Saturday, February 17, 2018

This Is Us


Even though I'd written 2200 words, I couldn't figure out how to end the chapter so I decided a walk was needed.
What an utterly gorgeous day! Blue sky and sunshine and crispy cold. Just enough wind to blow the thoughts out of my mind, which is exactly what my creative brain needed in order to do its subconscious thing.
The dog and I followed the sound of a chain saw and found my Nova Scotia country boy in his happy place.
Arriving with a thermos of chai tea, I made it even happier.
"I love being in the woods," he said, then he stepped away and became one with his environment.
The dog and I carried on and said hello to the invisible beavers.
I never did figure out how to finish the chapter but really, getting out of my chair for a walk in the woods on a perfect winter's day was a far greater accomplishment.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Chinese New Year ~ The Year of the Dog

Stella, 2006

I hadn't heard of Chinese New Year, and the designations, until I lived in Vancouver, where there is a large Chinese community. Then I became friends with a couple who celebrated it and my sister's family started celebrating it because their eldest daughter is Chinese, so I don't feel I'm co-opting another culture's new year celebration too much once every twelve years.

I'm part of the Year of the Dog cohort, being born in 1970. According to the website, chinesenewyear2018.com,
"Women born in the Dog year are very cautious. They are indifferent towards people they don’t like, and don’t trust easily. But once they do, it’s permanent. They are intensely protective of their friends and family. They are genial and independent. They love outdoor activities and being in nature. However, they are also hard workers and don’t give up until they succeed. Security and a stable income are her requirements for a career."

Here's the thing that matters most: I remember buying a mug at the pet store in Cobourg when the Year of the Dog rolled around in 2006. My divorce had been granted a few months earlier, so I was finally done with all that and looking forward to my first year as truly free, but at the same time, we'd moved my father into a nursing home. It was a busy year, taking care of Dad on a daily basis, and I struggled a bit with depression around my 36th birthday. Then my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Then my friend Diana was diagnosed with cancer. 2006 was getting pretty shitty. A brief respite on the east coast would provide some mental and emotional respite.
That's when I met my Nova Scotia country boy, a blind date that changed my life (and Stella's). That was 2006, the Year of the Dog.

So it's rolled around again and I'm looking forward to what 2018 will bring. I'm hoping nothing as hard on the heart as 2006 -- but I also know that's how life goes: it's always a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I can anticipate one amazing experience that changes my life again.

But just in case... also from that website: "It’s the Chinese tradition to wear red underwear every day during their zodiac year. Dogs can try this to ward off the bad luck."



Sunday, February 11, 2018

This Time Last Year



Freezing rain this morning means church was cancelled, which really disappointed both my mother, who was filling in as our music leader, and myself since SUNDAY IS THE ONE DAY A WEEK WE DRESS UP AND LEAVE THE HOUSE.
Seriously. This winter, my mother decided to go on an "austerity plan" since she was spending too much money on "impulse purchases", and that means no random shopping sprees to fill a day. I decided to write a novel in less than three months, which has also become a much-needed austerity plan for me as well. We don't need anymore stuff; we need me to publish another book!

Actually, I do leave the house -- I go for walks around the fields and through the woods. But I no longer leave the property. Every day I write.
AND IT'S AWESOME.
This is why winter is awesome. I'm am not that person standing at the window, waving my fist and shouting, "Enough of the snow, already!" I'm standing at the window, this winter in particular, wondering where all the snow has gone!
Whether it's snowing or raining, this was the perfect time for this novel to drop into my head, although I keep wishing I'd discovered this work ethic years ago. I don't, however, think I was ready, as a writer and a person, to produce something like this until now.

Wondering what I was doing on this day last year, I found this photo from our breakfast at Sugar Moon Farm in Earltown. We've been trying to do this again but despite our best intentions, we haven't made it back. Perhaps we'll make the 90-minute trip to celebrate when I finish the first draft of this novel. SMF pancakes and beans will be a nice break from French toast and yogurt.

By the way, on Monday, I'll reach 50,000 words. And I love this story. The first draft is a piece crap, that's to be expected and no point in believing otherwise, but I feel like it's a good piece of crap; so much to work with and I can't wait to get this framework completed so I can go deeper into it and fill out the details. Just this morning, I met a delightful new character who is fun to write.
So, time to get back to her.


Saturday, February 03, 2018

Winter Fuel For A Writer


One thick slice of homemade bread.
A fresh egg from one of our hens.
A splash of milk, a dash of vanilla, and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon.
Melted butter in the pan, a good soaking in the dish, then five minutes on either side and VOILA:
French toast for breakfast.

A note about the dish: Not only is it the ideal width and depth for making French toast, it's VINTAGE. It's from a display set up by Monarch Flour in my mother's family's grocery store -- in the 1950's!
My mother has always used it for baking apple crisp but when I went searching for the perfect dish for my French toast, this was it. There's something special about using the dishes with a history like that, isn't there? In being able to say, "This was my mother's..." or "This was my grandmother's..."

I've eaten this for breakfast since the day after Christmas. I don't know what got into me -- I've been loyal to toast or oatmeal all these years -- but suddenly, egged bread (or is it breaded egg?) is what I want. In over a month, I've only missed one morning and that was because I was sick.


Here's the thing about my French toast: I alternate my topping between maple syrup and jam.
Jam? Who on earth smears jam on French toast?
Well, why not? It's toast, after all.
Actually, I didn't know you could put syrup on it until we began travelling as a family and I ordered French toast one morning and it came with syrup. I asked for jam; I was an adult before I tried eating it with syrup.
I learned to eat French toast with jam from my mother.

When she was 18 years old, she left the church she'd grown up in and started attending a new church. After choir practice on Thursday nights, some of the choir members would go across the street to the Chinese restaurant. One of the dishes on the menu was French toast, which she ordered (and cannot tell why on earth she'd order French toast in a Chinese restaurant). It was served with a side of jam.
Why not? It's toast, after all.

So now the fuel for this writer's winter work is a daily dose of French toast, Chinese style.

 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Busy Beaver


Writers have rituals. Some are as simple as a jar of jelly beans on the desk, some are as complicated as particular notebooks and pens, music and mugs, bracelets and earrings.
I'm afraid I fall into the complicated category. I'm lousy with particularities and peculiarities.

But not all rituals are odd. 
At the end of a long but satisfying day of writing, I go outside and I go for a walk.
I go outside to breath in fresh air, to clear my head, to expand my lungs and refreshen my heartbeat.
I go for a walk to keep my neck from seizing up, to settle my thoughts and set onto what I will write tomorrow.
Every day, I walk to the beaver brook with the dog and we say hello to the beavers.
You can't see the beaver dam as well from the road as it appears in this photo; I walked through the frozen flooded woodlot to get a close up look, and take a photo for you.
If I'm going to talk about this most important ritual, it behooves me to provide a visual. 
I arrive at the brook, I stop and stand in the middle of the road, above the culvert, and I follow the ribbon of ice to the dam in the near distance and I say,
"Hello, beavers."
I never see them, nor even any signs of them during the winter. It seems unfriendly, though, to walk to that point and not say hello.
Come to think of it, I've been doing it for almost eleven years now, haven't I?

Wait.

Yes, I knew I remembered correctly. In an early, much shorter version of my Field Notes essay, A Walk In the Woods, this was the original ending in 2011:


"Exiting the plantation, reluctant to head home, the dog and I walked up the road to the beaver brook formed by the clogging of the culvert. No sign of life under the smooth, dark water but I pictured the beavers inside their house of sticks, going over the day’s list of things to be done. They are a persistent animal, constantly creating, always maintaining, rebuilding when necessary. They keep to themselves, content to live and work in isolation. Just like a writer with land of her own."

Not such an odd ritual, after all. 


Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Words Are Piling Up


I reached ten thousand words on my novel yesterday - whoop! In the early stages, that's a great milestone to reach. That I did it on a snowy day is totally apropos. Went outside to celebrate.
I'm keeping up the pace of writing despite not managing to start at nine a.m. - I write this at a quarter to ten. My mornings are far too leisurely but perhaps, like a tight, four-month deadline, I work more efficiently under a time pressure.

And with a reward waiting: it snowed all night and the wind didn't blow so the woods are thick with snow, just the way I like them. So I've promised the dog that instead of me getting on the treadmill for half an hour at lunchtime, we'll go for a much longer walk over the field and through the wood and back the brook to say hello to the beavers.

It is odd, however, that the wind hasn't blown in 24 hours. Wanna bet as soon as I step out the door mid-day, the gale will begin?! It'll be like walking in the blizzard we didn't get yesterday. 



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Plan B: Get Focus, Get Creative


After Christmas, my friend Jane and I met to go for a walk and she handed me two magnetic bookmarks.
"I forgot these on Christmas Day. Laugh is for your mother and Create is for you," she told me.
At the time, I simply appreciated how well she knows both of us. But as the new year approached, and the idea for that novel dropped into my head and then onto the pages of a notebook, I began to wonder if this simple bookmark was actually a sign. I was about to create a completely new book.

When I posted this photo on Instagram on New Year's Eve, I wrote about how I don't pick a word for a year like many people do, but last year it was necessary to make "focus" my word for a lifetime. It was time to focus on only my writing -- something I'd never allowed myself to do.

And now that I have over seven thousand words written in this novel, I'm seeing this coming together of FOCUS and CREATE at the start of this new year and to be honest...

...it's kinda freakin' me out. Like, how did Jane know? How could she know what I needed -- even before I knew I needed it?

I love this shit! It's what gets me through the day. And long, tiring days they are going to be, but in such a good way. I wrote Field Notes in two months so it's not as if I don't know that I can do this. Actually, I've discovered that not only do I work best with a deadline, even if self-imposed, but a tight deadline -- three months rather than eight months -- is even better.

Git 'er done, as they say in the country.

To be focused on creating an unexpected story that excites me and interests me and challenges me, already, is nothing short of a miracle. So is Jane. And of course, this mug that was a gift five years ago (and how did Angela know then?????).