The sky today is grey,  toneless, a single hue of cement and shoreline stone. I’m sick, up in the night lurching to the bathroom to toss my cookies, and should be back in bed, ensconced with a good book, a fat pillow, and my electric heating pad.

This sudden illness seems to fit my mood, because lately, like many of us, I’m sure, I’ve been thinking about how crappy everything is: yesterday’s events in Ottawa, Ebola, those dead babies found in a storage locker in Winnipeg, the fact that only five white rhinos remain in the world.

DSC05698I don’t know if it’s the season – winter nearly upon us like a smear of threatening land through a nautical telescope – but life’s been getting me down, and that’s most evident in my writing.

The short stories I’ve been working on these days are mainly flat. Bad things happen, people feel like shit. Unreconciled conclusion. The end.

Not very interesting.

I remember a friend of mine, who writes, talking a lot about shades, about the need to pull out layers of human emotion – joy next to sadness, humour next to the dour mood – in order to create a complex work.

And not long ago, at a reading I gave, a woman lambasted me for the ugliness of the garden in the excerpt I read aloud from my short story, Rhubarb. People want beauty, she said, shaking her fist.

She hadn’t actually read the story, which is interwoven with a complexity of emotion all its own, and didn’t really seem to hear the description of the garden, not exactly ugly with its “deflated orange tomatoes glowing on the lawn.” And, still, I find I’ve been thinking a lot about what she said (despite her rudeness).

I’ve been wondering where beauty fits, where joy fits, and, mainly, how to write a story about, oh, I don’t know, 35,000 walruses desperately beached onshore in Alaska because the Arctic ice is melting without it being as toneless as the sky up here today.

I don’t know the answer to that.

Maybe you do? Maybe you have thoughts?

In the meantime, before I lurch back to bed and leave you thinking about it, I wanted to point out that the photos in this post are from beautiful Amisk Lake in Northern Saskatchewan where J. and I spent Thanksgiving weekend, where I felt the soothing effects of gorgeous nature, where I began wondering more deeply about the place where/how beauty and happiness fit in the work of writing about a dire time…