lost and found
the art of stumbling into meaning
February 28, 2022
I hope you’re finding ways to keep going during these times of turbulent change and relentless worry. This last week was heartbreaking, terrifying beyond belief. As news reports continue to roll in from Ukraine, I hold my breath before each update. A refrain that’s been howling in my heart the past two years during the pandemic has become more intense than ever - we are all connected. Whenever this message reaches you, wherever you are in the world, please take a moment to send kind wishes, prayers, hope, strength, and love to the people of Ukraine.
February’s full moon is known as the “snow blinding” or “hunger” moon. In my part of the world, it’s a time when snow storms are likely to rage, pantries are starting to look a bit sparse, and our patience with the cold and with each other is wearing thin. We’ve all had a ragged start to 2022 and for me that’s also meant a slowing of my creative process. It’s difficult to hold back my frustration when that happens, but I’ve learned (and am still learning) that getting angry with myself doesn’t do me or my work any good.
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve had to fight my way through distraction, self-doubt and anxiety to get words down on the page. Over time, this fight took the form of a series of artistic experiments in which I attempted to give my brain creative jumpstarts to help carry me towards more consistent, steady work. If you follow my Instagram feed, you’ll have seen something of a visual diary of many of these experiments - everything from storytelling with beach finds to making botanical inks to cleaning and repairing vintage typewriters. It’s too soon to say if these wild outbursts have brought me everything I’d hoped for, but I’ll admit that they’ve kept me going and writing and whole, so I’ll call that a win.
My current February lull led me back to an art form I’ve really enjoyed working with in the past. Erasure, or blackout poetry, invites you to take a pre-existing text and “find” a new text and new meaning within it via a process of choosing words and phrases to keep while eliminating everything else.
This time around, I started by choosing a page from my novel, The Birth House and then went from there. The main reason I adore this process is because it often feels like divination or spellwork. What you need is already there. It’s just up to you to find it. Words shift and jump off the page as I work to settle on an idea and there’s a playfulness to it all that usually makes me laugh, and occasionally leaves me feeling as if some greater force is sending a message I couldn’t have found any other way.
The message I came away with from this particular poem was a lovely, if firm reminder that my way of telling stories happens in layers - of time, realization, relationships and truth. When I first moved into my home in Nova Scotia, there was an unfinished room above the kitchen that the midwife who’d once lived here used as a place to store things and dry herbs in the rafters. Nestled in the peak of the roof, the knee walls and sloped ceiling were lined with layers of newspaper and horsehair plaster. After a century and a half, the newspapers (dating back to the mid-1800s) were practically crumbling to the touch but I photographed them as best I could when we had to remove the plaster for renovations. Finding those pages served as the inspiration for the narrative form of the Birth House. Returning to a page of text from that novel has now led me to a better understanding of my current work in progress. It’s all about the layers.
Ghost in the machine
I took a short road trip with my sweetheart this past week to pick up a typewriter on the other side of the province. It was a clear, sunny day, (one of the few we’ve had this month) so it was smooth sailing and Blossom Dearie from the Bay of Fundy to the Atlantic shore. We visited old friends at BlockShop Books and Lunenburg Bound and had a delicious lunch at the Salt Shaker Deli before heading home. It was our first outing like that in I don’t know how long. I’m still trying to find a balance between my COVID anxiety and my desire to do “normal” stuff.
When the weekend arrived, I decided to give the machine a good clean and get it working again. My kitchen table is in a warm, sunny spot, so I set up shop there and began to give the Underwood a once over. Turning the typewriter towards the light, I instantly saw “ghost type” on the platen.
I generally expect to see a few jumbled, stray letters on the platen of an old machine. They most often occur when an over zealous typist keeps going past the ring of the bell and the paper’s edge before hitting the carriage return. Sometimes, if a typewriter has been in an antique mall or thrift store with a ribbon but no paper, customers will type the old chestnut “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Occasionally some smartass will type something vulgar. In the case of this Underwood 315 from the 1970s, I’d been assured by the seller that the owner (her husband) had been the typewriter’s sole owner and that he’d gotten it new for his birthday as a teenager but hadn’t ever used it much.
You can imagine my surprise when I found the following:
“hi there people how is you love life ,ine is the shits!”
(If you’re not familiar with typewriters, the comma and the “m” are in close proximity, so that explains the “,ine” typo.)
Just below that little revelation was a simple “bye for now” hastily dashed off like a planchette gliding to the bottom edge of a ouija board.
But then, after giving the platen a turn, I found this:
“TODAY I AM FINE TODAY.”
Who knows if it was the same person? If it was, I hope to goodness that this revelation came in the wake of the shitty love life comment. Because honestly, I think that’s a message we can all get behind right now.
From my heart to yours, I hope you’re fine today.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my newsletter. I love all the feedback you’ve been sending to me and to each other in this crazy experiment of words! If you happen to try an erasure poem this week, please send me a photo of it and I’ll post it in the next newsletter. It may just contain a message that someone else might need. Have you ever stumbled on a hidden message in the wild?
Next week’s newsletter will see the return of Destiny Typewriter (I think?) with more answers to your questions. Can Destiny help you make sense of something? Please let her know! Keep the conversation going, and as always, if you have a question for Dear Destiny, you can leave it in the comments or give her voicemail a shout at the link below. Until next time, may you find magic along your way.
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