So much promise…

My first peony of the season opened on Sunday. I’ve been keeping an eye on the buds as they show colour and swell with promise, but this one appeared while I wasn’t paying attention.

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The clematis are showing promise, too, but none of the buds have opened quite yet. (The banner photo is from last year.)

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So much promise! I love seeing all the spring newness as it happens. It’s hard to believe that in just two weeks — on Father’s Day — spring will be replaced by summer.

We’re already into a 30+ celsius week here, and the annuals that have burst into bloom in my baskets are dipping their heads against the oppressive brilliance and begging for extra drinks. It’s taking them a while to get accustomed to the sudden heat. (It’s taking me a while, too! I am SO not a lover of hot weather, but it sure gets those buds into bloom quickly.)

Seeing all the buds makes me think of ideas — those tight little word capsules that show up in a writer’s mind and tantalize with all their promise of what might be coming. It doesn’t help to be impatient when they’re slow to blossom into a potential story. It doesn’t help to focus on them, willing them into reality. Like a watched clock, they aren’t going to move ahead any faster for all our extra attention.

All the potential will surprise us, as the peony did, by simply showing up when the time is right, probably when we least expect it. At least, that’s been my experience.

How do your new ideas develop?

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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…

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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!

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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?

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“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]

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Writing Frustrations and Bird Poop

Bird poop is not pleasant. It’s messy, and one of the worst offenders around here right now are the robins.

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Once winter is on the wane, I’m always delighted to welcome the earliest robins. They’re harbingers of spring, after all, and that makes me smile. By summertime, however, I’ve begun to tire of the white accumulations that adorn our deck railings and outdoor furniture, and I’m no longer smiling.

Robins are pretty, and they sing a sweet song, I’ll give them that. But they don’t eat birdseed. The lawn and garden are their kitchen source for earthworms and berries. The only appeal our deck apparently has for them is as a bathroom… a place to perch and deposit their doo-doo, which I don’t-don’t like! Someone had a warped sense of humour when they named the species ‘Turdus migratorius’.

We had 45 people coming here last night for a church barbecue. In preparation, we had pulled weeds and tidied the gardens. Hubby power-washed the deck, and I wiped down the lawn furniture. You get the picture. We wanted things to be neat and clean for our guests, and it was… until late-afternoon, just before the first guests arrived, when Mr. Robin Redbreast dropped in and dropped. Ackkk!!! It was too late to get out the hose, but there was no point in stressing over little blobby things, as maddening as they were. I found a rag, cleaned them away as best I could and carried on, soon forgetting all about the annoyance and enjoying a wonderful evening with friends.

The writing application that occurred to me later had to do with not overstressing about little things. No point in grinding to a halt  when the wrong words deposit themselves on the page during a first draft. Better to look at the overall picture, get on with the job and worry about cleaning up the messy bits during revision. There are bound to be more messy bits before it’s done and we’re ready to put the manuscript out on display anyway.

In future, when I’m getting really frustrated, maybe I’ll try and remember to mutter, “Oh, poop!!!” then have a laugh and get back to work.

What’s your method of banishing first draft frustrations?

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Procrastinating on Snow Days

BlogBlankWe had a friend, Nel, who maintained February always had at least nine sunny days.  She wasn’t a meteorologist but relied on her memory to substantiate the claim. When we started paying attention, it seemed as if she was right. February might be too soon to plant or mow, but nice days often had us outside, cleaning winter debris from garden beds and planning spring projects, like power washing decks and cleaning gutters.

Not this year. This February tossed winter fury at us by way of sub-zero temperatures, bitter windchills and — this past weekend — more snow. For easterners this wouldn’t be unusual, but we BC west coasters are offended! Enough is enough!

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It was still snowing when I went to bed last night, but I think… I hope… this week’s rising temperatures will soon be melting our six inches of heavy snow into puddles and mud. It’s not that I like mud, of course, but it’s an inevitable forerunner of springtime, and now that the Olympics are over, I have my sight set on spring.

There are plenty of indoor projects that could use my attention, but if I can’t do what I want to do, then I might not choose to do anything. Yes, I’m reading books and organizing a manuscript, and for a writer those are valid, even necessary, occupations. But this ornery weather is putting a pucker in my seasonal intentions. It’s allowing me to procrastinate when I shouldn’t. I think I need to start a list.

I’m being flippant. If I procrastinate, the worst thing that might happen is a few tasks will be put off for another time. Is that a bad thing? Probably not, although it sets a bad precedent. Then again, I’m retired and schedules are a thing of the past, so who’s going to care? I do have a routine of sorts — things I do each morning — but beyond that the day is my own.

Hmm… not entirely true. If I were in charge of my day’s activities, I’d be gardening in the snow today, and that’s not going to happen. Ah, well… patience! The snow will eventually melt. I’ve never met a summer that was chilling under six inches of snow.

Do you procrastinate? Does it matter?

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Repetition: Reinforcing or Boring?

BlogBlankYesterday my husband brought in a pussywillow branch he had discovered on his daily walk with the dog. I was ecstatic! Yes, he brings me one almost every year, but I never tire of seeing this early hint of springtime in the wings.

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I regularly rejoice about pussywillows. (If you doubt it, I can point you to a number of previous posts such as this one, and this one, too.) I’m not exactly sure what their attraction is. They aren’t nearly as pretty as unfurling pink-tinged Helleborus buds  or  petite Snowdrops with their nodding white heads. I suspect it has something to do with the contradictory nature of their silken hardiness. It probably helps that since my childhood and beyond, they have never failed to appear with their springtime promise, despite late season snowfalls such as we had yesterday. You’d think I’d grow accustomed to their annual appearance instead of going on and on about it, but I never do. (I’ll stop now, before you start muttering about how boring I am.)

Repetition has its uses. For the child constantly reminded to ‘stop, look and listen’ before crossing a street, it can get boring, but the repetition hammers the message home and helps keep him safe on the way to school. For choir members who don’t read music, many repetitions of a new song eventually cement the melody and harmony into a cohesive unit… a creation suitable for performance.

Repetition reveals old things in a new light, and it provides emphasis. At my writers’ group yesterday I was reminded that I often need to hear the same message, and read the same advice multiple times but from different sources, before I finally ‘get it’.

Writers also know there are no new plots — nothing that hasn’t been written about before — so we keep producing new stories by putting our unique spin on the same old themes.

The reappearing pussywillow? I suppose it’s a visible reminder of God’s endless promises…

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat, summer and winter,
day and night, shall not cease.”

[Genesis 8:22]

“… His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

[Lamentations 3:23]

How have you experienced repetition? Has it been a positive or a negative?

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Just bearing with it!

For all of the almost-seventeen years we’ve lived in this rural neighbourhood, we’ve coexisted with the wildlife. The deer eat some of our garden plants which I replace with ones they don’t like. The coyotes occasionally keep us awake at night, and raccoons play Peeping Tom through the patio doors. A few closer-than-desirable encounters with bears on our deck are memorable, but there’s never been any real problems.

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We’ve learned to remove the birdfeeders before bears come out of hibernation in the spring, and to keep the temptation of garbage to a minimum. The acreage isn’t fenced, but we have a fenced dog yard, and in one nook  next to the house garbage cans have been contained in a wooden bin. Only recently did a bear decide to brave the dog scent and scale the fence to investigate the garbage.

Apparently on Friday night he had a midnight craving for our leftovers. I had words with him when he began flinging the cans against the house in an effort to dislodge their secured lids.

The phrase ‘Mexican standoff’ comes to mind. He ignored me, but he didn’t get the lids off, either. However he did manage to pry them up far enough to drag the contents out onto the ground before they snapped closed again. When I rapped on the window above his head and flashed the lights at him, he eventually ambled away… towing a couple of the garbage bags with him as he clambered over the fence, through the back yard and into the bush. Of course the bags snagged on the fence so the resulting mess was greater than if I’d left him to his munching undisturbed.

One day I’ll learn. In the meantime the garbage cans have taken up residence inside the garage where I must edge my way around them en route to the car, because there is absolutely no extra space in our garage. If you could do a better job of organizing our truck, van, Model A, lawn tractor, snow blower, fifth-wheel trailer hitch, freezer, pump organ, work bench and garden tools… well, you’re welcome to try… but that’s why the garbage bins were outside in the first place. I think I’m resigned to just bearing with it until winter freeze-up and hibernation begin again.

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Bits of joy on the journey

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.

Mother Teresa

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Bunchberries are native wildflowers that grow in our woods. Related to Dogwoods, they have a similar cluster of tiny individual flowers in the centre, surrounded by four white bracts. Once the bracts die and fall away, the centre flowers develop into a cluster of red berries which are enjoyed by our birds. In the fall the overlapping whorl of six leaves turn a bronzy red.

Bunchberries are popular as a slow-growing ground cover, but I like them because they survive on their own in the acidic mulch and moist shade under our evergreen trees. I like them because they delight me and inspire joy every time I come across their beauty en route to the marsh. When I’m focused on the destination they remind me to appreciate the journey.

Do you have a favourite wildflower? Do your characters encounter wildflowers in any of your stories?

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Take Joy

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Sometimes it takes a little effort

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Holidays don’t count, do they? I mean, if I pledge to write every day, I’m still entitled to take holidays off, aren’t I?

Today is Victoria Day in Canada… it’s always the last Monday before May 25, a federal holiday when we commemorate Queen Victoria‘s birthday and also honour the official birthday of the current reigning sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. I’m not sure how many people could relate the reason behind the holiday, but it’s a long weekend, considered by many to be a precursor of summer, and that’s reason enough to celebrate.

It’s time to dig through the closet for our sandals, clean up the barbecue and set out lawn furniture. This is a NO WORK weekend, right? Then again, if I want to eat, I’m going to have to do a little food prep first… probably take a trip to the market. Oh, and I’ll need to stop for gas. The more I think about it, the more people I realize will still be working this weekend, if only to accommodate those of us who won’t be.

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Making an effort!

Before I retired I worked as a professional dog show secretary, and dog shows were often held on holiday weekends. The exhibitors loved it because they were off work and could attend. I, on the other hand, had to put a great deal of effort into getting out of bed at 5:00 a.m. to make sure everything was ready for the start of each day’s event. Anyone who knows me well will remember my infamous fridge magnet: “I would like mornings better if they started at some other time of the day.” I am definitely not a morning person. But I made the effort because people were counting on me.

If it weren’t that I love playing with words and concocting fiction I could think of all kinds of excuses for not writing… not just this weekend, but anytime. I’ll bet you could, too. Procrastination is a ravenous monster; give in to it just a little and it will devour all our good intentions.

So yes, I’ll be writing today. Maybe not a significant chunk of my current w.i.p., but enough to keep the creative juices flowing. First I’ll make notes in my journal, toy with a few phrases in preparation for Wednesday’s blog post, and read over an article that I drafted last week. I may have to stretch myself a bit to find the motivation, but eventually I’ll get into the ‘groove’ and  words will begin to spill out. The reward will be well worth the little extra holiday effort!

Do you take days off from your writing? How do you regain your momentum?

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Just slug it out

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Springtime brings everything back to life and I relish all the new growth and bright blossoms. Mother’s Day weekend is my traditional time to visit the local nursery and select bedding plants for hanging baskets and deck tubs, plus a few for the garden bed near the front door. Over the next few days I harden them off and usually before the following weekend I begin the process of planting everything.

Yesterday was a perfect planting day, 20C. with hazy sunshine and a forecast for rain showers to follow. I prepared my containers, mixed in some fresh soil and set out the plants. Geraniums, of course. Doesn’t every sun-loving container have to have a bright shot of their colour? A dracena to add height and spiky contrast. A sweet potato vine for each pot, and some cheery calibrachoa. Then I reached for a pot of dark red verbena, and…

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Yuck! Where did he come from, I wondered. I doubt he made it to the top level of my deck on his own, so I suspect he was an unpurchased bonus from the nursery. Garden slugs, or gastropod mollusks, are relatively common in damp west coast gardens. I tend to ignore them unless they’re feasting on one of my favourite hostas. But I neither expect nor tolerate them in my deck containers!

I spent some time trying to decide what to do with him. Most gardeners would advocate a quick demise. I suggested he Get. Out. Of. There. while I was still feeling squeamish about it. And it looked like he was trying. However, he was dreadfully slow and I really wanted to get that verbena planted, so I gave him a little help and tossed him over the railing with the flick of my garden trowel.

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Later when I went for the hose I discovered he was still where he’d landed… on the gravel path. That’s when I remembered he wouldn’t be able to maneuver across the warm, dry rocks. While slugs aren’t the kind of wildlife that endear themselves to me, I admit to feeling a little guilty for causing him so much discomfort. I flipped him over into the grass and watered him a bit with the hose. I’m not sure, but I think I heard him murmur, “Thanks, chum.” Or maybe it was, “Thanks, chump.” He’ll probably devour a hosta tonight.

It’s amazing how long it can take to get a job done when there are interruptions. I’m sure I lost a good half-hour of planting time thanks to my slimy intruder. (We won’t consider the time spent on trips to the fridge for a Diet Coke, or how often I sat down to take just a few moments’ break.) The containers did eventually get done, but dinner was late.

When I think of interruptions I am reminded of all the excuses I use to procrastinate about writing. Like gardening, I love it, but too often something entices me away and slows the process. My best bet is to allot a specific time, then sit down and  just slug it out. (Is that a pun?)

Some interruptions are easier to deal with than others. How do you handle them during your writing?

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