The countdown has started

When there is only one day left, one last opportunity to finalize details and get myself ready for a major event, I usually panic! I can be heard muttering, “I don’t want to do this! Why did I ever say I would?”

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

 

I think there’s a quotation somewhere about a character riding off in several directions at once. It’s impossible, you say? Well, let me tell you about fragmenting. When enough pressure builds up, you can expect the container to explode, forcing its fragments to be flung in multiple directions. That is SO what I feel like.

This is NaNoWriMo Eve! Ackkk!

I mentioned NaNoWriMo in last Friday’s post. I presented my lecture at the library that evening and made mention of how this final week should be used for preparations. Did I follow my own advice? Of course not! And now, when Halloween shenanigans wind down at midnight tonight and NaNoWriMo gets underway, I’ll be scrambling. ::sigh:: This is my eighth year; how is it that I end up doing this every time?

Remind me next October that panic attacks aren’t pleasant and I should try to avoid them at all costs.

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? Are you prepared and ready to dive in? (If the second answer is ‘yes’, I don’t want to hear it!)

(I’m NaNoWriMo’s Wildwood Gal,
the one with the glazed expression.
)

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It’s all about communication

There’s a very nice little mailbox standing at the end of our driveway. It meets all the requirements that Canada Post has for an individual rural mailbox … but our mail is not delivered there. Instead, we walk or drive the equivalent of about three city blocks to where a set of group, or community mailboxes are located.

Mailboxes

It’s not a huge problem for us to pick up our mail there. We’ve been doing it for almost twenty years. But recently Canada Post changed its services and began phasing out home delivery even in the cities, causing much indignation from those who have always enjoyed the convenience of door-to-door delivery. It’s an economic move for Canada Post.

I understand their rationale, but this business of raising postage costs while reducing services has been going on for many years, and I’ve never understood why they think charging us more but offering us less is going to make them more money. The more it costs me to mail a letter, the fewer letters I mail, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. This has the potential of being a constant downward spiral!

I like the personal touch of handwritten cards and letters, but as they become more expensive, I resort more to e-mail and telephone calls. When I look at the number of people I contact regularly through e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, I recognize the convenience and immediacy of digital communication with them has many benefits. I probably wouldn’t handwrite long, newsy letters every few days if I needed to seal pages into envelopes, affix a costly stamp, and trundle them off to the post box, then wait a week for them to be delivered. Instead, I resort to a quick few paragraphs on the computer or iPhone, press ‘send’ … and my message is instantly in a friend’s home to be read at their convenience.

Is it a better way to communicate? I don’t think so, but as long as Canada Post continues to make it more expensive, more difficult and more time consuming to do it ‘the old fashioned way’, I won’t hesitate to follow the digital trend.

As a writer, I think communication is a big deal, but I seem to be in the minority when it comes to the personal version. Even cursive writing and penmanship are becoming a lost art as they are being phased out of the curriculum in many schools. I sometimes wonder if there is a correlation between the decline in personal communication and the breakdown of social standards — i.e., lack of respect for other people and for public property, ignorance of etiquette and common courtesies, etc.

That may be taking it a little too far, but it’s food for thought.

One dilemma that the decline in personal communication creates is in novel writing, where rapidly changing technologies outdate what would otherwise be timeless stories. Any mention of faxes, cell phones, thumb drives or CDs, for instance, will sandwich a story firmly in a particular decade, and possibly make it less relevant to potential readers.

We’ve come a long way from author Jack Whyte’s “cold stone slab and a chisel”* but I’m not sure every step has been in a desirable direction.

How do you address constantly changing methods of communication in your novel writing?

* Jack Whyte, Surrey International Writers’ Conference 2014

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The clutter in my life, garden and writing… better known as reality

In the pre-dawn stillness yesterday morning I lay awake, contemplating the coming day. Its square on the calendar was empty. I love non-designated days with their freedom to pursue whatever tasks come to mind. One of retirement’s perks! I tugged the duvet close and snuggled down to think about what I might undertake once daylight broke.

My mind began lobbing ‘could’ and ‘should’ ideas at me like a tennis ball machine. Soon I was burrowing deeper and wishing I could go back to sleep, but it was too late. I was overwhelmed with mental clutter. If you could have seen into my head you would think it looked a lot like my gardens.

Back Garden Flowers

A landscape designer would be horrified by the gardens here. In each of the eighteen or so years we’ve lived on this rural property we’ve planted a few things — sometimes a half-dozen new perennials, sometimes a woody shrub or another tree. Goodness knows we don’t need any more of the latter! Our home is surrounded on four sides by towering trees…lots of cedar, hemlock and fir interspersed with a few poplar and alder. But one can’t really consider them ‘landscape’ trees, so I’ve added others like Japanese Maple and Dogwood.

Fall Backyard

Hubby and I have created assorted garden beds around part of the yard’s perimeter, prying out the boulders and filling the holes with whatever needed planting. There was never much planning done, except to choose things that could cope with the soil acidity and abundant shade. We have a well for water, and once things have been established we don’t waste any on them, so they also have to be hardy and drought tolerant.

The beds are a mishmash. That’s the nicest thing I can say about them. In one area Solomon’s Seal has all but choked out a clump of Siberian Iris and one white Astilbe. Wild ferns poke out from the middle of  sprawling Junipers, and everything leans in the direction of the sun, eventually overlaying whatever is in front.

It’s a muddle.

Except for a few tubs and baskets on the deck, we don’t plant annuals in the backyard. In fact, we don’t plant them in the front either, except for a small bed that edges the sidewalk at the front door. For the past several years I’ve bought one flat of colourful bedding plants, usually Begonias, and tucked them into unoccupied nooks and crannies. It’s my one concession to summer colour…a bright spot in the chaos of green. I try to remember to water them in May and June, but once summer comes, they’re on their own like everything else. I am always surprised that they survive and sometimes even flourish.

Fall Flower Garden

It’s all somewhat reminiscent of what comes out of my cluttered mind. Little ideas germinate and manage to develop into potential stories. I nurture them along for the first while and then, without plotting or planning, give them the freedom to grow or not. Most times they surprise me by producing an abundance of words. Occasionally, like one I’m considering now, they shrivel up and disappear from the page. The fact is, not all ideas are sturdy enough to last.

It can be discouraging in writing when enthusiasm for what seemed like a good idea fades; or in gardening, when a pot of cheery marguerites suddenly stops blooming and turns brown; or in life, when some days just seem like too much. But that’s my reality. Fortunately, there’s always another idea, a fresh blossom or new day coming.

Have you ever abandoned what at first seemed like a promising idea? Do you save it for reconsideration later, or toss it altogether?

~  ~  ~

Are you too busy?

Overnight the weather has changed. Overnight we’ve gone from summer to autumn. The calendar says so, whether we want to believe it or not.

Falling Leaves

Some days I’m convinced my life is run by a calendar. Most of my activities are scribbled into those tiny squares, partly so I won’t forget any of them and partly so I won’t double-book engagements, meetings and appointments. On Facebook last weekend I saw a graphic that said, “Too busy is a choice. Life is not an emergency. Life is a gift.”

“Too busy is a choice.”

I’m pretty sure most of us don’t think it is. We think busy is what life does to us as the clock ticks through its 1,440 minutes every day. Now that fall has officially arrived the pace will pick up. Today is the first day of school for children throughout BC (thankfully, the teachers’ strike is finally settled), our church choir resumed yesterday, my writers’ group is back in action, and a myriad of meetings are already vying for visibility on our calendar.

One bit of wisdom I’ve learned through the years is, while so many home, church, school and community activities are worthy of my support, I. Can’t. Do. It. All! I can’t and I shouldn’t.

When we exceed our emotional or physical limitations we cease to be useful. We admire those who appear to give 110%, but in reality it’s impossible to overextend ourselves for very long without suffering consequences. In today’s society burnout and nervous breakdowns are commonplace.

“Too busy is a choice.”

Septembers are a little like Januarys in that they provide ‘beginning again’ opportunities. We get to decide how we’ll spend the majority of these minutes, days and weeks. Oh, I realize there are some commitments that have to be shouldered; life isn’t all about us. But we are responsible for how we use the one life we’ve been given. We are answerable to the One who gave it to us … expected to make wise use of our time and abilities.

A new season begins today. There are new opportunities, old commitments and decisions facing us. Now might be a perfect time to evaluate and reestablish priorities.

We writers know about squeezing our passion into leftover crevices of our days, procrastinating about finishing (or starting) a particular manuscript, waiting until deadlines choke us before giving the task the priority it always should have had. We say we’re too busy, and we let that excuse stress us to the limit. But …

“Too busy is a choice.”

The choice is ours to make. I believe I have some thinking to do!

~

Are you making any changes in your scheduling this fall? What (or who) is it that you want to make time for?

~  ~  ~

Summer’s Winding Down

Robins are supposed to be harbingers of springtime … that time when everything is becoming vibrant and new. This one is tattered, a little tired-looking and worn. Maybe that’s to be expected as we go into the last weekend of the summer.

Autumn Robin

I read on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website that Robins can produce three broods each year. If that’s the case, I can understand why this one might be feeling a little frazzled and frayed. Parenting can be demanding! Then again, it’s said that although “the entire [robin] population turns over on average every six years,” the occasional one can live up to fourteen years, so perhaps this one is just showing his age.

All winter long we wait for summertime, and when it finally arrives we exult in relaxed schedules, vacations, and the opportunity to catch up on everything we didn’t have time for in the preceding months. We garden and travel, make time for afternoons on the beach and backyard barbecues. Then, all too soon, we see it …

Autumn Glimpse

… the unwelcome hint that it’s all coming to an end.

We’re already back into September routines and any vacation time we might have had is little more than a distant memory. I should feel refreshed after several weeks of cottage time and family visits, but in reality I’m a little breathless. The weeks zipped by like a roadrunner on caffeine. I enjoyed my activities, but I’m taking stock and discovering that a lot of what I hoped to accomplish during June, July and August didn’t happen. What became of all that extra time I expected to have?

Perhaps having a summer birthday and acknowledging the passing of yet another year in my life makes me more aware of time’s elusive nature. Like the Robin, I’m getting a little worn around the edges. It takes me longer to get things done — although that may be less to do with aging and more to do with stopping too often to appreciate the blaze of changing colours or breathe in late summer’s distinctive scent.

Yesterday was subdued … a mist drifted through the trees most of the day and mingled with a cool breeze. The alders have begun letting their leaves loose to flutter down and clutter the freshly mown lawn, and down at the marsh there’s a hint of gold. We’re approaching the last weekend of summer and I’m feeling a little melancholic about it.

~

“The whole earth is at rest and is quiet;
They break forth into shouts of joy.

[Isaiah 14:7]

~  ~  ~

 SS-BUTTON

Blogging hiatus and a little R & R

The hot weather’s back and the timing is perfect for me to take a bit of a blogging break. I’m heading offline for a couple weeks, hoping to get a little extra writing done and maybe squeeze in some R & R.

R&R

I’ll be back in the traces and on schedule again by mid-August. Probably. Maybe. (But don’t count on it if this heat sticks around.) :|

~  ~  ~

Piano whispers from an unknown history

Ghost-like memories of piano playing — years of scales, discords and sweet harmony from ivory keys — are hidden somewhere in the history of this old Chickering Victorian Square Grand Piano. No longer are visitors encouraged to play a tune on it. With its wires strung horizontally from left to right, rather than from front to back, its soft, subdued tones (listen) would be unlike what is produced by today’s pianos. But this one sits unused, silently overseeing the comings and goings of patrons in the lobby of a unique log building in BC’s south Cariboo.

Chickering Piano Keys-1

Jonas Chickering was the first piano builder in the United States, established in 1823. The Chickering brothers were known for building some of the finest pianos in history. This piano bears the Chickering name in gold lettering, but not in a style of text born by any other Chickering antique pianos that my research has unearthed, so I can’t vouch for its authenticity.

Chickering piano-1

(Click photo for larger view)

At one time a faded sign on it proclaimed, “circa 1883″, (or maybe it was 1853) but the sign has been gone for a while. Square grands existed from 1823 until the end of the 1880s. They began to lose favour when uprights became more popular, and were pretty well obsolete by 1900.

In the mid-1800s this one probably would have sold for between $800-$1200, the cost of a small house. One restoration site I visited offered fully restored Chickering square grands at prices from $30,000 to $50,000. I can’t afford one. Drat!

This particular piano sits against a wall, surrounded and topped by an accumulation of other collectibles from assorted eras. I wish I could rescue it! I’m not a great pianist or even a collector of antiques, but I want to clear everything off it, gently dust the keys and lower its lid against further insult.

I want to hear my daughters play it, or perhaps our church pianist — someone who understands all the emotion a piano can express and would appreciate its uniqueness and its place in musical history.

But I left it untouched… left with only photographs, and a longing to know its story.

Do you own a piano or another musical instrument? If it could talk, what story would it tell of its time in your household?

~

“Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath
praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!” 

[Psalm 150:1-6]

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