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Building a Work of Art

My grandfather is one of the partners in a big land development company and he takes great pride in showing us his projects. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending the day with him, visiting his company’s various construction sites. At the end of the day, I was surprised to discover how much I had learned about writing. Today, in honour of Father’s Day, I’d like to dedicate this post  to him, and share some of the things I learned.

To me, the realms of reading and writing — my interests — and of construction and land development — his interests — had previously seemed quite mutually exclusive. This notion of their disparity had been heightened by my grandfather’s interest in the numbers and financial aspects of building. Numbers and such tend to elude me, so while I love spending time with him, I tend not to understand about half of what he’s saying.

But it now occurs to me, perhaps our interests are not as disconnected as I previously imagined. Because, what is constructing a building if not making something that wasn’t there before? And isn’t that the same thing as writing, but merely in another medium? If so, then there is so much that I, and any other writer out there, can learn from this man who has been in the business of creating for the past fifty or sixty years.

Whenever we go on these outings, my favourite parts of the day are seeing the finished products. The high rise condos, already built up to the penthouse and their stunning, fully decorated lobbies. Even just the sales centres delight me, with their high tech demonstrations and beautifully coordinated decor. However, my grandfather always drags me to see big gaping holes in the ground, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over the contraptions put in place and techniques used to dig out the dirt.

Image from educationalccu.blogspot.com because my iPhone makes my grandfather nervous, so I didn’t take any pictures.

On last week’s trip, he explained to me that this is what he’s interested in, the progress and process you can see and look at from a bird’s eye view. Once the building starts really making headway, and gets (literally) off the ground, you can’t really see what they’re doing on the inside and for him it becomes boring. The same goes for the finished buildings. Once they are completed, furnished and sold, he loses interest.

This can be seen as metaphoric for the writing process. Just like I prefer looking at the finished, fully decorated buildings, I also prefer looking over my finished, fully developed writing projects, rather than taking greatest joy in the writing itself. I prefer editing later, more complete drafts over writing the first.  My grandfather on the other hand, would be someone who sees the value in writing the first draft. Like the digging stages, it takes the most time, but nothing can happen until it’s done. And that draft is often most difficult — or at least it seems that way when you’re at the stage — but it’s in that draft where everything begins to happen, and everything else you do for that projects tends to stem from that draft.

I think that this is an incredibly valuable lesson. This was very relevant when I spent the day with my grandfather, because at the time I was trudging through the messy stages of my Camp NaNoWriMo novel, desperately looking forward to when I have a completed draft in my hands. Now that I’ve abandoned that, because it just wasn’t working for me, I still find that I’m struggling to find the motivation to write as regularly as I would like. Lately I’ve been writing even when I don’t feel like it, because that gets me to the later drafts. But perhaps the rough writing, though more difficult, can also be more rewarding in itself, in part because the progress is very visible. Hopefully this new insight will help me not only keep writing (on a regular basis), but enjoy the writing itself as much as the final product.

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Notes from NYC

My grandmother had a wedding to go to in The Big City this week, so I decided to ditch a few days of school so I could tag along. Of course, as far as my school knows I’m away to attend a close family member’s wedding. In reality (it’s important to differentiate between the real truth and the version of the truth we’re telling the attendance office) I barely know the bride and I mostly came to get a prom dress (and to check out one of the universities I’ve been accepted to).

I can’t manage to travel anywhere without a funny (in a retrospective way) travel story. So far, on this trip we’ve already had several such stories. It started before we had even stepped onto the plane. There was a heavy fog the night before our flight, and by morning it was still lingering. Our flight was originally scheduled for 8:45 a.m., and we were supposed to get up at, like, 6 because we had  to pick up a whole handful of relatives (who were also going to the wedding) on our way to the airport. We get a call from my grandmother at 4 in the morning saying that the flight’s been delayed by an hour. Great, we think, we get to sleep in an extra hour. When we all finally get to the airport (the tiny little airport, that only has flights from one tiny little airline) we attempt to check in.  Sorry, they tell us, all flights have been cancelled. We can get you on a flight on Tuesday morning.

This was Sunday morning, the wedding was Sunday night. Then they booked us for a flight on Monday at 6:45 am, which was still no good. Finally, my grandmother and I were booked for a flight at 9:45 that night, because we still wanted to take a trip together (as it’s also my birthday this week) even though she’d miss the wedding.

As we’re dropping everyone off at home, my amazing mother had a brilliantly epic epiphany. We managed to book three tickets for me, my grandma and a cousin (the only relative left in the car) to fly in at 1:00 and make it in time for the wedding. Of course, the airport she booked at was a two-hour drive and a trip across the U.S. border away. Thank God for Jet Blue and for my mother for driving us into Buffalo. (This is a trek most people living in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) make every once in a while — or in my family’s case, several times a year —  for the sake of shopping). So three of the six of us ended up making it here and my grandma and cousin were both at the wedding in time. That story was probably crazier to live than to retell, but I though it was worth mentioning.

Hopefully tomorrow, I’ll post about my adventures in prom dress shopping.

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