is adopted, discovered that she is the granddaughter of Amon Goeth, whom many may know through his depiction by Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List”. After her discovery Teege went on a search for her history including finding out more about her beloved grandmother and reuniting with her mother.

Sellmair wrote about Teege’s journey after doing her own interviews and research. Sellmair also included a lot of background information, such as what happened to the relatives of several very famous Nazis.

I wrote more than 250 words five days a week.

A lot of what I wrote was how my life has changed and continues to change since COVID-19 and social isolation.

Five days a week I will limit my social media: 15 minutes maximum for Facebook and 15 minutes maximum for Twitter.

This was a challenge, and I didn’t always adhere to this outline, e.g., on the days when I needed to find out more about social isolation. I have cut back again, and, in fact, I am even going to spend some days like today social media free.

Read 5 creative nonfiction essays per week.

These are my favourites:

“Still Life” by Georgina Blanchard

Blanchard writes about the stillborn birth of her son. She and her husband had to make the heartbreaking decision of whether or not to carry their child to term despite the risk of serious disability; in the end, she and her husband decided to “set him free”. Blanchard writes about when they found out, decision making, and the aftermath of support and sympathy.

“They Call Him a Ghost” by Emily Urquhart 

This essay is an excerpt from her book “Beyond the Pale”, which I am currently reading. Urquhart has a daughter with albinism, and in this chapter she writes how albinos are treated in Africa; specifically this is one story of what happened to a tween boy in Tanzania.

“After two decades on antidepressants, who am I?” by Emily Landau

Landau muses about her identity. Is it the same as it would be if she hadn’t grown up on antidepressants?

The Silent Spring of COVID-19” by Michael Enright

Some of my favourite lines: 

“It is the random inconsistency of the thing. It is nowhere and everywhere.” and  “From the blizzard of reports, here is what we know: essentially nothing.”

“Widespread contagion has become our greatest unifier” by Michael Enright 

Enright touches upon many truths regarding COVID-19: how hard it is not to touch our faces; how war analogies are used; how there are momentary splashes of colour.

“Life in Lockdown” by Laura Bain

Bain, a Canadian journalist, reflects on her current lockdown in Italy but also her previous ones in Turkey and Sudan.

Read 5 picture books per week.

These are my favourites:

“The Legendary Miss Lena Horne” by Carole Boston Weatherford; art by Elizabeth Zunon 

Weatherford writes about Lena Horne’s life from birth to old age. The pictures are as amazing as the text is.

“Straw” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal; illustrated by Scott Magoon

As the cover says, “First there was Spoon. Then came Chopsticks. And now the last…STRAW”.

Rosenthal is one of my favourite authors, and this book, published after her death, is as good as her others.

Straw always wants to be first until one day he gets brain freeze. Then one of his glassmates teaches Straw that some things need to be savoured. It’s chock full of the fun puns that Rosenthal did so well.

“Salma the Syrian Chef” by Danny Ramadan; art by Anna Bron 

I love this book!!

Salma and her mother are both from Syria, and Salma’s mother has lost her smile. Salma wants to make her mother laugh again, so she decides to make foul shami. She gets a little help from her friends from the Welcome Centre, who come from all around the world. 

The heartwarming book is set in Vancouver. 

“My Heart Fills With Happiness” by Monique Gray Smith; illustrated by Julie Flett

This book celebrates Indigenous culture, but all kids can relate to it. It was the TD Grade One Book Giveaway in 2019, and those lucky kids who received it got an edition with Cree as well as English or French.

“Be You” by Peter H. Reynolds

Reynolds is another of my favourite authors. Listen to him read the book in the video below.

“The Good Little Book” by Kyo Maclear; illustrated by Marion Arbona 

A boy finds the good little book, and they become companions, but then one day the boy loses the book. He searches for it, but when he cannot find it, eventually his heart is opened to other stories. When he sees the good little book with someone else, he lets it go, and he realizes that it stays in his heart.

Attend 12 writer’s events, whether these are workshops or writing circles or talks.

I attended three:

-Sally Armstrong’s talk on International Women’s Day at the Kitchener Public Library, which I blogged about here.

-“Voice: The Most Elusive Skill Every Memoirist Can Harness to Become a Better Writer” hosted by Brooke Warner and Linda Joy Myers

On May 1 Warner and Myers will be hosting a memoir event, which includes Elizabeth Gilbert.

-“Writing Through Tough Times” hosted by the Writing Barn

Several creatives gathered together and shared how they are coping with the current situation. It helped to listen to what others are feeling (as I mentioned, many are also feeling scattered and blocked) and to know that I am not alone.

Bonus: Did you know that SCBWI is hosting several free webinars? Click here for more information.

Bonus: I have been listening to Sheree Fitch’s podcast. Click here to access it.

Spend one hour a week working on one of my many guided journals.

I have spent more time than that, as my daughter is currently home from school, so we work together on some of the prompts.

Blog one time a week except if I am on holidays.

Feel free to read some of my previous entries.

Write about 10 objects for my “Cabinet of Curiosities” object diary per month.

I am learning a lot doing this.

Did you know that there is a Gerz beer stein library? Click here to access it.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler

Much Loved Stuffies

In times like these, I try to spend some time on reading uplifting stories. Fear and stress deplete the immune system, and I want to make sure that my immune system is as strong as it can be. So I love the post from Brainpickings about photographer Mark Nixon who put out a call to photograph people’s beloved stuffies for an exhibition. To his surprise, it wasn’t mostly children who showed up, but adults. Not only that, the adults shared highly emotional memories of their stuffies. The end result was a book called “Much Loved”, which I haven’t read, but which the article gives a taste of.

Another reason I love this article is because, as Mama Scout says in this post: “Looking closely at sentimental objects slows down time and offers a restorative meditation…” In other words, children often spend time with objects that they had previously abandoned in favour of “more mature” things when they are stressed, and it can help adults too.

I’m going to tell you about the teddy bears I still have from childhood. In turn, I’d love to hear about your beloved childhood stuffies.

This much loved bear must have been my first teddy bear. I actually don’t remember it, but I catch a glimpse of it in pictures of my early childhood.

I am assuming that this is a hand me down from my brothers. Someone so lovingly knitted a little suit for the bear to wear, so the bear must have been falling apart so much that it needed something to contain its insides. I believe it is a Steiff bear, although the “Knopf in Ohr” is long gone. Apparently, Steiff invented the teddy bear in 1902.

Here is a picture of the panda teddy bear that I remember loving the most during my childhood. The story goes like this: the summer after grade 1, I had to have my tonsils removed, and I had to spend several days afterwards in the hospital. I shared a room with a girl whose parents brought her a gift every single day. I was incredibly jealous. So still being very young, I asked my parents why they never brought anything to me. The next day, my dad showed up with this teddy bear, and the panda immediately became my favourite bear. I am still touched that my dad did that for me, because looking back, I realize the reason they didn’t bring me anything was that money was tight. It holds a similar place in my heart as the mouse Christmas ornament that my mother purchased for me that I blogged about here.

Again, I’d love to hear about something from your childhood that you still have. Bringing those objects out and reminiscing about them may well bring you the lift you need right now.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler

Sally Armstrong Lecture 2020

I could have posted this last week for International Women’s Day, which is when my daughter and I attended the lecture, but I figured writing it would be too rushed.

Sally Armstrong is an award winning journalist who writes about women and women’s rights. 

She was at the Kitchener Public Library for the 85 Queen lecture to plug her latest book “Power Shift”.

Eva Salinas interviews Sally Armstrong

I wanted to share some of her thoughts with you.

Armstrong was entreated to address the question “How did women get oppressed in the first place?” when she was asked to be a Massey Lecturer. She discovered during her research that there was equality until about 10 000 years ago, the time when the agricultural revolution began. Listen to what she has to say about this issue in the video below.

Another point Armstrong made is that females these days are changing things through their own personal will.

Armstrong also talked about her opinion that the last barrier to equality to be overcome is that men must start walking with the women. Women have done a lot for equality, everything is set in place, and now it is time for the men to step up and support women. Equality benefits everyone. It does not mean that men’s rights will be taken away.

You can read more about these points in Armstrong’s latest book.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler

Five Favourites (List 3)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a list.

Movie: “The Farewell”

Main character Billi’s Nai Nai (Grandmother on father’s side) is not told that she has terminal lung cancer. The relatives hold a party, a pretend party during which her grandson gets married, but it’s really a final party for Nai Nai. 

The movie is based on a true story. Because of the belief that the fear of cancer kills and not the cancer itself, some Chinese families don’t tell their loved ones that they have the disease. It’s an excellent examination of the difference in Chinese and North American values.

Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for Best Actress-Musical or Comedy.

Memoir: “Birds, Art, Life” by Kyo Maclear

I have always loved Kyo Maclear’s children’s books, and I have mentioned a few in previous blog posts.

So I decided that I would read her memoir called “Birds, Art, Life”. I immediately fell in love with this book. Once in a while a book really speaks to you, and this is one of them. I felt that the author understood me in so many ways, which doesn’t happen to me often.

This memoir won the Trillium Book Award.

Music: “5 Rhythms: Endless Wave”

One thing I love about the Sark book “Succulent Wild Woman” that I blogged about here is the wide variety of music the author introduced to me. One of my particular favourites is “5 Rhythms: Endless Wave” by Gabrielle Roth. I wasn’t aware that it was part of the ecstatic dance movement when I first heard it. I just know that when I listened to it I had this strange compulsion to move my body. 

Article

I recommend this Anne Lamott article on brainpickings.org titled “The Definitive Manifesto for Handling Haters: Anne Lamott on Priorities and How We Keep Ourselves Small by People-Pleasing”

I shuddered when I read this quote: “…do you have any idea what it’s like to get 500-plus negative attacks, on my character, from truly bizarre strangers.”

Podcast: “Bewildered”

I know that a lot of people love podcasts, but I have yet to catch the podcast bug. Once in a while though I tune into one that has been recommended to me. In this one, “Bewildered”, Martha Beck and Rowan Mangan talk about how to be wilder. This episode is about creativity and self-doubt.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler

February 2020 Bookish Resolutions Challenge Wrap up

Yay! I completed all my bookish resolutions for February. Here are some of the highlights.

Click here for the books that I read for the Mount TBR challenge.

These are the memoirs I read this month:

“Nobody Ever Talks About Anything But the End” by Liz Levine

Levine writes about the death of her childhood love from cancer, as well as her younger sister by suicide.

The format is uniquely made in the form of the alphabet, and according to Levine, “My Alphabet isn’t a history of death. It’s a collection of things that make up death.” These things include topics such as condolences, death-iversary, goodbye, music, and nightmares.

“Year of No Clutter” by Eve O. Schaub 

Schaub attempts to declutter her “Hell Room”, the one that she hides from people, over the course of a year. The lessons she learns are: trust herself, keep less and use more, and be imperfect. In the end she realizes that what has changed, more so than the room, is herself.

I am also going to include the following two memoirs, although they technically don’t qualify according to the standards I set, as they are both more than five years old, but both are excellent and worth a mention. Both were recommended by friends.

“What the Psychic told the Pilgrim” by Jane Christmas

Christmas decides to walk the Camino for her 50th birthday along with a group of women, most of whom she barely knows. A psychic predicts the happenings in advance, including losing the other women and meeting a fair haired man.

“A Kiss Before You Go” by Danny Gregory

Gregory writes and illustrates in graphic novel form a touching account about the loss of his wife for about a year after her death.

I wrote 250 words five days a week.

I limited my time on social media.

I read more than five creative nonfiction essays a week. Here are my favourite creative nonfiction essays this month:

Depression, Part 2” by Allie Brosh of “Hyperbole and a Half” fame

An older blog post, but worthwhile reading as Brosh tries to explain what it is like to be depressed to people who have never experienced depression.

The Truth About Wanting to Die” by Anna Mehler Papeny

This is an excerpt from Mehler Papeny’s book “Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me”. 

The Year I Lost my Voice” by Anne Fenn

Fenn loses her voice and discovers it is because her vocal cords are too tense. She discovers that she has lost her voice physically, because she has lost her voice metaphorically.

Fighting Symmetry” by Laurie Gogh

Gogh writes about how after his grandfather’s death, her son starts certain rituals, as he is trying to bring back his grandfather, and she realizes that he has OCD. This is an excerpt from the book “Stolen Child”.

I read far more than two picture books a week. Here are some of my favourite picture books:

“The Undefeated” by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

This poem written to Alexander’s second daughter celebrating black lives won the 2019 Caledcott Medal, as well as a Newbery Honor and other awards.

“The Pencil” by Susan Avingaq and Maren Vsetula, illustrated by Charlene Chua

When Anaana goes away, Ataata lets them do something that is not normally allowed: use Anaana’s pencil. The pencil brings so much joy, but also the lesson of using things wisely.

“Story Boat” by Kyo Maclear, pictures by Rashin Kheiriyeh

A family is fleeing their home, but the little girl and her brother use their imagination to help them get through their trip.

“Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution.” by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

This is a non fiction book about the Stonewall Uprising in Greenwich Village, which was when the LGBTQ+ movement changed.

“The Worst Book Ever” by Elise Gravel 

This book is not only fun for the kids, but also a good warning book for writers. Gravel shows mistakes that are commonly made in writing, e.g., dialogue not moving the story forward and using big words to appear smart.

I attended two writer’s events:

1. WriteOnCon webinar about Writer Self-Care, which I blogged about here.

2. Vocamus Press’ workshop “Building Poems From What’s Already Written” in which poet and academic Karen Houle showed us how she builds her poems using an object exercise. Vocamus Press hosts a series of free workshops at the Guelph Library every February. 

This was my favourite guided journal this month:

I kept up my blogging this month.

I wrote about 10 objects for my “Cabinet of Curiosities” object diary.

I also decided to start studying again. Did you know that you can get some free “Great Courses” on Kanopy, which is often accessible through your library? The course that I have started working on is called “Becoming a Great Essayist”.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler 

Writers and Self Care

Lately I have seen workshops and webinars about writing and self care popping up. I am glad to see that this important topic is being addressed.

A lot of writers share the same traits. We are often introverted. We can isolate ourselves. Many of us suffer from anxiety and depression.

Writers also are in an industry that can be really tough. We face a lot of rejection. There are many ways that we are sucked into comparing ourselves. We often suffer from impostor syndrome.

So what is a writer to do? It helps to know that a writer is not alone, which is why it is wonderful to see these workshops and webinars. We can learn from each other.

I recently watched a Showcase webinar from WriteOnCon about the topic. I will share one insight from each of the three facilitators that resonated with me.

Tara Gilbert, an agent and writer: 

Gilbert advises writers to find an alternative creative outlet, such as painting, playing the piano, or, in her case, photographing her dog. Know your limits, and when writing becomes too much, engage in one of these choices instead.

Monica Hay, a former social worker and a writer: 

Hay doesn’t do social media anymore (except for a little bit of Twitter about once a week). She found that when she deleted her accounts, it did amazing things for her mental health. There are a lot of comparisons happening on social media, as well as a lot of bullying. 

Jessica Bayliss, a psychologist and writer:

Bayliss has found it beneficial to find a support group that is separate from her critique group. Your critique group may not be able to offer you the support that you need, and your support group should be there to support you in ways separate from critiquing.

Jessica Bayliss also runs a series on her blog called “It’s a Writer Thing”. Click here to read one of her posts; this one is about pairing a stimulus with your writing to create a habit.

Phil Stamper, who is an author, but also works for a major publisher, was interviewed during WriteOnCon about “Mental Health as a Writer”. What he does to cope with anxiety is to set boundaries, e.g., he won’t check his e-mail in the middle of his workday in case he gets a rejection, which will ruin his day. Instead he will check his e-mail later in the day. Also, he suggests celebrating “milestones”, such as getting your first full request. Many writers never even get that far. In fact, many writers never even get as far as writing a few chapters! Celebrate that!

I also found the panel, hosted by Inkwell, that I attended at Wild Writers Festival helpful. Afterwards they gave out a handout regarding writing about difficult subjects. In the handout one of the suggestions is to “Make a list of ways to take care of yourself when your writing triggers tough feelings…” The group takes it a step further and suggests that the list should include ways to indulge in all five senses.

I didn’t indulge in all senses last week (but it’s something I am going to think about doing more), but I am going to write down five things that helped me:

  • During a really low point last week, I confessed my fears and thoughts of failure to my naturopath, who gave me a much needed pep talk.
  • I spent some time colouring again, sometimes while listening to favourite music.
  • I walked every day. I have increased the lengths of my walk again, which have helped me to process a lot of my thoughts. Plus anytime getting out in the sun, especially in the winter, is beneficial.
  • I spent a lovely morning volunteering at the butterfly conservatory. Not only did I get to chat with some of the employees, but I also surrounded myself with the plants, birds, and butterflies of the tropical paradise.
  • I kept up my writing habits, despite feeling down about my writing in general. 

No matter where you are in your writing journey, your writing benefits you in some way, even if you are not at the point of being published. You are transforming into that butterfly, even if it doesn’t feel like it! Happy writing.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2020 Linda Schueler 

Canadian Books for “I Read Canadian Day” 2020

So what are you going to be reading for the first annual “I Read Canadian Day”?

What’s that? You haven’t heard about it? And what exactly is it anyway?

“I Read Canadian Day” is “a national day of celebration of Canadian books for young people.” The first one is this coming Wednesday, February 19.

Here’s some suggestions of books I have recently read.

Picture Books

“Albert’s Quiet Quest” by Isabelle Arsenault 

I won this fantastic book in an Isabelle Arsenault prize pack from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Albert goes on a quest for a quiet place to read his book, but he is soon joined by his less than quiet neighbourhood friends.

“Up! How Families Around the World Carry their Little Ones” Written by Susan Hughes and Illustrated by Ashley Barron 

Babies around the world are carried by various family members in different ways. My favourite pages are the one where the baby is nestled in grandmother’s parka and the one where the twins are seeing the world in uncle’s baskets.

“An Inukshuk Means Welcome” by Mary Wallace 

Wallace takes each letter of the word Inukshuk, which are stone towers, and represents it by an Inuktitut word. My favourite part is the other types of stone towers that Wallace inserts throughout the book and explains at the back of the book.

“Go Show the World: a Celebration of Indigenous Heroes” by Wab Kinew; pictures by Joe Morse

Kinew celebrates Canadian and American indigenous heroes, some famous and some not, through a rap song. There is great back matter with the biographies of the heroes mentioned.

Kinew is also an accomplished musician. Check out “Heroes” in the following video.

“The Grizzlies of Grouse Mountain: The True Adventures of Coola and Grinder by Shelley Hrdlitschka and Rae Schidlo, illustrated by Linda Sharp

The story of how the grizzly bears came to live on Grouse Mountain, but also facts about grizzly bears, such as how they “cork” themselves during winter. I particularly enjoyed this book, because I visited them when I was in Vancouver a couple of years ago.

Here’s me, a little wet, in front of the grizzly bear enclosure

Middle Grade

“Nikki Tesla and the Fellowship of the Bling” by Jess Keating

Admittedly I haven’t read this book, which is number 2 in a series, because it’s been released so recently, but if it’s anything like the first book, I am in for a treat. It’s likely the book that I will be reading on Wednesday.

Graphic Novels

“Friends with Boys” by Faith Erin Hicks

Faith Erin Hicks is a Canadian writer and illustrator, and she is incredibly talented. “Friends with Boys” is her 2012 graphic novel, which is semi-autobiographical, about a ninth grade girl entering public school for the first time, after being homeschooled. There are several threads in this story: her relationships with her three older brothers, her coping with her mom leaving, even a ghost!

Adult Books

Because I think everyone should be encouraged to read Canadian, not just young people, I have included a couple of adult books. Or if you want to read at the same time as a young person in your life, but they decline to be read to, pick up a book like one of the following.

“Season of Fury and Wonder” by Sharon Butala

In this series of short stories the season of fury and wonder is the old age of women. The stories contain some hard truths and there are many shocking twists. Every story is inspired by a classic work that has influenced Butala’s writing.

“Nobody Ever Talks About Anything But the End” by Liz Levine

Levine writes about the death of her childhood love from cancer, as well as her younger sister by suicide. The format is uniquely made up of short stories using the alphabet as a structure. According to Levine, “My Alphabet isn’t a history of death. It’s a collection of things that make up death.”

If you are short for time, read this personal essay by Liz Levine’s mom, Carol Cowan-Levine, on how the fragmented health care system failed her daughter.

Here’s another list of Canadian books I have enjoyed reading that I prepared for the end of last year.

Click here for some lists of Canadian books that have been nominated for or won an award.

Are you planning on participating? I’d love to know what you are going to read.