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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Making Excuses

I missed a week! Lost it entirely. Earlier in the week I looked ahead on the calendar and was sure today would be July 8. Then, during a recent family telephone conversation, the arrival of mid-July this weekend was mentioned. Oops!

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Perhaps I was preoccupied by the church’s steak barbecue that was happening here last Saturday evening. Fifty-three people had signed up for the annual event and, although a committee does the grocery shopping and food preparation, there were still gardens to spiffy up and housecleaning to do in preparation.

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I’ve mentioned our gardens before. Our two-plus acres are surrounded by woods, and much of our gardening takes the form of constantly pushing back the buttercups, ferns, salal and assorted cedar seedlings. It’s an ongoing battle to keep the wildness at bay.

It’s not that we haven’t attempted to civilize the gardens. Through the years we’ve dutifully added trees, shrubs and perennials that are known to prefer our shady, acidic soil. They prefer it so well they quickly overgrow the beds and mingle happily with the wildness. We’re resigned to the ‘au natural’ look.

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Distracting me from the gardening and housework has been the near culmination of another writing project I’ve been working on periodically for several years. I’ve been compiling and editing a book containing all the sermons of the late Reverend Kris Davidson. I took a hiatus to work on the church history, but since publishing that last year, I’ve turned my focus back to the book, which is finally done. At least, the compilation and editing parts are done. Now it’s been draft-printed and the line-by-line proofreading is underway. That is the slowest part of the whole job!

And that is essentially what kept me from realizing I’d missed posting anything last week. So here I am, making excuses. I’m afraid excuses don’t make the best of blog posts, but it’s this or nothing. Hey, I provided garden photos. That’s something, isn’t it?😉

 

Uncomfortable Visibility (or, An Introvert’s Woes)

With each passing year I am increasingly surprised at my endurance here. This morning WordPress reminded me today is this blog’s eighth anniversary. My 1,086 posts during those years average more than two-and-a-half posts a week.

My Bio warns that musings here may wander through my assorted realms of interest, and they certainly have, although most have ended up relating in some way to a writing theme, because writing was my initial reason for creating this internet residence. After writing devotionals and occasional magazine articles sporadically for years, I finally moved into fiction and needed a different audience — a new kind of visibility.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 9.10.56 PMI don’t have a huge following here — WordPress tells me the total is 667 — but I’ve appreciated the cyber friendships that have developed both here and on Facebook.  The visibility that I referred to in that first post eight years ago, has been relatively painless because of them.

Other writers might understand the reluctance with which I embarked on this online journey. I’ve discovered many, like me, are introverts. Like my backyard ursine visitors, we’d prefer to remain unnoticed … to view the world’s activity from a safe and somewhat unobtrusive distance.

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The very definition of visibility indicates why it isn’t a welcoming situation for us. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary explains it as…

  • the ability to see or be seen
  • the quality or state of being known to the public

But I’ve forced myself into other beyond-my-comfort-zone situations through the years, knowing that in order to achieve a particular goal, I had to overcome my hesitancy. When I think about some of those situations, I am encouraged  by the realization that I can do things I once believed weren’t possible.

  • establish a business that involved interacting with and being depended upon by hundreds of people
  • accept public accolades from an astronaut, and subsequently be interviewed by newspaper and magazine reporters about my role in his life
  • act as a consultant in the making of a major motion picture
  • be the theme speaker at a community youth convention

Life is all about growth. I may not have actually ‘enjoyed’ every growth opportunity, but I recognized the necessity of stretching to do a job; plus there were benefits. I gained satisfaction from getting involved in something new and from doing the job as well as I could.

So now I continue on my writing journey, blogging my way into another year while also working on assorted writing projects. My thanks to those of you who have stayed connected with me here and on Facebook. I truly appreciate your faithfulness and support.

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Honestly…I DO like birds

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I love birds; I really do. But the last couple years a pair of juncoes have decided they would like to nest in the hanging basket on the deck beside our patio door. I’m sorry, guys, but IT’S THE WRONG PLACE. I have significant time and money invested in that basket and I need to be able to water it daily, fertilize it weekly and regularly deadhead its blooms.

They don’t care. They also apparently don’t care that my hubby barbecues underneath it, that our table is frequently occupied under the umbrella beside it, or that there can be significant activity on the deck around it. For instance, a few weeks from now there will be about sixty people milling around during our annual church barbecue.

We tried surveyor’s tape, fluttering a discouragement. Then we tried hiding the basket out of sight.

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Now it’s temporarily covered by an old apron, barricading against their nest-building access during times when we aren’t around to guard it.

 

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They don’t seem interested in the tubs that sit on the deck — not that I’d want them there either — it’s just the hanging baskets that appeal. They fly in, burrow between the plants and excavate a hole into which they start importing their building material, leaving remnants on the deck underneath. The splats they leave on the window as they come and go aren’t desirable either.

It’s not as if there aren’t other nearby nesting places available to them. We live amidst trees. Lots of them. It’s a forest, for goodness sakes! There’s even a nesting box. But, no, they are persistent. Well, guess what. So am I. If I’m not, there will soon be eggs and babies, and at that point I wouldn’t have the heart to dislodge them. My basket will soon look pathetic as the heat dries it out and kills the plants. So for now I must be vigilant. Sorry, little juncoes, but GO AWAY.

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I tried to extricate a writing analogy from all this, but the only one that comes to mind is the need for persistence. In the goal for publication we first need to research the right places — appropriate agents or publishing houses — and then keep sending out queries until the ideal match is made.

Now if these juncoes would learn that lesson, too, we’d all be happy.

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JUNE 17 UPDATE:

It seems we managed to discourage their occupancy of our hanging baskets, only to redirect their efforts to the deck tubs. Sometime between dawn and 8:00 a.m. they managed to almost complete the construction of a nest in the centre of one tub. ::sigh:: Really, guys, this is taking persistence to a ridiculous level!

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Awaiting a Transformation: Butterflies, Bathrooms and Books

Butterflies returned to our garden this week. I see them flitting from one bright bloom to another. This one’s favourite spot to hover seems to be the lilac bush beside our back deck.

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I’ve been hovering out there a lot, too, escaping the dust and noise of the bathroom renovation inside. Not that it’s been a negative experience … the renovation has been going smoothly, well supervised by the cheerful and very efficient contractor. It’s the disruption of our usual household routine, having people coming and going every day, and trying to maintain separation between our curious Labrador and the busy workmen.

This weekend, as work winds to a conclusion, we have a second Labrador here — we’re dog sitting — and she isn’t so much curious as she is affronted at strangers being allowed in our house. We keep shushing her barks and assuring her that they are no longer strangers to us, and they’re creating something new and beautiful out of our twenty-five year old bathroom. Like the butterfly, it has undergone a metamorphosis. (You’re going to be subjected to photos next week.)

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Metamorphosis is a fascinating process (at least, in butterflies, although there are similarities with our bathroom).

First, an egg has to be produced, the larva or caterpillar has to hatch and be nurtured. Then it must pupate while the transformation takes place. And finally, after about a month, the adult butterfly emerges.

In our bathroom metamorphosis, the seed of an idea was first produced, followed by a period of planning, researching products, and finding a contractor. Then we watched and waited as the actual transformation happened. Finally, almost a month later, we’re about to reveal the finished room.

Interesting … it occurs to me that writing a book is a whole lot like this same process. Granted, a book takes me considerably longer than a month to produce, but in due time it comes to fruition. Now, if I could always ensure the end result would be as lovely as my bathroom or the butterfly, I’d be content!:)

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Hanging on to the Inconsequential

They’re scattered everywhere, and at our house if you get up in the middle of the night as I occasionally do, you really need to watch your step.

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I’m quite partial to the décor choices of interior designer Candice Olson. Until her television program, ‘Divine Design’, moved to a channel we don’t get, I watched it faithfully. I also ‘like’ her Facebook page. On it today was a post about a bedroom she decorated, with an explanation of its features:

“To add warmth and personality to this bedroom, we snuggled a settee between two cabinets. Not only did this settee allow us to introduce interesting fabrics and visual warmth in the space, but it serves as that perfectly placed bed pillow catcher!”

That’s when it struck me. Why have we fallen into the decorating trap of piling pillows everywhere?

Before my hubby and I can crawl into bed each night, we must first remove seven pillows. Seven! There’s a pair with quilted shams that match our duvet, another colour-matched sleep-sized pair, two smaller hand stitched matelassé ones plus a square accent cushion.

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Cushions on our living room and family room couches look nice, but every time I sit down I first have to re-arrange them to make room. Often as not they end up on the floor.

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So what purpose do they serve? Other than adding a pretty splash of colour, I’m not convinced of their value, but I can’t imagine tossing them out. They may be a nuisance, but I’m used to them. They’re part of the décor.

In some ways it’s a little like useless passages in our writing – bits of description, mundane dialogue, interesting but unimportant scenes – all inconsequential and irrelevant as far as moving the story forward. They’re of no value but we like writing them and they can be hard to cut. We’ve all heard the saying, “Kill your darlings.” So, should we be ruthless in eliminating them, or does it really matter?

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Does God do it on purpose?

I’m convinced He does … do it on purpose, that is. With the arrival of every spring season I comment constantly on the wonderful progression of new colours.

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Winters on the southwest coast of Canada aren’t extreme, and, while my lawns may remain green throughout, full of moss as they are, deciduous branches everywhere are bare. The woods are stark, the marsh beige and lifeless. The underbrush along roadsides is brown with last summer’s dead grasses and ferns, and rain falls frequently, dampening everything to a grey sodden mess.

Out of the dirt and winter debris of our late January garden poke spiky little green tips from which nodding white snowdrops emerge. On our property they are always the first hint of the coming new season.  They’re delicate … a quiet transition from the winter landscape. From then on, we start discovering a green haze that begins to spread through the woods and gardens. I love all the new greens in their fresh shades of lime and harlequin and chartreuse playing among the darker evergreens. Every spring I exclaim over how many different shades of green there are.

Suddenly I begin discovering splashes of non-green and white shades. Mostly yellows and pinks and purples. Hellebores and Daphne.  Crocuses, Daffodils, Forsythia. Cherry blossoms and Magnolia. (Not all in my yard, you understand, but throughout the community.)

I’m convinced God intended this succession of colours and blooming times. It’s as if He knew we needed a gradual handover from bleakness to beauty, testing and tantalizing our senses with pastels before the bold and brash colours are ready to burst upon us.

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Tulips and Iris, and the dependable Rhododendrons and Azaleas are just arriving now … later springtime surprises. It’s wonderful!  God is much better at planning the seasonal colours than I am at planning a story. He’s such a well organized artist!

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