Camera vs writer’s block

Writing about myself was always a challenge, which is why I became a journalist and then a fiction writer. But like a river clogged with the silt of memories and ill-disposed junk, the flow of all my words became slower and more painful over time. The more space and opportunity I was given to write, publish and build my business, the more jammed I became. By this past spring, four books into our Nova Scotia love story, with two new authors in our stable and a fifth book on the brink, I was buried to the point where composing a tweet could be a daylong affair. School excuses took 30 minutes and three rewrites. Where there was once ease and confidence in my work, there was a suffocating pall of gloom. Writing was all I knew how to do, and now, I couldn’t even do that.

Then light appeared, first as a spark that encouraged me to drop everything and go to Hawaii in April, at a time when the dollar was tanking and my credit card was spiralling. Thank God I listened to myself. Ten days immersed in the energies and stories of more than a dozen amazing women coalesced into a pull forward and a beacon within. A month later, when I saw a blog post from fellow Hawaii traveller and awesome photographer Tanya Petraglia inviting photo shoots of ‘creative collaborations,’ the spark ignited into a flame of possibility. Creative collaboration: a perfect phrase for the creation of the Finding Maria series and the publishing company behind it. I had a business partner, but the partnership was far from being easily defined. He was generous with his story, which I gladly wrote as a gift for him, but then his presence seemed to fade like a shadow at midday when we formed a company and began the arduous task of selling our creations. You got this, he would call reassuringly over his shoulder as he dashed back to his own life, one he packed way too full for the new responsibilities of entrepreneurship, creativity, and, God forbid, friendship.  This 2-3 dance: one step forward, one step back, round and round, has gone on for more than a decade, ever since Finding Maria was first conceived. Yet, through the fog of fury I felt the distinct pull of a clear connection, that we were collaborators for a reason. Could images capture the words I needed to find? Several messages, an affirmative from my business partner and a few weeks later Tanya was in our presence, on our turf, with camera in hand ready to document this ‘thing’ of two people creating … what? Stories? Books? Life?

See Tanya’s blog of our adventure here.

As you can see, it was a picture-perfect day. What you may not see at first is that it accomplished exactly what it needed to do. It rolled over boulders of fear and frustration that had been in place for years, and tossed about stones that were newly planted, sharp and slashing. That was what I felt every time I sat down to write, a stone wall biting into my skin, threatening to crush me, while a stagnant trickle of festered fears hissed: forget all this, go back to where you were. Life needs to be defined, contained, controlled. Be safe, stay small, go back. And I blamed all of it on him, the person I call my business partner because I as a writer cannot find another phrase. In our actions and choices we appear more like strangers than friends, yet there remains this pull that brings us together and a conduit of knowledge flowing through us both that neither of us can define. I blamed him for blocking this knowledge, for his obstacle course of hoops and rules that he carefully crafted to keep his world safe while keeping our work, and by extension, me, at arm’s length. The truth is, the photos revealed something very different, that I needed to see.

It is not him. It is me.

I was given a chance to be an author and publisher, and I took it. I have the choice to remain in the partnership or leave. I choose to stay, because I continue to see an invitation to a life of enlightenment and adventure. If I want to get anywhere, though, I have to stop blaming others for how I feel and stop listening to the lurid hiss of fear. Does my business partner divert and avoid? Sure he does. But he also stepped up to be part of this photo shoot, knowing he was stepping into an earthhquake of soulful proportions. What did I do? What I always do: set it all up, fill my head with stories, then detach and cut the power. I have energy and insight to share, to break the 2-3 dance, to create the life I have envisioned. I have a voice.

Do I use it?

No. I used the books as a shield rather than a map, created them as a means for him to explore his life, while completely shutting down to the fact that they also existed to help me explore mine. The stone wall I slammed into time and again was my yearning for authenticity, as chapter outlines and business plans for the creation and sale of fiction became confused with my vision of life itself. I was allowing life to unfold, the fear assured me, and when life didn’t follow the script I conveniently hadn’t written yet, another boulder of frustration rolled over what few words I could find. It was a nifty scenario that kept me small, sheltered, and safe, but increasingly miserable and isolated from my words, my voice, my essence. And I had only myself to blame. Bloody hell.

The photos showed it all, and through tears, blackness and emptiness I forced myself to feel everything they brought up: the distance between us, the isolation, the failure to thrive in a a decade of opportunity, the gratitude grown bitter from lack of sharing. I had to completely reframe how I approach our collaboration and our partnership. No more could I blame him for his choices. I have to take ownership of mine. No more could I hide behind the concepts of books and commerce. I have to rediscover and define myself, for me. And dammit, I can’t even torment him about being short any more. A photo of the two of us, backs to the lens, eyes to the water, shows clearly he is just a shade taller than me. On another day, revisiting that photo, I noticed that the distance between us was not the unbreachable chasm as it had first appeared. We were closer than we were apart. Our stance, exactly the same. We even dressed alike. There is a connection, without a doubt, but not one I will label with carefully-chosen words. It is one I will identify by stepping into myself.

Only these photos could show me that.

As the boulders continue to shift and the concrete ramparts crack, the fears ooze away and words begin to flow. There will be much, much more written about these photos, this day, this experience.

Where will it go from here? I have to say, for the first time since the writing of these books began, I really don’t know. I only know there will be no going back.

Thank you, Tanya Petraglia, for sharing your talent and essence with the world. A picture is worth so much more than 1,000 words.

Thank you all for reading. I hope to see you again soon.

Five summertime ways to combine work and play

When the thermometer soars, my mind drifts on the sun-kissed breeze and my productivity takes a belly flop. My solution: multitasking. I don’t mean laptop-on-the-beach kind of multitasking … too much glare and sand in expensive parts for me. I mean the get-out-there-and-experience-summer-while-making-some-business-connections kind of multitasking. As a writer, screen time is a must, but so is networking: as a writer and publisher, I’m a small business owner, too, and while social media has opened the world to business of all shapes and sizes, face-to-face interactions, especially those in your home town, province or state, remain a key ingredient in building your business one relationship at a time.

So, instead of sighing at summer through my office window, I’ve started looking at my summertime calendar with a fresh perspective: where do I want to go today, what do I want to do, and who can I meet there? Then I breathe, open my mind to the possibilities, tuck a few business cards in my pocket and head for a day of adventure.

Here are my top five places that I like to hang in the summer, and how that works for me and my business.

1. Farmers’ Markets. These weekend events are springing up all over. In my hometown of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, the Saturday morning market draws more than 1,000 patrons and is chock full of small business owners selling everything from self-designed gadgets to breathtaking artwork. The folks behind the tables are usually more than willing to chat up their businesses: marketing, promotion, work habits … I come away with great advice and a basketload of goodies ebcause, of course, I need to be a good neighblur and patronize their businesses with more than lip service. And with all of those patrons milling about, there are some you know and can make introductions to those you don’t. An awesome morning that’s win-win for you, them, and the community.

2. Festivals. I’m a snare drummer in a pipe band, so summer weekends are spent on the Highland games circuit, but there are dozens of events every weekend throughout the Maritime provinces alone. Most events have vendors that again, give insight into great products and small business hints. But where gthese crowds are gathered ion fun – to enjoy music, food, or the warm summer atmosphere – is the opportunity for good conversations. It is not the time to be a telemarketer on foot, hawking wares and handing out cards like you’re on a quota, but to engage in genuine conversation about what is being enjoyed and why. The chat may be little more than ‘nice weather we’re having’ or it could lead to an email exchange and a mutual discovery worth following up on Monday morning.

3. Tournaments. Soccer, baseball, softball … ask any sports family, and they can give you the schedule. I’m not an athlete or particularly sports minded, but I love the energy and dedication evident on and around the field. Again, folks are gathered in a positive common purpose; it’s a great field not only for connecting with the ball, but for connecting with fans. Plus, getting to see in action the result of hard work, practice, commitment, and teamwork is inspiring for us desk jockeys, too.

4. Flea markets. Indoor or outdoor, these are goldmines for characters who spin great yarns along with making the sale; I’ve ended up with nuggets of businesss acumen and ideas for stories along with those old coffee tables that make great bookcases. Faced with tables of old yearning to be new again, my imagination takes flight and the occasional rush of adrenaline from bartering or sealing the deal gets the blood pumping and brain working, too. A $20 bill never went so far.

5. Car shows. Perhaps I was born in the wrong generation, but, my beloved Beetle aside, I yawn at most car models today. It’s the golden age of the 1950s that fans my flame of automotive desire. These gorgeous testaments of metal and pigment, speaking to a time when distinctive design and craftsmanship were showcased with pride, are outshined onlyby their owners, who spend thousands of hours and dollars preserving and sharing their four-wheeled beauties with the rest of us. Some of these cars were rescued as rust heaps from garages or fields and lovingly restored, or built from the ground up piece by piece, not unlike many of us who’ve purchased or built a business. Conversation, contemplation, and incentive to move forward have always come for me at these events, all for the price of admission and letting go to the experience.

So, despite my bulging calendar and our notoriously short summer season, I will enjoy every moment, and get some work done, too. Win-win. As a small busienss owner, and a writer no less, I’ll take allthe wins at a bargain I can get.

Thanks for reading! May your summer be rich in ways you choose, as well.

Jennifer Hatt is a freelance writer, publisher, and author of the Finding Maria series, a nova Zcotia love story based on true events.