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Uzo and I discuss the flood that forced him out of his house. I sympathize with his predicament and comment that I have some understanding of living in rough conditions.

When I was a child we lived on a farm in Saskatchewan—no electricity and no running water. In the warm weather my dad lowered pails with butter and cream and milk down the well to just above water level and that acted as a fridge, but no freezer of course so vegetables, fruits, meat and chicken had to be canned.

Our house was very small – 2 rooms and we had to fight the cold in winter. Water came from a well and my mother melted snow in big pots on the stove to do laundry and wash dishes and bath us. If she hung clothes on the line to dry on a not quite so cold day, she warned us not to go near them as they could freeze and would break if we touched them.

How do you explain a Canadian winter to your Nigerian friend?

I send him a couple of pictures explaining that in the first picture you see my sister and me. The building behind us is the barn. It was much bigger than our house. In the second picture you can see the ice that has formed on the horses’ nose. His breath has frozen from the cold. My dad pumped water from the well for the horses into a big water trough. In the winter the water in the trough froze and he had to chop a hole in it so that the horses and cattle could drink.

I comment that when our Malian friend came to visit one winter, he spent the whole time on the floor in front of our fireplace.

Uzo replies,

LOL! I probably would have done the same thing—add as much logs as I can to the fire. And yes, I think I remember Raymond. You mentioned him in your book, Mali to Mexico and Points in Between, right?  So, do you guys drink more tea/coffee (depending on the consumer’s preference) during winter?

I tell him that I don’t drink either and I don’t think people drink more, but they do add hot chocolate when it’s cold.

You gave a vivid description of what winter feels like. I used to think it’s a little easier for white people to move about during this time of the year considering the texture of their hair, but it appears I am wrong. 

Our hair does nothing to protect us from the cold and we need to wear many layers of clothing in the worst of winter. We live in Victoria now and don’t usually get any snow at all and it’s not very cold here especially compared to the prairies where we used to live.

Is it okay to skate on the ice?

Yes. In fact we did that with our children when they were little and we went to the Rocky Mountains. The ice was several feet thick and clear so we could see through it to the water below. Also there was a stream near our house and one winter it froze before the snow started so we could skate on it. Sometimes people go out on thin ice and do fall through.

 Is there any place in Canada that is mostly cold like Alaska? 

Up north for sure – don’t forget Canada extends to the Arctic.

Now I’m having second thoughts about walking on snow, LOL.

I think you would enjoy the experience—once!!

 

 

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The things we take for granted

“I can relate with your excitement as a child when you and the rest of your family moved to Edmonton—and my goodness, your story gave me a good laugh,” Uzo writes. (I was 9 when we moved and I had told Uzo that I was so fascinated with the flush toilet that I got up several times to use it until my mother finally told me to get back to bed and stay there.)

“The day I left Mambilla plateau,” he adds, “I was so eager to browse the Internet, to watch TV, and to enjoy other modern conveniences. That night in Jalingo, the capital of Taraba, I couldn’t sleep; even as an adult, I was so excited about just everything. Everything looked new. I remember I did stare at the bulb in my room from time to time, praying it stayed that way—that it continued to shine its yellow light (the country’s electricity generation has barely improved since then).”

How lucky we are to have power we can count on.

How writers write.

 

 

Do writers  sit in a coffee shop or work at home? Do they insist on silence or handle noise by tuning it out? Long hand? Computer? Typewriter? Voice entry?

Haruki Murakami (http://ow.ly/RUSX308ju8Y) says, “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.”

Maya Angelou (http://ow.ly/RUSX308ju8Y) says, “I keep a hotel room in my hometown and pay for it by the month.

I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible.  I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and housekeeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up.”

Emily St. Jonh Mandel, author of Last Night in Montreal (Unbridled Books, 2009) and The Singer’s Gun (Unbridled, May 2010):

“I do most of my writing in my home office, at my unbelievably messy desk. It’s by far my favorite place to write—my cats and my music are there, and it’s a very peaceful room. I live in Brooklyn and work at a university in Manhattan, and I get off work in the mid-afternoon. Often if I have theatre tickets or some other plans that require me to be in Manhattan that evening, I’ll linger at work for a few hours. When that happens, I go to the library at the university where I work and write there for a while. Often, very often, I’ll find myself writing in the subway. I spend two hours a day on the F train, five days a week, and I always carry a notebook with me.”

Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh (Picador, 2002) and the forthcoming The Queen of the Night:

“Usually it’s trains where I get the most writing done—I wish I could get a residency from Amtrak on a sleeper car, or an office booth in a cafe car. I recently had a residency at a colony in Florida, where I had two days of writing 17 pages a day and it would have continued if I hadn’t had to leave. I think anonymity and displacement help me no matter where I am—I need to feel like I’ve vanished and no one can find me.”

Nova Ren Suma, author of Dani Noir (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2009) and Imaginary Girls (Dutton, summer 2011):

“I live in a tiny apartment in New York and can sometimes be found writing first thing in the mornings at a cafe, if I can find a good table, but I don’t stay there for long. There are the crowds. The noise. I can’t control the music on the stereo. The real place where I get most of my writing done is called the Writers Room. Billed as an urban writers’ colony in New York City, it’s a place for writers of all genres to go for space, quiet, and uninterrupted time to work. At various desks in the giant loft space of the Writers Room, I’ve written, no exaggeration, thousands of pages. When you pay for an ‘office space’ like this and have a dedicated place to go, one filled with other working writers typing up their own pages, it makes you all the more motivated to do your own work.”

And the rest of us?

            I believe most authors (like me) work at home, at a desk tucked in a corner somewhere, tuning out the normal noises of family going about their daily lives (or wearing earplugs) and adjusting their schedule to the demands of life.

Others don’t have it so good. My Nigerian writer friend says:

Pls you may have to ignore the doc I sent in my previous email. Because of the acute shortage of power I am sort of working under duress. Once I fix my gen I’ll be able to work freely.

And later:

I’ve serviced my generator and now I don’t have to depend on the government for power.

Like many other peace-abiding Nigerians, we somehow still manage to survive. Everyday is an ordeal and sometimes I can’t help but feel the Lord God is punishing us all for the crimes some of us (including the cabal) made by turning to the legendary tyrant Buhari. Nigeria’s pitiful condition is an open book. A researcher some years ago said we are the “Happiest People on Earth.” I wonder if this survey will stand the test of time.

Robert J. Sawyer says it best in answer to this question.

“Name some of the rituals or habits you indulge in while writing.”

Not to be dismissive, but the answer is (a) none, and (b) it should be none. A writer needs to write, period. He or she can’t wait for the muse, shouldn’t need peace and quiet and isn’t entitled to perfect conditions or the perfect spot. Rituals? Fingers on the home typing row. Habits? Getting down to work, whether it’s in my home, on a plane, in a hotel room or (among other places I’ve actually opened up my computer and started writing) in the ruins of Pompeii, on a ferry in Australia or on a park bench in the Yukon.