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Anita Dolman is a writer, editor and poet living in Ottawa, Canada. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in journals, magazines and anthologies throughout Canada and the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @ajdolman

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

First Book on the Way

I'm having a book! Lost Enough, my debut short and flash fiction collection, is set to be released in April 2017, by Canada's Morning Rain Publishing.

You can find out more about the book in this media release. I'll share updates, including launch and reading details, on this blog, as they arise. In the meantime, I'll just be over here, plotzing.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Advice for a Nervous Planet

It's starting to feel to some people, particularly here in the West, like things have never been this bad before. I see people say they feel as though everything is falling apart around them, that they're teetering at the edge of a cliff, vast nothing echoing into infinity, the other side only a blurred vision of surface far in the distance, possibly a mirage and nothing else.

Things were making sense. And then they weren't. People started behaving in ways newly nervous citizens hadn't expected. It wasn't good. People already caught up or watching from the ever-nearing sidelines got dizzy. Now, they sense they could tumble at any moment. The more they think about it, the more the vertigo sets in. They're still here, but they've lost their sense of down and up.

Feeling like this, you can start to hear your own breathing huff faster, then faster. A hazy darkness closes in on your vision. Your thoughts are a narrowing tunnel. Your blood, or something else inside of you, some energy, is moving way too fast through your body.

Are you dying? Is this how things end? With sudden, unanticipated madness in the face of an uncertain, and possibly very cruel, future? Everything keeps moving around you and you can't keep track, can't catch up. Nothing feels normal. You feel horrifyingly light. Then lighter still. You might float away now instead, untethered to anything logical or known. This must be terror. Or insanity. Or both.

What you're feeling, if you're feeling this way, is anxiety. It might be lesser or greater, or mixed with any one of countless other emotions. Articles have been telling me that many of you are feeling it, whether it has been induced by the recent U.S. election and impending inauguration, or any other of the many recent and awful world events, from bombings to shootings to displays of political power and aggression.

natural if you feel it. Whether you have fled a war, have been watching terror and suffering from either side of the TV screen, or, like many in North America right now, feel like you are about to enter a new world of increasing dehumanization, danger, fascism and, possibly, even war, in a lifetime in which you thought nothing quite like this could happen (or happen again), you have every right and reason to feel anxiety.

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (manifesting in panic attacks, in my case) more than fourteen years ago. It's strange to think those of us who have been the canaries in the coal mines of stress and anxiety may now be the ones able to offer the tools for others to keep going in this new age of generalized anxiety.

If it helps you, and I hope it might, as we enter a new year and try to bring back some hope, here are some key things I've learned from years of dealing with first anxiety and, before and after that, depression. Most of these techniques are adapted from cognitive behavioural therapy  (CBT), a way to train your brain to be able to acknowledge bad things without spinning you out of control, either into anxiety, depression or anger:

1) Picture beyond this. For panic attack sufferers, for example, this means remembering that, although you may be terrified and hyperventilating right now, in a few minutes you won't be. You'll get through this. On a broader, societal scale, I see this as meaning you need to remember you are still in charge of doing everything you can to make things better, and you need to believe you can and will do just that. Make a list of how you can help, from donating money or clothes or time to a cause that is going to need it in the coming years, to researching, to getting involved in local politics or regional, national or international organizations. There are lots of other options for how to help. Find which are best for you. You can do this.

2) Remember this has happened before, and it hasn't destroyed you. You are going to get through this. Again, on a broader scale right now, this means terrible things have happened on this planet. And we--as a species, at least--are still here. We keep surviving. You can do this.

3) Remember the good. When you feel like you're spiralling, think about the good--from loved ones to things you're proud you've done, to dreams you still want to see come true. The rest of the time, the best way I've found to tackle and prevent feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, is to do things that remind you of the good in life in general, and in your life, in particular. Visit friends and family. Listen to your favourite music. Help someone who needs it. Dance. Read. Go out and visit a gallery, if that's what you love. Stay home and have a nice, long bath, if that's your thing. Eat cookies. Donate money or clothes or household items to a good cause. Go for a walk. Take pictures. Live. Do several good things every day for yourself that you enjoy or that make life better. This is the path back to perspective for those of us suffering from anxiety or depression. In this current political environment, it will also help you stay focused on your goals, and your reasons for achieving them. You can do this.

4) Find support. It's okay to ask for help. In fact, it's more than okay. You are letting yourself down as a person if you know you are in pain and you do nothing about it. Would you do this to someone else? I don't think you would. There is more help available to you than you think, from friends and family to professional services. You are not a burden if you do this. You are equipping yourself with what you need so you can do future good things. And you are setting a good example for others who are daunted by reaching out for help when they need it. You are going to get through this. You can do this.

5) Believe. In yourself first, if you can. If you can't manage that right now, then believe in others. Believe in the future. Believe in a higher power, if that is part of your relationship with the universe. But, please, believe that the potential for human good is stronger, more lasting and more pervasive than the potential for human evil. Evil has always been more flashy and attention-getting. It can brutalize in great quantities and shocking ways, and gets its name in the papers every day until it seems like it is everywhere. But, good is determined and infinite. It grows from the tiniest and most unsuspected places, and it spreads everywhere. It will continue to. And it is up to you to help it. It will help you, too, if you believe in it.

There are other tips, for sure, that can see you through. The ones above are those I've found most useful, and that I think can be extrapolated from to help others get through the coming times. If you need it, please seek more information and never be afraid to ask for help. I, for one, believe in you. You can do this.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Snow Day, Scattered Epiphanies

  • I learned the words to Tom Waits' God's Away on Business, and it's true: There's always free cheese in a mousetrap, baby. 
  • I found out that if you brush a thin layer of olive oil on a pizza crust before adding the toppings, your pizza won't get soggy and floppy.
  • I decided that, other than from among your closest friends, seeking validation from fellow females not in your field is pointless and self-defeating because we are apparently not at that point yet where we can lift each other up instead of scramble over each other for the crumbs society throws our way. 
  • And, simultaneously most symbolic and practical, I officially gave up on my futile attempt at 42 to switch to carrying around one of those tiny, femme purses, because yes, I know I'm carrying an enormous laptop bag instead of a purse, but you know what? Books. Books and papers. Books and papers and notebooks and pens and sometimes even a bloody laptop and yes, in one small compartment, between the Tide-To-Go stick, the sewing kit and the Star Wars band-aids, there are the one credit card and lipstick that could fit into that tiny f$#%ing purse that would look so much more dainty. If my deadlifting a portable black office doesn't look girly enough for you, though ... well, then, I wasn't your kinda girl anyway.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Anthology Deadline Extended to November 15

When the infrastructure around us fails, when social supports wane, when war and environmental disaster threaten safety, what do mothers do? Our call for submissions to the When All Else Fails: Motherhood in Precarious Times anthology has been extended to November 15, 2016. 

Visit the call for submissions on the Demeter Press website for details. To submit, follow the submission guidelines and email your non-fiction proposal, poetry or fiction to the editors: Dannielle Joy Davis (djdavis@slu.edu), Anita Dolman (dolmanideas@gmail.com) and Barbara Schwartz-Bechet (bschwartz@salus.edu). 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Money is Time

I have spent an enormous amount of time trying to buy more time. As a writer, time, security and a working computer are pretty much all I need to make the writing happen. But, earning the money to buy the first two of those three things, and to occasionally replace and stock the third, has taken up most of my adult life.

I have a lot of respect for writers who are willing or able to go it without a day job. So far, I'm not one of them, and I know a lot of other writers--many of them managing to create fantastic fiction, poetry and/or non-fiction--who work a day job as well. Many of these writers teach, or sell their editing and writing skills either freelance or, like I do, to a full-time employer. Some have jobs that seem to have little to do with writing. My misery over my eight-hour-a-day job and two-hour-a-day bus time often finds soothing company in the thought of Kurt Vonnegut shilling cars at his father-in-law's dealership well into his forties.

More life-altering solutions aside, one of the best ways I know of to gain writing time is by getting grants. I've been fortunate to get writing grants over the years from my city (Ottawa), as well as my province (you can read here about a sabbatical I took courtesy of the Ontario Art Council's Writers' Reserve grant program earlier this year). Last year, I got my first travel grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, which let me try to extol the virtues of my own writing, and that of others, to an American audience, and to build some great connections while I was at it.

I'm very grateful for the grants I've received so far, and what they have made it possible for me to do and make. Which brings me to something I overheard at a conference this summer. Someone mentioned they were glad that provincial grants were going to writers like me, who really needed them. The speaker thought too many grants were going to writers who had a reliable income outside of writing. They didn't realize I was one of "those" writers.

I shrank away, embarrassed, picturing myself looking down from my office tower, the reflective glass sheltering me from the righteous indignation of any "real" artists who might be found begging for scraps of paper or sandwiches in the street below.

It's not the first time I've heard this opinion. It lurks among jurors and artists alike. But it was the first time I felt (even though the speaker didn't know it) that it was aimed at me. I immediately wondered: Did I take away someone's ability to pay their electricity bill? Did someone have to literally go hungry because of me? Was there a poet somewhere in Ontario trying to make a ketchup sandwich in the dark because I got their grant?

My guilt ran amok as I wandered to the next panel. I deserved the sunburn I was probably getting by taking the long way. By the time I found a seat in the shade, and had made some small talk with a handful of other writers, my reason started to return.

The question was really whether I deserved a grant more than someone else. The answer is that art is subjective and, although I believe in the value of my own writing (I have to; it's a job requirement for making more), I accept that, in the end, giving one person a grant and not another is a judgement call by a few people who have volunteered their day to help shape literary futures. But what is it they are judging? Is it the value of the art I could make in the time the grant would buy me? Or is it how much I need the grant to survive as a human being?

I want to believe it's the first. And, I don't want to believe that just because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy if I get a grant, or because it lets me burrow down into the warm muck of self-flagellation or righteous misery when I don't. I want to believe it because that is what the grant descriptions say,

Every grant I have ever applied for (and others I've never applied for, because I didn't feel qualified) was described as meant to buy the artist/writer time to create. And, if you are selected to get a grant, you have to account for that money, exactly how it bought you that time, and what you managed to make as a result.

That there are so many professional writers and artists in Canada that rely on production grants to buy food and pay for basics from food to housing means we, as a society, need to fundamentally change how we value the making of art, and how we support the human beings who make it.

From copyright laws to both arts and financial education to guaranteed incomes, this is a huge job that requires changing policies, changing attitudes, and changing how we value ourselves as dreamers and makers of art.

I have my own dreams of a world where artists at all levels of income are more financially independent and empowered. At the very least, I hope all professional artists and writers apply and apply and apply to every grant they feel they are remotely qualified for. Do it because you believe in your work. Do it because you need time to make more of it, and to make it better.

Here are a few places to start, depending on where you are:

Most cities, provinces, states and countries also have some type of grant system in place for artists and writers. Of course, you may not get the grant you apply for (I certainly haven't gotten most of the ones I applied for), but you definitely won't get the ones you don't.

Good luck out there.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Call for Submissions about Motherhood in Precarious Times: Deadline Extended to November 15, 2016

It's been an amazingly busy summer, even by my schedule-crushing standards, with readings, travel, conferences, and even the occasional tiny bit of writing here and there--mostly there. I'll post more about some of this summer's happenings, events and projects soon (at this rate, quite possibly in the fall), but, in the meantime, if you are a poet, fiction writer or essayist with something to say about the nature and circumstances of mothering in precarious times, please consider submitting to When All Else Fails: Motherhood in Precarious Times.

I will be co-editing this anthology with the amazingly talented professors Danielle Joy Davis and Barbara Schwartz-Bechet.

The call is open to Canadian, U.S. and international submissions. The deadline for poetry and fiction, and for essay proposals, has been extended to November 15, 2016.

If the topic isn't for you, take a look at some of Demeter Press's other current anthology calls.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Lori Jean Hodge 

There are some people whose smile stays with you from the moment you first meet; whose opinion matters deeply to you, even though you may not know them that well; who is an indomitable force of good in your life, even though you don't manage to hang out as often as you mean to; who is both a spark and a calm centre for all of their friends.

Lori Jean Hodge was exactly that person. She passed away this month after fighting a brilliant fight against liver cancer.

The most singularly vibrant human being I have ever had the chance to meet, she will be missed not only by Ottawa's theatre and music community, but by an enormous array of family and friends, and, of course, her amazing wife, Karen.

I count myself extremely fortunate to have been among those who knew Lori. I honestly believe the dozen or so times we were in a room together over the years have made me a better person.

Lori was an inspiration to me and my partner, James K. Moran, in how she approached life, how she engaged with her art, and how she loved and treated others. I wish I had had a chance to speak with her more, to learn more from her.

James and I will miss her more than words can say.