Monday, January 22, 2018

Sofia Mostaghimi : A Time of One’s Own

It’s 5:30 a.m. and I’ve got one of those alarms that sound like the damn birds. The chirping is joined by a soft, infuriating tinkle that crescendos as I rush to snooze my phone. I try not to wake my partner. But it’s very early and I am not burglar-material. I spill a glass of water or drop my phone on the ground or several books, I forget my laptop is under the bed, or I can’t find my glasses again or my blue fleece pants that I like to wear while I write, I hit my toe against a book, or trip over my blue fleece pants bunched up on the floor then the birds in my phone are chirping again and I’m rushing to silence them –

Eventually, I manage to slip on my fuzzy purple socks and lightly, I shut the bedroom door to an interminably patient and awake boyfriend.

Downstairs, I boil water. I stare out the window while I wait (the day is black-blue in the fall, sometimes pink in the spring) then I look at the time. In the kitchen, it’s on the microwave, the oven, the clock above the toaster, and my phone. The clock is ahead of the oven by seven minutes. The microwave is the conciliator, settling on somewhere in the middle.

(I’ve also got a brain like a galaxy at this point, showering me with each of the day’s expected events that I avert, dodge, push away because it isn’t time for them yet.)

Teabag in hot water, I head back up to my study. If it’s the spring or the summer, I open the patio door, and let the sun slowly start to shift inside. If it’s the winter, I turn on a space heater near my feet and keep the lights dim.

It’s 5:45 a.m., and I don’t have much time.

I spend the first ten or fifteen minutes re-reading where I’m at in a story or my novel. I might also give myself a little, internal pep talk (“just focus”; “it’s fine”; “don’t be scared”; “just write”). Then I spend an hour and a half writing. Something new is best, since I’m freshest and less doubtful of my abilities in the morning, though sometimes I spend this time fiercely editing.

On a good day, time trickles like water, and I write with slow, deliberate purpose. On a bad day, I flicker between the blank page and my taskbar wondering when 7:30 a.m. will arrive.

Then 7:30 a.m. arrives and it’s a feeling of relief, or it’s dread, depending. Time to get ready for work. So I do. I get ready. I put clothes on and under-eye concealer. I brush my hair.  

I have no kids of my own but I’ve got sixty of them that rotate through my classroom between the hours of 8:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. My days are whirlwinds of photocopied handouts, whiteboard marker smudges, marking, parent emails, website updates, lesson planning, PowerPoint presentations, meetings, student hellos and goodbyes, student jokes, student complaints, detentions, lecture-giving, discussions, debates, dramas, informal counselling –

If I’m lucky, and writing went well that morning and there’s a sudden and inexplicable lull in the madness that is teaching, then my mind slips back into the story, the novel from earlier that morning. It’s a small, sweet moment, only several seconds, before I’m back where I am, but these shifts are little victories, reminders that I am more than my obligations to my job, to money.

In the evenings, I’ll write again after dinner, until around 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. This is if my day wasn’t particularly challenging or draining, or if a birthday party, or literary event, or some other something doesn’t come up.

It’s true what my mom always says: on peut pas faire des miracles. We can’t make miracles. I do the best I can with the time that I have.

And if it’s true that a writer needs a room of one’s own, then it’s also true that that space comes at a cost, and that cost is time and energy spent elsewhere, doing work for someone else, having other responsibilities.

At around 10:30 p.m., I go to bed. In the morning, I do it all over again.

Sofia Mostaghimi lives, writes, and teaches in Toronto, Ontario. Her stories have appeared in The Unpublished City Anthology, THIS Magazine, The Hart House Review, and Joyland Magazine, among other publications. She is currently working on completing her first novel.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Matt Jones : My Writing Day

I wake a few hundred yards from the Moulin Rouge. My lady is a gentle economist whose work brought us to Paris. When she rises, I present my obeisance, and breakfast. The pain aux raisin is circular, with intertwined segments, like our fates. A bucket of espresso—the metal mechanism is blackened from overuse.  She leaves for work when the bells of Sacre Ceour basilica chime nine times through the windows.

French lessons, workouts, spousal support, visa wrangling, teaching, tutoring: so many reasons not to write but every day I slough off these skins and sit at my desk with its puppets and pictures of mythical beasts. “Don’t be ashamed of your monster,” reads the note I’ve plastered on the wall. Beneath the note, a giant octopus threatens a warship.

But this next book is a sasquatch war story—the book that was too close to write when I came home from Afghanistan. But the story doesn’t care where it gets written so long as it gets written, and sometimes I’ll walk a few blocks to the sketchy café on Rue la Condamine. Here the drunks are already moaning into their whiskies by 9:30, and the café crèmes are a mere three euros. I meet my friend Corinne who is brilliant; she writes books about goddesses and people turning into cats.

Elegants and wretches stroll past. It is not quite cold enough for scarves, but these are ubiquitous. It is far too cold for skirts, but these are common, too. Paris is a performance. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fashionista, wino, or lowly bohemian. Paris invented hype. It is glitz and arrogance. The roofs and statues are gilded in gold, but the gutters and sidewalks stink of piss.

We English writers in Paris constantly fight against the cliché tropes, but we’ve succumbed to the biggest one. Paris itself. Who are we to follow in the footsteps of the greats? The Hemingways and Fitzgeralds and Pounds and Steins? Even their names are ringing false. What is truth?

In the evenings the city unwinds and the petty bureaucrats evolve into great seducers and dancers. The artists unfurl their feathers. The holiday street lights illumine the people in their jackets sharing aperos. To get to the writing circle I endure the filthiest of metros: the notorious thirteen. I am too big for this place. On the metro a man is wedged into my armpit. An elderly woman spears me with her elbows. The words Madame and Monsieur are ostensibly polite, but hurled like curses.

Helen greets me at the door with kisses on my cheeks; she hosts the writing circle in her apartment in the 10th arrondisement. The first time I met her she was wearing a birdcage hat with a giant dildo inside. It was she who recruited me as an editor of Paris Lit Up, a magazine and community that caters to expats and English literati.   

We in the writing circle are Irish and Canadian and American and English and Australian and French. I’ve never read anything bad from any of them, even if I didn’t like it. These friends are award-winning and published and serious about craft. Many have sold books, recruited agents, attended MFA programs or PHDs of creative writing.

Their stories stay with me: Tasha’s narrator is haunted by her lover’s suicide; her prose is crisp and lyrical. Ferdia has been working on something mysterious and teasing us with these polished short stories set in Ancient Greece. Helen has written about a homosexual in the 50’s who goes to a mental hospital to be “cured.” Albert is penning a masterpiece called, “Consent.”  Chris  is writing a spectacular book on bullfighting.  He and our friend went to Spain for the running of the bulls and the friend was gored which was terrible for him but magnificent for the book.

We drink far too much wine under the influence of cheese and fresh bread. Sometimes we squabble about words, “that dialogue isn’t doing everything you intended,” “I feel like I’ve lost track of the physicality here,” “is there a way to show this?” Helen deploys her boyfriend to restock the wine. He had been vaping like a dragon.

By the end of the circle my brain swims with ideas, my sasquatch story has been overhauled with edits and recommendations, and my knapsack has been loaded with loaned books. I kiss all the cheeks in valediction, even the men.

It is late. Too late for the metro. I am stumbling. I didn’t notice, but it snowed.

Paris has a system of rental bikes as an alternate means of public transportation. I’m too drunk to navigate my bike well, and my knapsack has too many books in it, throwing off the balance. But I only fall three times, twisting to put my body between the ground and the books. I am honked at twice, and not killed.

The idea of the Parisian bohemia—we fed it and fell for it, all these writers. We thought that there would be magic here and our ideas would expand and we would write great books. We were suckers: naïve, childlike. But enough of us were duped.

There is an illusion of Paris as this great place for writers to flourish. To my incredible astonishment, it’s real.

Matt Jones has penned prose and poetry about his experiences in Canada, France, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, China, and while on a warship. In 2014 he won Arc Poetry Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Award for his poem “Wounded Village.” His short story, “Drone,” will be an upcoming publication in F(r)iction magazine.  Explore his work and join his mailing list at

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Teri Vlassopoulos : Writing Cycles

My typical days contain very little actual writing, which is admittedly embarrassing for someone who earnestly tells strangers they are a writer. But I’ve long excused myself from having to write on a daily basis. I’ve tried slotting it in on weekdays in different configurations (early morning/on lunch breaks like Frank O’Hara/late at night) and they left me feeling cranky, resentful of whatever pulled me away from writing, or just guilty for not following through. Knowing that writing isn’t something I’m obligated to do during the working week weirdly makes me feel like less of a failure.

So I think of writing as something that happens in cycles, not over the course of a day. These cycles can last weeks or months, ups and downs, ideas developing or hiding away. And while my typical day is filled with more numbers than words (I work in finance) and more Paw Patrol than literature (I have a toddler), I can’t say that the days are completely devoid of writing – there are threads of it. There’s thinking through ideas while driving to and from work. I like listening to interviews with writers on podcasts, particularly interviews with poets. (For the record, I can’t write poetry.) I read, of course, bits of books and stories and poems and Tweets and longform essays and viral clickbait posts, all of which are part of a writing cycle. I also jot down notes on my phone or post-its, rarely in the notebook I insist on carrying around with me.

I email myself writing in progress and read it on my phone after putting my daughter to bed. As I drift off to sleep, I give my subconscious instructions on what to work on. “Absorb this,” I’ll tell my brain. “Fix this part. You have one week.” When I eventually have a writing session I’ll see what it gives me. Even if it’s disappointing, it’s still more than if we hadn’t had one of our little chats. Which is good since I can’t exactly go ahead and fire my brain.

When I do write, when it’s an actual writing day, it looks like this: it’s a Saturday or Sunday morning. If I’m feeling civilized, I’ll go to the café up the street for coffee and a scone. If I don’t want to leave the house, I’ll just sit in bed. These days, if I can get the house to myself, I prefer staying there since I won’t get distracted by baked goods or lose precious minutes on the walk over (every minute counts when I have a writing session!). Because there’s been so much build up – all the nighttime talks with my brain and processing during commutes — I work steadily for about two or three hours. Then I email the writing to myself, and the cycle repeats.  

Teri Vlassopoulos lives and writes in Toronto. She has published two books with Invisible Publishing: a short story collection, Bats or Swallows, which was shortlisted both for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the ReLit Award, and a novel, Escape Plans. Her writing has appeared in Little Fiction/Big Truths, Catapult, The Rumpus and The Millions. She can be found on Twitter at @terki or at

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Jessica Sequeira : My writing day: 1 January 2018

First day of the year is here, a good time to think about process a little. As requested I am going to ramble on for a stretch about writing, though not translation, since while the latter is related it feels different and merits its own reflections.

A ‘writing day’ for me is not a scheduled sit-down for hours, so much as an occasional and regular transfer of assorted thoughts from notebook to computer, before I organize something coherent and continuous out of the fragments. I am a notebook person and jot things down all the time, not so much about myself as about the buildings I pass, or the books I’m reading, or the funny green birds that hop across my path. Quick sketches also help with my visual memorywhat might look like scribbles objectively, but that activate a different part of the brain in a helpful way.

The actual writing seems to happen on its own, in a sort of tunnel of hours that disappear. I wonder what happens during the mind at such times; it’s struck me before that the impulse to concentrate like this is similar to the religious impulse, or might even be the same thing.

I get interested in things really easily, and while this sort of magpie tendency has its positives, it also means that I dash out a lot of stories, poems and short essays on different subjects without dedicating myself in a scholarly and focused way to a longer project. This is something that in the last couple of years I have begun to feel is important.

Just like everyone else, there are parts of me that are frivolous and happy-go-lucky, and parts that are melancholic and lyrical; the part that is drawn out depends on my surroundings. I studied history and there’s a side of me that gets excited by the idea of documents, investigation and archives. In my email this morning there was a wonderful message from my great aunt, who has started to type up my great grandmother’s old notebooks and taped interviews. There are preliminary notes on her studies in Germany at the Hans Hoffman Art Institute, travels in Italy and life in Canada on a cattle ranch before she moved to California, which she would later chronicle in a book called Ranch Stories.

Anyhow, my writing day. Here with literary remote I’ll fast forward through the entire morning and early afternoon, taken up with New Year’s matters that have nothing to do with writing (though everything has to do with writing). Now it is evening. I am content and relaxed but my body feels better when exercised. I need to ‘run myself’ regularly, as if I were a border collie, or else I get irritable. I’ve thrown on a Stanford soccer T-shirt from a camp years ago, or that’s possibly a hand-me-up from my younger sister.

Outside, roses peek through the trellises; the noses of dogs too. The occasional bark makes me jump. There are cats on every block, and they all flash me the same look. It’s disconcerting, but I like cats. Christmas lights are strung up everywhere along with bright decorations; it’ll be a pity when they come down. There’s pink in the sky and the mountains are slate gray against pale blue. Patches of gold light still come through the green branches, and the windows of the buildings are like mirrors at this hour.

In the afternoon it’s almost impossible to go out because of the heat but now it’s a quiet time, lovely and cool. The shops are all closed except the 3 Reyes Minimarket, which sells alternatives to gold, frankincense and myrrh. In one of the closed shop windows, dolls with string legs commune with each another. Sprinklers make Rorschach blobs on the sidewalk, and the dry cement, which needed that humidity, absorbs the water thirstily; a good moist smell rises up. I pass a mural of Kali, the Indian goddess of Time, Creation, Destruction and Power.

As I keep running I feel lighter and lighter. The part of me with human complaints—itchy legs from whatever pollen is in the air, blisters on my heels, etc.—gets shed and a sort of second self begins to float down the streets, a supernatural version perhaps like the Kogii character in Kenzaburo Oe’s Death by Water that impersonally observes what is around me, or just myself without so much damned self-consciousness. Hot shower now; then coffee. Double espressos are my favorite, but there’s something comforting too about a big orange mug full of fresh coffee with milk. Dripping hot water through a cone packed with ground beans is a calming way to enter into things.

Well, here I am now in my chair. The photo above was taken before I set off on my run, when there was still enough light. If a writing day has to do with everything around the writing (which in the end is the writing), I don’t know what to offer beyond notes. These are the first words of the night.

Jessica Sequeira is a writer and translator from California, living in Santiago de Chile. Her works include the collection of stories Rhombus and Oval (What Books Press), the collection of essays, Other Paradises: Poetic Approaches to Thinking in a Technological Age (Zero Books) and the bilingual collection of poems, Diversion and repose / Diversión y reposo (Pez Espiral), as well as several literary translations. Currently she is editing a novel.