I thought I would attempt a very short blog post from my desk here at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. It’s 4:54am as I write this. I am sitting at the very back of the room, looking out onto a vast expanse of empty desks and scattered chairs. There are laptops everywhere, scattered sweaters and blankets and printers and lamps and satchels and laptop carriers and coffee cups and sleeping bags and water bottles and books and chip bags and toys…virtually everywhere. On the desk beside me, there is an orange piece of paper with the following quote:
“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” ~ Vladimir Nabakov
There is only one other person within my field of vision; the person I drove up to Huntsville with. Sandra Clarke. Sandra and I were both published by the same small publisher out of Montreal; MuseItUp Publishing. We have just heard that the content editor for my young adult novel, Summer on Fire, has passed away. Karen McGrath went peacefully in the late evening of Saturday July 16th, after a lengthy and courageous battle with cancer. This news makes us both sad. Working with Karen, she was so very attentive to my concerns as the writer of the novel she was editing. She was thoughtful and considerate in all of our virtual discourses. And throughout the whole process, she did not once mention that she was suffering. Our dealings were professional and personable. It is with sadness that we mark her passing. Being part of a small publisher’s corral of writers, Sandra and I have grown to feel a part of a family. We all interact on a daily basis-some more than others- whenever we can…by stopping by on a group made up of Muse writers, editors, cover artists, etc. Karen’s passing will be felt by all of us. Though we have not met her in person, we have taken part in a journey with her.
I have just awoken from a nap that may have been three hours long and may have been four or five. I really have no idea. I know that I was up for 38 hours straight prior to said nap. I’m a little fuzzy, at best at the moment. I just finished what was possibly the best cup of tea I’ve ever tasted, or possibly just a nostalgic cup of hot water accidentally ingested before the teabag had a chance to perform its magic infusion. Who knows. I am beyond tired. I just drank something that seems to have awoken me. I will assume the teabag has done its job.
I began this marathon with not a thought in my head. This is the first of the four Muskoka Novel Marathons I participated in where I had NOTHING on my mind to work with. I have jotted a few words down in the past, or come into with little kernels of ideas percolating in that wide open space between my ears…but until this year, I have never come in with absolutely nothing.
I tried. I didn’t show up here on day one with the purposeful intention of having no ideas. I really tried to grab something out of that miasma of swirling grey soup that is wild mind. But nothing would stick. I spoke to Susan Blakeney just before the marathon. She picked the empty blackboard that was my mind until a thin layer of possibilities had begun to form. The palest of chalk outlines. When the marathon horn blew at 8pm Friday night, I chased that fading chalk outline with fingers on keypad. I now have almost 20K words to show for that race against emptiness. And I hope to continue chasing down the idea shortly.
I never stopped mid marathon to write a blog post before. That’s probably why I’m doing so now. I like to try everything once. Soon writers will start to trickle into the building, the streets outside the building will come to life with cottagers, and the day will be upon us. For now, there are just the two of us facing the screen. Sandra is almost as far away from me as possible, without being in another room. She sits sentinel on the entrance door at the other end of the room. As I may or may not have previously mentioned, I sit in the back corner–with a view of the entire room. This might have been an intentional choice for me. Nobody can sit behind me. I have all the other writers in my sights. When they are here.
I am sure there will be spelling and grammar errors in this post. I’m not sure the point of the post. But I wrote it anyway. I wrote it as a mile-marker along the journey. This is the point at which wild mind meets quiet mind. The words are being strung, but there is a lull–a patient simmering, if you will. There will be more words written…many, many more words. But this is the pause between two word storms. The breather before I go back down and lose myself. I wanted to remember our friend, Karen, and her courageous battle. I wanted to remember the soft coat of the fawn we witnessed grazing outside the MNM Wine & Cheese venue, Soul Sista’s. I wanted to remember the cup of tea I may have just consumed. And I wanted to awaken to the music that words make when strung together in a row. This weekend, we are honouring those who cannot even read the words I am typing…those who have a hard time navigating the simple day to day life of the modern world. We honour those who, for one reason or another, have been lost along the road to adult literacy. I cannot even imagine walking down the street outside this building without being able to read the vast collection of words hovering on every window, every lamp post, every car, every door, every billboard and every sign. How dark a world this place must feel without the basic knowledge of the language that floats out there all around us on a yearly-monthly-weekly-daily-hourly-minutely-secondly basis. With every step I would take, every footfall I would make down Main Street, I would crawl that much darker into my own dark little universe of frustration.
We are writing for ourselves this weekend. I won’t try to sugarcoat things and say that we are being completely selfless and altruistic. We’re not. We love the concept of a writing marathon and we take full advantage of it. But we are also writing for others. We are writing for those who cannot write, those who cannot read. We are here to raise funds and awareness for the fight against illiteracy. Each writer taking part in this weekend’s marathon has collected sponsorship pledges from friends, family and loved ones. Together, we have raised money to help the Muskoka Literacy Council help those who need to have their darkened worlds made a little brighter. The Muskoka Novel Marathon, though a great and amazing opportunity for us writers to get BIC time, is about Writers Supporting Readers. That’s what we’re here for.
Thanks to all those friends, families and loved ones who have helped us arrive here this weekend with a little money in our hands. You are supporting a wonderful cause that all of us writers can proudly stand behind. After all, without readers, there would be no reason for us to do that thing we SO love to do.
I bid you all adieu for now. I am struggling to stay awake and I have many, many more words to write. I apologize for the twists and turns this blog post may or may not have taken. I know not what I write. But I am fortunate enough to know that I can, one day in the near future, come back to this post and read it. Reading it may or may not make my meaning for writing it clearer. When you are working on this much sleep deprivation, you can’t always be confident that there’s a message in your words. But read it, I will. Because I can do that. Remember today, while you’re out and about in your daily life, just how many times during the day you read things. Imagine, if you will, not being able to read those things. How dark would that existence be? How utterly hopeless and alone would you feel? Be happy that you do not have to live that life. And be happy in the knowledge that there are literacy councils everywhere who do the good work of shining a new light into the lives of those who struggle daily with the darkness of illiteracy. We can make a difference.
I finished Summer on Fire last night. i was reading it on an iPad and as you probably know, Kevin, the editor’s name appears at the back. I just read Karen McGrath’s name for the first time hours ago and thought “Hmmm…well done, Karen.” How very sad.
So glad to hear that you have been blessed with 20K new words – and I love how you phrased it – in the race against emptiness. Hope you are squeaking out every ounce of creative juice and come home better for it.
Sad to hear about Karen McGrath. Nice to see you have done her proud.
Can’t wait to read Summer on Fire!