Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Empty page

The empty Book
The empty Book  Photo credit: Kazi Hirok Al-Arafat (Bidrohi)  
And so I come to the end of the first month of my “Resolution 2012” project. The result? Just a tad over 11,000 words written—no great shakes, really, but not bad for a start. I had a few “placeholder” days, where I didn’t really write much of anything, though surprisingly, when I look back among even the placeholder days, only one of them was truly a I don’t have time to write anything today kind of entry, and there were only five days that I wrote fewer than 200 words.

But more importantly and surprisingly (to me, at any rate), I actually wrote two poems in the month. Neither of them are ready for primetime, but frankly, I can’t remember the last time I had two ideas for poems in a month. When I first started taking poetry seriously, I was writing 20–25 poems a year, but I haven’t written more than half a dozen annually in quite some time. So two in a month is astoundingly prolific for me. 

Then of course I wrote a number blog posts. With five posts here at Far From the Madding Crowd (including this one), I have surpassed my production for all of 2010 and equalled the total for last year. I also wrote three posts over at Singing the Apple, which equalled my production in 2009, the last year I posted anything at all on that blog. So, eight blog posts for the month. I’m quite pleased with that, even if not all of it was riveting stuff.

And finally, a pipe dream: I sketched out the framework for a historical novel. This actually took up quite a lot of my writing time, as it entailed a fair bit of research. I have no idea where this will lead. I may end up getting bored with it and abandon the whole thing. My problem is that while I have come up with what I think is a pretty neat background and overall structure, I have no idea what sort of story to write. I think you’ll agree that this is a serious problem for a prospective novelist. So my intention is to just keep on digging into the history of the period and see what comes up. I’ve created a few fictional characters to go along with the historical figures, but I need something for them to do. History is fine, but there needs to be some other intrigue to keep the reader interested. This is where my imagination has failed me thus far, but my hope is that, like with the poetry, if I keep whittling away at the novel the muse will whisper something in my ear.

As I’ve been telling myself all month, only time will tell. But if this month is anything to go by, there’s reason to be hopeful.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Och Islay!

One of the traditions I indulge in when I head out west to visit my family is to stop at the Kensington Wine Market and pick up a few bottles of scotch. It’s the best place I’ve found to buy whisky in Calgary, and maybe one of the best in Canada. Certainly, the selection, prices, and the knowledge of the staff are all far better than anything in our pitiful state-run liquor stores here in Quebec. 

This Christmas, I picked up a bottle of one of my favourite whiskies, Springbank, and I “sprang” for the 18-year-old version. So far I must admit being mildly disappointed. I’ve had quite a few expressions of Springbank over the years, and I’ve enjoyed them all, but with this one, I had hoped for something approaching the memorable half bottle of the 21 year old I brought back from Scotland in 1999. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely. But it’s not as intense as I had hoped. 

On the other hand, the other bottle I bought is nothing if not intense. The nice thing about the KWM is that if you state your intention to buy something, they are usually quite willing to give you samples of whatever happens to be open in the back. This year, the guy working the scotch section (who looked to be about 17 years old but whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for scotch was breathtaking) had me taste a scotch blind that knocked my socks off. It was peaty in a way I had never tasted before—almost cigarette smoke-like, but not unpleasantly so. It had a very unusual and intriguing mix of peat and sherry flavours and aromas. My curiosity was instantly piqued. When he told me what it was, I was pleasantly surprised. When he told me the age, I was floored. 

Are you waiting with bated breath? (OK, I guess not, since there's a picture of it right there.)

It was from Kilchoman, the youngest distillery on Islay, and first new one in 124 years. When my wife and I were on Islay in 1999, I remember the locals talking about the plans for this new "farm distillery" out on the west coast of Islay. I think we even went out to see the site, near Machir Bay. It’s only been up and running for about five years, but they have already distinguished themselves by growing some of their own barley and by being one of the few distilleries in Scotland to do their own traditional floor malting. 

And my god, you can sure taste it in the whisky. This particular expression was a single cask, cask-strength, unchillfiltered bottling that was exclusive to the KWM. The kicker? It was all of four years old. I was blown away by the maturity of this whisky after so short a time, and by the complexity it had picked up from the sherry cask. In another five or six years, once some of the first production hits 10 years old, this is going to be astonishing whisky. 

I, for one, can’t wait. I haven’t been this excited about a whisky in a long time.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Day 4: 2,500 words, but who's counting...

I suppose at some point I’ll have to address the lack of poetry—or even poetic inspiration—thus far, although to be honest, it’s only Day 4. Even in my poetry-writing heyday, I rarely wrote more than a couple of poems a month, so I suppose there’s no reason to panic just yet on that front. Again, the idea is that by getting into the habit of writing, the muse will start visiting more regularly, and perhaps she will even deliver some poetry to me. 

For now, I’m satisfied with just writing something down. And while this blog is as good a place as any, it occurs to me that I started another blog a while back as a place to post my thoughts about tech issues. Frankly, given its dilapidated state, I’m surprised Google hasn’t just deleted it, citing Internet building and upkeep codes. So try not to fall off your chair in surprise when I tell you that if you head on over there now, you’ll find a new post about my experience with the iPod nano 6th Gen.

Also, since I'm around more often, don't be surprised if the look of this blog changes. I don't think I've modified the layout since I started it in... um... 2004 (really?). Perhaps a little redecorating is in order. 

Monday, January 02, 2012

Day 2: God help me!

It’s only Day 2 and I find myself struggling. I guess it’s not that surprising, given how rusty my creative muse is. One of the premises of this project is that it should get easier as time goes by; with any luck, it will get much easier very quickly. If not, well, I left my resolution pretty open for just that contingency. By not specifying the form, length or quality of the writing, I hope to have relieved some of the pressure. In fact, I could stop here if I really wanted to and will have completed my goal for the day. 

But I won’t stop there. Something will come. For instance, I could write about Scrivener, a “content-generation” program I recently downloaded. It’s mainly designed for long-format writing, but as I wade through the detailed tutorial, it seems as though my hunch that it would be good for this sort of project too was correct. It’s probably overkill for a “write every day” project, but, on the other hand, if over the course of this year I decide to embark on something bigger (dare I utter the word “novel”?) or perhaps compile a collection of poetry for some sort of publication project, Scrivener should be able to handle the job. At worst, it’s a great way to keep track of everything I’ve written for my “Resolution 2012” project. 

It’s going to take a few days to get through the tutorial, but I think it will be a worthwhile exercise; there’s so much muscle under the hood of this program that it would be a shame to not learn more than the basics, especially since, in this era of $1.99 iPhone apps, it’s a relatively expensive investment at $45. Thus far I’m enjoying its flexibility, and I think it will be worth spending some time customizing a few keyboard shortcuts to agree with the ones I use in Word. 

But I’m not sure how many blog posts or free writing sessions I’ll be able to justify by writing about a program I bought to help me write. Beyond a single post, that kind of “meta” is both uninteresting and not particularly helpful to achieving my ultimate goal of unleashing my creativity. Can you hear the panic in my inner voice as I realize that I’m quickly running out of excuses for doing some real writing? 

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A beginning

It’s not often I make a New Year’s resolution. I’ve always thought that if you want to make a change in your life, why wait for the arbitrary date of January 1; why not just do it. On the other hand, I will admit that I can see how it might be difficult to quit smoking or lose during the holiday festivities, with their myriad social situations that don’t lend themselves to moderation of any kind. So I hope I don’t sound overly hypocritical when I say that this year, I have made a New Year’s resolution of my own, and this little blog post is its meagre beginnings.

I have decided that I will endeavour to write every day in 2012. There, I said it—or wrote it, rather. No excuses. Just do it. Write something every day (other than my normal bread-winning activity of translation, that is). It doesn’t matter what the form is, how long it is, or how good it is. Just get it done. I don’t promise to post everything I write here (which I’m sure is a relief to you), but I assume that at least some of my efforts will end up on this blog, so expect more regular updates on this space.

Why, you ask? I recently looked back at some of my early poetry journals and was a little stunned at how interesting the writing was. Most of it was utter crap, of course, but a lot of it was creative and blossoming with potential. The writer back then didn’t have the skills to polish those diamonds in the rough, but he certainly had a lot of enthusiasm, wasn’t afraid of showing how little he knew, and—importantly—he wrote very often. I’d like to recapture some of that youthful vigour, and I think the way to get there is through quantity rather than quality. I guess I’ll have to check back here in a year to see if I’m right or wrong. 

In the meantime, I wish you, my hypothetical reader, a very happy 2012, full of love, music and friendship.