Private Spaces

The phrase, “a room of one’s own” is forever linked to feminist author Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), as the title of her famous 1929 essay, but it has been adopted by many of us who long for a space specifically designed to meet our personal taste and needs.

I thought of that this morning while reading a blog post by Katrina Kenison. She calls it “Making Room“. She has just turned 59 and finds herself wishing for somewhere other than at her kitchen table to write —  “a place in which some new work might begin to take shape, privately and quietly” away from the hustle of her everyday household.

“My sixtieth year has begun with an urgent longing for quiet time and open-ended hours and, too, for a space that is devoted not to many things but to one thing: the work of the imagination, the murmurings of the soul, the possibility of articulating and embodying some just-forming ideas about how to live in the world as an older person.”  [Katrina Kenison]

At the beginning of every fall, a similar yearning overtakes me, but it has nothing to do with my increasing age. At least, I don’t think it does. The odd thing is, I do have a room of my own in which to write, but I don’t often use it, which makes me think it has more to do with attitude than age or location.

I’m always anxious to recapture the sense of mystery and adventure that accompanies the start of a new season or a new writing project. It’s akin to the delight of discovery in the story of A Secret Garden, but then again, I suppose that story did have a lot to do with place. And age. Hmmm. Well, never mind. Should place and age really determine the extent of a person’s creativity? What is it that makes a room of one’s own so appealing?

Katrina says it would mean not having to clear her writing materials off the kitchen table and make room for her family’s next meal.

There’s that, of course, but I suspect it’s also the ability to surround oneself with favourite things — things that inspire us — or to spread out our tools however we might prefer, and not have to answer to anyone else for our choices (or the mess). It’s that sense of privacy and personal space a closed door gives us — the opportunity to retreat into the backcountry of our minds without distraction.

KatherineSome of my friends have created personal writing spaces. In the past year Katherine Wagner repurposed an upstairs bedroom into a library/writing room with a view over her exquisite back garden, and Dawn Dalton’s hubby built her a separate writing hut, a la Roald Dahl’s, in their back yard.

What a treat to be able to indulge ourselves with such special spaces! I should feel guilty that I don’t make better use of mine. That I don’t, suggests my creative efforts don’t depend on an inspiring environment, but that’s not entirely true.

Where I most often sit with my laptop is in my family room. My recliner is adjacent to a wall of windows that overlook the ‘backyard’ — a rural haven surrounded by trees with a somewhat overgrown arbour leading to the unseen marsh beyond. It’s private and quiet. That’s pretty much all I need when I’m writing.

The environment we crave is as individual as the words each of us produces. The main thing is to identify what we require to produce those words and then get writing.

“When I am up here I see only the paper I am writing on, and my mind is far away with Willy Wonka or James or Mr Fox or Danny or whatever else I am trying to cook up. The room itself is of no consequence. It is out of focus, a place for dreaming and floating and whistling in the wind, as soft and silent and murky as a womb…”  [Roald Dahl, ‘Roald Dahl: From the Inside Out – the Author Speaks’]

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“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” [Virginia Woolf]

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Now it’s your turn. Tell me, what’s your ideal writing environment or location? Is your creativity dependent on being in that space?

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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.

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*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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