Some Things are Beyond My Control

The above title is a cliche. I know it and I’m sorry, but the statement is true. Too often the phrase is used as an excuse to explain why we’re unable to fulfil a commitment. In my case, this week it came to mind because of an advertisement that insists on popping up in this space, not once but in several spots, and it reappears in multiples almost every day. I finally complained to WordPress when one visitor told me it “grossed her out;” it looked like worms protruding from an ear or a rectum! Yuck!

The WP gurus explained the ads are generated automatically and said, “We do block a lot of ad types in categories like violence, sex, and drugs, among others, but some do slip through the cracks and sometimes it’s quite beyond our control.” This particular ad doesn’t fit into any of those categories, so I doubt they’ll do anything about it. Therefore, its appearance here is beyond my control as well.

Then again, that’s only partly true, because I have the option of switching to a paid version of WP without ads instead of using this free one. If and when the day comes that my writing becomes a commercial endeavour, I will do that. Then a professional website will be desirable. But for now my blogging is only a writing-related hobby so I’m resigned to the ads. If only they weren’t so tasteless!

Thinking about control reminds me that there are many things in our lives that we can’t control. For instance, there isn’t much we can do about certain kinds of violence or accidents caused by other people, even when we may be severely affected by them. We do our part — use common sense, avoid potentially dangerous situations, drive defensively — but despite that, sometimes “bad things happen to good people.” (Another cliche.)

We don’t have much control when it comes to some aspects of our writing, either. We control what we put onto the page, but we have no say in how those words will be received by those who read them. If we send off manuscripts to agents or publisher, we have no power to elicit positive responses from them (or to elicit any response at all).

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” said Charles R. Swindoll.*

And that’s the answer. Attitude is everything…and the only thing we can control. In any difficult situation we do what we can, then get on with living, whether it be with resignation or hopefulness. If you are a person of faith as I am, you add prayer to the mix. In any case, we have to move on.

When it comes to disgusting ads, I will continue to report them, hoping to make a difference. In accident, illness or limitations, I would hope to continue with activities within my level of ability. In the submission process, I’ll continue to write new words as I wait. After all, no matter what it brings, stepping into tomorrow is a wondrous adventure.

It’s all about attitude.

~  ~  ~

 

*Christian pastor, author, educator, and founder of Insight for Living

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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)

~  ~  ~

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.)

Preparing to Write

I’m with Aristotle, at least when it comes to creative achievement: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” I don’t do New Year’s resolutions because I’ve learned from years of experience that making them sets me up for failure and discouragement.

So it is with my writing; I’m not likely ever going to change my natural creative rhythms. I’ve learned that working with them is more productive than fighting to overcome them.  Identifying my optimum writing time was an important discovery. I’m definitely not a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me: my brain takes a long time to wake up. So I’ve accepted that mornings are better used for devotions, journalling, and/or social media.

My best time to write is in the evening … the late evening. When the day’s routines are over and the house is quiet, nothing needs me except my manuscript. There are no time constraints so if the words don’t flow quickly, it doesn’t matter. Nobody is around to pressure me. In the blackness beyond the windows, the world sleeps. At least, most of it does.

There are the occasional late night visitors, but, while admittedly they’re a distraction, they don’t create much of a disturbance.

I don’t write as long into the night as I once did — the older I get the more sleep I seem to need — but I can still produce more words in an hour after midnight than I can during a daytime hour.

Location is important, too. I need a quiet place so I can hear the voices in my head. (Did I just admit to hearing voices???) I have a well-equipped office where I can close the door if need be, but the recliner in our family room usually draws me at night. Part of the problem in my office is the clutter. I can’t seem to be creative if my space (or my mind) is full of unrelated messiness, and my office usually is.

Decluttering is probably my single most effective aid to writing. I’d do it more often except one thing leads to another when it comes to my office, and I could spend the entire day in there, trying to organize the piles of paper, books and photos. Setting a time limit on tidying or any other preliminary activity would help, but when I’m in the mood to write it’s far easier to choose a location that doesn’t require preparation. Hence, the family room wins at night.

LL Barkat has a recent post that inspired me to think more about mental decluttering. (Simple tricks to make space for your writing) I think I’ll head back over there and reread it. I could use some extra inspiration today. How about you?

~  ~  ~

 

Conference Reflections

It’s been a week and I still haven’t quite recovered (but it’s all good).

Waaaaaaaay back in 2004 I attended my first writing conference with a dear friend, Earlene Luke. At the time, given how much it cost, I was pretty sure it would be a one-shot thing, but two years later my daughter Shari Green was attending her first and convinced me to register again. Last weekend we counted up the years we’ve attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference since then and were surprised to find it took more than two hands to do the tally — this was my twelfth year and Shari’s eleventh.

Maybe we would have stopped after the first ones if our experience had been merely enjoyable, but it was and continues to be exceptional.

We’re both more-than-a-little introverted, so it takes significant effort to psych ourselves up to step into the crowd of hundreds who attend every year. But once we do, the four-day whirlwind of shared workshops and master classes, keynote speakers, banquets and socializing sweeps us up and carries us on a high that lasts for months afterwards.

With more than fifty presenters (authors, agents, editors, publishers and screenwriters) and the opportunity to choose from over eighty workshops in ten time slots, plus all the extras that fill the evenings, it would be easy to be overwhelmed, and indeed we do come home exhausted and with ‘information overload’.

But it’s more than a whole weekend sharing the ultimate writers’ learning experience with one’s ‘tribe’ that makes it worthwhile. It’s the atmosphere created by so much kindness, helpfulness and mutual respect shown by both seasoned professionals and novice writers. There is no ‘us and them’ at this conference. There is a unique camaraderie that stems from a shared passion for writing.

Besides all that, it’s a fabulous mother-daughter writing weekend retreat. 🙂

I’ve never really been able to afford this indulgence — I’d hate to add up the dollars I’ve spent through the years — but at the same time I’ve discovered I really can’t afford not to go. It’s a professional development opportunity like none other! Kudos to all the SiWC organizers for providing this superb conference year after year.

Now it’s time to take a deep breath, pour myself a coffee (or maybe a glass of wine) and go put this year’s accumulation of knowledge and enthusiasm to work.

~  ~  ~

 

A Musician Wannabe (and Denise Jaden’s cover reveal)

I’m a musician wannabe. My smattering of mid-life piano lessons left me able to stumble through a piece of music well enough to discern the tune, but not well enough to keep up if someone wanted to sing along. How I fell into being a church choir director for almost nineteen years is a story all its own, but sufficient to say, it fed my love of music even if it didn’t provide any additional proficiency. Maybe it also contributed to why I like inside peeks at what life is like for musicians.


I have a cousin who is the lead singer for the classic rock group ‘Trooper’. When Ra McGuire wrote HERE FOR A GOOD TIME: On the Road with Trooper, Canada’s Legendary Rock Band (Insomniac Press 2006), I loved being immersed in his experiences on tour.


Then I discovered Denise Jaden’s LIVING OUT LOUD YA series. There are currently six titles available, with a seventh coming soon. Today Denise reveals its cover:

The synopsis of PAPARAZZI:
Eli and the band can barely believe they’ve made it so far on the Hold That Note reality show, but thanks to Kass’s vision, they’re some of the last few competitors. Unfortunately, the profoundly-talented Fennel Winthrop has taken a liking to Eli, and with the amiable part they have to play in public, coupled with all of Kass’s insecurities surfacing in the wings, Kass and Eli can’t seem to hold a relationship together.

When the band expresses concerns about Eli’s focus, Kass and Eli are forced to keep their distance from each other. Kass focuses on her new job in order to be able to stay in town, while Eli gives his all to his band and the show.

But his all, without Kass by his side to inspire him, may not be enough.

You can pre-order Paparazzi today!

~

While the LIVING OUT LOUD series is aimed at the young adult market, I’ve found the stories and characters intriguing. Perhaps it’s the fangirl in me — the wannabe musician, if you like — but there are complexities of both plot and personalities that make this an engaging series.

~  ~  ~

Tenth Anniversary Post

WordPress sent me a reminder that I joined the blogging community ten years ago today.

Ten Years! Wow! I guess that must say something about my stick-to-it-ness. It definitely says something about my ‘followers’ — all 850 of you. I’m amazed at your fortitude as you’ve stuck with me through 1,145 not-particularly-illustrious posts (beginning with the very first one when I became visible here). You deserve a bouquet.

I have no idea what the next decade may bring, but I’ll continue with my Musings and Mental Meanderings and see where they take me. I hope you’ll continue to join me on the journey.

~

“I choose joy…
I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance.

I will refuse the temptation to be cynical…
the tool of the lazy thinker.
I will refuse to see people
as anything less than human beings,
created by God.
I will refuse to see any problem
as anything less than an opportunity
to see God.”
[Max Lucado]

~