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Gwen Tuinman

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The Writer’s Quandry: Immersion vs Seclusion

A writer’s life involves a delicate balance between immersion and seclusion. We must be of the world to discover events and locales for exploration, to stimulate curiosity, to develop observations and empathy. In the chaos and trauma of everyday life, we learn what it is to be human. Our writing is not restricted to solely the inspiration of our own lives. Otherwise, we’d each write one or two books, perhaps a handful of poems, and be spent. The experiences of loved ones and complete strangers also inform our creations.

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On Curiosity, Delight and Writing

“Survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention (…) The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”

Something about this quote from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has taken a hold of me and won’t let go. She’s written it by way of explaining her grandmother’s approach to enduring her husband’s years of careless living. The consequences of his actions inflicted much hardship, yet through it all, Grandmother focused on the positive, indulged her curiosities to stay sane, endure the bumpy ride.

Her approach to life is perfectly suited to a writer’s life. Our pursuits are sometimes put on hold due to life challenges, but for the most part, we push through difficult times and keep writing. To do this requires that we too pay attention and follow our curiosity. We infuse our imaginings with context, much like newly submerged tea leaves spreading their colour inside a cup.

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In Search of the Forest Primeval

In the summer of 1979, I sang along when Dan Fogelberg’s love song Longer played on the radio. He loved the object of his affection ‘deeper than any forest primeval’. What could be more compelling to a fifteen-year-old girl pining for romance. I then equated primeval with a dark European forest, thick with moss and trees old as time.

Years later, it was poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who brought the forest primeval closer to home. During a visit to Cape Breton Island, I purchased a copy of his epic poem, Evangeline, the tale of Acadians’ expulsion from Nova Scotia.

This is the forest primeval. 
The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, 
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight. 
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, 
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
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