I feel like I need to mention that I just found out this morning that Glorious Frazzled Beings has been long listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize because it has taken up most of my morning with a hullaballoo of buzzy feelings and communications! But I had intended another post for today, and I feel like I need a little more time to reflect on this news and sit with it before I share anything about it, so I will, but not quite yet, since I have something else I had already started working on for today that feels more ready to share here.
In today’s post I invite you to sit with me at my writing desk rather than walking with me to the river, as though after walking there, we return to pause in the space of home.
Order and Disorder
Children are disorderly beings. Or at least my children are disorderly beings. Or my children operate according to orderliness that I do not understand and does not seem orderly to me.
I like to have an orderly space for writing. Before I had children, I would clear my desk and begin writing. Now, clearing my desk before writing may take ten minutes because my desk is a place I pile things I am working on, or want to be working on, or want to be working around, or do not want my children to take and create their own projects in other places of the house.
I have made a rule that the children are not allowed to play in maman’s working room. Sometimes they do it anyway, but seem to understand that they do not have free reign within my working room to rearrange everything in sight into orderliness that seems to me like a chaos of objects arranged randomly that must then be reorganized by me into an orderliness among which I can live without anxiety of being overcome by the things we amass and keep amongst us in the making of home. I understand that I am deeply privileged to live in a space in which I am able to keep a room for myself that is wholly mine, and I am both grateful for this luxury and adamant that whatever home I live in with other beings, there will be a room that is wholly mine, whatever that might look like.
As you will see from the photo I have shared of the books on my desk, there is not a lot of order happening on my writing desk this morning. I have not taken the time to tidy up because if I do, I will lose ten of the fifteen minutes I have to write this morning to tidying and have less time to gather words on the page. I also wanted to share the true state of my orderliness, not stage a photo that would be as visually appealing as possible to demonstrate myself as other than I am.
I have shared this because I have noticed that a lot of writers share habits, practices, and disciplines for writing that may be helpful for other writers who may struggle or be looking for ways to work writing into lives busy with other things. I want to share a thought about lightening up around habits and orderliness, to give oneself permission to open up space to be present with writing not always as a productive act, but sometimes as a way of presence. I am using these books and the haphazard pile as an example because for me, as I suspect with most writers, reading is part of writing work as well as part of being in the world (whatever world that might happen to be). And reading requires time. It also requires presence in order for the words to open up something in the reader that the reader seeks.
When I attended the Emerging Writer’s Intensive at the Banff Centre in 2019, I was struck by something Canisia Lubrin, who we were fortunate to have as one of our mentors, said. She said something like, “We are all here because we are seekers.” I have thought often of these words since then as a sort of guiding post. I think of walking in the world and reading as seeking too. And for me writing is a form of seeking amongst the gift of words.
Being in Time with Words
Different books require different conditions of time. And sometimes seeking to make habits and sticking to those habits can be can be deeply frustrating and damaging to the kind of presence to do or be in the presence of good work — because life conditions, especially when you have children you need to attend to and not a lot of external supports for your children to be cared for by others, are often unpredictable. So I am working now with a writing practice I like to think of as disorderly presence. I do not mean to say that I leave it all to chance because even though I would like time to be so open that I could write whenever I feel like it, that is not a reality. I have to schedule in writing time, I sometimes feel I have to bully for it with my partner, to barter time with one another for the various projects we want to attend to that are impossible to do while caring for small children and needing to do paid work. So I hold chunks of time for presence. Sometimes the presence looks like writing, sometimes it looks like reading, sometimes it looks like walking in the forest, and sometimes it looks like unwinding myself from desire for orderliness so that I can be present with seeking rather than making order.
The Books on my Desk
These books, piled haphazardly on my table, are also piled haphazardly in my mind at the moment. Which is to say, I am currently working with them. Some of the books, like Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House, bell hooks’ All About Love, Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, and Erling Kagges’s Walking: One Step at a Time, are books I have already read, but am turning back to, thinking about things I read there in relation to the work I am currently doing, referencing them, looking at them to remind myself of the things I read that I want to think about more deeply. Their presence helps me to hold onto threads that often get frazzled by the incursion of children and other life into my writing time. By the gaps between writing that are filled with family, part time work outside the home co-directing a social justice non-profit, bringing in the harvest from the garden and then processing food to put up for the winter: apples into fruit leather and dried rings, zucchini into muffins, and fermented relish, and canned pickles, and frozen in bags for later muffins, sage, oregano, and thyme to dry, rose petals and tulsi for tea, lettuce, bean, petunia, motherwort, nasturtium, calendula, and corn seeds to save for next year, and so on and so forth, as the garden shares and asks of my time.
Some of the books on my desk are books I have just received and have just started to enter into with the kind of presence of reading that requires larger chunks of time, space opened up to be with the words: Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A History of My Brief Body, Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life, Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands. These are books for me that entail a kind of transformative reading, one that requires opening myself up to feel through the words and be moved by them. They are not books I intend to pick through in small moments, so I wait for moments of time with them when I know I won’t be interrupted by other things that need my attention.
Some of the books are texts I pick through once in a while, reading segments over longer periods of times, not feeling I need to hold the wholeness of them in my reading as I make my way through them: Lydia Davis’ Essays: One, Daniel Siegel’s Mindsight, Alexandra Horowitz’ Inside of a Dog. There are things I want to learn and pay attention to here, but I don’t feel I need to hold myself wholly present in order to read and absorb what is there.
Haruki Murakami’s First Person Singular is a collection of fiction I can also work through slowly, a story at a time, taking time, but not too long, holding the thread so it reads as a collection, keeping the gaps short enough that I don’t lose the interconnection of the pieces. Soon I will take this book out of the pile and bring it downstairs to read a story or two while my children are busy with other things. I also have two other books of fiction I am working through in this way right now that do not appear in the photograph, because they are downstairs, where most of my small segments of reading happen: N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became and Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition. N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy completely blew my mind in so many ways, so I am very excited to dive into the first book of her next trilogy!
Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is a book I revisit once in a while. Trying some of the exercises now and then when I sit to write and nothing comes immediately. It also feels like a book I need open time for, a time for prodding myself to write with different habits than I normally do. A book to help me think about different techniques when I run across something in my work that feels like a question of craft. I am keeping it on my desk just now because I intend to work through it a bit over the winter, when the land goes to sleep and I find I have more time to be present with words.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Angélique Lalonde was the recipient of the 2019 Journey Prize, has been nominated for a National Magazine Award, and was awarded an Emerging Writer’s residency at the Banff Centre. Her work has been published in numerous journals and magazines. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Victoria. Lalonde is the second-eldest of four daughters. She dwells on Gitxsan Territory in Northern British Columbia with her partner, two small children, and many non-human beings.