A lucky coin

I’ll share a little story I found unexpectedly in a book that Santa delivered to my daughter this year:

 

Our story began over a century ago when seventeen-year-old Egmont Harald Peterson found a coin in the street. 

coin

 

He was on his way to buy a flyswatter, a small hand-operated printing machine that he then set up in his tiny apartment.

The coin brought him such good luck that today Egmont has offices in over 30 countries around the world. And that lucky coin in still kept at the company’s head office in Denmark.

 

This little success story was stuck in among the publication credits of a gorgeous children’s book entitled, A Flower in the Snow, a story about the joys of discovery, its loss, and re-discovery.

 

Sometimes it pays to read publication credits :).a flower in the snow

 

A flower in the snow.

A lucky coin.

I wish you each find your own in the New Year, and always.

A full circle

I’ve been re-writing, re-plotting, and re-drafting, the majority of a novel I wrote eight years ago. Shocking when I think it was that long ago that this project came into my thoughts and I began to write it. It took me one year to write that first draft. It was the first idea that spurred me into being a writer.

My grandmother’s death at the time was the inspiration for the premise. While that hasn’t changed at all, the story line has a lot. As have some characters. And motivations. And arcs. When I returned to this particular work last October, I thought it was an easy fix, and I thought it was basically done. Silly me. But once I’d ripped it apart, I realized I’d gone to far in to turn back or give up on it.

But, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to. Especially as I have another novel I put on hold to whip this one into perfection (ya right! lol), and as I have ideas aplenty, I often wondered why I’m trying to fix something so broken when I can just start fresh. Well, the thing is, I think I just want to prove to myself that I can do my very best with it rather than dump it, and another part of me thinks it’s a great novel, one that many people can relate to. It’s a novel about death, or rather about how the living cope with death. And it’s a novel about stories, and how we each have one, and the choices we make as we travel down the road of that story.

I’m never steady in my belief in my own work. Sometimes I think it’s terrific, other moment I think it really sucks. The last few weeks I’d been thinking, okay, I’d better give up on this novel, the premise stinks, there’s too many characters, and it’s not plausible. Normally, I push through these moments, but this time I came very close to throwing in the towel.

And then three weeks ago my family and I buried my paternal grandmother. I was very close with her, all of my childhood, and even much of my adult life was in a shared residence with her. We even shared the same house during the pregnancy and birth of my first two children. The topic of my novel became too close, not something I was able to revisit during her illness and death.

About two weeks ago I sat down to work, and still, I questioned the story. This was a first–normally distance gave perspective, it allowed me to see flaws and solutions, not just garbage as I was seeing this time.

Yesterday, we buried my maternal grandfather. It was a swift death for him, a quick service. In three weeks, my two last living grandparents died, and I saw vast reactions to death. I saw my own different reactions to their deaths. Those around me responded differently. My parents come from different backgrounds, and I witnessed traditions that were quite different in each of the services and funerals. And it made me reflect on my grandmother’s death all those years ago, and how I felt at the time, and the story my mind created to cope with it. And I thought, “here I am again.”

I’ve come full circle, and yet, I’m a different person I was then. A lot has happened in these eight years, a heck of a lot, some wonderful, some terrible, and I’ve been thinking about this novel on and off during these last forty-eight hours since my grandfather’s death. Maybe this too is a coping mechanism, an avoidance technique. But it doesn’t feel like it. Because in thinking about these deaths, I’m thinking about my emotions, and I’m thinking that I really want to finish this novel after all. Right now there’s a sureness in me I haven’t felt since its creation. A sureness that I know the story I have to tell, and that I’ll be able to do it just right. Maybe I just had to live a little more before I was able to figure it.

As a side, this blog has been a little quieter than usual, a little more down than usual. Here’s hoping for a steady gait over the next while. And I hope all is well with all of you.

When the birds fly

Just outside our front door, in a pot with a dead plant in it, we found a bird’s nest.

After seeing a few nests ravaged on our property I assumed this one was destined with the same fate.

The children watched for the mother bird, she was a rare sight, always in her nest and only every so often would she venture out. It took time to find out what type of bird she was because she was such a recluse. She’s a long-billed wren.

Finally, one morning we heard the faintest of chirping coming from the nest. I began to hold my breath. Would the raccoons or squirrels get to the new birds? Would the crow that tore the nest in our cedar tree to pieces last week find this one as well? My son wanted to move the nest, bring it somewhere safer, but of course all we can do is stand idly by and watch how it plays out.

The next morning we were amazed at how much stronger the voices were coming out of the nest. They had grown so much overnight. Still, no matter which way we twisted ourselves we couldn’t see inside the nest–they are amazing builders!

Two days later I found a dead baby bird on our walkway. The nest was silent. I was certain they were all gone. How wonderful when later that afternoon the nest came to life with sound! They were alive!

For days we watched the mother bird fly non-stop gathering food. The moment she took a breather they began screaming for her. I was exhausted watching her. And I was shocked to see she had a partner. There were two birds flying from the nest. My research tells me these birds mate for life. The male stays during the whole incubation process bringing the mother food, and then helping to feed the new ones.

For some you a sight like this is commonplace, but for a city girl like me this was all new and very exciting! Once, as a child, we had found a pigeon (perhaps a robin–I can’t quite recall) with a broken wing on the sidewalk of a busy underpass. We brough the bird home and my dad patched him up (he was studying animal behavior at the time). We kept him on our back porch in a box until he was able to fly on his own. I had name the bird Gigi.

The mother and father wren were very diligent parents. The moment one of us approached they would perch on the brick wall and wait for us to leave before either re-entering the nest or flying away. We waited and waited for a glimpse of these baby birds.

Last weekend, I came out to throw something in the recycling bin. There were seven baby birds all over our front porch. Some were on the walls, on the ground, in the potted plants. They were scuttling around, trying out their feathers, stretching their wings, finding flight. The parents went into an uproar at my approach, and I quickly backed away.

The whole process took about an hour and half and then they were gone. I snuck back for glimpses of them, bringing one child at a time with me.

We saw them for forty-eight hours around our yard, in trees and bushes, getting stronger and stronger. Now we’re left with an empty nest. It’s gotten so quiet around here, I had become accustomed to constant shrill.

My neighbor, who has shared the experience with us, insists that this must find a way into one of my stories. Perhaps it will. Or maybe the only story I needed to tell was this one here. Only time will tell.

How about you: Do your every day experiences find way into your writing? How often do you use nature in your stories, if at all?

 

 

 

A memory

When I began writing I had no idea how to find other writers. None of my friends or family wrote, and I had studied science in school. I went on-line and I looked up writing groups in my area. I found one that met once a month in a library close to my home.

I was the youngest person there, by far. They were retired men and women who gathered to write and read to each other. I remember feeling so awkward, so out-of-place. I was young, in my twenties, what had I lived through to tell to these people? But, I returned again and again for almost a good year.

There was one older lady in her late seventies or early eighties that I remember in particular who always patted the seat next to hers if there was one, or gestured me into the room with a big wave of the arm. I think of her periodically, her effort to make me feel welcome. And how the little interaction I had with her inspired me not only in writing but in life.

Her name was Susan Romvary. The first time I entered the large conference room in the library, she sat near the doorway in a large cushioned chair separated from the group. She didn’t look up when I came in the room, in fact for a time I thought maybe she slept, or was incoherent; her head dangled forward and I was never able to see her face. People were reading, and I thought didn’t she heard them.

“Susan, will you read?” the organizer said.

She looked up, and I was shocked. She was stunning, her eyes dancing, her expression one that inhaled and released energy in a profound way. I could tell in an instant that she loved life and she lived it fully.

Some time after I met her a short story came to me, a sort of vignette that brought three people into one person’s life. It is fiction, but it is inspired by her and the words she spoke that night. She passed away in late December, and when I received the news I immediately thought that our little planet lost one terrific person, even though I hadn’t seen her in years, and only knew her through a few meetings. I remembered this story I wrote, and found it on a stick drive. Here is a portion of it, just the way it was written, because to edit it now would change it to who I am now, and not what I saw then. Perhaps you’ll see a little of her in it.

Vera sat across from me. Her name was scrawled in nearly illegible handwriting on a name tag stuck just above her left breast. Her vest was red, vivid in the dim room. Her head was bowed; she had not raised it, not even when I entered. Her hair was thinning, and dyed auburn. I wondered at her presence. Had she heard the others speak? Was she coherent? Suddenly, she lifted her head, and I realized it was her turn to read. Her eyes dazzled, and met each of ours in turn.

“I love humour,” Vera said. Her voice was inflected with life, and thickly accented. “I grew up in Hungary, escaped to France when I was a girl, and now, I live in a nursing home. Humour has saved me. I have had one published novel. It is, of course, humoresque. It was featured on CBC radio. Nothing more. I’m writing my second. It’s about my new residence.”

 I realized I was part of something. Would I be accepted, or would I be judged for my youth, as I had judged them for their age?

“I write in English,” Vera said. “But, it is not my first language. Nor is it my second. French is. I came to Canada as an adult, so naturally, I chose Quebec. I write in English because it is a simple language. If I can teach myself to speak it, I can teach myself to write it.”

 I listened to Vera, as I had not to the others. I had been too self-absorbed, worried about how my own work would be received. It was my first time in a writing circle.

“I had a husband, two children. My husband is gone. My children are gone. I tell you this not so that you will feel sad, or pity me, but so that you will know humour is healing. I have survived the holocaust, I have survived famine. I have lived alone in foreign countries, not understanding a word of the people around me. I struggle to retain the images of my family. Yet, I am glad to have gone through it. Otherwise, I would not be alive. I will read you an excerpt. I hope you will laugh. I expect you will laugh.”

And we did laugh.


Nail polish, yoga, and laundry.

I’ve been writing for more consecutive hours in the past few weeks than I think I ever have. I’ve been training myself to extend my concentration span and  my productivity. But, I’ve noticed that I need breaks. If I start to fidget, I know it’s time to pause a few minutes. Sometimes I fight this need for a breather, but when I give in, I come back still, and with a great focus.

I haven’t come up with great breaks when I work out of the house yet, I can’t go for a walk when I’m at Starbucks, can I? I suppose I could, but then I’d have to pack everything up, and come back. I usually just stare out the window, so any suggestions would be great.

At home though I have endless possibilities for a break. One of the things I’ll do for a break is a short burst of exercise. Some muscle strengthening, or cardio, or yoga. I have these workout DVD that give 10 minute segments, so sometimes I’ll throw one of those on. Sometimes I’ll have a snack. Or, I’ll blog a few minutes, but I’ve noticed this doesn’t work that well, I need to step away from the computer. I’ll fold laundry. Unload the dishwasher. I love painting my nails – the colour is inspiring when I come back to the computer.

How about you, what do you do for a break during a writing session?

do you ever self-sabotage?

I do. Sometimes. There are days when I wonder why I struggle so much to gain writing time, when it’s so difficult? When I’m exhausted and nothing is going my way, I make excuses of why I should just give up. And some of these excuses are even valid, and need to be worked through, but on certain days, I want to give in to them.

On one such day not so long ago, I was ranting and raving: How can expect to learn my craft when I’m constantly interrupted? It’s like athletics, it requires practice, and more practice! Since I can’t have this steadiness why should I bother at all? That’s it, I’m not writing anymore!

On that day, this appeared in my inbox. And my cheeks flamed up, as I flushed in shame!

The
Difference
Between a good artist
And a great one
Is:
The novice
Will often lay down his tool
Or brush
Then pick up an invisible club
On the mind’s table
And helplessly smash the easels and
Jade.
Whereas the vintage man
No longer hurts himself or anyone
And keeps on
Sculpting
Light.
~ Hafiz ~

ode to the voices in my head

We’re all writers here. I can say this without scaring anyone away.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll begin hundreds of stories that never make it to paper, and very often not even past the first few sentences. This is not a conscious thing, it’s not something I decide to do. All day (and sometimes all night too) my mind creates, unless I force it to stop. It spends a lot time thinking about my WIP, but it also swerves, going into other lives.

Coffee shops (where I stereotypically do most of my writing) are one place that provide endless characters, stages, situations. So much fodder in sitting, writing, and having pieces of conversation drift into my subconscious. But, if I were to sit, and write, and do nothing else I still would not be able to write each of these down.

Sometimes I like what I see, and I think I really have to write this down, but I don’t. And I then I think that’s it’s unfortunate, something great might have gotten away from me there. Until a few nights back, I decided to jot down what I had created in the middle of the night (when I should have been sleeping, because you know, as a sleep deprived mom who gets woken many times each night I like spending precious sleep time creating prose in my head).

I thought by writing it down I would get more satisfaction, gratification in having captured it. I didn’t. Instead I thought, ehhh, not bad, yeah there’s a novel here. One I most likely won’t write. Not now anyway – I’m deep in my WIP.

I thought about buying a little notepad and jotting these ideas as they come to me. I imagined looking at them one day and deciding which story to write. But, I realized that for me, these stories will never stop being created. And one that came months or years ago will not likely inspire me in the same way. So, I’m letting them go when they come. Knowing that the right story for me to write, when it comes, will stick on its own. That’s what happened with my current WIP. I was still the editing throes of novel # 1, when this one came, and I had no choice but to write it.

What do you do with all those inspirations? Do you write it down and keep it?