Leonard Cohen, On Writing

Cohen Once Told Me – Fight Against the Clay Pots!

Leonard Cohen once told me things. Not directly, of course, but through song. When he sings, though, he sings directly to the listener. He stops the heart long enough for you to hear the things he tells you. “There is a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.” (From ANTHEM, from the album THE FUTURE, 1992) Maybe these are the truest words that a writer should hear and embrace into their life. The pain that we endure in life…the struggles, the denials, the slights and blights and fights and jabs—these are the things that wake us, that make us listen. Every crack we endure is testament to the light. Open your heart to the cracks, accept them, and you will have the light. Living our lives…every detail—good and bad—is a good way to embrace the emotions you will need to write a story others will want to read. When Cohen tells me things, I listen.

“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin, dance me through the panic ‘til I’m gathered safely in, lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove.” (From DANCE ME TO THE END OF LOVE, from the album VARIOUS POSITIONS, 1984) Find the muse who resides inside of you. Dance with the muse. Accept that YOU have the power to create your words—you wait for nobody else to do it for you. The creativity comes from within, not from some non-existent muse you wait for…don’t panic. Dance. The words will come.

“From bitter searching of the heart, quickened with passion and with pain, we rise to play a greater part.” (From Villanelle For Our Time, from the album DEAR HEATHER, 2004) After you write, write more. And when you finish writing, write more. Sometimes Cohen tells me to keep on trucking. Keep searching, keep struggling, keep digging. The more we reach into that deep well to find our passions and pain—those things that make us tune in and forget that we are WRITER, those things that allow us to be simply WRITING—the more we will connect to the words we write. The more we connect to the words we write, the more the reader will connect to our words they read. Go deep…and rise to play a greater part!

“He would never learn the names of the trees he passed, he’d never learn anything, he’d always confront a lazy mystery.” (From BEAUTIFUL LOSERS, a novel, 1966) When I read that line, I said, “Yes, yes, yes!” I don’t know what it is about me, but I don’t know anything. I live the lazy mystery. I sometimes fret over not knowing simple things about everything around me. But the poet inside me says, “forget about it”. To not know the concrete information about the world around you helps you to see it more brightly. Still, I sometimes feel like the blind. There is good and bad in being fully in the know AND being fully ignorant. Just, whatever you do…take notice of the world around you. As a writer, you are reflecting it back to your reader. Either reflect it through intellectual channels or emotional ones. If you don’t know the name of the tree, you better write a hell of a description about the way its leaves caress the sky!

Leonard Cohen tells me always, not directly, but through songs and words, to never lose youth. Stay forever gold, if you can. A writer is to listen and record with the ears and eyes of a child. “Seven to eleven is a huge chunk of life, full of dulling and forgetting. It is fabled that we slowly lose the gift of speech with animals, that birds no longer visit our windowsills to converse. As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armour themselves against wonder. Flowers once the size of pine trees, return to clay pots. Even terror diminishes. The giants and giantesses of the nursery shrink to crabby teachers and human fathers.” (From THE FAVOURITE GAME, a novel, 1963) Don’t allow those flowers to shrink, your terror to diminish, the birds to stop conversing. For the love of God, please, whatever you do, do not allow your vision to grow accustomed to the wonder. When you sit down to write, remember the childlike wonder you once had…embrace it fully before you begin to reach inside. Be a child when you play in the field of words. Children don’t have as many rules, they are not as rigid…they allow what to be to be. A child doesn’t harness in his muse, her creativity, his editor, her suspension of disbelief. Just do yourself a favour and do not bring your baggage with you, when you sit to write your words. Fight against the clay pots!

These words, and all the other words that Cohen gives us, mean something different to each reader, to each listener. It doesn’t matter what they meant to you…that they may mean something completely different. What matters is that we let Leonard Cohen tell us things, not directly, of course…but through song and word. This concludes this sermon on the man who sometimes tells me things.

Enjoy the Cohen tune below, and enjoy your Saturday.

A wonderful live recording on YOUTUBE of Cohen singing my favourite Cohen song – ANTHEM.


Don’t forget to enter to win one of three signed copies of SUMMER ON FIRE!

Blue Heron Books


Thanks to the Andrea Brown Literacy Agency we now have a date on the calendar to celebrate the brick and mortar bookstore. This is not to say we should not celebrate our wonderful local bookstores every day…but to have a special day to acknowledge your favourite bookstore…that is every book geek’s biggest dream! We spend hours walking the aisles of our bookstores, caressing the colourful spines in our favourite sections. You know how it is…your blood beats faster when you open that door and take in the whiff and wonder of the imagination in the concrete form!

We can now mark JUNE 25th on our calendars as the one day where it is imperative to visit your local book buyer. Visit the other 364 days, if you can…but you MUST MUST MUST visit on June 25th. This is the day where we support the stores we love to call our own. You know how it is. All us book geeks have our OWN stores, right. There are only two weeks left before this year’s SAVE BOOKSTORES DAY! I can’t wait to swarm MY bookstore.

So what bookstore will I be supporting on this special day? My favourite one…even though I very seldom get a chance to make it to the store. BLUE HERON BOOKS! Thankfully, the store’s owner is tireless in being active in the writing community of which I am a part! Shelley Macbeth is present with her books (I like to think of it as Blue Heron being a travelling bookstore!) at every WCDR BREAKFAST MEETING and she is also an INTEGRAL part of the ONTARIO WRITERS’ CONFERENCE! Not only is she and her crew there on the day of the conference–selling books–but she is also a non-stop resource for the conference. Her connections in the book industry are tremendous! And she is incredibly generous with those contacts. Shelley has helped procure numerous sponsors and speakers and readers for the conference. She is a GODSEND to the entire arts community of Durham Region.

I haven’t been to the actual store too many times, but I make sure to buy books from the travelling bookstore! On June 25th, I’ll be making the drive to Uxbridge to support Blue Heron. And I hope that I’ve spread the word about SAVE BOOKSTORES DAY far and wide enough that there is literally a swarm of people at the store that day. It would really make my day if the store becomes too crowded to get down its aisles! Imagine seeing a line-up OUTSIDE your favourite bookstore! Wouldn’t THAT be something!

If you are in (OR NEAR!) the Durham Region, why not make the trip to beautiful Uxbridge on June 25th…show your support for a bookstore that is really like no other bookstore. BLUE HERON BOOKS is an active and integral part of the Durham Region community. What better way to say thank you for all that support, than to buy a book or two or three or four on SAVE BOOKSTORES DAY!

Come to the BLUE HERON BOOK SWARM! Saturday June 25th, 2011 @ 9am-11am (If you can’t get out to the store quite that early…just get there sometime during the day. They will be open all day and it is a Saturday.) Why did I choose to call it a swarm? Because I imagine a swarm being all encompassing and my hope is that Blue Heron is full during the swarm to the point of looking like an epic beehive of activity. I’m a book geek. All book geeks want the world to revolve around books. Maybe on June 25th, this will happen at Blue Heron! Here’s hoping!

Blue Heron Books

Click on the CELEBRATING 20 YEARS OF GREAT BOOKS picture above to be taken to Blue Heron’s website. If you are unable to make the trip to the store on Saturday, June 25th…please keep in mind that you can still show your support by ordering online. You COULD order online any of the 365 days of the year, if you wish. (-:

Please help me show support to Blue Heron. Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. See you at the store on the 25th!

CBC BOOKS gave Blue Heron the Spotlight as one of Canada’s Favourite Independent Bookstores. Read all about it here.

Here’s a link to the place page for Blue Heron Books. Click it for directions and other info.

The Swarm has a facebook event page. If you are heading to Blue Heron on the 25th, please consider clicking ATTENDING on the event page: BLUE HERON BOOKSTORE SWARM FACEBOOK EVENT

Blue Heron Books makes its presence known at the Ontario Writers’ Conference!
Ontario Writers' Conference, WCDR, Writing Life

Toronto Writers – There is LIFE East of the City!

I’m quite sure that the little city west of Durham Region has a vibrant writing community. I mean, with a population of roughly 2.5 million…you would think that there were enough writers to form a circle of some sort. Maybe a cozy table of 4 at the local Starbucks? Or perhaps they meet en masse on a downtown street corner and belt out poetry & prose to the throngs of passersby on a Saturday afternoon? Who knows? I’m far too busy with the dynamic writing community here in Durham Region to find out what the little city to the west of us is doing as a writing community (this is not entirely true! Us Durham Region writers often travel in groups to Toronto for writing events of interest!). I’m sure they’re having a blast though.

I wonder if they know what’s happening here? I wonder if they realize that the Durham Region is attracting some of Canada’s biggest writers to their stages and writing events? I wonder if they know how close Durham Region is to their city? It seems a shame that more Torontonian writers don’t get in their cars and make that long mysterious vortex of a trip to the nether regions of EAST OF THE CITY!

In Durham Region, we have the WRITERS’ COMMUNITY OF DURHAM REGION, which is a wonderfully supportive writing community for writers.

I wonder if any of the TORONTO writers who stumbled upon this post are brave enough to click on the above logo? I wonder if they are ready to discover an entire writing universe that lingers just EAST of their metropolis? Because if they were to do that (click on the above logo), they would find out that they can attend monthly WCDR breakfast meetings at the posh AJAX CONVENTION CENTRE, which is JUST off the 401 and minutes from Toronto. There is a guest speaker from the Canadian writing community at each of these meetings. And tons of opportunities to network with fellow writers, editors, publishers, etc. They would probably be amazed that the WCDR is able to collect over 100 writers together in the same room once a month at 8:30 on a Saturday morning!

After discovering these monthly breakfast meetings, I’m sure Torontonian writers will wonder how they too can take part in such a vibrant Saturday morning activity. They might even want to find out how to JOIN THE WCDR FOR BREAKFAST! (<that’s a link!)

But the WCDR breakfasts are really just the tip of the iceberg. The Durham Region has BOOKS & BEVVIES, a lively night out with fine food and readings. This event gives writers another fine opportunity to mingle, network, enjoy each other’s words and company.

A growing component of the writing community EAST OF THE CITY is the annual ONTARIO WRITERS’ CONFERENCE This event takes place in Ajax…again just off the 401 and minutes from Toronto.

Toronto writers can even watch past Ontario Writers’ Conference speakers on the OWC Youtube channel. That way, they can see what they missed… and plan ahead so they won’t have to miss another conference ever again!

Yes…if they click on the above logo they will most definitely be taken to the OWC Youtube page. And once there, they can watch such writers as Robert J. Wiersema, Wayson Choy, Andrew Pyper…and a slew of others…give talks at past conferences.

I wonder if Torontonian writers realize they won’t fall off the end of the world if they travel east of Scarborough? I wonder if they realize they would be fully welcomed and embraced by the vibrant writing community that is BUZZING with electric energy and sitting here right in their own backyard?

These are some of the bigger events in Durham Region, but they are by far not the only events for writers. The Whitby Library is always able to attract big name writers to their downtown branch. It’s always worth the drive to Whitby to hear authors such as Robert J. Wiersema and Susanna Kearsley reading from their newest releases!

I wonder if the Toronto writers who have not yet ventured EAST OF THE CITY know of all the remarkable world class writing workshops being led by Durham writers?

What’s that above these words? Why, another link to fabulous Durham Region writing opportunities, of course! I bet there are Toronto writers clicking on that logo right now to discover what Inkslingers is all about!

But there are other busy Durham Region workshop facilitators too! Just click on this link and you’ll discover Durham also has an amazing WRITESCAPE in its playground. I know Toronto writers just clicked on that link. They’d be crazy not to! With all the wonderful retreats being hosted by Writescape, they would want to know exactly what it’s all about!

I wonder if there are any more Toronto writers out there who are willing to take the plunge off the edge of the world and make that worthwhile trek EAST OF THE CITY? If they were to do so, they would surely enrich their writing lives beyond belief. Notice how I said MORE. The Durham Region already attracts a number of Toronto writers to its vibrant community. Some have already discovered the secret of the abundant writing world we have here (lucky them!).

Durham also has a vibrant theatre community…and it’s growing all the time. Don’t miss out on the annual DRIFTWOOD THEATRE’S TRAFALGAR24 PLAY CREATION FESTIVAL. It’s only in DURHAM REGION!

Click on the castle pic above to find out how you can find yourself on the inside, having the time of your life! But only if you brave the drive to WHITBY!

We also have a theatre festival in Durham. The annual Durham Theatre Festival is region wide…and offers a wide variety of plays to choose from. Some written by Durham Region playwrights! I wonder if any of the Toronto writers are going to click on the logo below?

SO, TORONTO…what are you waiting for? The Durham Region Writing community is here. And it’s ALWAYS ready to embrace more writers! Take that leap…make the trip EAST OF THE CITY! It will change your life!

You can Twitter follow some of those mentioned here: @ONTWritersConf @WCDR1 @HotSauced @Inkslingersca @Piquant_Pr @Writescape_ @DriftwoodTheatr

On Writing

Don’t Forget to Talk to the Animals!

Dear Writer,

Don’t let people tell you that the MUSE is a tiny creature with wings and a golden wand who will come land on your shoulder and whisper sweet-plottings into your ear.

The muse is inside you. You are the muse you seek. Millions of thoughts race by within the human mind every minute. The writer has the unique ability to reach inside that chaotic slipstream and pull out the not-quite-shiny diamond among the cosmic dust. They cuddle that diamond, mold it, smash it, crush it, stretch it and eat it. That diamond may be a snatch of dialogue, an odd little character glimpsed out of the corner of their eye, a random thought that makes them shiver with delight…or anything else that travels through their brain shouting for attention. The muse is you. It’s those thoughts and your special ability to pluck the right ones and haul them off to the drafting table of your imagination.

If you wait for a scantily clad Roman Goddess to come walking into your life and deliver unto you the wild wanderings of a poem-spark or novel-idea…you’ll wait forever, my friend. There ain’t no muse. Sit with yourself and think. Or, better yet, DON’T THINK. Become a being sitting, not thinking. Yes…I know. It’s very Zen and crazy to consider this. But the milk of an idea comes not when we’re concentrating…grasping and begging for it to come. The diamonds that must be rubbed to a shine are the ideas that come to us when we are busy doing other things. Our muse (remember…we are the muse!) picks the oddest moments in our workaday lives to drop brilliance into that aforementioned slipstream of human thought. Your job isn’t to CONCENTRATE on the flow and grab at the diamond…your job is to be the sitter. Your job is to jump up and scream, “OOH! SHINY!” As your own muse, you are only gifted in the silence. You only ‘listen’ when you are the quiet amidst the chaos.

When do I find the muse inside myself?

I ALWAYS talk with the animals. And they always lead me to that place where we become the flow…where we can see the sparkle of ideas and know instinctively which ones will take us places. When you allow yourself to talk to animals, anything is possible. Again…it may sound crazy. But I gave up worrying what other people think a long time ago. When I found myself returning to writing in 2003, after an extremely lengthy absence from it, I decided I would not THINK about writing. I would just DO writing. And I would take my dog for walks and discuss my writing with her. She listens. Or, rather, she allows me to listen. Talking to her is a bit like escaping reality. And when one escapes reality, their senses are more preternatural. They ‘see’ more. They ‘hear’ more. When I talk to the animals, I’m not THINKING. I’m not struggling, “What should I write about???!!!” I’m just being the me that can watch the chaos of ideas slip through my mind. I can ignore them and laugh at them and push the bad ones away. Some sort of net (we’ll call the net THE MUSE) seems to strap itself down and stretch itself across the shores of this slipstream when I’m not looking. It catches all the glittery diamonds that would otherwise sneak past. When I’m walking through the woods discussing things with my dog–not thinking about things–this net does the work for me.

What is this rambling post about? I knew you would ask me this. It’s about unplugging. Writers too often try desperately to find topics to write about. They struggle with not knowing their true desires, their true sparks, their true muse. All you have to do is shut up and listen. You have to completely unplug. My form of unplugging is talking to the animals. Yes…I do talk to more than just my dog. When you’re talking to your dog, other dogs listen. Pretty soon, you’re the pied piper of the dog park. And this makes my muse extremely happy. My muse reaps what I sow. He puts himself into action the moment I unplug.

Find the thing that makes you silent. Find the thing that makes the chaotic mix of ideas swirling around in your head take a pause. You are your muse. You are the only person who can stop that chaos long enough to pull away the shiny diamonds. The pleasure is in the polishing of those diamonds–the process of writing your story after you find that diamond. But you can’t wait for an outside source to bring you your kernels. You need to do it yourself. You need to accept that you–and you alone–are your muse.

Franny – Who is NOT my Muse

Don’t forget to talk to the animals! They always send me in the right direction.