Writing in Summer Solitude

Last spring author Debra Purdy Kong blogged about her need for solitude. She said, “scientific research has shown that creative people need solitude. An article in Quartz revealed what many of us writers have known for some time. Solitude has nothing to do with being bored or being lonely. In fact, it’s an essential component for any type of creativity.”

DSC09480The creative person’s desire for solitude isn’t limited to summer, but for many of us that’s the time we’re most likely to find some. School’s out. Organizations put their meetings on hiatus. Employees take their vacations. It’s the best time to escape … or, at least, that’s what we seem to think. Maybe we’re brainwashed to believe that, when we should really be looking for periods of solitude throughout the entire year — any time our well of inspiration is in need of replenishment.

A solitary stroll on an crisp fall morning or a snowy weekend evening might be all it takes to let fresh ideas break through what I call a cotton batten brain. A rainy day spent at the museum or art gallery does it for some, while others find refreshment pouring through shelves in a library or bookstore. Personally, I’d never turn down the opportunity to spend an hour in any season, sitting on a log at the beach or by the lake, emptying the mind to ready it for refilling.

My writerly sub-conscience needs that, but so too does my spirit. Solitude and stillness help me open myself to God and let peace and renewal seep in.

I saw this graphic on the (in)courage website recently with the words, “May you have the chance to be still, to hear His voice in the quiet spaces.” I’ve borrowed it to use here as a summertime reminder. I’ll be absent from the internet during portions of August as I focus on experiencing stillness and refreshment, and on redirecting my creative efforts. I hope you’ll make time to do the same.

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Happy Birthday, Wild Child!

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Maybe by referring to him as our “Wild Child” we have unconsciously been sending negative vibes that help perpetuate the cyclone-like behaviour. People often say that a Labrador’s brain doesn’t kick in until they are at least three years old. Some warn that it’s more like five or six years, while others admit sometimes it never does. Whatever the case, “Clipper”, our sweet natured but extremely bouncy Labrador Retriever, shows no indication of impending maturity. Of course, he’s only just reaching his first birthday this weekend (on May 15).

We should have named him “Tigger”. He really does bear a striking resemblance, right down to having what we’re sure is a built-in pogo stick.

 

He hasn’t been in a show ring yet. We’re hoping that by the time he gains enough maturity to be able to walk sedately on a lead, he’ll also have outgrown the assumption that anyone stooping down to touch him is extending an invitation to be licked and jumped upon, simultaneously.

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“Who, me??? But I have to show everyone how much I love them!!”

Fortunately, we love him, too. A lot. Otherwise he would have been shuffled out of here long ago.

I’m trying  to figure out a way to model one of my novel’s characters after him, but none of them is meant to have a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

Ah, well … Happy First Birthday, Clipper! No pogo stick for you, or lima beans, but maybe a piece (or two) of cheese and a new toy.

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The Intrusion of Real Life

Do you ever try to visualize what it would be like to live someone else’s life? Real life for some is a dream world for others.

There were days when I wondered if my life might have been different if I’d made different choices. The grass was greener, much greener where I envisioned I could be, and yet now, decades later, hindsight proves me wrong. Their colours might have seemed more appealing at the time, but the weeds and wildflowers grew just as abundantly in the grass on both sides of that fence. It was only my perspective that changed the view. I was exactly where God intended me to be.

Everyone’s life is filled with a lot of ordinariness, interrupted by occasional mountaintop and valley experiences.

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While I know perpetual tranquility would be boring, during times of upheaval and crisis I’m pretty sure most people wish life could be more serene.

I have family members who are currently wishing for less upheaval in their lives. What seemed like a simple plumbing-related flood upstairs in their home on December 9th resulted in damage also being done to several areas downstairs. The insurance and restoration companies were quick to tear out walls, ceiling and floors, to get drying underway. The repairs, however, are taking several weeks — which, when you are having to live somewhere else until the work is completed, is frustrating enough. When full weeks go by  and nobody comes to do any work, or when a carpenter arrives by himself, and puts in an unproductive day, working slowly while admitting he wants to get paid for as many hours as possible, it becomes downright maddening.

Almost eight full weeks have gone by, and it’s obvious there are more yet to come. Cold, hard “real” life continues to intrude on their daily existence as family members live out of suitcases and add extra commuting time to work and school schedules. It’s stressful for them, trying to carry on with all their normal activities under these abnormal circumstances. And yet they do it.

The thing is, they aren’t the only people who have to cope with the intrusion of the unexpected. I often read other author blogs and Facebook posts and note how their writers mention the impact of unexpected events, but they still manage to meet their writing, editing and publishing deadlines.

It’s a reality that we do what we have to. We compromise on the unimportant in order to give priority to the important. It’s a strange reality that no matter how challenged we may be by life, we always manage to make time for the things that are important to us. At least, it seems that way to me.

While the insurance company handles the paperwork at an unemotional distance, I hope my family members make it through this upheaval without any nervous breakdowns.

Have you experienced any inconvenient intrusions of “real life” and had to function around them? How did it work out for you?

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How many candles does it take?

He stood on tiptoes, peering at the Advent wreath, counting aloud. Then, “Okay, but if there are four Sundays on the way to Christmas, why are there five candles?”

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His sister had been trying to answer his questions, but with growing impatience she shrugged. “That’s the Jesus candle. Now c’mon … let’s go.” She reached for his shoulder to steer him away, but he ducked from her grasp.

“But Mom told me that one was the Jesus candle,” he said, pointing to the Christ candle which this day sat unused on the communion table pushed to one side of the chancel.

“Yeah, well, that’s the one we use every Sunday to remind people that Jesus is the light of the world. This one, um … this one is his birthday candle.”

“But birthday candles belong on cakes!”

“There’s cake downstairs, remember? If you want a piece we’d better hurry or there won’t be any left.”

“But why is the cake downstairs when the candle is up here?”

“Because Jesus wouldn’t like people to get cake crumbs on the church carpet. For pete’s sake, don’t you know anything?”

As she pushed him ahead of her down the aisle toward the doorway, I smiled at the memory of another little boy in a former church, and the endless questions that had kept a young minister fumbling for answers during a children’s story. There’s nothing more delightful and at the same time more frustrating than a child’s insatiable curiosity.

There’s also nothing more important than satisfying that curiosity, of offering truthful explanations geared to an appropriate level of understanding. In this situation I thought his sister did a remarkably good job. Don’t you?🙂

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Looking back in history (mine)

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Hector Borthwick

Across the small lake from our wee cabin in BC’s Cariboo country there is another cabin. That one is made of logs, is still in good shape but now rarely occupied. It’s no longer visible from the water; only a small float at the shoreline marks the path up to it from the lake.

The cabin was built over a two year period between 1935 and 1937 by a tall, lanky bachelor named Hector Borthwick. He built the foundation of rocks and used a saddle-and-notch method to stack the logs. To get the upper logs in place he rolled them up poles leaned against the side of the building. The roofing was fir shakes.

Hector had moved north from the lower mainland in 1933 to join his older brother, George, who was a trapper living on ranch land near ‘our’ lake. In 1935 George decided his children needed better education, and he traded the property with a man from North Vancouver, George Ruddy. The ranch changed hands through the years, and has been owned by the Pogues, Dave Madsen, Roy Wilcox, the Ainsworths, and most recently by Rick and Arlene Booker.

When his brother moved south, Hector took over the trapline and lived with George Ruddy while he built himself a lakeside cabin.

Many years later my parents purchased property on the opposite end of that lake, and somewhere around 1949-1950 Hector helped them build a cabin that for more than a decade we used on summer holidays and annual hunting trips. I remember my mother and I were responsible for stripping the bark off each log before the men levered it into place. At my young age I’m not sure how much help I really was, but I felt important!

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Our original cabin

Hector never married. His only companion for many years was a huge grey cat he called Buster (named after Buster Hamilton, a well known guide in the area). When winter set in Hector would shoot his annual meat supply. He hung the frozen moose or deer carcass in his shed and would saw off slabs for each night’s dinner — a steak for him and an equal-sized steak for Buster. (I did say Buster was huge, didn’t I?)

Hector was a quiet man. He wasn’t overly social, but he became a very good friend to my parents. He often provided a helping hand when they moved permanently to the Cariboo and built a year-round home on the lake. He even allowed himself to be talked into accompanying them on their one and only out-of-the-country vacation — a two week trip to Mexico.

Within the 190 acres of property my parents bought, there was a dilapidated log building that has always been known as Carnegie Hall … its original owner having been a man named Albert Carnegie. It became a convenient storage place for a ragtag collection of discarded items my father could never quite part with because “someday I might need it”. My mother doubted it contained anything of potential value, but it was surprising how often a needed length of rope, a set of chains, or a bit of baling wire was located just when required. Carnegie Hall saved many an hour-long trip out to the closest store. (In those days it was probably more like a two hour trip, each way!)

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Carnegie Hall (before it totally collapsed)

I wasn’t around to know either George Ruddy or Albert Carnegie while they lived in the vicinity of our lake, but I  recall stopping with my parents to visit them some years after they had moved away from the isolation and closer to ‘civilization’, although they still lived in a very rustic cabin. My whispered question about why their metal beds had each leg stuck in a coffee tin (or maybe it was a tobacco tin), was shushed until we were on the road again, when it was explained to me that the tins kept mice from climbing the legs onto the beds.

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Albert Carnegie and George Ruddy

Hector continued to live at the lake, supplementing his trapping by occasionally going into the community of Forest Grove and helping with haying. That earned him $1.00 a day plus his board. He became a licensed big game guide in 1944, at a time when it paid a whopping $10.00 a day, with horses provided by the Forest Grove Lodge who made the arrangements with clients. In 1951 he also went to work as a faller, which earned him about $1.50 – $1.75 per hour, but after five years he returned to trapping and guiding, until 1963.

That’s when he became concerned about the impact of logging on the environment, and also reached the point where killing animals no longer felt right. His brother returned to retire on the lake and built a cluster of log buildings, but in 1969 Hector left to work for Cariboo Cedar Products in the town of Exeter. The following year he signed over the trapline to George.

Barely a week before he planned to retire from the Exeter sawmill, Hector suffered a devastating accident, losing portions of all his fingers on both hands. By then my parents had built a triplex on another piece of property they owned on the outskirts of 100 Mile House, and during Hector’s recovery he lived in a cabin on the back of that property. However, it was soon evident that he could no longer cope independently, and he moved to southern Vancouver Island to live out his years in comfort with one of George’s married sons.

In 1984 my husband was asked to officiate at his memorial service.

Hector Walter Borthwick
22 February 1915 – 19 October 1984 

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A lot of history and many memories have been stored up during the years we have been associated with this tiny sanctuary in the central Cariboo. Someone else owns my parents’ property now, but we’ve retained a few acres of our own — a little parcel across the creek where we’ve built our own cabin — and various branches of our family continue to make new memories for future generations to treasure.

Every so often I think about Hector and wonder if my parents would ever have discovered the out-of-the-way little lake if it hadn’t been for him. (Then again, conversations they had with a resident who happened to own a hardware store in 100 Mile House helped to send them in the right direction, so who knows — but that’s a story for a different blog post!)

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Everything Writing

This week my life is all about writing. Oh, I write pretty much every day, but there’s a special focus on it right now.

On Tuesday I joined my daughter, Shari Green, for an evening hosted by the Golden Ears Writers in Maple Ridge. She and her fellow authors Denise Jaden and Dawn Ius Dalton took part in a panel-style workshop on ‘Ideas and Imaginings: Finding and developing story ideas and exploring the world of re-tellings and re-imaginings.’ Such great insights and so many good ideas emerged!

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(Denise Jaden, Dawn Ius Dalton and Shari Green)

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Now Shari and I are at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, a long weekend that is always the highlight of our writing year. For our very introverted souls, it’s both exhilarating and daunting to be a part of the hundreds-large crowd of literary peeps — big name authors and writers of all levels of experience, editors, agents, publishers and screenwriters — and be immersed in everything writing for three (very long) days.

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With several dozen workshops and presenters, keynote speeches, book signings and banquets plus all the hobnobbing in between, it provides a huge dose of information and inspiration, boosts our creativity and rejuvenates our writerly souls. It’s also exhausting!

It will be good preparation for November and the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) marathon  — our zany effort to produce 50,000 words in thirty days.

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With it following a week after the conference, we’re always more than ready to creep into our solitary spaces and start prepping for a month of concentrated writing. Then, with the arrival of November, more times than not, we manage to hammer out a rough draft of a complete novel.

So I guarantee you won’t see much of me around here for the next few weeks — there won’t be a lot of musing and mental meandering time — but I’ll pop in with periodic updates. Let me know what you’re up to, too, and I’ll offer encouragement where I can. Any new projects? Are you finishing old ones, revising, mulling, or deep in tearing-your-hair-out frustrations? Let me know. We can console each other.🙂

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Labouring on Labour Day

The internet reminds us that traditionally, “Labour Day was an occasion to campaign for and celebrate workers’ rights during parades and picnics organized by trade unions.”

At my daughter’s home, however, there’s been a whole week of labouring. A new wood stove was installed, a fence is under construction, there was painting to do, and firewood to cut.

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Labour Day itself became a time to labour in her garden.

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The existing much-too-narrow fifteen inch strip of flower bed that edged a stepping-stone-and-ornamental-gravel path beside the garage was an annoyance. Most plants didn’t do well in the limited space against the foundation, and those that survived spilled over into the walkway.

We put our imaginations to work and decided that the cement stepping stones would be better sunk into the adjacent grass. Then one set of the wide wooden beams could be removed, leaving space for a generous garden bed.

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Initially it sounded like a relatively simple task, but my hubby is quick to point out that every job I think up for him ends up requiring more time, energy and money than we expect. This one became a major endeavour. Since there were no existing evergreen shrubs, all the plants were removed in favour of a more seasonally balanced design, and the ornamental rock was raked out and collected for use in a different location.

The various aspects of the job took the combined effort of four of us! My hubby relocated the pavers; our son-in-law used his chain saw on the discarded wooden ties to cut them down into end pieces for the new bed; and both men worked for hours to lever huge rocks out, one of which was retained for decorative use in the final landscape.

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Then it was time to haul in a truck-‘n-trailer load of topsoil and shovel it into the new bed, and make another side trip with quad and garden trailer to add a load of compost — both to be mixed together with a rototiller and raked smooth. And finally it was time for daughter and I to make a trip to the nursery to select suitable plants for this Hardiness Zone 3 location, followed by an afternoon of planting. There is still a top dressing of bark mulch to be added.

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I suppose I should have expected the job to be more than a quick dig-and-plant event, but as a minimally knowledgeable gardener, I think I approached it in much the same way as a novice writer tackles a first novel. On the surface it sounds easy — just find an idea, do a bit of planning and plunk the words on a page until the job is done.

Some people may be ‘natural’ gardeners or storytellers, but I now have much more respect for the professionals who work full time to make a successful career with what they do.

My Labour Day job isn’t done yet. Excuse me while I go water the new plants. Then I’ll be heading for the bottle of Tylenol.🙂

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Do you enjoy planning and planting a landscape, or are you more of a plunk and putter kind of gardener?

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