Eaton Hamilton

the problem with being trans is cis people. The problem with being queer is straight people. The problem with being disabled is abled people. The problem with being Black is white people. In other words, prejudice.

Memoir–how much truth is the truth?

Salvadore Dali: The Persistence of Memory

Every reader contemplates this; every memoir writer agonizes about this. We understand the research on how flawed memories can be, and we have to balance this out with our worry about accurate representation. We want it. We go hunting for it. We put ourselves into trances, or pick up writing exercises to prod what’s stuck in our grey matter so that it burbles again to the surface.

Is what we say accurate? If we’re twenty years from the events? If we’re fifty years from the events? More? We surely hope so. Even if the other people in the scene are dead, we hope and pray we are not distorting events as we recall them.

Recently on twitter, a thread appeared where (mostly) readers discussed just this, and their consensus seemed to be that memoirists could never reproduce dialogue accurately and should therefore leave it out.

I don’t concur. Those who’ve read my memoir “No More Hurt” can see that I want to take the reader into my experience as I lived in. How else to impart the true flavour? In my case, as an autistic person, I have an excellent memory for dialogue–it’s one of those things that sticks. Yet I’m sure people would argue that some of the dialogue isn’t accurate, because I still took what resonated with me and others took what resonated with them away and store it into memory. Picking and choosing illuminating bits even in the moment.

Sometimes writers include notes about what they’ve done in regards to these matters, and one of these I’ve recently seen is writer Maryann Aita’s frontispiece to “Little Astronaut: A Memoir in Essays,” shared with her permission.

A Note on Truth, by Maryann Aita

“Most names in this book have been changed, and some identifying details adjusted to protect people’s privacy as much as I can without losing story. Dialogue, dates, and the narrative arc of events in my life may not be precise because I am not a computer. These are pieced together from my memories, which may be different than the memories of my family members. But memory is all we have to build the foundation of ourselves; it is possible for multiple truths to exist at once. I’ve done my best to capture my emotional truth, which may mean I remember rain on a sunny day. A weather report could prove me wrong, but if I was crying, isn’t it still a kind of truth?

“Since writing this book, I’ve learned my sister remembers being diagnosed with anorexia at 13. She also told me she was probably restricting her eating before then. I, however, remember learning about it when I was eight, and she was 15. Memory is deeply fallible. My memory is probably inaccurate. Her memory could be as well. Every time we recall something, even in our own minds, it changes. The facts of memory are not equivalent to truth. I’ve decided to keep these details as I remember because they are my truth.”

 

Roe, Roe, Roe Your Boat Safely Down the Stream?

painting by: Eaton Hamilton 2022, acrylic on acrylic paper

People will know me as half American in my heart, since I was once a permanent resident there, and that’s where I went to university and learned about literature. Watching the Supreme Court steal rights from half the population in the leaked draft decision overturning Roe, and reading their appalling and ludicrous basis for the decision (citing a dude who burned witches at the stake? saying we owe the country an increase in adoptable babies?) has been soul-crushing, and while I am worried and anxious about climate change, about the war and its deathly abuses, about violence against women and children, about justice, about transphobia and homophobia, about ableism, about racism, about the young people and children of today who need to be able to find homes, I am freaked the eff out about what’s happening. Yes, I can trace the white bread crumbs back to the seventies and see the GOP’s long-game, and I know the GOP is where grown-up bullies go to toy with new victims, but even so the sadism of this surprises me.

I grew up during the times of back alley abortions, which thankfully had mostly vanished by the time I was a late teen. Still, even then, abortion was only legal if the health of the mother was threatened, which wasn’t good enough. Three doctors (white men) had to agree and then the matter went before a hospital board.

And nor do I think Canada’s position on abortion, modernized since then so that we have no law at all, is by any means secure. It only allowed the right-wing to take over hospital boards, who rule access, and remove it where they can. Even while abortion remains legal, access continually dwindles and the threat of violence against people seeking procedures remains heightened.

We live in perilous times. But I always stop to remember that if you are Indigenous or Black or Latinx or Asian you have always lived in perilous times. Maternal deaths from childbirth in Black communities are high. In Canada, on the regular and in current times, Indigenous babies are ripped from parental arms for no reason beyond racism.

That supply of adoptable babies, again.

So, yes, I have been writing, and, yes, I have been painting, and, yes, I have been spring cleaning, but more I’ve been staving off depression because I cannot bear what’s happening.

I hope you’re doing a fair sight better than I am.

Phew, that’s finished…

artwork by Eaton Hamilton 2020

Pretty astonishing to get a first final draft of my 2011 novel done this week! That makes eleven years on this one, though indeed most of that time was not spent on much beyond ignoring it. It did go through 7 or 8 drafts to get here. Wooee! I really enjoyed the process this week, though the hours were grueling and my life fell to wrack and ruin while I engaged with it. Now it’s time to do all.the.things, like work on query letter, synopsis, chapter synopsis, and getting blurbs, maybe. Seeing about hiring an agent. It’s strange to me to be unagented since I almost always have an agent, which does make the submission process possible.

Anyone craving a psychological thriller with a queer disabled ornithologist as protagonist?

I keep thinking of all the populations hungry for TV, movies, and books with disability, infertility and IPV rolled up into one. Publishers always say, “Oh, we just don’t have a market for this.” But that’s only because they prefer not to develop the audience for whatever reasons. $, homophobia they don’t understand they have, ableism they are ignorant to, etc.

It’s time for us to shine, publishers. Let us. Help us.

CNF–dialogue, or no?

There’s been a lot of chatter on twitter about whether it’s okay to include dialogue in cnf. Some people have great recall for dialogue, some perfect. I have better than usual, myself, because of my face blindness. Ask me 30 seconds after seeing someone what they looked like or what they were wearing, and I generally couldn’t tell you, but ask me what someone said? Yes, I have excellent recall. Speech contains a lot of unspoken language, too, or sub-text, ones the speaker may not even be aware they’re using. Dialogue develops character in ways no other convention does. In my opinion, memoirs will suffer if there isn’t dialogue that is faithful to the emotional truth of the original convo.

Here is the start of a twitter thread you can search to join the discussion:

It’s such a hard time in the world

painting: Eaton Hamilton 2022, 9×12″ acrylic on acrylic paper. For sale.

When I was a kid, I knew where the Easter bunny lived, beside our garage where there was a round grass circle in a clearning near some pine trees. I’d sit out there for what felt like hours Easter week, trying to trick her with my silence into appearing, hoping she’d feel safe and understand I only wanted to be her friend. I could almost see her in my mind’s eye. She was taller than I was, but not by a lot. She had pink pads on her strong feet. She wore a gay Easter bonnet.

Easter was a thrill when I was a kid because *chocolate.* We’d awaken to a garish basket with a solid chocolate bunny. We had to decide, for this sugary breakfast, whether we’d eat the rabbit’s ears first, or her nose, whether chocolate bunnies could still hear or smell if we did that. Eventually, days later, the rabbit would be eaten down to its legs and there would be just a solid mass of not-terrific chocolate left.

My mother, who was exceptionally bad at most things, was exceptionally good with holidays. When we were little, she roped string from room to room and floor to floor of our house and at each place, there’d be a couple tiny chocolate eggs. We’d roam from the attic to the basement and back up to one of the bedrooms. When we got a little older, she made riddles out of clues. I can’t remember what was at the end of the hunt–perhaps some of those teeny tiny pink, blue and yellow fluffy chicks?

I liked the colours of Easter after the sere winter. I kept up my mother’s rituals in a toned-down way when my girls were little, and their mother does the same now.

What about you? Do you feel left out by days off work for this holiday but not for yours? Or do you, like this atheist, feel a little lift because of the happy Easter colours? The days are lengthening and the garden never needs watering, and that makes me happy. I got my beds prepped early this year, and the peas in, but the rabbits have been eating the tips as they come up, making me realize I’ll need seedlings.

All cheer and good wishes from my house to yours.

Hello, everybody!

It’s sure chilly where I live in the PNW. The daffodils love it and extend their blooming, but I think all the humans are just ready for some warmth at last!

My life just got eclipsed by medical concerns last week, so if I was meant to get back to you and didn’t, that’s why. Scrambling to catch up. A lot is uncertain in my life just now so please send your good wishes my way.

Meantime, I’ve been trying to teach myself how to paint florals. Clearly not something I can pick up quickly. I admire the skills, but it will be a long time before I can join good artists at this. Still, I do feel the urge to celebrate the floral urgency outside.

I’ve been taking notes re: my memoir (aka current wip), but haven’t had a chance to sit down with it yet. How has writing been going for you? Today I was on zoom with the g-babies (7 and 5) practicing their writing, only my audio was out, and instead of helping them write a story they came up with, as planned, I had to make one up on the spot that they could copy. I know the older one, at least, was very proud of herself when she was done. The younger one just wanted to move on to art, where she feels most competent.

Grants in Canada

sketch: Eaton Hamilton, some years ago

Happy Sunday! It’s a chilly, rainy day where I am, but just outside my window, the first of the clematis armandii are beginning to open. If it were a dry dry, there might be enough of them open at dusk to send out their redolence, which always makes me swoon.

The young lilacs are still sulking but the one I cherish, which has darker blooms, has come into its own finally! I am going to dig up a sucker and replant that hoping for a new plant but in a pot.

Today I am thinking about grants in Canada. The subsistence level is stuck at only $2000/month. One is supposed to devote oneself to the grant, but no one can support themselves on $24,000/year any longer in this country. That’s a studio apt or, if really lucky, a 1-bedroom apartment in Vancouver (and certainly where I live), and that doesn’t even begin to factor in hydro, gas, phone/s, cable, taxes, food, gas or car repairs/bus passes. So if all a recipient can do is worry how they’re going to manage, they’re not able to concentrate on the matters at hand–creating their art.

This means that anyone trying to live on the amount of a grant as their only income is SOL. It’s not possible. Which then implies that most grants are going to wealthier people who aren’t depending on them to get through their month. What I mean is these folks must have other money like investments or a partner’s income to rely on, which means by not increasing these subsistence amounts Canada is guaranteeing a problem with equal access for all.

I’m saying it here first: Grant subsistence amounts need to double, but fast.

The first clue toward vivid writing

Do you wonder sometimes if writers you love, writers who come alive on the page, just have more innate gifts than you do? How do they get their sentences so crisp?

While I can’t answer for other writers, I know I spend a lot of time at the sentence level. You know those times when you need to cut 500 or 5000 words but you don’t want to change your story? Often, if you just take those words from the sentences, you’ll get where you’re going.

Here’s a sentence I wrote this year:

Our geese had begun to go after Scott as he toddled. 11 words.

Possible edit: The geese swarmed my brother. 5 words.

See what I did there? I made “had begun to go after” into “swarmed.” It’s more vivid. It uses fewer words. I excised the flab. So that’s what I’m always doing in editing. I look for words that aren’t necessary at the beginning and end of the sentence–and anywhere else inside it, too. I utilize more precise language. If it becomes shorter, that generally fits my purposes, whether or not that’s why I’m doing it. Besides sharpening your ms–putting it to the whetstone, if you will–this makes words fall off, and you’ll find yourself with a crisper, shorter manuscript at the end.

This week

drawing by: Eaton Hamilton

My kid had a birthday and took her children snowboarding for their first time–lucky ducks. They both loved it, and staying overnight at a hotel, too. The older child, 7, has fallen for independent reading in the worst way, doing exactly what both her mom and I did as kids, walking around with her book clutched in her hands, not willing to exit the story long enough to eat or interact.

I find that thrilling, I think because reading’s always been such a joy for me as well. “She reads a book a night,” her mom said, so I asked how she manages to keep up with the demand. “The library.”

Me, I’ve finished prepping the garden beds for spring thanks to a lovely sunny day yesterday, which thrills me except I’m so stiff I can no longer walk. So good to dig my hands into the loam. I swear I’m hungry for this by March, but the earth is usually too damned cold. Not this year where I live and love.

Next for power washing and a dump run and the outside will be in tip top shape. I moved my canvases from inside to the storage shed, where they’re set up with a dehumidifier. Glad that’s done. Next step is moving inside, where I will declutter, de-spider-web, and give the place a good going over. That should take some weeks.

Spring cleaning. Or should I say accounting avoidance?

I just got buzzed by a hummer telling me it’s time to change the nectar in the feeders–quite rightly. They know. So the new nectar is cooling in the measuring cup on the stove.

I have to create a grant application in the next couple weeks. I was trying to come up with a name for the new project and I realized I’d thought up a great title for a book a couple weeks ago and noted it down. I was wondering what the scope of the project should be–its defining scaffolding, if you will–and I went in search of that book title. There it was, not just the title, but as soon as I read the title again, the book itself announced itself, its range, tip to toe, where it begins and where it ends.

Also relieving.

I got a cheque for royalties for my old memoir, too. Good to know it’s still selling!

How are things down your way, here on the spring equinox, when days and nights are the same lengths? At least at this time of year we have the beautiful resurgence of spring. The first cherry blossoms here where I live are popping! They are perhaps my all-time favourite and most cheering sight.

I hope you see them where you are and I hope they give you hope and forebearance.

What would you like to learn about writing?

painting by: Eaton Hamilton 2021

I was wondering what to write today, and I wondered if there are followers here who’d like me to speak about some aspects of being an author? I have the best advice for writing blocks! I was plagued by them for decades until I figured out that having multiple pieces in-progress at once works well to overcome them. You run into a block on one piece, you just move to another. If you have, say, five going along, waiting for your attention, just the fact that they need you seems to be an impetus to get moving on them.

Try it. Work this way for a month or so and then tell me what you think. Do you have questions about it?

What else would you like to talk about, here?

This week, the author Sonya Huber posted a great essay on LitHub, “The Three Words That Almost Ruined Me As a Writer: ‘Show, Don’t Tell’” You know those words if you’ve been around writing instructors–including me–at any time. I think they’re valuable but, as Sonya points out, they’ve become way too prescriptive. She also notes that part of that instruction is “don’t tell” which as we know is what every victim of violence has heard again and again, to her harm.

It’s late…

It’s late at night. I made Colombian coconut rice tonight. I mention that only to bring up the fact that I’ve been writing about Colombia of late in my memoir, which of course reminded me of the delicate rice and generally how amazing Cartagena was. But it also reminded me of attending three bullfights when I was fifteen, which sent me down more than one research foxhole to make sure I was getting the sequences and names correct. I read part of Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” and his “The Sun Also Rises.” I had to really firm myself up to re-enter that world, but, generally, the behaviour around animals in my childhood was not exemplary, and I’d seen gore long before I ever saw my first bullfight. As an autistic person, it often takes me a long time to absorb things and understand how I feel about them and this was true in the bull ring, too.

One night in Colombia, I was out walking along a beach with a boy and the power went out in the city. For a few minutes until it was restored, life was what it always should be. Mystical, expansive, full of stale light from the stars and wonder.

I hope in your life that you have moments like that, despite everything.

I haven’t got a freaking clue

painting: “The Ballerina” Eaton Hamilton, 2017-2022

Which is not really what I want to admit. But I’ve been scared–terrified–all weekend, and have ground to a messy halt. Not that I do a lot outside of the ordinary on the weekends on the regular. I add some cleaning like changing my sheets and cleaning the bathroom, doing laundry. I run the dishwasher. Sometimes when I have decent yeast I set the breadmaker to make bread. I post on my blog, here, and on my Patreon, and mostly I continue to work on whatever project I was working on during the week. I’ve a seven-days-a-week worker because I’m so unreliable from disabilities and illness that it’s actually easier to just keep at it instead of starting again, which inevitably will run into ADHD procrastination hell. I finished a really cool painting that I think I was working on, off and on, for four years. I’m showing it here, to you, for the first time, though a quick iphone snap doesn’t exactly capture it.

I’m scared of what’s going on in the world. I’m scared of some people I know, and I’m scared *for* some people I know, too. I’m scared of what’s coming up for me. This shit isn’t fun. This shit is overwhelming when you’re alone, disabled and starkly ill.

But it is what it is, and I remind myself that not liking my choices isn’t the same as not having choices.

Here’s Me, and Other Fables

painting: acrylic, Eaton Hamilton 2021

Hi folks! How’s everyone doing this week? I’ve had a great week in some regards, and in others, an extremely difficult one. I did manage a fair bit of clean-up around the manse today, and got in some Vit-D by weeding in the sunshine. Funny, that. How much Vit-D can you absorb when all the sun sees is your face and the back of your neck?

As planned, I finished the memoir draft this week, so that was wonderful. Anyone who writes knows how difficult the first drafts are. In fiction, it’s because you’re conjuring things usually from thin air. In memoir, it’s more that memory is the problem. I have a few very noticeable gaps–like, where the hell is grade five? A friend sent me this passage from Mary Karr’s “The Liar’s Club” today:

from Mary Karr”‘s “The Liar’s Club”

I too admitted it in the text, wrote around it and went on. I asked in a group I belong to if other writers had any tricks on how to break old memory jams, and there were an incredible number of generous replies and clever ideas, some of which I tried, but (so far) to no avail. I’m taking a couple of weeks off now to catch up on life–which means paperwork, accounting, gardening, cleaning–before going back into it. Who knows how many drafts it will need?

In other lovely events, I finished a 30×40″ acrylic on stretched canvas painting I’d left for years. I would take on a bit of it daily and over about two weeks, I got it. So happy about that!

The unlovely events will continue to have their outsized effects on living. Naturally the pandemic is one of those, with the foolish gets at the gov’t mismanaging every.damned.part.of.it, at least where I live. I’m very engaged in covid battling on twitter, if you too are irate by how BC is being treated by the PHO and the NDP govt. It’s open season on the vulnerable and children here, being cared for without PCRs, RATs, HEPA filtration, CO2 monitors, or even N95s. (Can you imagine the danger of N95s being banned for patient-use in hospitals? Neither can I. You won’t get treated if you insist on wearing one, here where we room covid+ and covid- patients together. Here where even HCW are not permitted to wear even their own.) As omicron version 2 surges.

You can join me at Hamilton Art on Patreon, too, where I’m thinking of hosting a free-with-subscription writing class. Love to have you along! Tell me what you want to learn!

It’s happening!

Very exciting for me–this week I’ll finish up the first draft of my new memoir. Having already written one (quite a long time ago) that was successful in the UK, it was interesting to be writing in that format again. For simplicity’s sake, I did write a linear book, since it’s my habit to loop and wind and bury myself (and my stories) in complexity and I couldn’t afford the twenty drafts that always takes. (Ask me how many unfinished novels I have. Wait. No, don’t.)

I hope when I start to read it, it reads okay. I know there’s a ton of work ahead to get to a second draft–isn’t there always? When did the world ever have a scarcity of work?

How’s it going this week for you?

The truckerf*ckers

It’s been that kind of week in Canada, including locally, where truckers wanting to get rid of vaccine mandates have protested them from coast to coast, raising over $10 million on Go Fund Me before Go Fund Me threw them out. I do not support them. They fight for nothing except their right to harm other people. They’re xenophobic, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and racist as fuck. They carry Confederate flags. They wave upside-down Cdn flags on their trucks plastered with swastikas. They’ve desecrated Ottawa monuments including the bronze statue of Terry Fox, who ran across the country to raise money for cancer research.

I’ve always maintained Canada is a racist sewer, but this last while, the sewer rats have been crawling through the grills and getting right in our faces. Thank goodness for counter-protestors.

Go home, truckerf*ckers. We despise you and everything you stand for.

January holds twelve months

painting by Eaton Hamilton 2022

Anyone else feeling the pinch of the longest month of the year? God, it drags. Never sure I’m ready, though, for how life escalates after February until, by April, it feels like a race. Not sure it’s possible to get back the feeling of endless summers I had when I was a kid (“Mo-oo-om, what’s there to do?”).

But I appreciate all the garden changes–the buds, the bulbs shooting up, the snowdrops, the crocuses blooming. The idea of clean-up. Getting compost on the beds after being indoors all winter.

I’m not able to work efficiently at this time because of health issues keeping work at bay, but I’m able to work steadily, a little at a time, without taking any days off–what would I do with them? I’m in lockdown–and bits accrue, they do. Up to about 35,000 words in the memoir-in-progress now, looking to March as a possibility for finishing the first draft, leaving me a few months for hopefully making my way through two more drafts.

All very pie-in-the-sky hopes at the moment. But, dream big.

Dream with me, won’t you? Pick a dream and let’s dream it with me in Feb and March. I’ll dream that I’m somehow able to stay in my house another year and with that dream get a dependable car.

Forever young? Not on our lives

from LitHub

When we’re young, we can’t imagine aging. Many of us think we won’t get there, or if we do, we’ll be more vital than our grandparents or parents were, which is just another way of thinking we won’t get there. For some, that’s a reasonable thought given their circumstances, but for others it’s far more likely that we’ll pass through youth into middle age, and, if we’re lucky, into older age.

Read this. Such a fine author:

Bernardine Evanisto on aging and women’s stories at LitHub.

Hello, folks, from the middle of January

Eaton Hamilton 2021

We’ve had a nastiness of snow where I live and rotten temps that finally, in their last hurrah, killed all the hummingbirds. Or they went back to where they came from. Maybe the latter. I like to think the latter, since I only had 4 or 5 when the cold hit, and suddenly there were 20-30, what with my feeders. In any case, there are hummers here again, but not the juveniles. Haven’t seen them again. I am not sad that I don’t have to do the constant thaw and freeze, bring in, hair dryer, take out routine any longer.

January has been a bugger for covid. Governments are now routinely behaving badly–letting their populaces fend for themselves in a pandemic, figuring they’ll only deal with hospitalized patients when they have to (and maybe no one with pre-existing conditions? Yes, I’m outing you, hospital personnel, triaging out a constitutionally-protected group of people.) I rant about government lack on twitter, where you can follow this.

If it’s art you’re after, try @hamiltonart1000 on IG. Posting daily!

I’ve had a dear beloved down with covid the last couple weeks, and kiddos back at school without effective mitigation, and so many friends with covid I can’t count, and friends worried about their little ones. None of us will come through this psychologically unscathed, I don’t believe, even if we manage to miss getting long covid.

My writing is going okay. It’s the first time I’ve written a book without regulating my output (2000 words/day, 1000 words/day, poem a day etc). I thought it would be dangerous. I just write when I want to; what I’m finding is that if I can make myself start, and stick to it for about two hours, the rest will flow pretty easily and I can put in a good six hours or so before I conk out.

I hope you are managing out there in these tough times. I wish you the easing of your burdens.

Scary times

oil stick painting by Eaton Hamilton 2018-2022

Omicron is raging and where I live, kids are going back to K-12 tomorrow without the proper mitigations to keep them safe. No HEPA filters, no CO2 monitors in every class, no N95 masks. It’s terrifying. At most, only partial vaccination status. Teachers too without N95s. I wish every one of them well.

Did I say I turfed my essay collection in Dec and decided to re-jig and re-write as a typical linear memoir? I’ve had a month with it now, and while I’ve had major health problems during this time, I manage to sit with the ms, now about 20K words, most days for at least a little while. That’s one of the benefits of being on perpetual lockdown, I guess, and it’s important to find satisfaction in that ugly situation where you can. So that’s me. Always a dollar short and a day late, but struggling along, doing my best.

I continue to be passionate about advocacy work and educating others about ableism, homophobia, transphobia, fat phobia and violence against women/enbies and children. I put a lot of time into twitter these days trying to undo some of the damage of government covid policies. BC is off the rails. I can’t get BC back on, but I can link to some of the people whose work very well could.

A new year, a whole new world?

painting: Eaton Hamilton, 2020

Happy new year, everyone! It’s been a rocky holiday season for me, busy as I was having a PET scan in the omicron soup of Victoria, BC, and waiting waiting waiting for results. Meantime, with family just up the road, I stayed in lockdown. Been painting. Been working on my memoir. Been watching TV. Been switching out hummingbird feeders during out sub-zero weather and snow dumps. One feeder belched nectar and the hummers stuck to the perches and had to tear feathers, and, I presume, skin off to get free, even as it was -12C. After I realized what had happened, I was able to improve this for the future by bringing feeders in and running water over the perches. But it’s been a struggle, made partly so by the birds’ extreme aggression. At the start, I’d guess I had 20-30 birds here; by the end, I was only seeing maybe five. There were new fledglings, too, and surprisingly, they seemed to manage better than the adults because they weren’t scared of unknown feeders and fed well. Now that it’s warmer, I haven’t seen the littles again.

Best wishes as we move a bit further into January and more inane, ineffective mitigation policies from what is supposedly Public Health. Happy creating! It helps, being creative. It takes the edge of fury off about all the unnecessary suffering.

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