Friday, January 28, 2011


It's interesting how our lives, in retrospect, can be broken up into sections of time with concrete beginning and end points. We can look back on our lives as chunks of time associated with people, how we spent our time, or what we were striving for.

The last few years my focus has been on my family: having children, getting married, and to some degree  sharing some care taking responsibilities of other family members. The longest view of this period in my life began ten years ago when my wife and I first got together, bought a home after renting a place together for a few years, had our first child, struggled for what seemed like forever trying to have our second, and finally, got married.

In the past five years, my reading habits changed. I shifted to reading a lot more non-fiction. I felt my limited time was most valuably spent learning new skills and finding out what I needed to know to meet my (sometimes seemingly impossible) family planning goals. I enjoyed a novel every now and then, but didn't devour fiction the way I had done in my English major days. When I did read for enjoyment, my choices would gravitate toward personal essays and memoirs - as much for the pleasure of reading about someone else's life and experiences, as for the practical lessons available in examining how other people wrote non-fiction .

If I take an even longer view of my life as a writer, I can trace back my reluctant beginnings to the days when I first learned to read. I didn't love the process of learning, but once I got it, I loved it. Language Arts was always my favourite school subject, with art class a close second. When I first began writing for pleasure, I chose non-fiction. I wrote endless pages in my diaries and I wrote many, many letters. Sometimes I would get into the 50 page range for letter length. One time when my future wife went to Europe for two weeks, I broke the 100 page barrier.

I loved finding ways to share what was happening with me, from the truly miniscule, to the larger issues, with little pressure. I didn't realize it, but I'd fallen in love with a kind of writing that would much later evolve into something with the potential to be more professional and serious. While for a long time I felt a bit depressed that I never could possibly fit in enough quality writing practice to meet my goals, I hadn't realized that I'd actually already put in my 10,000 hours practicing my creative non-fiction writing skills. I did so unconsciously by writing letters to people I cared about, and by keeping a journal.

Writing freely, for pleasure, with the pressure off, led me to a style of writing I likely wouldn't have developed if I wrote in other genres, or wrote only with the thought of having a published audience. My writing would have probably suffered from the awareness that my stuff had better be good if someone important was watching, or if I could possibly "fail".

This week I have been reading the most recent book of essays by Sloane Crosley, How Did You Get This Number. I picked it up because it's title was so fitting: recently my mother-in-law's neighbour somehow got our unlisted phone number and began calling our home several times a week for no apparent reason. I have been reading it for escapism, and to have a laugh with my wife about the uncanny timing of a book with that title - but I'm also learning that Ms. Crosley's style of writing is the kind that comes very naturally to me. Telling true stories, embellishing a little for effect, and getting a laugh out of people for my own folly and the strangeness of our world and its odd inhabitants is something I simply love to do, and want to do more of.

Thanks, Sloane, for a highly recommended book. At times I laughed out loud in the tub as I read her descriptions of the inside smells of NYC taxi cabs. If you can't resist that kind of laugh yourself, you can find her book here.

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