I remember when the idea for writing my novel came to me. Not when it happened, but how.
The title came first: Everything I Learned about Being a Girl, I Learned from Princess Leia. It was long for a book title, and I knew that, but I didn’t care. The strung-together words sparked my imagination. They also made me laugh, and I really needed to laugh at the time.
To say things were ‘not great’ would have been an understatement. It was the end of March 2012. My work contract had ended and I had been laid off. I was staring down my first ever surgery, which was stressful enough, but the hospital kept switching my dates. We eventually settled on July 13; a good omen I thought – July 13 is Harrison Ford’s birthday, after all.
My mother had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer six months earlier. She left us in May of that year.
There were other things too, but you get the picture.
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I recently borrowed a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic from my cousin.
It was a good read – conversational. Inspirational. Confirming even, in places.
The thread that Gilbert weaves throughout her book is this notion that creativity and the ideas that feed it are living, breathing entities – living like humans and plants and animals are living, she says. This resonated with me: Creativity is magic.
Liz Gilbert says that when she meets hopeful, budding writers, she often asks them if they love writing. They invariably answer ‘yes’. Then she poses a humdinger of a question: “Do you think writing loves you in return?”
She reports that most people look at her as though she’s completely lost her mind. Most of those new writers don’t see themselves as being ‘in relationship to’ or ‘collaborating with’ anything – they are simply writing, and writing for them is a solitary activity.
If she ever asked me that question – ‘Does writing love you back?’ I would have to answer ‘yes’.
I started writing again in 2011, when Mom got sick. First in my journal – until writing started to feel like whining, so I moved over to the computer. On the computer, I switched gears and started to create the story, the one that’s becoming Everything I Learned About Being a Girl ...
I needed something positive to focus on. I needed to put something with levity ‘out there’ into the world because my world, the one I was actually living in, was crumbling down around me. I decided that I would write about everything I love: Star Wars. Music. Tofino. West coast rainforests. Beaches. Traveling. The Canadian north. The CBC. Dreams and magic …
I also set out to try to understand more about this east/west push-pull that has hounded me for the past twenty something years. I named it ‘bi-coastal personality disorder’ in the 90s, but I’m still working to resolve it today.
I stumbled on a song by Sam Roberts called Faultline Blues that illustrates my west/east affliction perfectly. iTunes tells me that as of today, I’ve listened to that song a total of 761 times. The next most listened to song in my iTunes doesn’t even come close at 531 plays. And so Faultline Blues has become something of a personal mantra. It is also a kind of character that haunts Morgan in Everything I Learned about Being a Girl.
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Writing this novel has been a journey … one could even say it’s been ‘Big Magic’. I’ve had so many tiny little affirmations come my way. I wrote about seeing Ben McCabe’s blue Volvo station wagon parked on the street around the restaurant Stage in Victoria in a previous post. There have been other instances as well. Like the time I was heavily deliberating whether or not I should write Don’t Walk Away Eileen into a scene – I pressed shuffle on iTunes, and that very song was the first to play. Or when Sam Roberts Band was on my flight home after I saw them play live for the first time – July 13, 2013 – the first anniversary of my surgery.
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In the opening scene of Everything I Learned about Being a Girl, Morgan tosses a loonie into a wishing well at the Vancouver airport – a metaphorical start to her journey. Just before she releases it, she notices the date on the coin: 2012. It’s the temporal setting for the novel. I was editing one day when dawned on me that perhaps, just perhaps, I had been subconsciously trying to re-write 2012 this story.
All of the Sam Roberts shows I’ve seen over the past three or four years, all of the trips to Victoria and Tofino, the west coast rainforest and beach walks, all the Tacofino tacos I’ve eaten and the mint-lime slushes I’ve had while out on the Pacific; that’s all been good medicine for me. Just like writing has been good medicine. One might even say it’s been ‘big magic’ in places for all it’s given back.