May Pole, May, May Not…

I’m old enough to recall dancing around a maypole on May Day. Dressed in our best, with an art-class-created crown of flowers and ribbons, my Grade Two classmates and I did our best to skip in and out, around each other, guiding the long streamers from the top of the pole. Rehearsals must have given our teachers grey hair. Time after time we giggled our way through the pattern, only to have at least one of us mis-step and end up with the streamers tangled instead of neatly braided.

There’s a special post-Easter  joie de vie that wends its way into May. The dreary, colourless winter is subtly overtaken by springtime blooms, and I become impatient for my pre-Mother’s Day treat which entails a trip to the local nursery for bedding plants to begin filling deck tubs and hanging baskets.

This year the impatience hit me on April 2nd while in Costco. Multiple shoppers passed me with beautiful baskets of bright flowers in their carts. When I discovered their source (and the ridiculously low price) in the garden section, I squelched the little voice that told me it was wa-a-a-y too early in the season, and I picked up two hanging baskets. My usual choice of colours would be pastel, but these screamed with bright red, deep pink and sunny yellow. My inner self apparently craved colour!

Of course, once home, I had to pamper and protect them against the still-frosty nights. They spent three weeks nestled under the eaves, against the patio doors where I could slip out every night and wrap plastic bags around them. But now it’s May. They’ve been hung where I can admire them from our family room windows, which is where I sit when I’m writing.

The trouble is, now that I have something lovely to stare at, I’m doing more staring than writing, and that’s not terribly productive. I sent a manuscript off in early February, then occupied myself developing another work I had in progress. Writing went relatively smoothly through March and part way into April. Then I turned my attention to Easter projects I had committed to doing for my church.

And after Easter? Mmm … my hanging planters are so pretty.

To be honest, I have to admit as I stare at those flowers, the same little voice that cautioned me about buying them has been whispering other discouraging ideas, ideas that make me question if I’m waiting to hear about the submitted manuscript before finishing another novel; and if I am, why.

I will always write, because I love creating stories. But — I resist saying this — I may not always write with the goal of publication. I’ve received considerable encouragement from agents and editors, but without the validation of the next step, the little voice suggests that continuing in the current direction is futile. I want to ignore this unsettling whisper — after all, it was wrong about the flowers — and I’ve never been a quitter.

It’s a time for thinking, for contemplating my options, and, while I’m at it, I can also draw up the list of bedding plants I plan to buy on Mother’s Day weekend.

~

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

~  ~  ~

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I am reminded of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne…

This afternoon I discovered the garden’s chilly white blanket has been receding just enough to reveal spring flowers I thought might not have survived the frigid month just passed. There they were: a bedraggled patch or two of sweet nodding snowdrops and two golden crocuses. They’ve fired a hope that there are more just waiting to be uncovered.

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

This is one of those days.

~

My reading project for the month of March is the collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ books. I fear I’m never going to finish all of them because I’m dawdling through their delights.

Anne Shirley’s ecstatic but sometimes relentless descriptions evoke memories of Marilla’s impatience, but at the same time they provide a vision of the wonders we grown ups too often miss. Montgomery gives us a second chance, writing a view of life through Anne’s eyes. It reminds me that my goal as a writer is to do the same — to transport readers into the world of my unique characters. If only I could do that as well as Lucy Maud!

“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more… though I know that IS the noblest ambition… but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me… to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

You have, Anne; you have.

~

(Anne’s ‘gift of gab’ also prompts me to wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.)

Time Out for Renewal

Many of us love renewing our homes (ahem…yes, guilty). Most love shopping to refresh wardrobes (meh…not so much). Some love travelling to discover new locales (hmmm…it depends on the locale). Too few of us take time out to renew, refresh or discover ourselves.

It could be as simple as snatching ten minutes to sip tea on the porch, a morning to wander or work in the garden, or a day to turn aside from social media and focus on something we’ve been wanting to do just for ourselves. Summertime is when we are most likely to take a break, but there is no ‘right’ season. For writers, it might be whenever the words are piling up against an invisible barricade; for parents, when exasperation is approaching an explosion point; or maybe for workers, when demands of the job have become numbing.

(Consider clicking on photo to enlarge)

None of those scenarios really describes my situation, but I am taking some time out to renew something important to me. August is usually my time to escape from social media. It’s my scheduled ‘time out for renewal’. My camera and I will capture my under-the-radar doings and share them when I re-emerge.

What will you be up to in August? Are you planning anything that will help you renew, refresh or discover?

~

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
[Romans 12:2]

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”
[Jeremiah 31:25]

~  ~  ~

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’]

~

“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]

~

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

~ ~ ~

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.

~

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] 

~  ~  ~

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.”

~  ~  ~

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.

~  ~  ~