Catherine Black is a writer and an Assistant Professor of writing at OCAD. Born and raised in Toronto, Catherine studied writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poetry and fiction has been published in literary journals across North America, including The Fiddlehead, Scrivener Creative Review, Rhino and Palimpsest. She has published a book of poetry called Lessons of Chaos and Disaster and her latest work, A Hard Gold Thread, is her first work of fiction.
Here Catherine gives us the lowdown on what it’s like to write and teach writing for a living.
What does a typical Thursday look like for you, starting from when you wake up – to heading to bed?
Well, Thursday is my day off-campus, so instead I’ll tell you about a typical Monday: my alarm goes off at 6:50 and my two-year old wakes up around the same time – I’ll bring him into our room to snuggle with us for just five more minutes…incredibly precious, those five extra minutes. The morning is a blur of breakfast, dogs out, dogs in, dressing and packing up our various bags: laptop, diaper bag, knapsack, lunch. Then, kisses all round and my son and I are out the door to school (his and mine). After drop-off there’s the drive into work along the Lakeshore with gorgeous views of the Toronto harbor, CBC on the radio and coffee from home. The morning drive centers me: it’s a good transition from home-life to work-life. Arriving downtown, it’s headlong into the day. A typical day at OCAD is one part meetings (committees, faculty meetings, student meetings) one part teaching (research, lesson planning, providing feedback) and one part emails. A lot of emails. I elbow through those first thing in the morning while I finish my coffee, then it’s down the block to teach a three-hour class (Creative Nonfiction) to the most honest, funny, fearless group of individuals. I’m very lucky. But, every group of students is my favorite group of students. Anyway, my own writing happens where and when it can, which sometimes means first thing in the morning at the office, sometimes while eating lunch, sometimes at the day’s end. Having so many obligations at school (teaching, grading, planning) makes my time with the keyboard (or the pen) all the more cherished. After class it’s back to planning, meetings, emails. The end of my day is a bookend to its start: the drive along the lakeshore, greeting my son and husband, dogs in, dogs out, one of us (usually my husband) cooking dinner. Then we unwind. We hang out and enjoy each other’s company.
What was your first job out of school?
My first job out of grad school was as a proofreader at a really big international advertising agency. I was lucky to get that gig (student loan looming) but if I’m honest, it wasn’t the best fit—I really wanted to be writing. But, I met a lot of incredibly hilarious, smart people in that industry. That was one of the most enjoyable offices I’ve ever worked in, actually. Amazing energy. Proofreading itself could be pretty intense, but it did foster a certain amount of discipline and focus that I was lacking at that time.
What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?
I have to think about my ‘jobs’ separately here. To do my job(s) well there are certain qualities I think are important to possess. As a writer: curiosity, passion, and tenacity. As an Associate Dean: organization, diplomacy, perspective. As a professor, a combination of the two: passion, respect, intellectual curiosity.
What do you love most about your career?
The best thing about my teaching job is watching students learn to respect the power of their own words, seeing them fall in love with writing as an artistic practice, and making them feel heard and valued. I also love the performance aspect of teaching and how that works to counterbalance the quiet solace of time with books. I also really enjoy meeting and working with faculty in my role as Associate Dean—and seeing the inner workings of the institution is fascinating. The best thing about being a writer is that I get to stay in awe of the world and the pen and page get to be my lifelong companions.
Do you have any warnings?
Scuff the soles of your shoes on the sidewalk before walking on slippery floors. Test the AV equipment before your presentation. Back it up on a hard drive. Don’t drink too much coffee before lecture. Know your audience. Trust your gut.
If you could try a different career on for a year, what would it be?
There are so many careers I’d like to try on for a year. I’d love to be a landscape architect, but I really know nothing about it. I barely garden – my garden is a dried out patch with a few scraggly bushes and a single rose with black rot. But, I love all its promise and potential! I can think of nothing lovelier than working with earth and stones and plants and water all day, making a sculpture of the landscape. Creating places to wander into, to happen upon. I’d also like to make natural playgrounds for children. I think that would be the ultimate.
(Photo by Larry Miller)