A Strange Start to September

“Don’t ever open by writing about the weather,” the workshop instructor warned. “It’s deadly.”

Well, yes, I get that talking about the weather has been overdone. It’s a cliche. But these days it’s all I can think about. This is British Columbia’s west coast — what we locals often call BC’s rainforest — and yet once summer got underway this year, rainfall became all but non-existent. July and August were the driest in our recorded history, and September is starting out with another heat wave.

So you’ll have to forgive me for having hot sunshine on my mind. I can’t get into the mindset of the television broadcasters who keep mentioning that because it’s back-to-school time, the end of summer has arrived. No, it hasn’t! Even if it’s too hot, I’m not letting go of it until the bitter end.

The spiders obviously believe the untruth, since webs are popping up in all the wrong places. This one caught the mist from the hose while I watered begonias one morning. I’d be impressed by its beautiful symmetry if I didn’t know its rather large creator was lurking nearby.

Since we’re on a shallow well here, we don’t usually water the gardens, only the few annuals that are mostly in baskets and tubs on the deck. Once new shrubs and perennials are established, they’re on their own. I’m surprised how many survive despite being neglected.

There have been periods of smoky haze this summer — earlier from all the forest fires in central BC’s Cariboo and Chilcotin, and more recently from those in Washington and California. We missed our usual August vacation at our lakeside cabin in the Cariboo because access roads were under fire restrictions. The cabin itself has remained unscathed so far, so maybe this month we’ll get there. Or maybe not. The wildfires have been difficult to contain and the situation changes from day to day. I’ve heard some of them may continue to burn until next spring.

The southeastern section of the province is now also dealing with multiple wildfires and we watch with concern since we have family members in their path.

September is usually one of my favourite months of the year, but this one…? It’s off to a strange start.

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What does September bring for you? Back to work? The usual schedules and deadlines? Or will this be the time you decide to find a better balance — time for commitments, time for yourself … body, mind and spirit?  

BALANCE

Life is a segway
If you let God handle it 
It balances out.

[Ashley Somebody] 

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Is there too much emphasis on ‘diversity’?

The headline exploded on the page. “Lack of diversity leads to cancellation of Minneapolis writing conference.” What??? I read it again, then quickly scanned the accompanying article. It wasn’t just ‘click bait’; apparently twenty-one of the twenty-two speakers booked to discuss writing for children at the Children’s and Young Adult Literature (CYA) Conference  in Minneapolis were white, so it was cancelled.

The lineup of speakers for the Loft Literary Center’s conference on writing for children and young adults was stellar. William Alexander, winner of a National Book Award. Kelly Barnhill, winner of the Newbery Medal. Phyllis Root, author of more than 40 books for children. And 19 others.

Other than Alexander, who is Cuban-American, every writer who agreed to speak was white. And so, just days after announcing it, the Loft in Minneapolis canceled the Oct. 20-21 conference.

“We have set a goal for ourselves to be inclusive and to work toward equity, and we didn’t think the conference would live up to that mission,” Britt Udesen, executive director of the Loft, said Wednesday. “We made a mistake.”

I’m going to get whacked for my reaction — I just know it — but this is the kind of situation that sets my teeth on edge. Being politically correct just for the sake of being politically correct. Making the colour of people’s skin more important than their qualifications for the job. Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy ridiculous?

It stirs the same reaction I had back in 2015 when Prime Minister Trudeau was being petitioned by a group of eighty prominent women (“former politicians, academics, businesswomen and other professionals”) to fill vacancies in Canada’s Senate, not just with women, but…

“To achieve gender equality as soon as possible, the twenty-two current vacancies should be filled by women from diverse backgrounds, including Indigenous women, women from minority linguistic, racial and ethnic communities, and others, consistent with the Senate’s role in minority representation.”

According to the 2016 census, Canadian women slightly outnumber men — there are one hundred women for every ninety-seven men, “a figure that has held relatively steady over fifteen years, based on data from Statistics Canada.” Women want to be equally represented in more than population statistics. I get that. Women have seen outrageous discrimination in our world and it’s important to address that kind of injustice.

Stats Can also says, “One out of five people in Canada’s population is foreign-born.” *

“Canada is a multicultural society whose ethnocultural make-up has been shaped over time by immigrants and their descendents…By 2031, if current demographic trends continue, 47% of the second generation (the Canadian-born children of immigrants) will belong to a visible minority group, nearly double the proportion of 24% in 2006.”

So yes, that’s something else to be considered, here and elsewhere, as we strive to be an inclusive society. But must we resort to reverse discrimination to achieve it?

When it comes to the CYA Conference, I think there’s more behind the cancellation than the lack of diversity on the panel.  Apparently there had been “dwindling interest in the event, which has been held at least every other year since 2003. Only thirteen people had registered for this year’s conference.” We’re told…

The Loft had invited more than ten writers of color to speak and expected a few “to come through at the last minute, “and then they didn’t,” Udesen said. “It’s MEA [teachers’ conference] weekend, so a lot of local writers were unavailable, or a lot of them had just recently taught with us and they thought it would be repetitive.”

Knowing how far in advance the planning happens for my favourite Canadian writers’ conference (the Surrey International Writers’ Conference), I’d say poor planning might have had as much or maybe even more to do with the cancellation of the CYA Conference than the lack of diversity on its panel. But that does nothing to alleviate my frustration at the reasons given.

When the colour of people’s skin, their racial origins and gender are considered first, before their qualifications for a task, we’ve lost our rationality. We’ve become extremists. IMO that can’t end well.

~

*Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada

Fire!!!

Nothing speeds up the heart rate like hearing someone shout, “Fire”! It instantly generates visions of an out-of-control blaze, and right now there are several of them burning in our province.

Forest fires aren’t anything new here. Every summer lightning and human carelessness cause many hectares of land, trees and property to be destroyed. There are currently 167 wildfires burning in British Columbia. Since April 1, 2017, there have been a total of 616 wildfires in the province that have burned a total of 114,929 hectares.* It’s tragic, but it happens. It never seems personal until suddenly it is.

As of this morning, there are 39 evacuation orders and 24 evacuation alerts in place due to wildfires. Approximately 16,250 people are affected by the evacuation orders, the majority of them in BC’s Cariboo and Chilcotin areas. Nine sections of provincial highways are either fully or partially closed.*

Our off-the-beaten-path little Cariboo cabin is on the fringe of an evacuation alert which itself is behind the boundaries of an evacuation order and road closure. There’s no way to get to it now, and there’s nothing we can do to protect it, even if we could. We can only hope the winds won’t drive flames in its direction.

It’s not much of a cabin — more rustic on the inside than its exterior might suggest. It was built by my father and husband from wood cut on the land, slowly finished and furnished by family members over several decades, with used and free materials. It’s not insured because it’s worth nothing, and yet in sentiment and memories it’s worth everything to us.

Adjacent to the cabin and just across the creek is the home my parents built over fifty years ago — the only full time residence on the entire lake. They’ve been gone and their property sold and re-sold multiple times, but our cabin still makes it feel like “our” lake. It’s where we’ve been coming together as generations of a family since I was four years old.

Trees surround both properties, and indeed the whole lake, right down to the water’s edge. If the forest fires reach here, I can’t envision anything stopping them. I can’t envision what this secluded sanctuary would look like. I don’t want to envision it at all.

There are already people who have lost their homes and their livelihood. Several towns were given just ten minutes to evacuate. Businesses had to be abandoned. There are friends in the area whose total homestead and ranch are at risk. Our little cabin is insignificant in the overall picture of this disaster, but still … I can’t help selfishly hoping and praying it won’t be among the casualties.

In the meantime, I wait and write.

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*Information from BC Wildfire Service

 

Gardening and Writing au naturel

Our instinct is to push back. Unfortunately, our energy level can’t keep pace with either the instinct or the desire, so year-by-year the wildness surrounding our rural home has encroached on the lawn and gardens.

It’s a tapestry of textures, weeds and wildflowers amid original plantings. At one time I’d be stressed about not being able to keep ahead of them, but … it is what it is. This is rural living and at this point in our lives it’s never going to look like a well manicured city property unless we hire a professional gardener, and THAT isn’t going to happen.

So, buttercups mingle with cranesbill, salal creeps beneath the canopy of maple branches, ferns pop up in the midst of hostas and iris, and we embrace the au naturel look.

The whole gardening endeavour here is a little like my writing. I admire the works of many published authors — words neatly gathered on the page and polished to present the perfect story — and wish mine could be similar, but I’m not them; I’m me.

My method of writing is a lot like my method of dressing, of entertaining and of dealing with daily routines — a little haphazard and a lot informal — so it’s not surprising that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’ and face queries and submissions so casually that they often don’t happen. It’s not surprising that my garden is a little on the wild side, too.

Some days I look at the results (of both) with a degree of discouragement, wishing I could produce something better, but other days I acknowledge this is the way it is. I remind myself there are good things to be said about the au naturel lifestyle.

And as the poster in my office says,

“Be yourself.
An original is always worth more than a copy.”

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Tuesday’s This and That: Birds, Writing and a Conference

I’m sure birds must have brains — isn’t that where the term ‘birdbrain’ comes from? — but I have no idea whether or not they ‘think’. I’m having a battle of wits agains a pair of Juncoes who are as determined to build a nest in my hanging geranium basket as I am determined not to let them. By sheer perseverance they’re slowly outsmarting me, and that irks!

For some reason I am reminded of a quotation by George Carlin: “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”  

My hubby has inserted a criss-cross of kindling pieces into the one basket that’s been getting the most attention, but it appears the birds see that as more of a sturdy building foundation than a deterrent.

The Juncoes are persistent, but so am I! We’ve lived here twenty years and this behaviour only began a couple summers ago. (I see I posted a similar complaint at this same time last June.)

It’s not like there isn’t a multitude of other potential nesting spots around our two-and-a-quarter wooded acres, so I’m not sure why the hanging baskets outside our family room window are so appealing to them. Certainly their poop on the window as they swoop in for their landings isn’t appealing to me!

We’ve temporarily relocated our two hanging baskets onto the deck outside the patio door so I can more easily shoo them away. At the moment I’m not confident about winning this battle with the birds, but the survival of my geraniums depends on it.

~

A member of my writing critique group has invited fellow writers to join her for ‘Writing in the Garden’ one morning a month between May and September. She has a beautiful garden — it was featured during a Maple Ridge Country Garden Tour a couple years ago — and would be an inspiring venue for writing … if the weather would cooperate.  A covered lanai protects from rain, but it’s been too chilly to sit outside, so for May and June we were invited inside to write in her lovely home.

I’m not one of those writers who chooses to gather up writing tools and head out to a local coffee bar to write. Normally, I need solitude to transfer the words in my head onto a page, so it surprised me to produce several hundred words during each session. I guess a little peer pressure must have helped.

~

Registrations opened last week for the 25th anniversary Surrey International Writers’ Conference, and, despite a budget that barely accommodates attending every second year, I’ve registered again, for the third year in a row! I’ve been attending frequently since 2004 and it’s always an incredible conference. As much as I might wish my encounters there with industry professionals would result in acquiring an agent or a publishing contract, I’m enthused about just being there — being immersed in all things writerly for a four day weekend of workshops and inspiring camaraderie.

SiWC is one of the most popular writers’ conferences in North America and draws attendees from many different countries. The day after registrations opened, it was more than 50% sold out. One of the more popular Master Classes on Thursday was sold out in a record-breaking five minutes! It’s a very large conference and yes, for an introvert like me that could be intimidating. But the atmosphere is always welcoming and inclusive, regardless of one’s level of writing expertise or achievement. And by booking a room in the host hotel, I’m free to slip away and decompress whenever necessary.

This year the conference dates are October 19 – 22. This is only mid-June but I’m already hyperventilating a bit. 🙂

Best not to think too far ahead. Better I wave a tea towel at these pesky Juncoes and get back to my writing.

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Procrastination by any other name…

Have I been procrastinating? Judging by the date of my previous post, apparently so. Or maybe I could call it prioritizing. I’ve been writing, gardening, working on my genealogy project, capturing spring things with my camera … all desirable activities, but not productive when it comes to writing a blog post.

A recent question about Writer’s Block in one of my Facebook groups reminded me of how often writers use it as an excuse to procrastinate:

“Most of us probably experience writer’s block in some form from time to time. What are the … strategies you’ve used to bump yourself out of the ditch, and back into productivity?”

If I’m not writing, it’s easy to call it Writer’s Block and blame it on an uncooperative muse.  The truth is, I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. And before you smack me upside the head and swear you’ve experienced it so you know it exists, let me quickly add that I’m convinced it’s our sub-conscience not wanting to write. In that respect it’s very real.

It is not, however, some outside force that controls my brain. ‘Ms. Muse’ doesn’t straddle my computer monitor and refuse to let me write. As much as I might like to blame some evasive, independent entity, I am the only one who chooses not to place my hands on the keyboard and press word-forming keys.

Like many others writers, I’ve sat in front of my monitor with hands poised … and hesitated. I wanted inspiration to strike and send me into a frenzy of creative energy. It does happen that way on rare occasions, but most often I must choose words and throw them at the page whether they seem inspired or not.  I’ve learned that if I sit and wait, hoping for perfect words to manifest themselves, I will face a blank page indefinitely.

Perfection is the enemy of creativity. While I have faith that God will loosen a stream of words if I start typing, I also have faith in my ability to edit, revise and re-craft them if at first they aren’t exactly what I was hoping for.

And, believe me, they are frequently far from what I was hoping for! That’s when it would be easy to get discouraged, walk away from the computer and find something more rewarding to do. What’s more rewarding, however, is sticking it out — leaving the less-than-impressive words on the page in favour of moving ahead with new ones, because it is the new ones that will eventually get me to the end, and there is nothing more satisfying than reaching that goal.

So, call it what you will — writer’s block, an unhelpful muse, procrastination, endless prioritizing, or just plain not getting it done — BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) really IS the only way to overcome it.

I know, because I just did it. 🙂

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