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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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.

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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.

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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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“Snowmaggedon” 2017

I’m sure many of us have admired Currier and Ives Christmas card scenes — picturesque drifts of snow, frosty wreaths on doors and gates glistening under a dusting of fresh powder, shoppers bustling along sidewalks, smiling and greeting each other. Maybe the spire of a country church is outlined against a brilliant winter sky. Or a farmhouse nestles into a stand of snow-laden trees, windows outlined with twinkling coloured lights.

Then there are the beautiful nature scenes. So very pretty!

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It’s all very magical and nostalgic. The trouble is, this isn’t the entire picture. While admiring such scenes, there’s a reality we tend to forget.

Impassable roads, burdened branches and breaking trees…

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Damaged power lines…

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Constant clearing of snow and ice to facilitate going anywhere on sidewalks, driveways and roads…

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(Yes, everyone helps!)

Trying to salvage expensive garden shrubs, often to no avail…

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Are you getting the picture? I love the beauty of a fresh snowfall as much as anyone does, but if you’d been within earshot this past week you’d likely have heard my hubby and me muttering about the dratted white stuff. After all, enough is enough!

All these photos were taken on our property and street. The heaviest snowfall we’ve had in twenty years blanketed the neighbourhood over several days last weekend, taking down trees and power lines, and plunging us into four days without electricity — no lights, cookstoves or water. Fortunately, we do have a wood-burning fireplace in the family room, plus three kerosene lamps, and an emergency supply of bottled water. We spent most of our days huddled in the one warm room which usually stayed around 15-17 degrees celsius as long as we got up a few times during the nights to keep stoking the fire. The bedrooms, however, were a chilly five degrees. Thank goodness for cozy down duvets!

Of course we survived. I suppose it was an adventure of sorts, but we’ve seen enough snow for now. I’m thankful to have all our electrical conveniences back. I’d be happy to get our television cable restored, too (it’s been off for a week), but that’s a minor inconvenience.

I’m ready for spring. Crocuses and snowdrops are buried somewhere under all this white stuff and we’re hoping the predicted warming trend  will soon return us to more typical balmy west coast February weather. I think our local critters would appreciate that, too. These guys are camping out on our back deck, begging for extra birdseed.

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(Douglas Squirrel)

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(Varied Thrush)

No, there’s no real point to this post. I’m just complaining a bit. Once in a while a body just has to let loose and rant. 🙂

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Enduring Winter’s Blahs

dsc01298Bit by bit we’re emerging. Snow is receding and the grass is becoming visible. At the same time, I’m emerging from my germ-infested fog. I’ve had this winter’s common complaint — a cold/flu/whatever-it-is bug that has kept me inactive since before New Year’s.

I’m tired of it — the bug and the snow — but it’s hanging on, so I apologize in advance if I sound cranky. Our balmy west coast usually has a week of cold weather and perhaps once in a decade or so will get a prolonged spell of it. Back in 2008 and 2009 we didn’t see green grass here for three solid months, but that’s most unusual.

It’s equally unusual for me to get sick — at least nothing beyond the occasional mild cold. I’ve dutifully gone for my flu shots every fall for many years, and I’m sure that helped me avoid the annual misery. However, I had my flu shot this year, too, only to hear recently that it might not be as effective as it was in previous years, depending on the strain(s) of flu virus prevalent in this area. ::sigh:: Apparently I was doomed to get this.

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I know I just have to wait it out. There’s no other way to get past this winter’s “blahs”. An active not passive kind of waiting is probably the most beneficial. I’m trying to engage in activities that don’t require too much energy but that actually accomplish something worthwhile. Writing annual reports, history scrapbooking, reading my way through the TBR pile of books stacked on shelves in my office.

Often as not though, I just end up dozing off to sleep again. I’ve managed to pass at least the cold part of this bug to my hubby, so we’re a less-than-energetic twosome these days. At this rate it’s going to be a while before we’ll be ready to tackle clearing downed trees and tying up damaged shrubs and broken branches (of which there are several). It doesn’t sound like we’ll get to it before next weekend’s predicted snow flurries. Drat!

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Seasonal reality versus perception

Reality versus perception. That’s what this is about. I know one day on the calendar is little different than the day before it or the day after. The sun rose a minute later today, and will set two minutes earlier, but otherwise not much has changed. But today is the autumnal equinox and suddenly it feels like fall.

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I’ve been noticing hints of its approach — those dratted spiders hanging out everywhere in their webs (why, oh, why do they have to dangle right at face level?), leaves fluttering down among recent raindrops, subtle colour changes in the garden that I’m sure weren’t there last weekend.

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There’s a new freshness to the warmth of today’s sunshine … crisp undertones that bespeak of a hastening away from summer’s heat. It isn’t quite time to pull out the garden annuals, but the spiky Iris and Daylily leaves are droopy, hinting that it’s time to cut them back. I’m sure they don’t look any worse than they did yesterday, but today they’ve edged into my awareness, along with the blousy, browning Hydrangea blooms.

Yesterday was summer, but at some point when I wasn’t paying attention it went into decline; today is autumn.

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“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools.”

[Henry Beston]

“Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that gives rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserves unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.”

[Jeremiah 5:24]

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”

[Jim Bishop]

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