R is for Random

Apologies for the tardy “R” post. I had another day of dizziness and nausea yesterday, courtesy of my faceplant on concrete a couple of weeks ago, and after leaving a few comments on other people’s blogs, I realized that staring at a computer screen was exacerbating the situation. Because my  pudding-brain wouldn’t let me concentrate for long enough to slap my thoughts into shape either, I decided to delay posting until today. And fortunately today the brain is much happier, so big yay there.

Good old R. I had been going to talk about “Reading”, but since I already posted about “Literacy” a few days ago, and since I figure that approximately a bazillion other bloggers would be doing the same thing, I tossed that plan in the virtual bin. As I was rummaging around in the back drawers of my brain for another topic and coming up with a bunch of random but fairly useless ideas, I thought, hey, random.! Why not? Why not a fairly random and useless post? Or, rather, a post about some of the random things that inspire me, or make me happy, or both? With pictures! So here we go, a (very) short list of inspiring and happy-making things:

Cherry Tree
First up, the tree outside my house. The cherry trees on our street are always the last to bloom in the spring and the last to drop their leaves in the fall. Other trees around Vancouver are losing their blossoms now, but this beauty and its chums are just gearing up for the pink explosion. This is even more delightful now that we don’t have a car to scrape clean of gummy dead flower residue every morning.

I posted a picture of our dog, Rory earlier this week, so it’s only right that Lyra gets her moment of fame. Lyra is our highly neurotic, skittish, oddball kitty who likes to sit close but never on laps. Originally a rescue cat, she’s lived with us for several years now and does what she can to keep Rory suitably cowed and in his place.

Currently reading
How bleak would life be without books and magazines? These are a few of the titles I’m currently reading, not including ebooks. (A note on the Mark Kermode book: if you don’t already listen to his Wittertainment movie review podcasts–via BBC website–you’re missing something special. For a taste, watch/listen to his awesome review of Transformers 3 here. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s consistently intelligent, insightful and entertaining.

I’ve saved the most important for last: my beautiful, brilliant, thoughtful, generous quirky, adorable daughter, Azaia. She’s in her third year at university right now, studying sociology and political science, and is planning to go on to law school. An unapologetic feminist and a fiercely independent thinker, she’s passionate about social justice and women’s issues. I could not be prouder.

Zombie Azaia
Oh, and did I mention she’s a zombie in her spare time? This was taken when she participated in the Zombie Walk in Vancouver a couple of years ago.

During the month of April, I’m participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. My challenge posts will focus on 26 of the things that have inspired me as a writer or that I’ve learned as I stumble my way toward becoming a writer. Clicky-click on the link to read some of the other bloggers who are participating in the April madness.

Q is for Quicksand

Quicksand warning sign at Little Paxton Pits
near St Neots, Cambridgeshire, England. 

When the letter “P” rolled around, I thought about writing a post about procrastination, because goodness knows I do have my procrastinatory moments. My Inner Critic approved of the idea. She had several choice examples she would have been happy to share with the world at large. I decided against it, though, because pretty much the sum total of my message would have been, “Don’t do it. That way disappointment and unmet deadlines lie. Also, your Inner Critic will spew vitriol in your general direction until you want to hide your sorry self under the blankets for the next week, but there won’t be any point because where you go, there goes your Inner Critic.” 

So, we moved on, my Inner Critic and I. Inner Critic went off in a sulk to have a cup of coffee and hope that in her absence I’d commit some heinous act that would require her savaging services, and I chose another topic to write about instead. 

I kept thinking about procrastination, though, and I realized that it isn’t usually procrastination that keeps me from doing whatever it is I need to be doing–or at least not intentional procrastination. It’s the distractions, the time-sucking quicksand of amusements and entertainments that beckon, tantalize and drag me from my task.

And when I started enumerating all the distractions that go into my particular admixture of quicksand, I was shocked at how many there were. Because, people, there are LOTS. Self, I said to myself, have you no willpower in that brain of yours at all? At which point Inner Critic slapped her cup of coffee down so hard she dented the table and came rocketing back into my consciousness shrieking, “No! No you don’t! I’ve been telling you for YEARS and YEARS that you have as much willpower as blowfly circling a corpse!” And, you know, she has a point. 

Five of the current elements of my time-wasting quicksand are:  

  • Twitter: I love my tweeps, and I have no intention of backing away from Twitter, but it can eat time like ___. It’s not the connecting and saying hey piece that takes the time, it’s the following of links, the viewing of videos, the flitting off to read people’s blog posts. Which brings me to…
  • Blog-hopping: Whether I arrive via Twitter, RSS reader or email links, leaping from blog to blog to find out what’s shaking in the blogosphere is rarely a quick trip. One blog leads to another, and hey, then I have to tweet about what I’ve read, right? And that, of course, takes me back to Twitter where, hey, how about that? New tweets! New interactions!

  • Reading: There is absolutely no wrong in reading. Not one blinking thing. Except, of course, when the writing is getting neglected because I can’t stand to put my book down after “just two chapters, just two measly chapters!” and I’ve stuffed Inner Critic into a trunk in the back of the closet and piled a bunch of quilts on top to stifle her bellowed insults.
  • “Research:” Yes. Research. A vital process for any writer. Critical to the success of the writing project. But the legitimate research has an uncanny way of morphing into “ooh, shiny,” and what started out as a perfectly innocent and legitimate search for the perfect living room for my main character’s parents ends up being a sightseeing tour through houses I would very much love to call my own. Sigh. And, of course, one of the best sites for finding those living rooms would have to be…

  • Pinterest: For someone who only has 18 boards and 221 pins, I have spend an inordinate amount of time on Pinterest. For research. For fun. For the sheer delight of coasting seamlessly from one image to another to another. Tattoos, netsuke, archways, bookstores, libraries, fairies, architecture, guitars, and tasty treats. So hard to step away. So, so hard.
And that’s the problem with all of the above–stepping away. Once I’m in, I’m stuck in the quicksand and I keep sinking further and further. The solution is obvious, and it doesn’t require giving up these pursuits that i love. It’s called delayed gratification. Worky, worky followed by skivey fun. It’s simple, right? 

What makes up your quicksand? Or are you one of those supremely disciplined folk whose pole-vaulting skills carry them up and over the quicksand, well out of reach of its sucking maw?

During the month of April, I’m participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. My challenge posts will focus on 26 of the things that have inspired me as a writer or that I’ve learned as I stumble my way toward becoming a writer. Clicky-click on the link to read some of the other bloggers who are participating in the April madness.

Quicksand photo @Andrew Dunn, 24 September 2005.
Books photo from morguefile.com,by grafixar 

P is for Problems, Pondering and Pooches

It’s not always as easy as we’d like it to be, this writing business. Sometimes it is, of course. Sometimes the words fly off my fingers like fluff off a dandelion, and the characters leave off arguing with me and start doing what they’re told for a happy change, and all is bliss and joy in writey land.

But sometimes (as in “with shocking regularity”) the flow of traffic along the writing road is just a tad less  smooth than that. Sometimes the writing road is so congested that those free-flowing words  have jammed themselves up thoroughly in the further recesses of my brain, and it feels like nothing short of some Road Runner TNT is going to blast them loose.

I’m not talking about writer’s block, although I struggle with that from time to time, too. No, this is more about those standard, everyday writing blips and hiccups. Like when I’ve been merrily typing away and come smack up against a ginormo plot-hole in the middle of a story or realize that one of my main characters has the personality of a three-day dead squid.

Moments like those, I am sad to say, are not uncommon. They’re an awful lot like fruit flies toward the end of summer: pesky and ubiquitous and supremely annoying. But, fortunately, unlike fruit flies, they’re not too difficult to send packing.

My preferred method of working through these irritating little glitches is simple, cheap and healthy: walking the family pooch, Rory (that’s his adorable self in the picture).

There’s something about walking the dog that seems to have that TNT effect of on my writing, plotting, character-fixing brain. I’ll be out in the neighbourhood with Rory, just walking and pondering, walking and pondering. Maybe I’ll be pondering the writing impasse, or maybe I’ll be pondering something entirely different, like how it is that Canada keeps electing a Prime Minister whom none of us can stand, or whether I feel like making blueberry muffins when I get home or not.

Eventually, Rory will stop and start sniffing about in a yup, uh huh, this just might be the spot kind of way, I’ll gaze off into space in the way one does when trying to give a dog a modicum of dignity while he does his little dog business. I’ll gaze, he’ll do what we call his “poo dance,” that fascinating squatty crab-walk hither and thither across whatever 4′ x 4′ patch of grass he has chosen for the site of his deposit. He knows the exact right spot is lurking somewhere in that 4′ x 4′ rectangle, and that if he just waggles his squatty little bottom over every square inch of it for the next ten minutes, he’s bound to find it.

So, there we’ll be, gazing and crab-walking, gazing and crab-walking, la la la, and suddenly, VROOOM. My brain sputters and sparks and kicks into gear, and before you can say poop bag, ideas and solutions are shooting out in all directions, and I’m ordering my brain to pin them down and sit on them and not to dare let even one of them wriggle free before we get home.

Sometimes, it really is that simple: problem + ponder + pooch = Eureka!

How about you? Do you have some tricksy little subterfuge for coaxing your stubborn brain into coming up with solutions to problems you’re wrestling with-not necessarily to do with writing?

During the month of April, I’m participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. My challenge posts will focus on 26 of the things that have inspired me as a writer or that I’ve learned as I stumble my way toward becoming a writer. Clicky-click on the link to read some of the other bloggers who are participating in the April madness.

O is for O x 7

Apparently my composing brain has gone a-Bunburying today (see below for explanation). Because it isn’t giving any indication of returning in the immediate future, I’ve decided to offer up a series of quotations, ranging from the grim to the grand, courtesy of a few of my favourite “O” authors. (And, yes, I do realize that it’s a bit of a cheat to include Oscar Wilde, but he doesn’t want to wait till “W”, and who am I to argue?)

George Orwell (Animal Farm) If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever. 

Edna O’Brien (Saints and Sinners, Stories)She said the reason that love is so painful is that it always amounts to two people wanting more than two people can give.  

Flannery O’Connor (Mystery and Manners): We hear a great deal of lamentation these days about writers having all taken themselves to the colleges and universities where they live decorously instead of going out and getting firsthand information about life. The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. 

Michael Ondaatje (Divisadero)For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell. 

Eugene O’Neill (from a letter to a friend when O’Neill was 35): “I am far from being a pessimist … On the contrary, in spite of my scars, I am tickled to death at life! I wouldn’t ‘go out’ and miss the rest of the play for anything!” 

Joe Orton (What the Butler Saw):

Geraldine: I’ve no idea who my father was.

Prentice: I’d better be frank, Miss Barclay. I can’t employ you if you’re in any way miraculous. It would be contrary to established practice. You did have a father?

 Geraldine: Oh, I’m sure I did. My mother was frugal in her habits, but she’d never economize unwisely.

Oscar Wilde (The Critic as Artist): Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. 

And just because I found the concept of “Bunburying” so delightful when I first came across it in The Importance of Being Earnest, I’ll throw in a second, considerably longer quotation from dear old Oscar:

Algernon: I suspected that, my dear fellow! I have Bunburyed all over Shropshire on two separate occasions. Now, go on. Why are you Ernest in town and Jack in the country?

Jack: My dear Algy, I don’t know whether you will be able to understand my real motives. You are hardly serious enough. When one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. It’s one’s duty to do so. And as a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either one’s health or one’s happiness, in order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes. That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.

Algernon: The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility.

Jack: That wouldn’t be at all a bad thing.

Algernon: Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don’t try it. You should leave that to people who haven’t been at a University. They do it so well in the daily papers. What you really are is a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were a Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I know.

Jack: What on earth do you mean?

Algernon: You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If it wasn’t for Bunbury’s extraordinary bad health, for instance, I wouldn’t be able to dine with you at Willis’s to-night, for I have been really engaged to Aunt Augusta for more than a week.

Jack: I haven’t asked you to dine with me anywhere to-night.

Algernon: I know. You are absurdly careless about sending out invitations. It is very foolish of you. Nothing annoys people so much as not receiving invitations.

Jack: You had much better dine with your Aunt Augusta.

Algernon: I haven’t the smallest intention of doing anything of the kind. To begin with, I dined there on Monday, and once a week is quite enough to dine with one’s own relations. In the second place, whenever I do dine there I am always treated as a member of the family, and sent down with either no woman at all, or two. In the third place, I know perfectly well whom she will place me next to, to-night. She will place me next Mary Farquhar, who always flirts with her own husband across the dinner-table. That is not very pleasant. Indeed, it is not even decent . . . and that sort of thing is enormously on the increase. The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public. Besides, now that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist I naturally want to talk to you about Bunburying. I want to tell you the rules.

During the month of April, I’m participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. My challenge posts will focus on 26 of the things that have inspired me as a writer or that I’ve learned as I stumble my way toward becoming a writer. Clicky-click on the link to read some of the other bloggers who are participating in the April madness.