I thought of listing some of the things I accomplished this year, but depending on how you look at it, it either sounded like a brag, or not a big deal.
One brilliant thing that happened this year was that I began to get used to being unemployed. My identity of being a competent and useful worker bee took a serious hit when I first left work, and it began to feel too late to accomplish anything with my creative work.
It was brilliant, when bit by bit, I began to realize there were positives. I didn’t have to stick to what I had been doing. I could look at things I really wanted to do when I ten, or 20, or 30. I love making abstract paintings, but when I was a kid, I really wanted to make realistic drawings in intense detail. I went back to my sketchbook, and forward to digital work. I didn’t stick to any one medium or any one style. I explored it all and my plan is to continue doing so.
I spent the whole of 2019 in revision hell. Some writers love to revise, but I don’t—didn’t. I like it a whole lot better now. I revised two novels and a novella and managed only one short story of new material.
I found a little book called Writing into the Dark, by Dean Wesley Smith, and man, that book made a difference to my confidence as a writer. It felt so good to hear that someone else writes as I do. As though they are reading a story. I’d never heard anyone else describe how it was for me, and I’ve read a zillion writing books. My first drafts were what is usually called ‘shitty’. Which is what made the revision so trying. I have some new tools to deal with that now. It’s called cycling. Write about 500 words, revise, continue. How is it I didn’t know that many writers do that?
I’m contented. For me it was a very good year. It was best when I didn’t listen to the news too much, though even that eventually boiled down to a bit of perspective.
Take the long views, my dears, and go forth with courage. Happy 2020.
I’m working on all fronts: Digital work, sketchbook work, and egg tempera painting as well as writing.
This whole year has been a year of revision. I’ve revised The Spell (YA fantasy)for the umpteenth time. I revised Hannah’s Hearing (a comedic novella about a woman’s struggle with aging). And I’m still revising The Chronos Project ( a time travel novel set in 2067 and 1940 Berlin). I also wrote and revised a short story I’m calling An Intercession.
NOTE to self. Do not spend a whole year revising. I’m getting better at it, but I much prefer writing first draft and it was hard for me to spend a whole year fixing, rather than making.
I like egg tempera, but its a fragile medium, and recently I put a four panel piece on the floor to photograph. I took the shots, and walked away. Big mistake. I have a dog and a cat and they licked off much of the work I’d done. I’m thinking I may change mediums in the new year. No problem. It’ll be fun to learn something new.
I hope you are all beavering away at your special projects. May they go well! Keep making.
When I was a kid, making my own art with left-over paint-by-number paints, it took a long time to get a painting done. Not only because I didn’t know what I was doing (I didn’t) but also because the things I painted were detailed and required a lot of work. I wish I could find one of those paintings for you. I know that somewhere there is a painting of a deer leaping through water, fear in its eyes. On a cliff above lurked a mountain lion. Only the mountain lion was beyond my abilities so I didn’t paint it in. I was working from a photo from one of my father’s Field and Stream magazines. It was slow work.
Fast forward to my thirties, I went off to study studio art-painting at university. The Canadian prairies had a whole lot of art envy going on and we were particularly smitten with the Abstract Expressionism coming out of New York City. Most of our professors studied in America and the university had an off-campus camp at Emma Lake where guest artists came to lecture. Artists like Barnett Newman, Stanley Boxer, Kenneth Noland and Donald Judd along with critics like Clement Greenberg.
The focus was on abstraction and if you were going to paint something recognizable it would be best if it was in an expressionistic style.
Expressionistic work was all about quick lines, by its nature quick and you didn’t labour over an abstraction for weeks either. In fact, we didn’t labour over any one painting. Part of that was the school schedule was heavy and no student had the time for work that took weeks or months to complete.
I loved all of it, the quick, quick of expressionistic work, the pouring and splashing of paint. But the need to go slow found me. I began to make large paintings made up of small bits of paper. The process took time. First the gluing of paper, and then the pouring of paint and more gluing of paper.
I think my recent fascination with making highly detailed paintings of flora have some of that same process and quality my paper constructions had. The abstract underpinnings are still there.
Flora #2 isn’t quite done, but you know, slowly, slowly.
I also managed to find time to write the last half of a short story I was stuck on. It’s still in first draft, so who knows what flaws are lurking in it, but fixing them is working for another day.
I’ve been spending some time working on my altered book, as well as writing and painting. Gardening has temporarily been put on hold because the weather has turned cool. There is a promise of snow every now and than, but so far we’ve missed it. It’s dry, dry, dry. We could use some rain. I’d even take the snow if it meant a bit of moisture.
Above are some of the Altered Book pages I’ve been working on. I made a digitial drawing of the ravens a while ago, and then I read Book Two, Child of Dragon’s in the Leather Tales series by Regine Haensel. In this book, Regine features two ravens name Thought, Memory. I love that, and though my ravens don’t have names, it’s nice to think about thought and memory and where they intersect and change each other.
The leafed garland is a scan of an engraving by Maria Sibylla Merian, a 17th Century naturalist, entomologist and artist. She did some amazing work.
You can find Regine’s books here, and read about Maria Sibylla Merian here and here.
I’ve been thinking for a while now, that I’d like to cut back on blogging. I sincerely appreciated each and every one of you who followed me and liked my work, but making things takes time. I’m going to steal some time by blogging less.
If I was a wise woman, I’d write a number of blog posts ahead of time and have them all cued up and ready to go every Monday morning. But nope, every Monday morning I wonder what I can show you from this week or what thing of interest I might tell you. And the answer is, not much.
Many wonderful bloggers have immense stores of sure knowledge and wisdom. That isn’t me. I am and no doubt will always be a searcher. Sometimes the characters in my stories have something of import to say, but their words aren’t mine. If someday I do publish they will have their say.
In the meantime, I want to wish you a lovely spring. Let the sun shine on you, breathe in the outside air, let your shoulders drop. You can do this. Onward. I’ll write again, but perhaps at a more uneven pace.
I don’t often talk about writing on this blog. I have nothing to tell you about writing and the process of writing that others don’t do better. I have a certain sense of confidence in regards to my visual art, confidence that generally eludes me in writing.
Nevertheless, I’m going to offer you a scene from The Chronos Project today. The Chronos Project is a time travel story. Young Ethics Enforcer, Anna Wasser shifts into 1940 Germany to apprehended a suspected cross-time art thief. When Anna first shifts into 1940 Berlin she is aided by Christoph Mueller, a troubled writer.
This is Christoph’s first scene. The tone is important to me in setting the scene and developing character.
Berlin, Germany, 1940, Christoph Mueller
Light came reluctantly through the grimy pane of the door at street level and picked out the edges of each step, all six of them, to the floor of the room Christoph called home. It laid a pallid patch on the rag rug at the bottom where his boots stood, side-by-side, their tops listing toward each other. If Christoph had not set them so carefully on the mat, if he had tossed them carelessly or just let them fall as they will, the holes in the soles would have been evident along with the cracks and breaks in the much-polished leather tops.
As though the struggle had already been too much the daylight petered out, not offering more of Christoph’s dwelling to the eye. It didn’t matter much. There wasn’t much more to see: a narrow iron bed in one corner, and a dresser he’d bought for a few Gröschen from a man standing ready with a sledgehammer to knock it into kindling. It slanted badly to the right and the drawers stuck until Christoph found a small block of wood to stand it on a more even keel.
Beside the dresser was his table. It held his pens, his notebook and a battered Stoewar typewriter, its ribbon so old it made ghosts of his words. He needed to buy a new ribbon. He’d meant to last week, but the editor had shorted him on a story because he’d submitted it handwritten.
Christoph sat on the edge of his bed and pulled his blanket tight around his shoulders. The recent spate of cold weather enjoyed his damp little cellar. He took his cane from the end of his bed, rose and took the few steps to the table, where he fumbled for his box of matches and lit the tiny paraffin stove, next to it. Only an inch of paraffin remained in its reservoir. So, what would it be, paraffin or a new typewriter ribbon? He sighed. It would have to be paraffin. His lame leg could not bear the cold and he could not give up his morning cup of tea.
He shook his kettle—there was water enough—and set it onto the stove then pushed on to the small water closet at the other side of the stairs.
The mirror, inexplicably, was fastened to the wall over the toilet and Christoph stared at his shadowed face as he released his bladder. A shock of over-long hair fell over his forehead obscuring one worry smudge eye. He shook himself dry, took the half step to the basin, filled it with the frigid water that came reluctantly from the spigot, gritted his teeth and splashed handfuls of the icy stuff over his face and hair. Blind, he groped for the thin towel hanging on a hook beside the sink and rubbed his face and head. When he looked again into the mirror a fresh colour disguised the pallor of his skin and livened his eyes.
He set his tea to steep, limped over to the door, picked up his shoes, made his way back to his bed and before sitting heavily on its edge, pulled his trouser from beneath the mattress and pulled them on. Christoph lifted his weak leg and swung it over his good knee, pulled on yesterdays socks and reached for his boot. He’d have to replace the paper in the sole tonight. It would be worn through by the end of the day, especially if it rained again. Foot encased in his shoe he reached for the steel and leather brace hanging at the foot of his bed. He placed the metal bit under the arch of his shoe and fastened the first set of leather straps at his ankle. A steel shaft came up on either side of his leg, hinging at the knee and extended to mid-thigh. Christoph stood, and buckled another set of straps just below the knee, and pull his trouser leg high, buckled the last at the thigh. Not bothering with his other boot, he walked in a short jerky motion to the table and poured a cup of tea.
He drank it while he continued to dress. He dunned his worn coat, tied a woollen muffler at his throat and put on the elegant leather gloves he’d been delighted to find among Frau Casal’s second-hand goods. Finally, he picked up the large envelope lying near the typewriter, opened it, perused the first few lines on the page, shook his head and pushed the papers back into the envelope. There was no time to rewrite and he doubted he could make it any better. With the envelope under his arm and cane in hand, he climbed the six steps to the door at street level.
The sun still shone, though it had abandoned his small window and moved on to accommodate other, more promising ones. Christoph sniffed. There was sunshine now, but there would be rain before days end.
The yeasty smell of freshly baked bread wafted across the street from Mme. Lemieux’s Boulangerie. His stomach growled and his mouth watered. Coffee and a fresh baked roll, what heaven that would be. He gave himself a shake. Not now. Maybe later, if there was anything left from his pay for this essay on the artistic merits of the new film by Liebeneiner.
He pulled up his collar and headed toward the city centre. It would take him almost an hour to walk there. By that time the offices of the Berliner Morgenpost would be open. Maybe he could talk that miserable editor, Kost, to read his essay right away. He entertained himself with the thought of having so much money that there would be enough for sausage to go with the roll. He would not order coffee. The tea was better. Food, paraffin and a new typewriter ribbon! What riches. So immersed was he in his daydream that he didn’t notice the group of brown-shirted youth crossing the street toward him.
Yes, that happened this weekend, and lo, the birthday came with an excellent realization.
A year ago, in January, I retired from my day job. I think I may have mentioned this before, and also that it was my—umm third retirement. I kept trying, but it just wouldn’t stick. I wanted to spend all my time writing and painting, but when push came to shove, I always took another job. Part of this is because I like feeling useful, and part of it was that I enjoyed the indications from my employers that I was good at what I did. You can work long and hard in the creative fields, and often you don’t know if you’re doing good work or not, especially when you aren’t noticed by the movers and shakers in the field.
I’ve been a whole year without a day job, now. I thought after all that time I was prepared but a new thing hit me hard. I had a very strong sense that I was irrelevant as an artist and a writer. Older people are often overlooked. Not complaining, but it’s true…well maybe I’m complaining a little.
At one time my cohort expected me to make some sort of bang in the art world. I, expected to make a bang in the art world. Now it all seemed to be too late.
This realization hit me hard and I spent the whole year feeling as though I didn’t matter anymore. This sense left me feeling down at times, but it also had a positive results. I stopped worrying so much about making the “right” kind of art. Instead, I’m making the kind of art that interests me. What a lovely gift that is!
In this year, I also made a new friend with whom I can discuss writing. You have no idea how good that is. And all through this year, below the surface, something else grew. I began to see possibilities again. Retirement isn’t the end after all. There are things I can still achieve! Whoo Hoo!
This new realization, this new belief is the most wonderful gift I received this birthday. The material gifts, dinner out, and birthday cake were sweet too!
I’m sorry to leave you with so little today, but I’m about to leave the frozen north and I have very little time to write.
I want to you know that I haven’t a clue how to write poetry, but I do know that a certain ambiguity and wonderful words are part of it. This week I created another altered book page, and I “Austin Kleon’d” it. Austin Kleon is a young writer who, among other things, writes poetry by redacting newspaper or magazine articles. Look him up. He’s a very wise young man.
Lord Johnnie, the adventure novel I’m altering was published in 1949. The language is florid in comparison to our current tastes, and somehow I ended up with this rather dark bit of writing. Since the images I’ve made have taken on a dark tone, I decided to go with it.
Years ago, while going through a tough patch, I picked up Julia Cameron’sThe Artist’s Way, and I began to write Morning Pages. This, in case you don’t know, consists of writing three full pages, in cursive, about anything that comes to mind. The idea is, I think, to help you introspect, to figure out what you think, and believe, and if those beliefs and thoughts are true to you. They are meant to give you a voice, when you’re voice has shrivelled up and gone away.
Morning Pages are what started me writing fiction. Two things happened. I got very tired of my whiney daily litany of misery. The repeat, repeat, repeat pathos made me dispair. One morning I wrote three whole pages of Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
One day, I ended up writing in third person, and made my first attempt at writing fiction. Here is the first chapter of The Spell, if you’d like to see what happened. The Spell is young adult fantasy fiction. An dark plague has come to Erdry, and young Averil, third daughter of Doft the Mender, must create the spell that will destroy the darkness.
You know how, sometimes, there seems to be more than one person in your head? There is the smart wise person, the endless nag, the I know better than you guy, and the mouse that is the daily you? Sometimes, in the drivel that showed up under my pen, someone else spoke. Someone who was like my dad, wise and caring, but not my dad. Bit by bit I found out “D” was a dragon. Uh, huh, my own personal dragon. Not the indiscriminate terrorizor you read about in some books and comics, more like John Hurt in the TV series Merlin.
I still talk to “D”. Here’s what happened this morning after a whine about how a medication I’m taking isn’t doing enough:
D: I would roll my eyes, dear, but dragons don’t trouble themselves with eye rolling.
Me: [sticking tongue out at D] You’re a right bastard today. Go breath somewhere else.
A little conversation, not nearly as wise as some, but it reminded me not to take myself so seriously.
I’m not thinking of whether you outline, write your thesis sentence first, or how you develop your characters. What I’m considering is the physical process.
It’s interesting to hear about the processes writers employ. Many get up very early in the morning before any other family members are up, and in this early morning solitude they invite their characters to play, blithely typing away as they watch. Some only write late at night. Some write in coffee shops and so on.
It is said that Thomas Wolf wrote with a pencil on paper, using the top of his refridgerator as his desktop. And yes, he was tall, and refridgerators were shorter in those days.
I find that I have a more intimate connection to my story if I write longhand in a lined book. And it is easier on my back to sit in a recliner and write in a notebook than on my laptop. The problem is transcribing drives me crazy. Writing with a pen or pencil isn’t the hard thing. Reading handwritten narratives, is for me the hard thing. Tougher, still if you’re trying to type what you are reading, while you’re reading.
Recently, in a Joanna Penn podcast, her mother, Jacqui Penn, also a writer, described her writing process. She writes her stories longhand in a notebook, reads it into a recorder and let’s Dragon take care of the transcription. She then edits on her computer.
This sounds brilliant to me. Her reasons for working this way, is that she finds sitting at the keyboard for long periods of time very hard on her. Yes! Me too. Sore neck, sore back, sore wrists…
I know that people write longhand less and less often. Times change. Technologies come along and do a brilliant job, but I hear that longhand writing is actually very good for you brain. (Check this, and this) And Google Docs has a facility whereby you can dictate a document on your cellphone without an intervening software like Dragon. There are plenty of issues to be sure. You have to tell dragon your punctuation marks along with the words, and Google only understand things like period and comma, but hey, what’s another learning curve! I’m going to give it a try.