6 Reasons to Have Sex… or write about it.

6 Reasons to Have Sex… or write about it.


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two pair of feet under a sheet

6 Reasons to Have Sex

Or why I have open door sex…in my novels I mean.

In Romance fiction, historically and derogatorily referred to as “bodice-rippers,” as well as other genres, there is today a huge range of what we in the industry refer to as “heat level”. This includes books ranging from sweet, inspirational (e.g. religiously or morally conservative) all the way to fifty shades of grey, and every other conceivable colour of the sexual rainbow. Whether you’re into same sex or different sex, young sex or old sex, sex in two’s or three’s or more, or no sex at all, you’ll find it out there, somewhere, in a novel.

You Can’t Please Everyone

Readers from every background, value system and sexual orientation can increasingly find themselves, (or what they fantasize about,) between the covers of a book. Or, on the other hand, be shocked, offended or disappointed. This makes it trickier for authors to decide whether to, or how much to, show sex in the pages of their stories. No matter what you do, some reader somewhere will be unhappy.

two lego storm troopers holding handsthree beetles having sexwoman's hand, glove, whip, leg in stocking

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is the bulk of it, and even there, authors have their own particular style of consummating the romance arc, from kisses and caresses that fade to black, to detailed open-door sex with lots of “pink parts” and assembly instructions.

 

Why Is there Sex in My Novels?

I’m no prude, but as a writer it was difficult for me, from a traditional Catholic background, to get comfortable describing sex scenes. It took some stretching and learning to find my comfort zone as an author. So why do I do it?

 

Sex Is an Important Storytelling Tool

I’ve found, with each respective manuscript, that it gets a little easier, and I get a bit more creative. As I’ve become more clear that I never was writing traditional romances, but rather women’s fiction with strong romantic storylines, I’ve become more free about how I represent sex on the pages of my books.

 

Sex Isn’t Always about Sex

Representations of sex, and not necessarily just the implied sex that happens after the lights go out, the shower door closes or the curtain falls, are an important storytelling tool. Just like dialogue, description and other kinds of action scenes, like fight scenes, for example. In fact they have a lot in common with fight scenes, in that they are a combination of action and internal dialogue, with a heavy dose of the visceral and emotional. That’s a lot of power at the author’s disposal to enrich the story and the reader experience. Why would I leave it out? 

 

woman touching her face

 

Six Important Reasons to Show Sex on the Page

 

1. Vulnerability

  • In romance fiction, the developing relationship between two people is as important as each of the heroine and hero’s (or other characters) own character arcs. And they are intricately intertwined. Intimacy is an inescapable part of that relationship arc. Achieving intimacy is an important indicator that these two characters have let down their guard enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other. Being vulnerable, or “getting naked” with the antagonist is how we know they have grown, changed and are ready to embrace their essential selves.

2. Empathy

  • One of the important reasons we read fiction is to empathize with and experience vicariously how other people deal with life. It expands our own world view and gives us insights into how to live our own life better. Even to avoid troubles. If we’re left to guess what happens behind the bedroom door, we haven’t learned anything about how other people have, or can have, sex or the intimacy that is achieved. That’s an opportunity lost that diminishes the reading experience.

3. Character Growth

  • Sex is ALWAYS about more than sex. In getting naked and vulnerable, issues come up. These include values, life and relationship goals, past relationships and their fallout, self-image, including body image which is an enormous issue for women, and emotional vulnerability relating to past wounds the character has experienced and has to be addressed as part of the story and character arc. To properly address the character growth, these essential subjects cannot be ignored. In my opinion, the depth of the story will suffer.

4. Emotion

  • How people approach their sexual partners and engage in sex is very revealing (pun intended) of who they are and how they feel about the other person. Even how they approach life in general. This changes throughout the story, and is in fact a big part of the story being told. People have sex for different reasons, at different points in their relationships and lives, and the specifics help to show this.

5. Catalyst

  • Sex in itself is an intense experience that can unlock emotions and break down barriers, allowing the individuals to realize truths they may have previously denied and move forward. Thus the sex scene itself is an important tool for the storyteller to advance the characters evolution toward whatever happy or tragic end they have earned.

6. Information

  • Sex isn’t always the same. It doesn’t always work and it isn’t always good. It can be awkward, funny, playful and even ridiculous at times. Sometimes what’s most important to the character in that moment is not the fact that they’re having sex. Perhaps they’re frightened, planning their escape, bored or preoccupied with other problems, like what to make for supper or how to win a court case. This can be shown through the contrast between the character’s actions and their thoughts, and can be very entertaining, informative or amusing.

Oh, you can’t do that, people won’t buy your books!

Going back to my point about pleasing, or not pleasing, every reader. Many times I’ve had writing coaches, publishing gurus and author colleagues expound to me, “Oh, you can’t do that, people won’t buy your books!” And of course every published author has had bad reviews as well as good ones. Some reviewers are not shy about telling you what they don’t like.

 

Reader Opinions

One of my favourites was a review of my book, The Art of Enchantment, a very romantic, sexy book set in Italy, about a relationship between a shy, introverted artist and a very sexy Italian architect. Moreover, the theme of the book is, in one sense, sexual liberation and expression. I played with this idea by having my heroine researching and writing her Ph. D. thesis in art history about the relationship between sexual repression and religious ecstasy in Renaissance art. How one suppressed was expressed via the other. (A completely fabricated thesis topic by the way.) When one reviewer said, “This was a really good book except there was too much sex and swearing,” I laughed. I loved it. A review like this tells other readers exactly what to expect, and helps them choose. I wish I had more.

bodies in a shower

Publishers Parameters

I don’t want anyone to read what they don’t enjoy. But I would argue that one reason to read is to expand our horizons and embrace vicarious experiences that stretch us beyond the limits of our one life. And despite the proscriptions publishing houses, editors and imprints put on their authors about story length, subject matter, themes, morality and, particularly in romance fiction, heat level, I think every writer has to write what they want to write.

You can’t squeeze a (good) story out of a stone. A good story has to come from an author’s heart. So an author has to write the stories that are meaningful to them. I understand that publishers have to do this, because it’s part of their business branding. There can’t be a Harlequin Blaze or an Avon Inspire without clear boundaries, because it’s their job to help readers find the reading experiences they are looking for.

 

The Author Chooses, Then the Reader Chooses

This is one reason I’m independently published. I wear the publisher’s hat as well as the author’s hat. This makes my world more challenging, because I don’t conform to the convenient categories that other publishers or authors have established. So maybe it takes a bit longer for my ideal readers to find me and discover my stories.

But it’s also freeing, because for me this means I can explore themes, plots and characters that are real, complex and interesting to me. It doesn’t mean fitting my stories into particular shapes to please or meet the expectations of particular readers. As an artist, I am unbound. Some of the things I write might make you uncomfortable. They might make me uncomfortable. That’s a very personal thing, and I’m alright with it. Be forewarned. This is my brand.

My Brand

Some of the issues that have come up for me and my stories aren’t so much around heat level, and whether the particulars of the sex are shown on the page, but what kind of sex it is and with whom. In my case I’m not talking about BDSM and other kinds of erotica. In fact I don’t write sex scenes for their pure erotic value, even though of course I want to show attraction, intimacy and passion between two characters falling in love when that is the story I’m telling.

Wrong Sex, Real Life

Rather, I’m challenged when I write about sex that’s questionable in other ways: extramarital, when one of the characters is married to someone else (’cause that never happens), or sex that’s platonic, that is, friends with benefits, sex that’s therapeutic, sad or angry, sex that’s just convenient, or sex that happens for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps it’s a question of morality or good judgement. If nothing else, humans learn from having sex, whether it’s “right” or “wrong.” These, too, are part of real life, and part of our lived experience as human beings. In that regard, in my opinion, it is never wrong to include them in the stories I write, or you read. But that choice is entirely yours.

Do you: *strongly disagree  *somewhat disagree  *feel meh  *somewhat agree  *strongly agree?

Let me know what you think in the comments below, or if you’re shy, reply privately. I really want to know!

Join My Tribe!

And if you think you’d enjoy reading my kind of stories, please sign up for my email list to find out about my upcoming release, A Forged Affair… in which you will definitely find “wrong” sex. And also some really “right” sex. And acrobats and a giant. In the south of France. Also I’m revealing the beautiful new book cover to subscribers first! How can you resist?

If you want to know what I get up to day to day, and what my writer’s life looks like, you can follow me on Instagram, where I mostly hang out, and also Facebook or Twitter. I hope to see you there!

Abandoning My Babies


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Heading off on summer vacation feels strangely akin to abandoning my babies

woman embracing book

I’m referring to my books, of course.

Strange as that might seem, they’ve been with me so long, they do feel like my children. And since I’ve so recently launched them into the world, I feel a pretty constant anxiety about their welfare. Even though, like our young adults gone off to college or world travel, there’s little we can do for them.

University Tours

Ironically, the other activity that’s characterized my early summer is touring a number of universities, both close to home and across the country, with my teenage son. My real empty nest looms on the horizon.

Though a full year away, the fact that he’ll be leaving home so soon is quite daunting. And like my books, I want to do as much to smooth his path and make sure he’s safe as humanly possible. I want him to succeed!

 

A Well Deserved Break

Of course after a very busy winter of editing, publishing, promoting and moving house, a few weeks of travelling, visiting friends and R & R is well-deserved. I don’t really feel guilty about it.

In fact, planning the trip, designing the perfect capsule wardrobe so I can go three weeks with one small carry on bag (Incredible. I know, right? But I’m doing it) and anticipating all the museums, galleries, sidewalk cafes, gardens and monuments we’ll see is rather exciting. I’m really looking forward to spending time with friends we haven’t seen for years.

A Writer’s Research Never Ends

I’m also excited about researching new locations for future books since travel abroad has always fueled my writerly imagination. I won’t be going to Spain or Greece this year. But I’m sure London, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam will supply plenty of inspiration. I have a notion I might want to set one of my future “Life is a Journey” novels in Utrecht or Amsterdam. My mind is already playing with the idea of a student of Art Restoration, and Holland seems a perfect place for such an endeavor. All those Vermeers, Rembrandts and van Gogh’s! So I’ll be on the lookout for locations, and the seed of a story. All I need now is a nice tall Dutch romantic hero to set things in motion.

fantasy picture of book with woman and birds flying

It’s Hard to Let Go

Nevertheless, after birthing and nurturing my books over many years, I guess the constant worry and vigilance gets a bit addictive. I think, probably this is the source of empty nest syndrome. We’ve been preoccupied for so long we just don’t know what to do with ourselves. We don’t know who we are anymore without the child, or the project, we’ve been dedicated to for so long.

Frankly, it’ll be nice to stop worrying for a while. I have the sense that I’m already doing everything I can. Like an anxious parent, I read books and study (i.e. blogs and webinars) about how to best care for my fledgling offspring. I swear, I’m doing it all. I’ve checked the list. And, like parenting, we very often hear conflicting advice. Each new strategy or tactic is something we’re trying for the first time. We have no expertise, and no real idea if what we’re doing will work. Maybe we’re doing our babies more harm than good.

But there’s only so much you can do. Sometimes the true test of survival comes only with the passage of time.

Of course, as a modern author in the digital publishing world, that’s only partly true. Our books, our community and our careers truly do need our constant cultivation. There are just too many books out there to leave our books on there own. They’re likely to get lost forever.

In truth, the analogy to growth and maturation probably applies more to “me” the authorpreneur than to my books, per se. I need time and tons of support to “grow up.” I need to learn new tricks and practice and stretch continuously in order to take my career as a published author to the next level.

I need to continue to hone my craft, write and publish more books, continue to nurture my author platform, study, apply and even innovate book marketing strategies. And over time, just like adults, we get a little more polished, a bit more confident, and closer to achieving our goals and dreams.

And toward that end (because it’s a lifelong road) I guess it won’t hurt to take a few weeks off.

 

Bon Voyage!

So have a great summer. I’ll be back in August with more stories to tell. Make sure to sign up for my email list (form in top right sidebar) to get your free copies of bonus summer reading, including short stories, deleted scenes and a sneak preview of Coming About. Follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter if you want to see photos and videos of my travels, because that’s where I’ll be (buttons also in sidebar.)

I’m also running a big promotion of The Art of Enchantment over the Labour Day weekend, so keep an eye out if you want to grab a copy for FREE. I’m still hopeful book two in the Having it All series will be ready to release by then.

And if you have any great ideas about my handsome Dutch hero, or some fun ideas about a story set in the Netherlands, please leave a comment or suggestion below!

It’s Time to Publish


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My Long Path to Publishing

Aptitude and Ambition

10-things-you-have-to-do-before-you-leave-varsity-female_graduate90I can still remember like it was yesterday the evening almost eleven years ago that I sat beside my husband in bed, doing aptitude tests and reading books like What Colour Is My Parachute? It wasn’t the first time I was trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d already been to university for years and earned several degrees. I’d tried to put all that worthy education to good use by building not one but two professional careers, first as an architect, then as an academic researcher in gerontology, and then, rather feebly, as an architect again.

 

Enter the Sandwich Age

toddler excited about diggerThen a baby, aging parents and a huge home renovation got in the way. Et voila, five  years vanished. Strangely, I put good use to my architectural training being my own house designer and project manager, and I put all that valuable gerontology knowledge to good use caring for my mother-in-law and mother. But once junior was in full time kindergarten, I began to get restless and look for new outlets for my energy and creativity. Thus the soul-searching moment I mentioned above. At that point in my life I really needed to close those doors and move into a new arena.

The Sleeping Writer

cat on laptopOr not completely new, as I’d always been an avid reader and book lover, and had attempted to craft my first novel at the age of nine. I made it (longhand on yellow foolscap) ten chapters in before something else stole my attention away. But I never lost the desire, and the books, or their genesis, accumulated inside my head over the years, like secret friends whose voices called to me.

So that night, revisiting my strengths and interests via these tests and quizzes, I decided I would give it a shot – I would try my hand at writing a novel. I said to my husband, “I’ll give it five years. If I haven’t published a book by then I’ll quit and get a real job.” How naive.

A Fire in the Belly

As it turned out, five years is nothing in the life of a writer. Barely enough time to figure out which way is up. I had taken on so much more than I’d realized at the time. Firstly, that being educated and literate does not mean you can sit down and write a decent novel – oh, no! Without any formal training in creative writing, it was a long learning curve. An iterative one,  as I dreamed, wrote, studied, workshopped, networked, critiqued, competed, read, and wrote some more. And I got better. But most importantly, I discovered two things: I LOVED writing, and I’d finally found my tribe. I didn’t want to stop at five years. I didn’t want to stop ever. This is where I belonged.

Ten… Make That Eleven Years On

robert-de-niro-oscars-2104-quote-about-writersFive years came and went in the blink of a cursor, and no book publishing happened. I suppose for some writers it happens faster, but I believe for most there are many quiet years of devotion and diligence, and perhaps dabbling, that precede those fabulous debuts. But the path to publishing is paved by many a stumbling block. Mine included perfectionism, an addiction to research and learning, crushing self-doubt (a cliché in our business), a desire to learn how to navigate the online world of social media in order to build my author “platform”, a desperate attempt to learn about and keep abreast of the quickly shifting sands of the publishing industry. All necessary parts of the author’s career. Oh, and did I mention crushing self-doubt? None of these new challenges came easily, especially the digital-technical stuff, which seems to get harder the older I get.

Never Look Back

Nevertheless, the pressure to get my lovely children out there into the world built and built. Several half-hearted forays into querying traditional agents and publishers over the years simply sent me scurrying back for another round of honing my craft. But when the ten year mark approached, I decided I really needed to get at least one book “out there.” Even with that determined goal, another year+ has slipped by. Now, however, I see the cumulative effect of that determined effort and focussed goal. In fairly short order, I’ve won a prize, got another manuscript request by a traditional publisher, and prepared yet another manuscript for independent publishing. Sometimes I think it’s just about setting clear goals.

e73514af7309c4006bfce2a7e38a4451Having several completed works is one of the side benefits of working diligently for eleven years– I have an “oevre.” And I’m certain at least one of those books will be published very soon. One way or another. I now have a solid sense of the industry and my place in it, and a lot more confidence about how I want to manage my writing career.

Time to Publish – One Way or Another

Sometimes what you need is sitting right in front of you all along but you look right past it, because you were looking for something– different. Recently, as I’ve been editing, revising and designing my very first novel, Reconcilable Differences, in preparation for independent publishing, it occurred to me that submitting it to Amazon’s relatively new Kindle Scout program was worth the effort. Since I’d already decided it was a “special” book, a quiet one that would find its readers, even if a legacy publisher wasn’t willing to take a risk on it, I had nothing to lose. Even if it wasn’t selected for publication, the exposure would only help my indie launch later on.

So last week I got the bits all together and submitted it, and it was accepted. [What is Kindle Scout?]

My Kindle Scout Campaign

Reconcilable Differences cover

Reconcilable Differences cover

I was shocked that it was finally happening. Now, I wondered, did my long, slow build as a writer in the world of social media amount to anything? Would I be able to hold up my end of the publishing bargain by calling on my vast (possibly a slight exaggeration) social network and generate enough nominations to get noticed? Well… we’ll see.

My Kindle Scout campaign launched on April 6, 2016 12:00 AM EDT (9:00 PM PDT) and ends on May 6, 2016 12:00 AM EDT! Now it’s up to me (and you) to generate enough nominations for the book in the next 29 days to get Kindle to publish it.

Are You Willing to Help?

Please click the link and have a look, and if you think the book is worthy, give it your vote. Also please pass this along to friends, family and other readers who might be interested in helping out. As a bonus, those who vote for a successful candidate receive a free e-book as thanks. So we all win! If you don’t mind checking out the book, here’s the link: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/JXXN1LUS2SHW

And stay tuned. I’ll be monitoring my progress through the campaign and reporting back here a couple of times, as well as at the end to let you know what’s happening next.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo: What are your pre-writing rituals?

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo: What are your pre-writing rituals?


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The Value of Rituals

This is a great article, and also I love this guy so I recommend subscribing.

This Is The #1 Ritual You Need To Do Every Day

Anticipating NaNoWriMo Daily Writing

As the participants of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) anticipate our start tomorrow, I’m thinking about the little rituals we all have, conscious or not, as we prepare to sit down and write.

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb

For our purposes here, let’s have a little fun. What are your personal “ok I’m going to sit down and write now” preparation or psych-up rituals? Let’s share and maybe have a laugh.

 

Aahhhh, My Morning Latte

When Barker mentioned the ritual of preparing your special morning coffee, that really resonated with me. I make my own half decaf latte’s at home and I love them so much, but the preparation gives me as much joy as the drinking of them. Something about the anticipation, the way I lay out all the bits and pieces, the sensuality of it, the noise of the steamer, even. Damn those coffees taste good. And then I feel I’m ready for anything.

As for daily writing, I think I probably do a few non-essential household puttering things. Put a wash on, let the vacuum go (it’s a robot), tidy a few piles of papers. Maybe sit and stare out the window doing deep breathing for a while, gathering my thoughts, immersing myself in my imaginary world. And once I get going, I would also read over the past day’s words as a way to sink into the story world before I begin.

 

Good Luck Charms Actually Work!

Oh, and as for good luck charms, there’s this guy:

Little wooden jester doll

I’m not sure why but he has to be with me when I’m writing new content. My B-I-L thinks it’s weird that my mascot is a jester, but… well maybe it is. But he chose me so I can’t help it. (It doesn’t mean I don’t take my writing seriously.)

I’m sure as I get going, if I pay attention, I’ll notice a few other weird things that I do.

How about you?

Dare I Do NaNoWriMo?


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COMMITMENT PHOBIA

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbRight off the top, National Novel Writing Month sounds like a really bad idea for a person as commitment phobic as me.

For readers who aren’t familiar, NaNoWriMo is “National Novel Writing Month, shortened as NaNoWriMo (na-noh-ry-moh), … “an annual internet-based creative writing project that takes place every November. NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30.” For more information read the rest of the Wikipedia definition here, or go to the NaNoWriMo site.

But since my writing’s been totally off the rails for quite awhile now, what with dealing with getting my house ready for the market, suffering from unexpected chronic pain and disability, dealing with the consequenses of menopause-induced brain fog (more on that in a later post,) shooting off exploring screenwriting, film-making and other, largely unrelated employment opportunities over the last couple of years, I’m thinking this might, in a counterintuitive sort of way, be A GOOD THING, as Martha says.

writing, handwriting

 

 

 

 

 

A bit of focus, you know?

NOTHING TO LOSE

Well before anyone starts shouting, ‘Hell Yeah, go for it!!’ I’ll just say I’ve already registered. I’ve never had trouble cranking out words before, but then again I’ve never committed to writing 50,000 new words in a month. But since my buddies at the RWA-GVC are doing it en masse, I figure I’ll jump on the coffee-trolley and see what happens. The worst case scenario is that I write no more than I’ve been writing lately, which is a big fat ZERO. Absolutely nothing to lose, right? My situation can’t get any worse, and the beauty of NaNoWriMo is, there really aren’t any consequences. (Except shame.)

PLANNING THE NOVEL BEFORE I BEGIN

The problem now is, I’m definitely NOT a “pantser” as we say in the biz. In other words I’m not one of those writers who can just sit down at the computer and start banging out words without any concern for what the novel is about or where it’s going. (The very thought of it makes me catatonic!). Which means that I have to decide WHAT I’m going to spend the month of November writing and do a little preparation. And since everything I’m working on (in a figurative, if not a literal sense) is either in revision, nearly complete, or a screenplay, I’m not sure what to choose.

f1d33654a95bb8b75bb0de7aa35c554f

Option A: To take my rough, incomplete outline for an interactive STEAMPUNK novel about a time-travelling jeweller and write through just one storyline. (Basically the interactive novel requires three “forks” in the story, something like gaming narrative, or “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories, where the reader makes a decision for the protagonist about where the story goes next, requiring a total of 12 different endings for the same storym, making it rather complicated.) But since I’m somewhat stuck on that, it makes me nervous. On the other hand…

 

Option B: To take the seed of an idea for one of my future novels and just go for it. Some of these are a bit better thought through than others. Whichever one I choose would fit into a potential “series” with one of my already completed novels. The possibilities include:

downtown eastside lane, b&w imagea) a story about an ambitious and uptight lawyer trying to rise above her family’s shame and a passionately dedicated social worker dealing with kids on the street, and greedy developers and corrupt city officials interfering with approvals for construction of a youth shelter, who teaches her to take risks, let down her hair and believe in causes again.

red car, crashedb) a story about a vain, hardened lawyer with a secret past whose glamourous life is shattered along with her face and her pelvis in a serious car accident, and who must rebuild herself inside and out while working through physiotherapy, with the help of a selfless contractor whose estranged wife’s street life as an addict doesn’t make his job as a father any easier.

Italian villa on a lakec) a story about an Art History doctoral student doing thesis research in Florence who meets an Italian architect and gets drawn into his shabby-chic aristocratic family’s troubles, deciding to help them keep their run-down ancestral villa out of the clutches of a crazy-rich egomaniacal American rock star who wants to renovate it beyond recognition and destroy centuries of cultural history in the process.

Okay so that’s it. Tough choice, eh?

If you read this and want to vote, leave a comment and tell me which story you think I should write for NaNoWriMo and give me a couple of reasons why (or not). Depending on public opinion, it might make it easier for me to choose. And wish me luck. Thanks!

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse


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After seven long weeks in a small rural island community over the summer, the past week was spent on a quick return trip to the city, ostensibly to attend a friend’s wedding, but also to take care of a hectic round of shopping and errands in preparation for the start of the school year. The experience was so overwhelmingly busy and exhausting that I didn’t even open my laptop, let alone have time to sit and write a blog post. I did have a few ideas, but they were swept from my head as quickly as they settled there (thus the dead air space here.)

 

Illustration of The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse

TOWN MOUSE VERSUS COUNTRY MOUSE

The one idea that has stayed with me throughout is the contrasts, naturally enough, between city and country living, which brought to mind the moral tale of Aesop’s fable, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. For those that need a quick refresher, in the original fable, a sophisticated city mouse visits his friend/cousin in the country and partakes of a rustic meal, which is not to his taste. Boastful of the benefits of urban living, he invites his country cousin to the city to enjoy its opulent pleasures, and once there, their sumptuous meal is interrupted by dogs, who give chase. Escaping, the country mouse returns home, concluding that he prefers the peace and security of the country to the stresses of the city. After the past week, I can surely relate.

 

CITY LIFE

My first foray into academic specialization was in fact as an urbanist – I studied urban geography and sociology as an undergraduate. As such, I studied the origin of cities and towns, their patterns of growth, land uses, and the behavior and artifacts of urban dwellers. Clearly it is no surprise that people first came together to live in numbers, and behind walls, for reasons of safety (a reason which is not so true of today’s cities) and of course to conduct commerce (more true than ever), and I suppose for society, although that perhaps was an offshoot of the cities themselves. The more people and activity there was in cities, the more needs for goods and services emerged, as well as the maintenance of infrastructure, and so of course cities also became the place one went in search of employment. Not surprisingly, my undergraduate studies corresponded with my early twenties, and a move from a smaller city to a large city with a university, and a stage of life that was stimulus-seeking. The city had great appeal, both in theoretical and in real senses. I think that the city really is the environment best suited to the stretching, shaping and testing of young minds, not unlike the tempering of iron on a hot forge.

 

Map of Old Florence

Map of Old Florence

DIVERSITY AND CULTURE

As cities emerged, with large concentrations of people, they came to represent not only population density, but population diversity (for of course people came from far and wide, and cities have always been magnets for immigration, where newcomers to a country can always find like-others to support them and their transition to a new place.) People brought with them their various ways, including skills, food, language, music, religions, costumes and culture. And so anyone living in a city was much more likely to be exposed to this diversity and its corresponding excitement as well as the cross-fertilization that results. Large numbers and varieties of people living together and conducting business also leads to new experiences that we associate with urban living today: fine dining, great shopping and the arts (music, theatre, galleries, museums, educational opportunities, culture, and of course the political life that urban living of necessity engenders). These things become objects and industries in themselves which are self-perpetuating, leading to the kinds of innovation that we associate with cities.

 

GROWING OLD ALONE

Skipping over a career as an architect, the next opportunity I had to think deeply about city life versus country life came in my iteration as a Gerontologist, during which time I had the chance to design and teach a graduate class in Rural Aging. Despite decades of urbanization, there are and will always be some people who live in rural and agrarian settings. And eventually these people grow old and frail. In brief, the two principal challenges of growing old in a rural setting are transportation and isolation. For these reasons, housing options for older people are better when they are clustered and closer to services and supports. Around the same time I was inspired by some of research being done by some Dutch colleagues that involved surveying and layered mapping (via GPS) of self-selecting (by choice or default) aging populations in city neighbourhoods, appropriate housing, services, and nodes and pathways, both concrete and imagined. I was unsuccessful at that time in securing funding to replicate that research in a Canadian context, but I was a great believer at that time that growing older in a supportive community-integrated (as opposed to a segregated designed institutional) setting was the way to go. I guess I still do.

 

Super Mom illustrationSUPER-MOM, ANYONE?

The two roles I’ve adopted since those days that affect my views on urban versus rural living are important ones: that of parent and of writer. Interestingly, in retrospect (as I now have a teenager) I think raising children in a rural or small town setting makes much more sense. Not only is it less expensive, but the two aspects of parenting in the city that loomed large in my experience were Programming and Chauffeuring, both of which are related to the real and perceived risks (as well as the real or perceived opportunities) of modern urban living. Both of which suck up a great deal of time, energy and resources. And despite the enviable way that some mythical parents seem to do their job, my life never afforded the time, energy or inclination to partake of those benefits of the city, such as fine dining, fashionable shopping or engaging in arts and culture, for myself or my child.

 

For me, as I think it does for most, family life revolved around mac and cheese and chicken fingers, soccer and piano lessons, and suburban mall outlets like Gap, Old Navy and The Bay, from which a never-ending succession of shorts and shoes and socks in larger and larger sizes must be procured. The few times my husband and I attempted to hang on to our previous, child-free, yuppie lifestyle, by finding and paying for an expensive babysitter and attending the symphony or theatre, and going to a nice restaurant, we invariably talked wistfully about our son all evening and fell asleep halfway through the performance. Why not just embrace the fact of your stage of life and make it easier on everyone? Forget about fashion, fine dining and fine art for a few years and give yourself a break. Let the kids climb trees and run barefoot in a field, let them have rabbits, and don’t even think about the spit up or spaghetti sauce on your smock. Everyone will be much happier and healthier, trust me.

 

George Bernard Shaw and his writing shack

George Bernard Shaw in his writing shack

PEACE AND SOLITUDE

As a writer, of course there are some benefits to urban living, such as education, support groups and writers’ conferences, but really most of these benefits can be realized on-line these days, and in fact most of them are (except conferences, but then why not take a trip once or twice a year?) The things that busy urban life do NOT provide very well are peace and solitude: two things that writers need in large measure. This is likely why writers have traditionally taken retreats, or rented seaside cottages or secluded cabins in the woods. So they can actually get the writing done!

As we head into the last week of summer vacation, and I’m back in the country, I almost dread the ultimate return to the city for the start of the school year. This summer hasn’t been a very productive one for me as a writer (other than blogging), as there have been other, more pressing issues, such as my health, to deal with. But still I can imagine how much I could get done if only I could stay. I can almost see myself going for solitary rural walks, watching the trees turn colours overhead, and breathing the bracing fresh country air as I prepare for long fall days bent over the computer, fire crackling, funneling my creative energy into my writing and editing.

image of an old typewriter in a meadow

ASIDE: In my meanderings I found this lovely essay by Tom Hanks in the NYT Sunday Review about his love and obsession with typewriters. Read it and smile, and tell me you don’t want to run out and buy an old typewriter.

BALANCING THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS?

Instead, I’ll be heading back to the hectic, highly scheduled, socially demanding, time-gobbling, over-stimulating urban environment that always seems to act in opposition to those things that best serve my writing. Peace and solitude. I’m wondering if there is a way to have the best of both. Of somehow enjoying the best that the city has to offer, and still hanging on to the lifestyle that nurtures and supports my energy, my health and my writing. As I grow older, I think that there may in fact be benefits to growing older in the country. At a certain age we have accumulated enough experiences, have tempered our inner steel sufficiently, and have tired of the stimulation. In other words, we’ve been there, done that. Now it’s time for rest and reflection. Attributes that serve the writer well. But of course, one cannot reflect upon that which one has not experienced. So a time for every season, as they say.

 

Being a late bloomer in so many ways, by the time I have the freedom to retire to the country to pursue the quiet, solitary lifestyle of a (rural) writer, I’ll be too old and feeble to drive a car or carry my groceries, and then I’ll have to start looking for a supportive urban neighbourhood to make my elder years tolerable.

So what are you? A town mouse or a country mouse, and why? What stage of life are you in and what about your environment makes that better or worse? And finally, do you own a typewriter?