Rimby & Jangles—Into the Wild with Jowita Bydlowska

Jowita Bydlowska was born in Poland and moved to Ontario with her family as a teenager. Bydlowska presents her first book, a national bestseller, Drunk Mom. The memoir charts her relapse into alcoholism and the struggles she faced to raise her son and achieve sobriety.

Jowita’s first book, Drunk Mom, is a national bestseller. The memoir charts her relapse into alcoholism and the struggles she faced to raise her son and achieve sobriety.

I sat with Christian and Jowita at a table in McLab.  I felt compelled to re-introduce myself to Jowita because we’d only met very briefly after one of her events in Calgary (covered in an earlier post).  She invited me to eat some of the leftover sweet potato fries on her plate.  I was starving, so I did.
“I’m going horseback riding,” she said, and I stopped chewing my fry.
“You’re going horseback riding?”
She pulled a brochure from her jacket pocket.  “I’m going at four.”
I stared at the brochure, “I want to come with you.”
This wasn’t a good time: My Palahniuk story needed to go live.  I had to finish my Saturday coverage that culminated with Joseph Boyden.  And what if she wanted to go alone?  Despite all of this, the idea of joining her elbowed its way into my psyche.  The trail riding brochure, now sitting on the table between Jowita and me burned a hole in the side of my head.  Lunch came to a close and we left.
“So, listen,” I said as I walked Jowita back to her building.  “I’ll text you if I can come, but I don’t want to impose.”  She gave me her coordinates and I tapped her number into my phone.
“Let me know,” she said.  I felt like a twelve-year-old pining for the circus.  How many times had I been out to the mountains and never gone riding?
In my room I revised my Palahniuk story in lightning-bolt speed.  There was so much to say about Saturday.  I started my weekend coverage.  My husband returmed from a trail run and I told him about the possibility of riding with Jowita.
“Go,” he said.  “You should totally go.”
“So much to do!”
“You’ll figure it out.”

Hanging out at the ranch before our ride

Hanging out at the ranch before our ride

I was already wearing jeans and boots.  It was meant to be.  Fifteen minutes before it was time to go, I texted Jowita to say I could join.  Called the ranch.  We were the only two people signed up for the four o’clock trail ride.  Sweet.  The cab dropped us at the Warner Guiding and Outfitting headquarters.  As we stepped out of the car, the smell of horses and hay was nostalgic.  I used to ride and take care of other people’s horses as a teenager, and as I quickly discovered, Jowita rode too.  She show-jumped in her teens.
“Wow, jumping, really?” I said.
“I was very bad.”
“Still, jumping.  That’s pretty solid.”
We were early.  We wandered the sun-lit grounds.  No tourists.  Just one cowboy sitting in a funny little office.  There were three horses tied to a wooden bar.  One horse was chestnut, the middle one palomino with a dark mane and tail and the third was white.  One of them released a big snorty sigh.
“Yeah,” Jowita said, “sometimes I feel like that too.”
I laughed.
We agreed the palomino horse in the middle was the one we liked the best.  We entered a barn with enormous sleighs inside and decided the space was weird.  Outside, we slid our big sunglasses back on.  We are the same age, as it turns out.  We are both writers that used to ride horses and share a swimming background, even though she was still a kid when she quit the pool.
“We have so much in common,” I said.
“We should get married,” she said.
I grinned at the ground.

When Jowita show jumped as a teenager, her coach once said that the way she sat on a horse was “like a dog sitting on a fence” – (loose translation from Polish) - I dare disagree!

When Jowita show jumped as a teenager, her coach once said the way she sat on a horse was “like a dog sitting on a fence” (loose translation from Polish) – I dare disagree

We stepped onto a fence to watch a pack of horses in a pen, just standing there, saddled up and doing nothing. “It must be boring to be a horse,” she said.  The sun illuminated the yellow trees and snow-capped mountains all around us.   The cowboy in the funny little office asked us to follow him into the pen.  He chose one of the already-saddled horses and handed me the reins, “This is Jangles,” he said.
“Hi Jangles,” I said, and touched his soft muzzle.
The cowboy delivered a second horse to Jowita, “and this is Rimby.”
Our guide was a man named Lindsay.
The cowboy gave us a briefing and we set off toward Sulphur Mountain.  The trail ride began mostly in the woods.  The horses had to step through deep mud.  When we emerged from the trees we passed the Bow River, shining emerald blue.
“I feel like I’m in a movie,” Jowita said.

Bow river, emerald with glacial sediment

Bow river, emerald with glacial sediment

I thought about the palm reading Margaret Atwood gave me on Tuesday.  Something I didn’t mention in my earlier post is that when she examined my ‘career line,’ she paused to study more closely.  “You need to make up your mind,” she said.  I thought I had made up my mind, but I’ve certainly been finding phenomenal ways to sabotage my own writing for the past few years.
“Hey,” I said to Jowita—having heard this question asked a dozen times over the course of the Festival—“what’s your most and least favourite parts of being a writer?”

Jowita on Rimby, in the woods

Jowita on Rimby, in the woods

She was on Rimby in front of me and I watched her back as she answered the question.  “Least favourite part is following the business of publishing,” she said.  “I don’t like to handle that side of things—like who’s merging with who, who likes what, who doesn’t like what—how much for that puppy in the window?”  But at the same time, she knows that ‘the business’ is part of the job, and she loves meeting all the brilliant, accomplished people involved in publishing.  “The best part is just being an author.  To be able to do it without any special prep—no sacred rooms, no going into my ‘inner goddess place’.”  She treats writing like a job just like any other and tries not to be too precious about it.

Nice view

Nice view

I can be too precious about my writing.  Before I’m in the zone, I find myself circling the process, resisting the commitment.  My husband jokes that the stars have to be aligned for me to write sometimes.  The house has to be clean.  There needs to be food in the fridge.  My piles of paper and random notes need to be organized and not shoved haphazardly into the bins.  Jowita asked about my most and least favourite parts of being a writer.
“I hate sitting,” I said.  “Sitting is the worst part for me.”
I can’t remember what I said the best part was.  I suppose the best part is what Anthony De Sa described on his panel, when you are so immersed in the world you’ve created that you lose complete track of time.
We talked about whether a voice-to-text program would help with my sitting problem.  We talked more about writing.  “I write every single day,” she said, “because I’m terrified of writer’s block.”
“So smart,” I said.
She usually writes after her son Hugo goes to bed.

Clearly, her discipline is paying off, because she’s already got two fictional manuscripts completed.  TWO.

“That’s amazing,” I said.  “Two manuscripts.”
She said something to the effect of, “They’re nothing until they find a home, though.”
What I would do to have two completed manuscripts!
The grass is always greener.  Whenever I’m at the beginning of a project, I want to be at a later stage.  But when I’m at a later stage I want the clean-slate-I-can–take-this-anywhere feeling.
“What’s your sign?” I asked her.  So lame, but I was curious.
“Libra. You?”
Her husband Russell is a Leo and my husband Dave is an Aries.
“Leos, I said, “Big personalities.”
“Yep.”  She smiled.
Fitting that she would be a Libra.  Libras, as far as I know in terms of astrology, are intelligent, courteous and diplomatic people whose charm is hard to resist.  Check.
As opposed to Capricorns: pessimistic centre of the Zodiac.
The mountains, fresh air, sound of horse hooves hitting the ground, and soothing company refreshed my brain.  Our horses climbed a steep incline where majestic vistas opened up to our right, bathed in late-day sun.  I could have asked her more questions about her book, but I haven’t read it yet, and I suspected the ride was intended as a breather, a couple of hours to chill.  Lindsay told us that Jowita’s horse, Rimby, had been previously owned by a famous nonfiction author in Denmark.  Literary horse, how apt.

Later, at the wrap-party, we discussed other books.  We talked about our mutual admiration of Jennifer Egan’s work, best known for A Visit From the Goon Squad.  She’s also very fond of Elena Ferrante, Michel Houellebecq, Barbara Gowdy, Michal Witkowski, Stanislaw Dygat and Russell Smith.  I too, admire Gowdy and Smith—so that leaves four authors I plan to explore more deeply.


Jowita on Rimby

We exchanged emails and I sent her a few questions, not knowing yet exactly how this story would evolve.  I asked her what her hope is for Drunk Mom as it makes its way into the hands of more readers and more countries.  She hopes that readers will like the writing and be able to relate to the story—or if not relate, at least get a good glimpse into the experiences she’s described.  She hopes the readers will recommend the book to all of their friends—not just drunk moms.  Drunk dads too.  And drunk uncles.  And even sober uncles.
Advice for aspiring writers?  Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read.
The ride with Jowita was a highlight of my 2013 Festival experience.
Just as the trail-riding brochure had sizzled beside me at lunch, now Jowita’s book smolders on my bedside table as my next read.  Look out, Russell Smith, I may just show up at your doorstep with Rimby and Jangles and take Jowita for another ride into the sunset!

To see more photos by Official WordFest Photographer Monique de St. Croix, CLICK HERE.

For more information on Jowita and her book, Drunk Mom, visit her website.

SWarwickWFBlogPageOct. 13Samantha Warwick is the author of the novel Sage Island (WordFest artist 2008 + 2009).  Her nonfiction and poetry have been broadcast on CBC Radio and appeared in various literary and commercial publications including Geist, Event, Room, filling Station, The Globe & Mail and FASHION.  Samantha is the Official WordFest Blogger for 2013.



Filed under 2013 Festival Blog

2 responses to “Rimby & Jangles—Into the Wild with Jowita Bydlowska

  1. Samantha, your posts through WordFest have been so excellent! The festival was lucky to have you and I look forward to getting to more events next year thanks to you.

  2. samanthawarwick

    Dear Zoey – thank you so much for the kind words! It was certainly a fun and enlightening week & I’m delighted to hear you will be kicking-around the festival next year. I hope our paths cross at some point. Have a great weekend!

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