Why I Write

When I started in grade 2 thereabouts, it was for an autobiographical assignment, in which I drew on real-life anecdotes of an ironic nature, embodiments of my life-that-thusfar. This drew laughter and surprise from the other kids in the class when the teacher read it aloud with others. I believe it was the most memorable of the assignments read that golden fall afternoon outside.

Later in grade 9, I wrote humor for the school yearbook and my buddies enjoyed a poem about the shops teacher which got published. In grade 10, I started covering sports for the S.H.C.I. Huskian school newspaper and drew the ire of the basketball team for being honest in my wording about their losses. One rather tall, menacing, pituitary case even sought me out between classes to accuse my of lacking “intestinal fortitude” (which I had to look up). Later, in grade 12, I wrote a good review of a Friday afternoon Hootenany, reflecting my own interest in folk music of the day. Up to this point, writing came naturally, regardless of my then-mediocre vocabulary and limited knowledge of style.

There were a number of reasons for the next phase of ‘my brilliant career’. A teacher-friend and I co-wrote and edited three textbooks for senior high English in about 5 months from scratch which fulfilled a need: to provide sufficient good curriculum for grades 10-12 non-academic/general students across Canada. The books were a massive hit and ‘took out’ Methuen publishing (who turned us down initially and whose penny-pinching sop died unauthorized, leading to their demise) as well as Ginn (who put a lot of money into their similar big-bucks series and likewise lost (a rep said ours “killed it’), subsequently beginning their failed-carpetbagger-retreat from Canada). I guess, in retrospect, there was an element of rightness about our vision and choices that won the day, as well as the satisfying success after known competition.

With that initial success, I started on the road to becoming a better editor and writer. And Glen Kirkland and I repeated the same formula of success–Dimensions: A Book of Essays (to meet the needs of an absence of teachable grade 11-12 essay anthologies), Inside Poetry (the definitive grade 11-12 poetry textbook of all time, 2 editions–2nd one’s even better), the definitive short-story texts (2 eds. of the Inside Stories series), the definitive senior high writer’s handbook (Nelson Canadian Writer’s Handbook as well as the best of the Gage handbooks–so good they copied from it!), and strong successors to Connections (Crossroads 10, Between the Lines 11 and 12). The long successful run only stopped with what would have been Emond-Montgomery’s chickening out of publishing the best e-media textbook/online resources ever prepared–Inside E-Media. It was the very epitome of what was and is still needed in Canada for senior high ELA–a strong reference core textbook for teaching and using e-media in our time.

My last curriculum hurrah was the publication of 12 literacy tip sheets for Edmonton Public and selecting the new provincial senior high novels, initially, and doing the initial write-ups for them. The motivation for all but one of these publications had simply been to imagine possible publications, submit proposals for them, then write them up when they were accepted.

My name became known in ELA across Canada and I enjoyed the additional financial income (beyond my teaching day job). At the end, my motivation for imagining new books ceased when educational publishers became frightened and began to think very small. For me, the many appeals of educational writing had included imagining and envisioning needed projects, winning support and selling publishers on these, the actual acts of writing and editing, and the repeated successful outcomes. (I still receive royalties today on my books going back to the first ones in1980, some 35 years ago. And I can still ask strangers in all provinces which books they studied and find out which ones of mine they used or enjoyed.)

I had also been writing poetry more since the early ’80s–won prizes, had numerous publications, had judged contests for the city newspaper, read many times in public (public performance remains a strong occasional interest today), etc. (This, in addition to a ’70s-’80s sideline, writing some 30 songs submitted to various artists and record labels–some now appearing on this blog.) Poetry comes naturally to me, moreso in the past two years. From time to time, subject matter (much of it ordinary and from daily life) suggests itself and I can usually write 90% of a finished poem in one take.

The same is true of this blog and my other one (http://canlitbooks.ca). I write automatically–‘taking dictation’; it is as essential as breathing. The poems end up in this blog and get read occasionally in public. Tothineownselfbetrue.ca began nearly three years ago as an online journal, a place to put my many daily writings, For me, it is satisfying enough to post them and to have them as a record of and for me mainly, my consciousness, my thoughts and feelings about this, that, and sundry. Occasionally others read them, too, and comment via e-mail or in person, and I enjoy the effects/affects my words still have and will go on to have as others (strangers or friends) check in. I could have written novels, but in a more satisfying personal/intimate way, the blog writings are my ‘novel’. They reveal my sensibility, values, understandings, and my inner life more than any novel could do. So I am in a very good place these daze with respect to writing.

And the CanLitBooks blog is ‘the book’ no publisher in Canada would be interested in, could not resist tampering with, and would only finally publish in a limited, diminished way. This second blog is another dream/passion which I’ve realized on my own, much like most of everything in my generally happy autonomous life.

Ego? Nothing wrong with being confident, sure, and successful as the above formative writing experiences reveal. Unlike a lot of people, I’ve acted on a lot of my opportunities (“nothing comes from nothing”–King Lear), generated most of them myself, and made tangible differences well beyond the classrooms that gave me my educational-writing start. Am I on record? Yup, but for me, online became a tool I could use to transition to, to do the rest of the written and visual expression I have left to do. I, incidentally, keep hard copies, knowing the potential transitory life of online stuff. But as long as my tech-savvy daughter or her companion live, I know my blogs will ‘be out there’, FWIW.

And, as they say, these entries will keep coming, like the many now-nonstop changes everyday. So it’s all here–personal expression, creative expression, poetry, rants, images of those who’ve meant most to me, a record of the good stuff people can still experience, etc. It all is what it is. Every honest word, bone, breath, nuance, irony, insight, poem, and spiritual utterance.

Why do I write? Because I do, I have to (it’s elemental), I’m meant to, I enjoy it, and I’m good at it. It is also a positive path for delving deep into myself, life, others, and ideas.

“How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment.”–Vita Sackville-West


“I believe I could never exhaust the supply of material lying within me. The deeper I plunge, the more I discover. There is no bottom to my heart and no limit to the acrobatic feats of my imagination.”–Anais Nin

“You write out of a deep necessity….This need to write was for me as strong as the need to live. I needed to live, but I also needed to record what I lived. It was a second life, it was my way of living in a more heightened way.”–Anais Nin

“I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live….We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection…We write to transcend our life, to reach beyond it….We write…to record the journey into the labyrinth.”–Anais Nin

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