"By taking small, seemingly insignificant actions in the direction of our goals and dreams (baby steps), we can quickly create changes which not only lessen the symptoms of depression but can also bring more energy, hope and vitality into our daily lives." Michael Neill
"Remember that motion keeps the left side of the brain busy, while the right side is free to wander uncensored and imaginative.".
Does that mean I get to put away all of the new stuff I'm working on and get back to my favourite project again? Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun!
"When you're reading a story with powerful narrative drive, you are besieged with the feeling that something is about to happen ... and so you tag along, eager to see what happens next."Though I thought I had done enough research on story arc these past few years, something about that definition put me into drive. It reminded me of that feeling I got when I suddenly found the friction point on the clutch while struggling with my father's repeated advice at the age of 16. Reading the Kite Runner also served as an excellent reminder of what a book is supposed to do for the reader. Books like these should come with little chains that readers can attach to their belt loops when life gets in the way of story time.
"I have these periods of efficiency, I could go all night and my mind is racing with the thoughts of what I need to do. It all seems possible, and then suddenly...I lose it. I keep working, but the fire isn't there."
"Mother Nature has a secret, a period in every month where she facilitates verbal memory and creative energy. Even eating takes a backseat so that our minds can keep focused on our goals. Peaking estrogen facilitates the ease with which our words 'pop' into our brains."While Mother Nature's goal may be for me to talk cutesy with my husband in order to continue populating the earth, it is plain to see that the Venus Week is also a good time to hunker down and write. Perhaps this is also a time to break away from proofreading and editing commitments in order to make time for filling those WRITE SCENE holes that pepper my manuscript. If what Booth says is true, I should be aiming for "Venus Maximus" and writing as much as I can, while my body is busy preparing to get fertile.
I've been waiting for a creative impulse to trigger my next blog entry. I'm still not sure blogging is exactly the right word for the type of writing I'm doing in this space, but personal essay sounds so rigid as if it should have pickles, sauce, lettuce, and cheese every time. Yet I don't like the guilty feeling that comes with not blogging regularly. From what I've read, people don't come back unless you blog on a daily or weekly basis. I know that this isn't entirely true, since the two main blogs I follow are not perfect regulars. One had a baby and the other took a 9 month sabbatical. I still checked in with both often during their time away, desperate for those voices that had become familiar friends. I browsed through their archives for gems I had missed and read past comments to find inspiring links.
My own blogs are slow to surface, not just because procrastination comes naturally to me, but because sometimes you must simply wait for an idea to incubate before blurting it out. Inspiration usually starts with a feeling and then a quote or a passage from a book I'm reading. Then a family member or a friend will do or say something that helps me realize I'm heading in the right direction. Perhaps this post is my messy way of defining my own creative impulse. Personal narrative doesn't come from one place, and it doesn't like to be forced. I need time and space to breathe and get away from an idea after it comes to me before I write it down for others to experience. I guess it's the same with fiction, though I also subscribe to the butt in chair philosophy.
The ideas that go into my stories often come to me on Sundays, though I rarely, if ever get any actual writing done on the weekend. Anyone who has braved our house on a Sunday knows it's my day to do the bear minimum. This often means pouring cereal for the kids and gathering a pile of library books around me until bedtime. Then again, I often get a creative itch on Sundays. You might assume I'm just reading in the sunroom, but when you get close you find me painting a hippo for the bathroom or knitting a toque for an unborn child. You might find you have to search for me out in the yard where an art attack may already be in post production thanks to the dance of a two year old.
If you look around our home closely you'll find evidence of Sunday projects here and there, some finished and others left as rough drafts in a pocket or craft box. Sometimes I wish every day could be Sunday, like a child who doesn't want her summer vacation to come to an end. But then I remind myself that I'd miss that September feeling that comes each time I turn on my computer after my lazy weekend.
"It should be evident by now that to be maximally creative, the most important prerequisite is finding your way to a state of inner solitude, a secure dimension of rest deep in your spirit or pysche that provides a firm platform for imaginative work." Thomas Kinkade
As a young child I had to wait my turn to get the front seat. This was before airbags and booster seats, in a day when some of our friends looked at my dad funny when he asked them to buckle up. I loved sitting close to my mom and the radio, where the windows rolled down more than half way and the cigarette smoke whooshed out instead of going up your nose.
In elementary school I was always one of the shortest kids, which secured me a place in the front bleachers for things like class pictures and choir recitals. But as I got older and caught up with the crowd, I learned to blend in. It was then that I started to choose seats at the back. First on the yellow bus in grade seven and eight and then on the city bus to high school. I often think about Finite class in my final year, where I sat at the back near my boyfriend's posse. It was the first class I almost failed, and I knew I'd need to move away from the giggles and note passing if I wanted to pass. For about a week or so I did take a seat up at the front, but I dropped out soon after that, unable to handle life in the trenches. By the time I got to university I was an expert at living my back seat life. I'd choose the furthest seat from the professors, where no one would possibly expect me to raise my hand or speak out. And, most recently, after returning to church as an adult, I picked the furthest seat from the minister, where my children and I couldn't possibly cause a scene.
A few months ago though, one of the other church mothers invited me to sit with her after the kids went down to the Sunday school. I grabbed the coats and followed her all the way to the first pew.
"I never sit at the front," I whispered, taking the seat next to her.
"Really? My kids like to sit right where the action is," she said, with a smile that showed she wanted to be there too.
Action, I wanted to laugh, but she was right. This was where the action was. Besides being able to hear everything that was said and done, we were right there when the power point broke and the organist was forced to improvise. We could even hear the panic in the substitute minister's whisper. Should she try to kill time since the Sunday school kids were late for communion? This is where a writer belongs, I thought to myself.
On a bus trip a few weeks ago, I tried the front seat again. At first when I stepped on I walked to the back as I normally would. I placed my knapsack on the seat next to me and stretched out as big as I could in hopes that no other human would sit next to me. But as the Greyhound weaved through the first mountain pass, I felt my stomach going with it. I had no choice but to move closer to the front of the bus. This time, with my stomach still queasy, I chose the first seat right behind the driver, where a giant window filled my row with sunlight. Though at first I felt a bit like the teacher's pet up so close to the driver, by the second stop I was confident I had made the right decision. The space and the view inspired me to work diligently on my current work-in-progress, while the soft voice of the driver lulled me to sleep after a broken reading light forced my books to close.
It was at Vancouver's most popular Starbucks where I found myself standing at the back again. I ordered a medium coffee, and then shrugged as the young girl looked at me is if I had given the wrong answer. When she had written something on a cup I went over and stood by a counter, where I thought customers waited for beverages. A few minutes passed and nobody offered me my drink. Back at the service counter I arrived just in time to see the barista pour my coffee down the drain.
"I thought you left," she said, when I reminded her what I had ordered.
"I thought I was supposed to wait back there," I said, pointing around the corner. She shook her head at me and passed me a fresh cup.
As I drank my bitter grande on the city bus to Grandma's, I hoped no one had seen my small town blunder. I was at the back again, or at least close to the back doors, where I spent most of the ride wishing people wouldn't pollute my space with their cell phone conversations. It wasn't until my grandfather led me into their suite that I realized the true importance of choosing the right seat. There sat my beautiful dying grandmother, in my grandfather's chair. The same chair we had wrestled him in for years while he pretended to read his newspaper. The chair where he had taught me to whistle, and where there was a little mousy that ran way up there. This was the place where he had enjoyed his morning coffee and afternoon snooze ever day of his life. Yet here, for the first time was Grandma, half her usual size, stretched out in her husband's throne.
"We all have a thousand stories, and my life has had no more or fewer than others. But stories, carefully chosen and shaped both by the teller and the listener, can open gateways into our interior landscape, can reveal the meaning in our lives enfolded in the details and unfold in the telling and conscious contemplation." Oriah M. Dreamer
Since reading Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth, and watching some of the online classes, I have been waking up fully rested. Bedtime and wake up calls remain the same, but a strange sense of timelessness has taken over my life. I have also been experiencing nature in a new way. I see birds I once would have ignored, and hear their songs even when I'm indoors. Call me crazy, but I get this odd feeling that the birds are seeing me in a new way too. They circle close and dance playfully above our weary forsythia almost as though they sense my new presence.
In one of the early classes, Tolle recommends imagining yourself as a deep lake. The surface of the lake is the external events that happen, good times and bad. Below the surface is the real you—calm, deep, and full of life, regardless of any storms above. Just as we are not our job, our illness, our family roles, Tolle reminds us that we are not the rough tides we encounter. We can enjoy more depth in our lives by accepting and living in the present moment instead of thinking or worrying about the windy days of our past and future.
There are plenty of aha moments to be had from these teachings, but like some of the other millions who've jumped on this Oprahwagon I'm still leery about giving up my thinking life. Tolle's caution against the human tendency for labeling everything had me feeling extremely self-conscious of my love of words, both as a mother and as a writer. He suggests that, as adults, we take a little bit of magic away from our children by labeling everything. Though I have always taken special enjoyment in teaching my children the names of everything we come across on our walks, I have never once considered that assigning every flower, tree, or animal with a man made word could rob my little beings of a true life experience.
In my skepticism I decided to experiment. During our first visit to the beach this spring, I caught myself about to point and say "lake" to my one year old. I became aware of my need to name the beautiful thing we were standing before and stopped myself in time. I knelt down next to him and waited for his reaction to the beach after a long winter. "Pretty" he said, pointing at the lake. He picked up some rocks and crashed them together. Then he threw one in and clapped at the sound. Instead of saying, "rock," I picked one up myself and threw it in, pausing to listen to the sound of the plop just as he did. We threw rock after rock and then danced to the honking geese. Eventually it was time to drag my son back to the stroller, and we both reluctantly waved good-bye at "pretty." When I got over the uncomfortableness of calling a noun an adjective, I took a deep breath and realized what had happened. For the first time in my adult life I had seen Mother Nature in her birthday suit.
As I sit next to my Cranberry Mandarin candle jotting blogger thoughts in my notebook, I can't help but imagine all of the other writers out there spending Earth Hour in a similar way. I can almost hear their laptops shutting down and their pens hitting the page. Reflecting by candlelight is hardly a sacrifice for a writer on a Saturday night. Right now I am picturing writers around the world coming to life. They are filling empty pages with their favorite colored pens, pausing often to take in the pleasure of silence and the flickering light. I see them sitting on floor pillows in their writer's dens surrounded by books written by writers who, long ago, had no other way of creating their stories in the evening hours but by candlelight. I imagine all writers as earth lovers. After all, these are the people who are desperate to learn all of the names of the trees, and flowers, and birds in other people's backyards.
Not only does this hour make me think that most writers are probably earth huggers, but I think all children, with the smallest of nudges, could be too. When I told Jackson that she couldn't have her reading light on tonight because of Earth Hour, she didn't complain, but instead suggested we unplug her night light as well. She helped me go around the house and turn off all of the power bars, making sure to point out any red lights from appliances that she spotted. How easy it was to convince a four-year-old to be good to the Earth, even without her understanding its endangered future.
Earth Hour to me feels a little bit like Christmas morning when you know people around the world are doing similar things. Millions of us told the Earth how much we cared today, and millions of us felt good while doing it. Surely, we could all benefit from this do good feeling for more than an hour a year. Would anyone, writers, mothers or others, like to join me in observing Earth Hour on the last Saturday night of every month?
Something is missing in my life right now. I've had a hard time pinpointing the source. Our minister recently reminded us that "change is difficult." He talked of the writer's strike and how instead of watching ER and Grey's Anatomy on Thursday nights he and his wife were now watching "Am I smarter than a Fifth Grader?" This got me thinking about my own recent changes. We changed our diet recently (in both sneaky and deceptive ways) and I've caught myself blaming my moods on the flaxseed and sweet potatoes. We've also been moving our bodies more. On weekdays the kids and I watch the first ten minutes of Ellen using the dance segment to inspire an hour of bopping around. I've also started wearing make-up. These changes have been difficult, but ultimately they have added to my life. The void remains.
This week I am blaming a group of people who do not really exist. My characters. This inkling came over me after rereading an underlined passage from John Dufresne's The Lie that Tells a Truth: "If you never revise, you never learn to write. You see that these made-up characters of yours have become vivid and intriguing people who live interesting and terrifying lives. You begin to resent the time away from them."
It has been two months since I've done any revisions on my first novel, which is probably the longest break I've ever had from these characters. And with their story maybe on its way to who knows whose inbox, it feels like the characters have been left in limbo. This feeling of not trying to improve their lives or make them more uncomfortable is consuming me. Waiting to hear whether this or that editor thinks the lives of some people I made up are worth reading about is unnerving. This disconnection from them is wholly new to me. It feels a bit like death, in fact. It makes me wonder whether authors feel better when their characters are lurking in the bookstores and libraries, or if they always feel a bit lost without them.
Though I'm doing my best to let go of my first novel in order to focus on number two, this change is more than difficult. At times my new characters feel like they belong in a sit com spin-off that should never get past the pilot. The quote above triggered me to journal about bonding with characters, and how I did it the first time around. It took a bit of digging, but I found an old file folder from the first draft stage that took me back to the heart of the process. In the file there were magazine pictures and cue cards with lists of character traits, including dreams and fears of bus drivers that didn't even make the cut. The pictures and charts reminded me of how I used to write letters to the characters when I got stuck on a scene. If I was still stuck the characters wrote letters to each other. Thinking back, I did as much as open fake bank accounts for these people. I once colour coded all of their dialogue.
As well as feeling a bit of grief and loss for the old, I'm feeling a bit sorry for the new. I've written almost 70, 000 words, and yet I can't even picture the faces of the people in the story. Some major changes are going to have to take place if I want to convince these people to walk into a second draft. I need to start dreaming about them. They need to come into the kitchen with me and do five loads of dishes. They need to stand in line at check outs and sit in back church pews. I need to take these people to work, to the library, and to baby group. I need to call them up. Maybe even look for them on Facebook. Change is difficult.
Added March 27: I found this quote today while reading Laraine Herring's book "Writing Begins with the Breath." Finding this advice right when I need it is one of those life changing treasures I was talking about last month:
"We wear the skins of our characters, who take us where they need to go. Then we shed the skins of the characters so new characters and voices can come. If we hold on too tightly to the characters we've come to love, we'll clog up the flow and prevent the next novel from coming in." Laraine Herring
As I sat down at almost midnight to eat the greasy breakfast that Dean had brought home twelve hours earlier, I noticed with horror that one of my socks had a hole. Jackson's birthday had been a near perfect day until that moment. Dean and I were tired, yes, but we had pulled off our first kids' birthday party and managed to send all of the little hippos home happy and full. One glance at my socks, though, and I knew that the day must have been more work than I had realized.
These weren't just any old socks. These were socks I had owned for 14 years. They were a gift from Janette's Grandma in Grade 11, the Christmas her family let me tag along on their Disney vacation. I'll never forget her welcoming voice, sharp and full, barreling into the air the moment we pulled up in our caravan. I was shocked by how different she sounded in comparison to Janette's own soft spoken mother.
The socks themselves were given to me in a stocking that her Grandma had put together for me so that I wouldn't feel left out. They were green sweat socks with Donald Duck on the soles and yellow tube stripes around the ankles. They sound as ugly as they are, and yet I was surprised and pleased to get anything from somebody else's relative. When she died I took comfort in the fact that I still had the socks. Each time I put them on her voice came alive for a moment or two. This grandma was wee, but her voice made up for her legs, and I can almost hear her shouting right now, "Janette! Your friend's got a hole in her socks! Janette! Sammy!"
Counting back fourteen years, I began to think about how far the socks had traveled. First from Florida back to Ontario and then back and forth from residence to residence through the university years, across the country to Vancouver and back, and even to the Okanagan. Including all of the times I moved back to the Lowder Place nest the socks had held up to at least 13 moves. Though I don't remember ever making the conscious decision to pack them, they somehow made the cut year after year. And on Sunday night, through the little hole that appeared, the socks themselves seemed to be raising some questions. Why were they so important? What did they represent for me? Comfort away from home, perhaps? Other people's relatives? Warmth. Vacation. Freedom. Friendship. (Grade 11 has always gone down as my favourite year of school.) Did the socks somehow help me hold onto my youth? Did I fear that I might never get back to the Magical World of Disney?
Whatever the reason, the thought of throwing out the socks because of a single hole (as I would normally do) seemed completely absurd. I knew I could use my home ec skills to keep the socks in my collection for a few more years. But what about the other socks in my drawer? Surely a few pairs from my past could have been repaired instead of tossed over the years. We've been trying to do our waste not part for the world, but I had never thought much about socks. If this green pair could last me 14 years how long could the other ten pairs in my drawer last? Could I possibly live the rest of my life with just the socks I owned?
After writing those words, I took a break from this post to think about the challenge. I didn't want to publicly commit to a sock saving project if I wasn't prepared to see it through. But these socks really did seem to be crying out to me, and with a voice as powerful as Janette's Grandma's, I simply couldn't ignore them. Pondering the idea, I visited The Writer's Group (my daily writing distraction) and somehow stumbled on a link to this incredible post.
God knows I've purchased my fair share of black waitress sneakers. But was it really Patry Francis's shoes that were talking to me in that post? Am I meant to read her book, or was it the socks challenging me to take a similar oath? While I can't know for sure how these socks got their hole, or why it happened on Jackson's 4th birthday, or why I found that post on a day that I needed it most, I know from experience that God's little scavenger hunts lead to life changing treasures. And so, in honor of Patry Francis's hope, both past and future, and as a way of preserving the environment in hopes of one day requiring a few trees, I commit to not buying a new pair of socks until I too get a book published.
Could you live with just the socks in your drawer until your own secret dream came true?