I'm a good story

Real Talk. Real Love (for you).

Hi readers,

I’m not sure how many of you read my blog regularly enough to notice that I put something out every Thursday, and have been for more than two and a half years. (That’s the longest thing I’ve been committed to in the last decade.) If you do read my blog with any regularity, then you’ve probably noticed I’ve been thrown off my game in the last few weeks. Here’s why.

I’m currently entering a period of my career where I am a very busy freelance writer. After taking on a part-time job in a newsroom to get me out of my isolated freelance cocoon and bring some stability back into my life (both financially and mentally), I was then flooded with other writing opportunities. This is great. As someone who’s been freelancing for the last four years, this has always been the goal. I can’t afford to say no to opportunity – both financially and professionally. So I am currently spending much of my time writing. And getting paid to write. Get the fuck out.

That’s just about all I could ask for as someone who identifies as a writer, more so than anything else (woman, daughter, friend) – sometimes to my detriment. But oh well. It’s romantic. And how I see the world.

As a freelancer, I can also attest that you never know when this kind of stability will end. Nothing is ever secure, so when the work comes, you take it. And you do your best. There’s no other option for me.

As a result, I have very little time to do things I used to have a lot of time to do, like lazing on the couch, reading my Statscounter a zillion times a day, taking naps. Writing this blog with any sort of regularity.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on it.  Despite my new work-heavy schedule, I’m still finding time to write just about every day. It’s just that I’m not terribly inspired to write short-form – as in, anything under 1000 words.

I started I’m a Good Story to prove that I could do that, weekly. I enjoyed the challenge of coming up with something – anything – to write about in short-ish spurts on a regular basis.

But I’m changing as a writer. I’ve been increasingly more interested in long-form storytelling. Which is what I’m focusing on right now, on my own time— and it does take more time. It’s an attempt at writing a book, some of which I intend to excerpt here at some point.

This all sounds very dramatic, doesn’t it? We’re almost done.

I’m currently working with a super talented graphic designer on a rebrand/reinvention, mostly of my logo but also on what I want to do with this site. For now, that’s not entirely clear.

I wanted to let you know that this shift is unsettling. I feel like I’m failing in a way. I’m pretty certain that none of you will care that much, but hopefully this will help us understand where this is going.

Basically, what I’m saying is, we’re not done. I’m a Good Story, as a phrase and as my outlet, is something I feel pretty strongly about. I wouldn’t go so far to say I’m proud of it, but I’m content that I’ve committed to something this long that came entirely from my brain. I’m also happy – and maybe just a wee bit scared – that my life is changing, along with my role as a writer. That’s how we do, right?

All this is just my way of letting you, my cherished reader, know that I probably won’t be updating this blog weekly anymore. I am going to keep it going, I just haven’t figured out how. So, in the meantime, I want to sincerely thank you for caring and reading my work. It not only validates me and fills me with joy, but it also means the world to me.

Speak to/at you soon.

Elianna Lev

AKA The first person ever to milk the phrase “I’m a Good Story.”

June 28, 2012   2 Comments

Writer’s done good: A chat with Buffy Cram

Recently, I experienced one of the highlights of my year when I attended the Vancouver book launch for Buffy Cram’s Radio Belly. Buffy is my former UVic creative writing classmate and someone who has always intrigued and wowed me. She was this supremely talented, wise and quiet girl with beautiful bouncy curls and a cherub face. I had always wanted to know more about her. So it was really thrilling to see her accomplish something so grand – a fancily designed published book of fiction with her name on it! How many of your peers who are writers have published works of fiction? I’ll answer that for you: Not many. I recently asked her to answer some questions about writing, life and inspiration to get a sense of how the girl does it. She was nice enough to write back.

 What did you think about the UVic writing program?

I started at UVic when I was 18. I had just come back from my “Australia -trip”—you know, the one most people do in their early 20s where they go wild, learn to surf and/or scuba dive and find themselves. I entered university thinking I was all worldly and unique—I wanted to be a journalist for National Geographic. Then, in my first journalism class, I met a whole bunch of other kids who had also just gotten back from Australia (or Thailand, Mexico, whatever) and also wanted to write for National Geographic. I recall our professor standing up at the front of class and explaining how hard it would be to get published in that kind of magazine. She tried her hardest to get us excited about writing for community newspapers and campus publications that term but I could already feel myself backing away from journalism. Over the next few years I found my way, slowly but surely, into fiction. UVic was a great place to be because there were courses situated all along the way between journalism and fiction. I ended up finding a home for a long time in creative non-fiction, which is how I first got published.

What were your impressions of me from writing class?

I remember sensing the east in you. I knew you were a Toronto girl and that always intimidated me a bit. You were pretty and blonde and smart and infinitely likeable. I remember wanting to hang out with you more but I was insanely busy  those days, holding down three jobs in addition to studying. I often felt like I was missing out back then—like everyone else was having the quintessential “college experience” while I was at work. Is it true? Were you having more fun than me?

(Eds note: I had fun sometimes but I was actually jealous that you had all these jobs and were making money.) 

Tell me about your journey after you were done Uvic. You’ve seemed to have gone all over the place.

After UVic I taught ESL in Vancouver and then Montreal. I had students from all over the world and that made me want to travel again. My boyfriend at the time was from Boston and since it wasn’t easy to live and work in each other’s countries, so we decided to travel and teach. We spent the next few years in Europe, Asia and South America. At some point during my travels I decided to start my MFA with UBC’s optional residency program, which meant I could do my course work from anywhere the world. My MFA luckily led to publication.

Where are you currently based?

After many years away, I’m back in Victoria. I plan on doing a lot of writing at the UVic library this summer. When I meet our doppelgangers I will befriend them!

Tell me about your writing process. I picked your brain a bunch at your book launch and you seem to have a similar process to me. Like you, I can’t write more than four hours at a time. You also said you do freestyle writing. How much of your work comes out of that? I write 1000 words before I get out of bed, morning-page style, but it’s more diary stuff than stuff I’d be able to use in my work.

Wow, I admire you for writing in bed every day! I try to write first thing when I get up too but most of the time I fail. I usually aim for an hour or two of “free writing” at some point before noon. This is the fun stuff, the thing that keeps me going and makes it all worthwhile. Then, later, I might go out to a library or coffee shop and work for another couple of hours on a specific project. Getting out of the house to write helps me feel like I’m a real person doing actual work rather than a monster who wears pajamas all day. (Eds note: Yoga wear softens the blow…highly recommend it.) Sometimes if I’m in a really good phase (and if I don’t have to go to work-work) I’ll do another 1-2 hour shift at night with a glass of wine. But there are many, many days where I’m lucky if I can just get one hour of freewriting done in the morning. I try to hold myself to at least that. As long as I do my one hour of freewriting I’m still allowed to call myself a writer, plus I’m a much nicer person to be around.

How did you become an author? How was your work first published? Do you just write and send it out? I want to be a published author one day…tell me everything there is to know!

I don’t think any writer ever knows what they’re doing or where they’re going when they start out writing their first book. Even at the story level, I never once sat down to “write a story.” All along it’s been one slow sentence at a time. All along there has been uncertainty and self-doubt. Being in school helped ease some of that uncertainty because at least I knew I would get a degree at the end of it all. And being in school, going through the workshop process on specific pieces is what gave me the confidence to send stuff out. As for publishing…my first published piece was a memoir piece I wrote in my UVic days called “Man Hands.” Much later, when I was at UBC I sent it out to Prairie Fire’s annual writing contest. It won third place and then went on to win a National Magazine Award. From then on I was a contest junkie. I kept submitting and racked up some wins and some honourable mentions. This gave me the courage to keep writing. I knew eventually it would amount to something, I just didn’t know when. I was prepared to keep writing stories and submitting for the next ten years if that’s what it took. I recommend every aspiring writer does the same: find a good writing group, rework and rework your stuff, and then send it out to contests.

How’s it been since the book was launched? I was certainly impressed at your Vancouver reading. It was so inspiring to see you so accomplished. You fit right in there with the other authors and read so well. It was like you were born to be there. How have you felt about this press tour?

Wow, thanks! To be honest—and I want to be honest here because it’s one of the things I admire most about your blog—getting published has been a pretty anxious and emotional thing. It’s strange going from being a reclusive pajama-wearing writer to being on stage. It’s strange to have my writing—such a private thing—become suddenly public. I feel like I’ve always written for my own mental and emotional well-being. Having readers is something I never really thought about until it was upon me. I was terrified for about six months leading up to the publication of the book. But now that I’m out there meeting readers, I’m overwhelmed by how wonderful they are. Readers are such warm and smart and compassionate people. I’d like to live the rest of my life in the company of readers!

What’s it like getting reviewed?

It’s a very weird experience. It’s a lot like a total stranger coming up to you at a party and psychoanalysing you based on your clothing or hair. Actually, it’s like having a whole bunch of strangers come up and do this one after another. One says your hair is funny. Another says it’s too serious. One says your clothes are cliche. Another says they’re quirky and alienating. But in the end, a lot of these different opinions cancel each other out. Besides, it’s just my clothing and hair they’re talking about.

Are you a full-time writer? Do you do other stuff to support yourself? Can you afford peanut butter AND jelly?

I always thought it would be dreamy to be a full-time writer but this past year when I was finishing up the book I became one by default and, actually, it turned me into a total weirdo. I stopped brushing my hair and started playing games on my phone. I couldn’t afford peanut butter or jelly. It made me realize that those other things I “have” to do to survive—like teaching, bartending, sewing—actually keep me sane. For the next year or so, while working on my upcoming novel, I’m going to be (re)launching a small line of handbags that I make from repurposed leather jackets. It’s fun and I can do it from home. This means I might become a weirdo again, but I suspect that’s what it takes to write a novel.

What’s inspiring you these days?

I’m so thrilled to be back in Canada where I speak the language. I love going to flea markets and asking people where they got the stuff they’re selling. I love talking to old people on busses. I like observing people at Bingo halls and breakfast buffets. And I like being able to talk to kids again.

Are you still writing while this is happening?

No and it’s killing me. It’s such an odd thing—I’ve done all this work to get recognized as a writer and now that it’s happening, I can’t get to the writing.

 

May 10, 2012   No Comments

First world fears

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write this week because nothing particularly inspired me. Vancouver riots? Naw. Those were way too predictable, and like everything else that’s newsworthy to the average person, I felt completely apathetic towards the whole thing. Unless it’s happening in my backyard, I tend to tune things out.

What else? I could write about how my dog is possibly the most perfect dog I’ve ever known, but that would be redundant.

How about I write about share-sy couples – you know, the couples who tell each other everything, including other shit people confide in them? Nah. How much could I say about that, except that I have one friend whose boyfriend exclaimed to me when I saw him last week: “How’s the Diva Cup working out for you?”

See? Nothing terribly inspiring going on.

Then I read this quote by Donald Barthelme: Write about what you’re most afraid of.

That seemed like a good enough challenge for me. So here we go.

My biggest fear is not making my living as a writer.

I’ve been writing professionally since I was 18, when my first piece was published on the cover of the Toronto Star’s Life section. Since then, I’ve generally always made my living as a writer. I work hard at it. It’s the one thing I know I can do well. And the thought of not doing it, paralyses me with fear.

I associate not being a writer to the year I took off between my last year of high school and first year of university. You know how when you go through a terrible experience as a youth, your parents try to be all positive and call it “character building”? That’s what that year was.

I was new to working, and thus didn’t know anything. So I learned quickly what not to do by way of constantly getting fired.

In a span of about 14 months, I worked at two gift shops, a gynecologist office, an oyster bar, the Gap, a racist health food store, a diner, Lush cosmetics, the Sunglass Hut and, at the all time high point, I telemarketed and a tele-researched at the same time.

While I was a decent worker – cheery and personable, eager to learn new skills – things often wouldn’t work out. In many cases, my managers were low-lifes who got off on their higher position and didn’t like my (cheery personable) attitude. Since most of the jobs I was working had such high turnover rates, I was just another number. Often times, I didn’t care. Occasionally I did. I wanted to be something, but didn’t know what. I figured I’d sort that out later in life and for that time, I’d just do what I had to do to get through the year. It was all such a trudge and the only thing that got me through it was knowing that come fall, I would be leaving the province and starting over with a completely new life as a university student.

And so I left that year far, far, far behind and started in my path as a writer. So far behind, in fact, that the thought of revisiting it gives me anxiety. I can’t help but wonder how would I fare now?

And if I think about it honestly, the answer isn’t that sinyster.

I’d fare now just as I fared then. I’d survive.

Let’s hear it people. Let’s here your biggest fears. They’re probably less petty than mine. Leave me a note, or email me at write@eliannalev.com

June 22, 2011   1 Comment

Resentment makes a real writer

I’ve been an astoundingly bitter writer these days. Why? Because of things like this. Writing opportunities going to non-writers. Writing opportunities not coming to me. Easily. With no effort. Leaving me to like, do things. Pitch more. Work. Me. A REAL writer. What makes a real writer as oppose to someone who’s not a real writer? That’s easy. Depression.  Lots of time in my bathrobe. Bam. How are you suppose to write when you’re not fuelled by your feelings? Feelings that cause you to nap and snack on Rittersport a lot.

Someone who doesn’t understand this is Superfan, a guy I’m casually dating. Although he makes a really good living writing, I can’t bring myself to consider him a real one. Why? Because he’s too busy loving life all the time to get what writing is really about.   I Skyped with him recently while he was drunk in Los Angeles, in an attempt to get him to understand my resentment, I mean, my perspective on what he does. (Being interrogated by me on the record is pretty much a right of passage for any guy who wants to gain access to my lady parts. I mean, my heart.)

Me: For the sake of this conversation, I’m going to refer to you a fake writer. You’re not real. And you’re going to put up with it.

SF: I’m also drunk. You caught me at a good time.

Me: Okay, let’s have a dialogue about why you’re not a real writer.  Let’s forget about your accomplishment, like, what you actually do for a living. (Eds note: This includes writing two travel columns for national publications, script writing for a major movie network, script writing for a major television network and ghostwriting Tweets, to name a few.) Where are you supposed to dig into when you’re trying to relate to others when you don’t feel anything except skipedadepfuckingdoo all the time?

SF: I’ve experienced work anxiety, life anxiety just like everyone else.

Me: Yeah, past tense. Not good enough.

SF: Back when I had a full family, my dad was alive, we were all healthy and happy. I was well aware I would be a better writer and artist if I had more pain in my life. Not that I’d wish that upon myself but I was aware it was a precious time to be enjoyed. Now I’ve lost my dad and I’m divorced, I’ve lost things. As anyone gets older, you’re aware that as much as life is poured into you, life is poured out. That’s added a darker hue to me and my writing. So maybe I’m finally a better writer than I was thought I was capable of being when I was 22 and thought I could out-write anybody. The problem was I wasn’t writing a single word.

Me: Sorry, what? I was just checking my email.

SF: What are we talking about again?

Me: Basically, I’m trying to take you down with my questions and somehow prove to you that you’re not a writer because you’re not depressed and I’m a real writer because I make dramatically less money than you, I’m dramatically less busy than you are and I spend a lot of time in my bathrobe, napping. That’s all it takes to become a real writer.

SF: These are probably valuable things you’ll someday be writing about but probably not while you’re napping in a bathrobe. Get your shit together. Writing is torturous enough without being a tortured writer on top of everything.

Me: You’ll never be welcomed into my club. It involves a lot of wallowing and misery.

SF: So you’re saying I’m not a writer, even though I’m required by contract to deliver a certain amount of words per week.

Me: You’re not jaded and cynical and massively depressed. You’re not a writer.

SF: You want jaded and cynical? I probably won’t have a real relationship or a family for the rest of my life, thanks to what I do. How’s that?

Me: I don’t buy it for a second. You asked me when I was ovulating on our first date.

SF: I will say this: Early in my writing career, I realized that real artists, like Elvis Costello, people who were able to make real works of lasting art, had such a fierce anger and chip on their shoulders. I was pretty convinced since I had a happy childhood and loving parents I’d never be able to match it.

Me: You’ve matched it by living the good life and making us real writers resent you. Whole-heartedly.

SF: I don’t write to make people resentful.

Me: I do!

SF: I write an amusing conversation with myself and hopefully one really interested friend and then they become the audience. If I can make me and one other person laugh, then I’m on to something. I don’t think you have to have come from the slums to be able to be curious about the slums. How about that?

Me: My brain is a slum. How about that?

SF: Well, I wish you were here in the sunshine with me.

Me: That’s really sweet. Is sunshine code word for meds?

April 21, 2011   1 Comment

Sweet Superfan of mine

In my 12 years as a professional writer, I’ve managed to amass a strong and loyal following. Maybe “amass” is the wrong word but there are certainly a good number of people who regularly read my stuff and consider themselves fans. Some of them leave messages on my website. Some send me heartfelt emails. I’ve heard from and interacted with enough of them over the years to categorize them into three specific demographics:

  • Women in their early-to-mid-20s who are educated, literate, creative, working professionals, interested in writing, comedy, pop-culture, sex, and relationships.
  • Filipinos. Just in general.
  • Men in their mid-30s to late-40s, who are rich and want to have sex with me.

Recently, I started casually seeing a fellow who falls into the latter category. I’ve nicknamed him Superfan.

Superfan was a (super)fan of my writing before we met in person. He’s also way more accomplished than me (he’s a big time writer type) and it makes me resentful. I first read his stuff when I visited my parents in Toronto last summer. My mum had saved one of his magazine features because his style reminded her of mine. I could see her point, so I Googled his work. Then I got jealous of his massive career and impressive accomplishments and never read his stuff again.

The first thing he said to me when we were introduced at a foodie event was “you’re hilarious.” It felt good to hear, but I was instinctually suspicious.

Superfan clearly thought that complimenting me was a surefire way of accessing my covered parts, right? I wasn’t so sure. Every email he sent included a segment gushing about either my physical attributes or my talents. I’ve become warier with every interaction, though I don’t do much to stop it. Being fawned over by a successful man feels pretty decent. I also partially manifested this.

When I date men, I am always the superfan. I put a lot of my energy into building them up, and it always comes from a genuine place. I don’t date men who aren’t talented at what they do. And that’s probably entirely because of Freud. Or rather, my dad.

I associate most of my happiest memories involving my dad with his work. As a Gemini-award winning editor on a bunch of highbrow CBC programming (“The Journal”, “The National”, “The Fifth Estate”) Mr. Avi Lev has often been referred to as one of the best at what he does. Every single time I visited him at work, from the time I was a child until a few years ago before he retired, someone would pull me aside and tell me how spectacular he is. That kind of pride will eventually take a toll. Which is why I only date men who are considered to be exceptionally good at what they do.

However, unlike my pops, who has always helped nurture and support any path I’ve chosen in life, the men I’ve been with usually couldn’t care less.

Take the time when one of my boyfriends, who was a professional performer, told me I’m not funny, despite the fact that I would regularly make him laugh. He even went so far to consult with another entertainer, who agreed with him.

Their conclusion (the way he explained it): I was a writer, not a comedian.  Therefore, I wasn’t funny. (While he could have been right, I choose to chalk up his opinion on his issues with women and other deep-rooted insecurities. Otherwise, I’d probably have stopped writing. It certainly stopped me from ever considering stand-up.)

More seriously, I’ve also been in a few textbook unhealthy relationships, where I was regularly subjected to being called moronically immature names like “slut” and “whore.” The pain I felt as a result was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced: It was debilitating and profound. The good news is a) that was a long time ago and b) those names managed to thicken my skin to the point that I quite genuinely don’t care or dwell on negative feedback, about me personally or my writing, unless it’s constructive. Nothing will ever penetrate me the way those names did.

That’s why it’s weird to have this certified catch around. He’s accomplished, positive, fun, lives in another city (big bonus…less of a distraction) and he’s a big fan of my work. So much so, that’s he’s started offering the work he turns down to me. So why am I still completely suspicious of his intentions?

Probably because after everything I’ve been through until this point of my life, I have no clue how else to be.

Hey reader! Haven’t engaged with you in a while at the bottom of my blog. Want to psycho-analyze my weirdness towards a guy who treats me nicely? Think you can do better? I really encourage feedback and welcome invitations to nice dates. Leave me a message or email me at write@eliannalev.com

March 16, 2011   3 Comments