Uncluttered

This graphic always makes me smile. While it’s meant to be funny, there’s a kernel of truth tucked within. Einstein Cluttered Desk Clutter drives me nuts! A temporary, working mess doesn’t count, but the kind that builds slowly, insidiously, sneaking into places where it should never be–? I hate it!

Our master bedroom closet and my office are two offending locations right now. The closet is just plain overcrowded, while the office qualifies as cluttered. It’s important to make the distinction because overcrowding can be frustrating, but clutter is mind-warping. Granted, both are first world problems … an embarrassment of overabundance that should fill me with guilt for having what much of the world does not.

What it does, however, is immobilize me. In my office, creativity is at a standstill. I can neither write, nor push myself to do something about the clutter that is to blame, so I escape with my laptop to the family room. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’, right? Not totally, but it helps.

The closet is harder to ignore. It’s a mid-sized walk-in under the guise of being an all-season storage locker. If it were smaller, I’d do what one of my daughters does, and every few months sort off-season clothing into a bin and put it in the basement. But because our closet gives the illusion of being generous, my hubby and I keep our entire wardrobes in it. As a result, the rods and shelf space allotted to me are woefully inadequate, everything is squashed together and I can never find what I’m looking for!

(This is embarrassing, but it's all for the sake of honesty. I yanked a T-shirt out of the pile and it toppled.)

(This is embarrassing, but it’s all for the sake of honesty. I yanked a T-shirt out of the pile and it toppled.)

Closet-1 I need to clarify that I am not a shopper. Some of my most frequently worn clothes are ones I’ve had for more than twenty-five years. I own about six pairs of shoes, but wear the same ones almost every day. I’m not an hoarder, either, although perhaps I qualify as a keeper-of-things-I-like.

That’s why a recent Facebook post caught my attention. A friend talked of “creating a minimalist capsule wardrobe”. She advocates “paring down your closet to include only the clothes you love and really enjoy wearing. (And the ones that fit…not that you hope will fit in 2 months.)” Her inspiration came from the Un-fancy blog.

Now that our kitchen’s mini-reno is complete, I’m ready to embark on a new project. I’m not likely to go out and shop for anything to create a new ‘capsule wardrobe’, but I feel inspired to do some paring down. When I pack a suitcase my criteria is always comfort, coordination, condition and ease of care, and I see those as a good goal for my closet clearing.

A tidy closet won’t contribute anything towards my writing, and whether or not this exercise will inspire me to tackle the office clutter is yet to be seen. I’ll let you know.

Do I dare ask you to describe the condition of your closet and/or desk? Are you one who produces best in a distraction-free, pristine environment, or while nested within the comfort of familiar clutter?

~  ~  ~

The Common and Ordinary

Ordinary, everyday encounters are easy to dismiss. We take them for granted, or consider them too insignificant to matter.

DSC05256

(European Starling Juvenile and Breeding Adult)

European Starlings are the peskiest of birds, noisy and gregarious. They’re also referred to as Common Starlings, Sturnus Vulgaris, and have been around for a very long time.

Wikipedia says,

“The common starling was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1758 under its current binomial name. Sturnus and vulgaris are derived from the Latin for “starling” and “common” respectively. The Old English staer, later stare, and the Latin sturnus are both derived from an unknown Indo-European root dating back to the second millennium BC. “Starling” was first recorded in the 11th century, when it referred to the juvenile of the species, but by the 16th century it had already largely supplanted “stare” to refer to birds of all ages. The older name is referenced in William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Stare’s Nest by My Window”. The International Ornithological Congress’ preferred English vernacular name is common starling.”

We see them everywhere around the Lower Mainland — great flocks of them sometimes — but strangely, they rarely appear on our property. This morning, however, a half-dozen caught my attention as they swooped in and settled on the back lawn (probably looking for the Crane Fly larva which are munching down on the roots of algae-ridden grass in a couple areas).

I glanced at them, then away. It took a minute before I looked back with the realization that in nineteen years here, I’ve never noticed them before or taken a picture for my bird photo album.

That’s now remedied, but also has me thinking about what else I take for granted, especially when I’m writing.

My critique group members regularly remind me that I neglect to include the ordinary little details of a setting or of my characters and their activities. In my first drafts I habitually skip over what I already know about them, forgetting that readers aren’t privy to what’s left behind in my head!

The common, ordinary details are what enrich a story’s visibility in the reader’s mind. While description can be overdone, of course, a certain amount is essential. I think I need to learn the tipping point between purple prose and none!

How important is description to you in what you read…and in what you write?

~

P.S. Have you ever seen a ‘Murmuration’ of starlings?
Check out this brief but fascinating video.

~  ~  ~

Creepy Crawlies (again)

Three times in two days an intruder has dared to enter our house. I know it’s ‘that’ time of the year again, but still, I thought I’d made it clear last spring that inside is MY domain. I expect creepy crawlies to stay outside. Suffice to say, those three are no longer around to make a comeback next year!

To explain my aversion, here’s a peek at what I wrote last time there was a similar encounter…

~

A proficient gardener I’m not, but I love to putter around in the yard. I meander through the flower beds on a regular basis, hauling the hose along to water needy plants, discovering what’s new, deadheading depleted blossoms and, yes, (shudder) occasionally encountering miniature wildlife.

I’m not a big fan of bugs, but I accept that they serve a purpose in nature. In their place I tolerate them. In my place, I do not. Anyone who spends time in my household will know that a shrieked “Spider alert!” requires an immediate response. I can’t tear myself away from spotter duty long enough to fetch a shoe or tissue, because, after all, during even the briefest gap in my attention the spider might creep away.  It would be out of sight but definitely not out of mind. I’d know he was still there somewhere, a lurking intruder just waiting to leap out and startle me again.

Unfortunately there’s a no-man’s-land between the garden and the house that the bugs and I both insist on claiming as our own — the back deck.

 

It’s my favourite summertime location, quiet and distraction free; the perfect spot when I need a fresh writing environment. I am not amused, however, when a spider glides down his silken guywire and suddenly lands on my keyboard! Talk about a plot interruption! Maybe writing indoors is a better option. But I resent being chased away. After all, this is a structure attached to the house, so it’s my space.

“Ah,” leers the eight-legged creepy crawly, “but it’s out here with the flowers and fresh air. It’s my space.” Deadlock.

I compromise and knock him off my laptop. Watching him scurry to the edge of the deck I’m satisfied that he’s still out there somewhere, just not on me, my laptop or my lounge chair. I have asserted my authority. They are mine!

~

How do you feel about trespassing arachnids? Have you ever put your characters into situations where they have to deal with arachnophobia? Or any other kind of phobia? What did they learn during the experience?

~

“That’s what happens to all who forget God—
    all their hopes come to nothing.
They hang their life from one thin thread,
    they hitch their fate to a spider web.
One jiggle and the thread breaks,
    one jab and the web collapses.”

[Job 8:14-15, MSG]

~  ~  ~

Inukshuk: You’re On the Right Path (Reprise)

I hope you won’t mind a reprise from my 2010 archives.

~

They crop up in unexpected places – stacks of rough stones called inuksuit. They are Inuit symbols representing ancestors who learned to survive on the land.  In a harsh and unknown landscape sighting a familiar inukshuk (the singular of inuksuit) means,  “You are on the right path.” An inukshuk with arms pointing in a specific direction may indicate a safe navigation channel or mountain passage. Without arms it would likely mark the location of a food cache.

This one was on the northeastern shore of Howe Sound, and I wondered at its significance. Situated on the driftwood-strewn beach below well-kept gardens skirting the condominiums of Furry Creek, it apparently pointed in the direction of Woodfibre, a dismantled pulp mill community at the head of the Sound.  Fascinated, I took several photos on the way past, and more on the way back. Later in the day I realized my attraction was not so much to the figure but to its message. Like the inukshuk itself, what I took away was symbolic: You’re on the right path.

So is there anything to be learned from all this? For me it’s a reminder that with an appreciative heart and inquisitive attitude I can find encouragement for the journey all around me. God is good. :)

Have you had any epiphanies lately about the significance of unexpected encounters?

~

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
[Proverbs 3:13-15]

Late Night Thoughts: Sights and Sounds

If you’re anything like me, too often you go through a day seeing the obvious but missing the gems. Sometimes we focus on what’s right in front of us, and see nothing else.

Glimmers-6 copy

Other times, if we look beyond the obvious, we discover glimpses that beg to be investigated.

Glimmers-1 copy

Little glimmers,
hidden bits of truth and beauty,
sometimes visible,
sometimes only heard.

Beyond the bank of trees that border our back garden is a marsh. At one time it was a pond, officially named on municipal maps. In recent years there has been less water, but a stream still flows through and contributes habitat for geese, ducks, and assorted other wildlife.

Glimmers-7 copy

Where earth shimmers
In garish greens,
Liquid and leafy
Reflections of a secret life
Lived marsh deep.

Where night blackens
Sights but not sounds
And coyotes and tree frogs
Compete
In discordant harmony.

(To hear our late night marsh activity you’ll need your sound on.)

In both your life and your writing, I challenge you to look beyond the obvious, look into the depths, and discover meaningful capsules in the world that comprises your everyday.

What one thing have you discovered today that you consider worthy of recording and remembering?

~

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.

[Hebrews 11:1]

~  ~  ~

It isn’t a Lily and this isn’t a Valley, but…

Stump

In a shady spot above our creek, not far from the base of a rotting old stump, a fragrant patch of Lily-of-the-Valley is spreading into the moss and ferns.

When we first moved here, I discovered a few struggling plants smothered under the ivy that had been planted as a ground cover. Taking pity on it, I dug up chunks and moved them to the other end of the yard, under the trees in a bare spot where nothing else would grow.

Lily of the Valley

It’s taken several years, but the nodding little white bells have finally formed a  tidy patch that covers the parched clay. I may have unleashed a monster, however, as, now that it’s established, it seems to be spreading a little faster every year.

Since it’s not a Lily, and our property is nothing like a valley, I was curious enough about its name to do some research. I’ve discovered the demure little flower, often considered as a symbol of humility in religious paintings, and sometimes added to wedding bouquets, is not as innocent as one might think.

“All parts of the plant are highly poisonous, including the red berries which may be attractive to children. If ingested—even in small amounts—the plant can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, and a reduced heart rate. Roughly 38 different cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) have been found in the plant.” *

All in all, I’d say it’s totally misnamed!

“The flower is also known as Our Lady’s Tears or Mary’s Tears from Christian legends that say it sprang from the weeping of the Virgin Mary during the crucifixion of Jesus. Other etiologies have its coming into being from Eve’s tears after she was driven with Adam from the Garden of Eden.” *

I’ve never heard of either ‘legend’, but I suppose with a  l o n g  stretch of imagination the tiny white drooping blossoms could resemble tears.

Now that I know more about the plant, it’s tempting to dig it all out again, but I don’t think anything else will grow quite as well in that spot. Fortunately it isn’t a location where either pets or children wander unsupervised, so I’m not too worried about their poisonous aspect, and they are rather attractive in a delicate sort of way.

Naming plants must be a challenging exercise. I wouldn’t like having to dream up so many distinctive names. Coming up with titles for my articles and novels is hard enough for me. Google “choosing titles for stories” and we get over 12,000,000 results. Some articles are helpful — here are two (here and here) that I found interesting — but in the end we still have to do the work to find our own perfect title. At least we don’t have to worry about our choices being poisonous. Then again, some of us write poison pen fiction, don’t we? Oops!

How do you decide what your title(s) will be?

* Wikipedia

~  ~  ~