Monday, October 17, 2011
Today I finally launched what I call my "writer website" at nicolebreit.com.
I think of my site more as a a landing pad than a launching pad: the place where people who may already be interested in my writing can go to find out a bit more about the person who holds the pen.
Putting the site together was both easy and difficult. The easy part was coming up with a concept and finding a photographer and make up artist to make me convey something specific in the photos, which were to be an essential element of the site. The imagery was conceived to serve as a kind of portal, to lead the viewer to each page - the photos creating a feeling or mood or scene that described as much or more about the writer and the writing than the non-visual content. Creating the photos was fun, and again I would like to thank Alexis Desaulniers-Lea for working with me on each and every idea and whim that came to my mind, and bringing amazing ideas and inspirations of her own. The profile photo on this blog is testament to her talent. Tiffany Morton also needs to be acknowledged for making me look good - and also for being game for anything I wanted to do to create the image of who I am when I write.
The difficult part was curiously enough the part I am supposed to be good at: writing. Writing about yourself is hard, but writing about yourself as though you are a special kind of person, an artist, is much harder. In the end I decided to abandon the general formula followed by other writers, in part because the formula was not working for me. I am short on credentials and recognition and rich with photos, which is the opposite of what writers with websites seem to have.
Of course, there are credentials, and there are credentials. What *are* the credentials for being a writer? Writing has been something I have done and have kept doing for a very long time. It might be the thing I do best of all. But only recently have I decided to pursue traditional paths of "sharing" vis-a-vis established avenues of publication. So what do I say to convince anyone who lands on my site that I actually am a writer, let alone one worth caring about? Does it matter that I have a degree in English Literature, or that I graduated with distinction? Some of the writers or their publishers think so, and list much about a writer's educational background on their websites. I think the fact that I studied such a variety of courses in my undergraduate days says more about me as a writer than either of my bachelor degrees; that someone with an interest in other languages, visual art, art history and other cultures must possess a general inquisitiveness about the world - a good quality in the kind of person who wants you to believe she might have something interesting to say, or that her scribbles contain an original thought or two.
I decided that it made more sense to create a site that conveys the idea that you can be a writer no matter how much or little you've "accomplished" in the eyes of any established writer-making body. I've sometimes read with wonder and confusion certain pieces that are selected as not just publishable, but more publishable than others. I have come to the conclusion that there are schools and tastes and mandates and biases and budgets at work in every decision made in favour or against a work of art. That this has been the case in every period of history, and likely will be the case going forward until the end of time. How frequently an artist's work is "chosen" or "selected" isn't a measure of the quality of an artist's work, and doesn't decide for the rest of us whether a person is an artist or not; we all know that many artists are simply not recognized in their own time. Listing all the honours I may or may not hold doesn't say much about who I am as a writer or artist, or why you should care about my work.
And so the approach I've taken is to try to reveal something about what I believe about myself as a writer. I tried to make the site an art project and a functional address for a writer's online "home" that is personal, approachable, and also visually expressive and interesting. I wanted to describe myself as someone with a deep passion, experience and maybe a little bit of talent or skill; someone with some recent creative progress on this late blooming path I've begun to walk. In other words, a picture of the literal and spiritual truth of this writer called Nicole Breit.
In the end I hope my site conveys something of the person who made the poems, articles and one day, books that I would like to share. I hope I have succeed in moving somewhere beyond bios written by the first person in the third person, or too much emphasis on who has decided what I write is good or bad or great. That with this site I have moved closer to how or why the writing happens, to something about what goes on inside the heart or soul of the writer. A tall order perhaps, and now that I've written this post I really do hope my own little site meets in some small way my own hopes for what would make any artist's website interesting and noteworthy. If you have feedback on nicolebreit.com, or know of a website that really conveys or demonstrates something truly authentic about another artist or writer, please send it my way.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
It isn't nearly as impossible to believe I haven't updated my blog in two months as I would like it to be. The past two months have seen me working constantly on my writing, pushing ahead with projects based on passion/interest and deadlines. I am managing the balance between work, parenting and my writing life, but there is very little time for much more than that. However, I am truly happy and optimistic. I feel that I am where I am supposed to be at this time in my life, and believe that everything is leading to something.
For much of the spring and most of the summer, I was busy working on my poetry manuscript, which was due August 31st. I worked on it many early mornings and late afternoons while commuting on the West Coast Express, and often late into the evening. Several friends volunteered to read the manuscript in its entirety and provide feedback, for which I am deeply grateful; my poems definitely benefited. In the end I submitted 33 poems, and of those 30 were new, written expressly for the submission (although it is also true that I wrote the poems expressly for me as I had intended to write this very book, with the same title in mind, for quite a while).
Never would I have thought I could have pulled together a chapbook in four months, but the contest was a true motivator...and it turned out everything I needed to write the poems was in there, just waiting for its moment or opportunity. I learned a week or so ago that I was chosen as a quarter-finalist for the poetry prize, and it was announced yesterday on the Casey Shay Press website that my manuscript has moved forward to the semi-finalist stage. Of these 15 manuscripts chosen from the 100 submitted, only three will be chosen for the final round. The three finalists will be announced on November 1, and the winner named sometime in January. I am honoured, excited, and both calm and nerve-wracked about the outcome.
When I was dealing with the grief of reproductive crisis, and in particular, my miscarriage, I searched desperately for a book like the one I have written and submitted to this contest. For some reason, artistic expressions of this experience and its unique and particular grief are not easy to find. I wrote an article about the books, poems, paintings I *was* able to find here, and did my own personal creative project which I've shared here. My hope is that my book will one way or another find its way into the hands of women who need it. In other words, if my book of poems isn't chosen as the winner in January, I am determined to find a way to publish I Can Make Life one way or another in the new year...
Yesterday was the official launch of "The Sound of Silence: Journeys Through Miscarriage" - the Australian anthology described by its publisher, Mostly for Mothers, as "intimate, true, sad, uplifting stories of miscarriage". I received my copy of the book last week in the mail, and will be purchasing some additional copies to sell on my website. I was able to read the book in its entirety months before it was published, and found it both moving and beautifully written - in short, a work I am proud to have been chosen to be a part of. I have been receiving lovely invitations to book launches and promotional events in Australia, which I so wish I could attend! For those interested in learning more about the book, the trailer can be viewed here.
In mid-July, a fellow traveller on the West Coast Express stepped onto the tracks at my station, twenty minutes before I was to arrive to take the next train, and was killed. Several people I know were on that train and felt the impact, saw the reactions of people on the platform, were ushered off the train and in a daze found another way to work. A friend who lives in my neighbourhood takes the train before I catch mine every morning and witnessed the incident first hand. And I, just about to cross the street that morning to the station, was told by a woman in the Coquitlam Centre parking lot that the trains weren't running that morning. Thanks to her, I had just enough time to jump back into the car with my family and get a ride to the Skytrain near my partner's workplace. We heard on the radio that there had been an incident at Coquitlam station and both felt the first feeling of dread. I immediately thought there may have been a shooting, as this is unfortunately commonplace in our area these days. It wasn't until I got to work and one of my colleagues was crying at her desk that I learned that someone had been killed that morning on the tracks at my station.
Witnesses described on various news sites how the man "calmly" put his briefcase down and stood on the tracks seconds before the train entered the station. There was no time for anyone to do anything to prevent his demise. I was deeply affected by this story, in part because I stand on that platform every day, paces from where this man decided to end his life; because it so deeply affected the people I know who were there; and because I felt for the man who, for whatever reasons, made a decision that day that is to most of us so very against our instincts, and would have such a devastating impact on his loved ones.
For me, whether we choose to end our lives or we pass away "naturally", there is something sacred about those final moments, no matter how public they are. I found the reactions of other people to this man's final moments at times curious, judgmental, even appalling. My feelings for days and weeks afterward were intense and complex - and could not be dealt with satisfactorily in conversations. So I wrote a poem, "Three Ways of Looking at the Man who Stepped Down onto the Tracks" over many weeks and finally finished it in time to submit it to the September 15 deadline of Pandora's Collective's Summer Dreams poetry contest. Following the October 15 announcement of winners, I will post the poem on my new website.
In early September I learned that my poem, "The God of Fire", was a finalist in the Burnaby Writer's Society annual contest. In May, writers were provided the theme and this year it was fire. I decided to write about fire as inspiration, in the form of a god whose feet leave burned footprints in the grass, and whose earthly consort- a metalworker who creates amber jewelry "in a shop in the Baltic" - represents for me that Jungian idea of the animus: the one who inspires, and who we unconsciously seek in our gender opposite. For me, that metalworker would be a musician who makes beautiful "amber jewelry" in sound. In the coming year I'd like to put together an assortment of poems, letters, and other writings around the theme of inspiration, music, and the opposite/inspiring other. This particular poem I have sent to those on my mail list, and will post it on my website once it is up and running.
Lastly, but certainly not least I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon yesterday with two amazing ladies, Ms. Alexis Desaulniers-Lea and Ms. Tiffany Morton. These two are a talented dream team who pair up on weekends to do photography shoots. Tiffany is a Blanche MacDonald graduate who succeeded in making me look ten years younger...or was it five years younger, with Alexis' amazing skill as a photographer taking off the other five? The photo shoot was really an art project, with the elements of each pose planned in advance to convey some aspect of my life as a writer, and/or a feeling of what my work is like. The photos are rich with symbolism - from the images of stars and swallows on my hands, to the heart tattoo on my chest, to the exposure of being photographed in slips, to the coat I'm wearing, that sometimes reveals and sometimes conceals my exposed heart. Tiffany and Alexis' interpretation of my vision for the series were completely in sync with what I wanted to do, and the results are some truly stunning pictures. You can see a selection of the photos when nicolebreit.com is launched in the coming weeks...