June Jottings

June! Another new month well underway. We’re four weeks into our en suite renovation and I’m happily watching the bits and pieces come together. Well, yesterday happily would have been stretching it. Yesterday it was anxiously.

Carrara marble fools us into thinking it is white with grey veining, but when one is trying to match the background ‘white’ with paint for the remaining walls, it’s not white at all. I know that from the renovation of our other bathroom which has the same tiles. Last time, my colour choice wasn’t exactly what I intended, so this time I was determined to find the right shade — a greyish-white with a slightly blueish undertone, the same as the tile. There are thousands of off-whites, but I was pretty sure I had found the right one this time. It wasn’t until the painter had left after finishing the first coat that I looked in and saw…blue walls. Ack!!!

I stewed about it for a bit; actually, for quite a bit. I figured I would once again have to swallow my mistake and live with it — after all, it was a pretty shade of pale icy blue — but I really don’t want blue walls! That’s when having a wonderful contractor paid off. I finally sent a timid text message, — “What can I do if I don’t like the paint colour I chose?” — which initiated a flurry of action and less than twenty-four hours later the painter was back, with buckets of new paint. I apologized since it was my mistake, but was told, “No problem. We want you to be be happy. We want you to love your new bathroom, not just like it.” I tell you, these people* are awesome!

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It’s not just tile setters, electricians, plumbers, drywallers and painters that have been working around here. Hummingbirds have also arrived. I’ve blogged frequently in the past about our busy little visitors but they continue to entertain, flitting and fighting as they do.

While there are also Anna’s Hummingbirds along BC’s west coast, only the Rufous ones come to our feeder. They’re the feisty ones. They’re also the ones with the longest migratory flight of any other bird, relative to their body size — 3,900 miles from Alaska to Mexico. They “make a clockwise circuit of western North America each year…up the Pacific Coast in late winter and spring, reaching Washington and British Columbia by May. As early as July they may start south again, traveling down the chain of the Rocky Mountains.”**

The females are mostly green, with rusty shading. The males are bright rusty-orange. Feisty as they are, occasionally they buzz me when I’m out on the deck, but other times they’ll sit beside the feeder and watch us with caution and curiosity, as this one did. I think she knows where her ‘bread and butter’ comes from!

Female Rufous Hummingbird

 

Male Rufous Hummingbird

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Writing has too often taken a back seat to being a ‘sidewalk superintendent’ and birdwatcher lately, but I am moving slowly ahead with a new story.

Tomorrow is registration day for this fall’s Surrey International Writers’ Conference (yay!!!), which provides  lots of motivation. I’ve managed to get there more often than I ever thought possible and always experience a wonderful weekend of inspiration and professional development shared with my daughter, the award winning writer Shari Green! (How I love being able to say that.)

Lots happening. Lots to look forward to. Oh, and summer’s coming. 🙂

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* RNC Renovations
** All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology
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Writing Despite Distractions

Sounds of a table saw and power nailer add to the smell of freshly baked bread and contribute to my Saturday morning distractions. My hubby is outside, glad for the sunshine as he power washes the final side of the house, and I’m sorely tempted to abandon my inside chores and escape out to the garden. But I mustn’t. Not yet.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let this week slide by without finishing a chapter in my new manuscript and writing a blog post, so I’m chained to my laptop until that’s accomplished.

It can be difficult to ignore distractions, especially appealing ones, but I try hard to stick to my priorities which, right now, are to rough draft a second book in a series, then return to an older story and rewrite it to become the third. I don’t have a definite timeline, but am squinting hopefully at year end.

Aspiring writers are often heard to say they’re going to write a book sometime … perhaps when the baby finally sleeps through the night so they aren’t always exhausted, or when the children are in school, or when retirement from the day job arrives … sometime, when they have time. The problem is, time rarely makes itself available. Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion” and Isaac Asimov’s corollary to that says, “In ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day.

It’s a safe bet there will never be any leftover time, so whether or not a book gets written will depend entirely on the writer’s commitment to the task and the desire to make time. I think all of us have dreamt of endless hours sequestered in a hideaway writing our life’s work uninterrupted from beginning to end. I think we also all know it’ll never happen.

Even full-time career authors and retired writers with no children at home acknowledge the reality of everyday life and the limitations it puts on time. I’ve always had trouble settling in to write when I know I have only a half hour, or some similar time restriction due to an impending appointment or meeting. But I’ve learned to recognize that restless ‘I-don’t-have-enough-time’ voice as the negative influence it is, and to ignore it. Even short sessions can be productive.

In proper manuscript format, one page consists of about 250 words. Depending on the genre, a first novel is usually no more than 90,000 words, so if a person could steal enough time to draft one page per day, that would produce a finished novel in one year. Just one page! Some days I can write an entire chapter; other days I struggle to find those 250 words, but it averages out.

For the next month or so the main distractions around here are going to be the coming and going of workers doing the renovation in our en suite bathroom. They have their supplies and equipment in one bay of our garage, so they come in through the adjoining door to our laundry, and trek down the hall through the middle of the house. They are very considerate, but inevitably there is noise and dust and frequent questions. (And in the middle of it all is our wild-child Labrador, unhappily kept away from the hallway by a cardboard barricade and advising me regularly that there are strangers in the house.)

Still, I will write. I have this story nagging at me, revealing its scenes in small bursts. When I know I won’t likely get all the needed words on a page at one time, I make notes as a blueprint for my next session. I want to get it done, and doing it is the only way.

How about you? What’s your dream? What distractions keep you from pursuing/achieving it?

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Sometimes you just have to slog on through…

I imagine most people have heard the quote, “The best way out is always through.” [Robert Frost’s A Servant to Servants] I don’t know how many people agree with it, but it’s true for me as I muddle with decisions over renovation materials.

Bit by bit we’ve been updating our twenty-seven year old home, upgrading portions of the kitchen in 2015 and the main bathroom in 2016. Now we’re embarking on the en suite bathroom, and right from the get-go this renovation has been challenging.

It shouldn’t be. The colour scheme and materials are the same as we used in the main bathroom — the same bianco carrara tile floor and walls around tub and shower, the same decorative mosaic accent, light grey cabinet with a dark grey quartz countertop, white fixtures and chrome faucets. It all pulled together quite easily last time, but now …? Ack!

In a bath supply showroom the freestanding bathtub we wanted this time was waaaaaay too expensive, but we found it online from a reputable dealer for a much better price. There was a delay in shipping. The toilet we wanted was out of stock. We chose a different one. The desired tub filler wasn’t in store but could be brought from the warehouse in a couple days. After two long delays we gave up, cancelled the order and picked up an alternate. Two weeks later the original order came in and, despite having received its refund, we continue to get phone calls (three so far) to please come and pick it up. Then we couldn’t find an affordable rainshower kit in a design we liked.

The most recent pucker in our plan is tile for the shower floor. The other bathroom has a tub/shower combo, so tile wasn’t required. This bathroom has a custom shower stall, hence the need for a base. The contractor thought a plain white tile would work well, except we have a lot of iron in our water here and I refuse to have white tile or white grout in an area where standing water can stain them orange. We decided on a medium grey.

I found the perfect one — actually, our young granddaughter found it; it’s the one in the right hand bottom corner of the above photo — but when the contractor went to collect the tile order, that particular one had gone out of stock, was no longer available, and they had nothing else like it. ::sigh::

We selected an alternate at Lowes, got it home and found, away from the store’s fluorescent lights, it was almost black, not grey at all. Now we’ve chosen another, but I’m second-guessing the choice because it has veining in it that might be too ‘busy’ alongside the carrara. I couldn’t bring a sample home so won’t know until the contractor delivers it. Then it will be too late to change.

And so it goes. Decisions, choices, backtracking, second-guessing … a stressful process for me who likes things organized and straightforward. But there is no way to bypass this part of the process. We just have to slog on through.

It’s reminiscent of my writing-and-revising process. Some days the words come easily while on others they are plucked like eyebrow hairs, one at a time, sometimes painfully, from the not-so-creative pool. I recently finished a story, edited, revised and finally rewrote it, then edited again. There were moments when I just wanted to flush the whole thing, but the only way to finish was to trust my intuition and keep going. It’s out on submission now, but I know if it’s accepted anywhere for publication it will undoubtedly have to undergo even more revision.

I want things — bathroom and books — to turn out the best they can, so will take a deep breath and keep slogging on through to completion, hoping the niggling internal voice is wrong and the end result will be worth the struggle.

How do you deal with misgivings and the taunts of your internal editor? 

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Thoughts on not much of anything…

A reprise from 2009. I hope you don’t mind.

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I’ve been thinking. What I write here varies with my mood, but the two topics that most often turn up in this blog are my novel writing and my locale. If you were a fly on the wall here, you’d understand why that’s so.

In this semi-rural retreat I call home, I am surrounded by trees, a bit of wildlife, and the stillness that makes for a perfect sanctuary. Nighttime moonlight flits between the darkened trees to find its way through the french doors beside my bed. Morning sunlight filters through trees to bring its warmth into the livingroom.

With hands wrapped around a coffee mug I stand at the bank of windows in our kitchen/family room and check out the slash of deer tracks punctuating the leftover snow in a sheltered corner of the back yard, and watch a lone Towhee who has arrived on the deck for its breakfast. There is no place I’d rather be. When my thoughts settle into this groove my subjects are home and hearth.

Other times my mental closet of plots and process reaches spillover stage and the ideas that tumble out are random aspects of novel writing — the quirks of the Muse, character development, storylines, revision frustrations, even agents and rejection dejection.

There isn’t a lot of logic to why and when creativity clicks into gear or what writing will result when it does. I’ve learned the important thing is not so much what I write but that I write. My responsibility is to keep trying and eventually I become a channel for ideas that need to materialize. Then I simply have to find an appropriate title to attach and launch the creation into cyberspace.

So, with that revelation, here’s today’s contribution. (Not much content, is there? It’s indicative of the state of my morning brain.)

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After the decorations come down…

I started this post a few days ago, and then decided my first priority was a post for my church’s website. Its title ended up being the same as the one I’ve used here, although the content is totally different. It’s prompted here by the current mess that surrounds me.

This is just one small area — just the loveseat in our family room. You have to imagine beyond the green storage bin on the coffee table to the other seven bins and assorted cardboard boxes also waiting to be filled.

Decorations aren’t what Christmas is all about, of course, but I still enjoy the cheer and sparkle of the seasonal decorations. Even more than how they look, I like the nostalgia and the memories they evoke.

If you had peeked in my windows on a December evening (but I’m glad you didn’t; that would be creepy), you’d likely have found me in the semi-darkness, sitting by the fireplace and squinting at the tree lights to exaggerate their sparkle. It’s pure magic! It takes me back to the awe and wonder of my childhood Christmasses.

We begin decorating the house at the start of Advent and reluctantly begin un-decorating after Epiphany…the Twelfth Night of Christmas. Unfortunately, since our preference is for natural rather than artificial greenery, the life of our tree is limited. After a month indoors, even with regular watering, the needles begin parting company with branches. It’s time.

So the tree is down (it will be chipped and recycled), the decorations are being packed away and the New Year is under way. What now? First is always the replacing of furniture and a thorough vacuuming. (It doesn’t matter how thorough, we’ll still find fir needles in odd places next summer!)

This is the point when melancholia at the bare decor conflicts with joy at the lack of clutter. Everything looks so clean, but I find myself rearranging furniture, switching artwork, maybe adding a new plant — whatever it takes to compensate for the perceived sterility.

Sometimes … sometimes, that means picking new paint colours. I often wondered why we always seemed to tackle renovations in the winter months. Now that’s beginning to make sense. I’m not sure what this year’s project is going to be, but stay tuned. Now that the decorations are down and packed away, I’m taking a good look around.

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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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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