Settling in for the long haul

I’ve just returned home from my fifth and final trip to New Brunswick this summer (well, since the last week in May).  I feel fortunate to have been able to spend so much time with my family – my niece in particular as her being in NB was a large part of why I went so often – but I also feel somewhat exhausted and in need of a ‘me’ vacation.  (Something I don’t think I’ll be able to take until December.)  Because of all of the wonderful time I spent with my family my time at home was little but work, work, and more work.  And now that I’m back, work of a greater intensity is about to begin, which is awesome for my bank account but I’m a little hesitant of how it will be for my soul/spirit/self (whatever you choose to call it).  I’m determined to impress myself with stellar efficiency and time management skills and just breeze through it all with energy and poise!

The state of busyness these past few days balancing family time, preparations for fall work, and finishing the first wave of revisions on my novel has left no time for contemplation or moments of silence  – well, I suppose to be more accurate have left no time.  Which is also why it’s been several days since I’ve had a new post.

I’m excited about the days ahead though. I know they’ll be busy, I know they’ll be tiring, I know part of me will wish for the flexibility I enjoyed this summer and wish I’d taken more advantage of that flexibility, but I also I know I can look back on these past few months and feel a sense of pride – I was successful in devoting quality time to three very important areas of my life – my family, my profession, and my creativity.

For those who were daily readers, my new goal is to post 3-4 times a week: I look forward to what insights and incidents this new phase of my life will bring!

Dear readers – how is the fall shaping up for you?  Will life carry on or do you also have some significant changes that will alter the course of your day to day existence?  Let me know! 🙂

Controversy – is it an art?

I’ve often wondered why, in our society, controversial so often means ‘good’. You see it in visual art . . . now call me snobby, or call me uneducated, or call me whatever you want, but from my perspective a lot of modern art is ‘art’ because it has, in the minds of the viewers, pushed the boundaries, broken through established conventions, challenged people’s perceptions of what art is – it’s been controversial.  And being ‘controversial’ seems to be all it needs to be to be deemed worthy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some ‘modern’ art that truly was all of these things and irrefutably (if anything can be irrefutable) art as well.  It was skilled, it was intricate, it was creative in ways that are beyond the scope of  the average person’s ability.  I’ve also seen some of this art that in all honesty my nephew could have done when he was four . . . in fact, my nephew’s work was probably better and yet his paintings and constructions certainly aren’t selling for thousands, or millions.

This has been true of music, movies, and, in my area of expertise, books.  I wonder if maybe the true test of whether a work is worthy of its notoriety is if when the subject matter ceases to be controversial the work is still gripping, engaging and without a doubt a true work of art.  I think of The Heart of Darknessat the time it was written the book was definitely pushing boundaries.  Now it’s viewed as racist by many, at the time it was the opposite – it showed snippets of humanity in individuals the average Anglo-Saxon, and the author’s audience, saw as inhuman.  That aspect of it is certainly no longer controversial but I’ve still read the work three times and been captivated for different reasons with each reading.

A Clockwork Orange is another book that certainly received much of its fame from its controversial subject matter.  Although not quite as controversial as it once was, the content still is controversial but I feel even as the shock of its content becomes less shocking people will still continue to read and discuss that work 20 years from now.      Now I didn’t really like the book that much myself but it was interesting.  I believe the author has dismissed the book, largely because of the movie and the glorification that created of things he didn’t intend to glorify – but still it lasts.  Which brings me to the motivation behind this post.

I bought the book Lolita in the spring.  I ordered it largely because it was 17th on a top 250 books list.  (I believe this was the Barnes&Noble list but I can’t seem to find it now.)  I started the book with high expectations and have been consistently and increasingly disappointed.  I began in May, it’s now the end of August and I’m barely 3/4s of the way through.  I think I’ve read five or six other books since I started.  I haven’t completely given up on it yet and that’s largely because I’m holding faith that there’s a reason for this book’s high ranking (besides it being ‘controversial’).  I’ve looked on several other Top Book lists and it’s consistently pretty high up there, and often above the other two books I mentioned.

The fact is though (in my opinion at least) it’s boring.  Now I wouldn’t generally just throw that word out there so easily but the author is long gone and really, that’s my big problem with it.  It’s boring, and wordy, and self-important, and does little to engage.  I find I can hardly get through 2-4 pages at a time without losing my interest.  Much of the narrator’s reams of description frustrate me to the point of putting the book down, annoyed that he’s wasting my time like this.  Now maybe the last 100 pages will drastically change my mind, I’ll see why this novel gets such high praise, and I’ll recant my words . . . well some of my words . . . no matter how good the end is it probably won’t negate the fact that the path there could have been more interesting and, quite frankly, written better.

Now some of you may really be thinking that I sound snobby and uneducated.  Please show me the error of my ways!  Show me what I’m missing here that would make this the worthy read I was hoping it would be!  Because right now the only reason I can find for this book holding the position it does is that Nabokov wrote about a topic that made (and still makes) people uncomfortable.

Have you read Lolita – what are your thoughts?  Am I missing something?  What do you think of art and controversy – how often do you think having the latter creates the former in the eyes of ‘the masses’?

Pushing through mental fogginess

Today has been one of those days when my brain feels like it has a filter over it, a dusty, dirty, headache inducing filter.  I’ve tried a few topics to write about and felt as if they all would be forced if I carried on.  I spent the day in a course – which was very interesting, all about generational differences in the workforce, the way our society, our parents, etc. shape our values, work ethic, views and the way our experiences shape the way we view those of other generations.  And, of course the way none of this is true all of the time and we can embody traits that are not a part of our ‘generation.’  I tried to write about that as well, and then wiped the page clean.

The best and most clear headed, pain free part of my day was when I walked out of that 7 and a half hour seminar and was greeted with the unexpected sun pouring down on me.  Without thinking, I threw my head back and cast my arms out – soaking it in. (I didn’t even really realize what I’d done until a service man making some sort of delivery commented on my action.)  It was a glorious, and simple moment.

After my efforts of trying (and not succeeding) to find something meaningful to write about today I came across this quote I’d led an ancient blog entry with way back in 2006 (another site) and thought, this is it!  Enjoy and contemplate the words of an intriguing man.

“Beauty is a form of genius – is higher indeed than genius, as it needs no explanation.”

– Oscar Wilde

Being a writer and being a hermit – you can be one without the other . . .

. . . although it may be difficult.  I remember back in my teen angst years when I spent hours and hours . . . and hours alone in my room writing.  Now some of this was ridiculously horrible, angst infused poetry but some of it wasn’t.  Some of it was writing that still brings a smile to my face.  Deep and still profound reflections on life, delightful starts to stories, infused with hopeful, living, breathing characters and even my first novella.  Throughout this though, I recognized that while I loved the time spent at my clunky old computer or curled up in my bed with a pen or notebook I was also using writing as an escape from a life that I often  found less than appealing.  As I grew up, and grew out of my hermit type behaviour I found that a rich, involved life outside of the four walls of my room didn’t leave time for the kind of devotion I was used to giving to my words.  You see, there were often times that I would write for 7 or more hours at a time, sometimes even skipping meals, and if I had to stop before I was ready it felt like I had lost something that I wouldn’t be able to get back.

When I started university and quickly found that I actually needed to devote hours outside of class to maintain the stellar grades that came easily in high school I found I couldn’t devote hours to my writing, even if I wanted to. When I started developing an active social life with friends I could confide my deepest concerns, fears, and joys to, I realized I no longer needed to use words the way I once had.

I can’t remember when exactly, but at some point I went through a struggle where I held the belief that I couldn’t be both a successful novelist and have a social life . . . with difficulty I chose my friends.  Now, clearly this didn’t mean I stopped writing all together but for years I let go of the dream I’d held from early childhood that I would ever be a writer.  I’ve recently reclaimed that dream and I just realized that along with it, this summer I’ve also seemed to somewhat internalize the old belief that focusing on my writing meant I couldn’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) make time for any but the most important social interactions.

I’ve taken time away from home (and from writing) to spend with my family and I have not abandoned Skype dates with my significant other but beyond that I’ve hardly participated in more than three or four social activities the whole summer.  The reason being (although I’m not sure how consciously I made these decisions) that unless something was really meaningful, I couldn’t justify the time away for writing, reading, or otherwise enriching my mind.

This weekend, however, held two out of those three or four and they were wonderful.  I had great conversations, I danced from the heart, and I was blessed with moments of euphoria during that dancing.  I was also reminded that although a lot of the great writers were pretty much hermits, a lot of them weren’t and I don’t have to be.  It’s equally important (and probably necessary) to get out of my apartment, out of my head, and take in some new stimulus.  I also noticed that my editor’s block seems to have eased up –  I’ve done more revising of my novel since that night out than I had the whole week previous!

To the artists out there – do you ever fall captive to the idea that you need to devote yourself to your art to the exclusion of taking in some of the other pleasures life has to offer? (Or do you ever just realize that the idea it’s becoming a truth in your life and you’re pretty much living as a hermit?)  How do you get past this? . . . or do you?

Conquering Giants

We all have our fears.  Those things that make us squirm or quiver, act in irrational ways, or that cripple us.  Some of those fears are very valid and understandable – the fear of death for example.  Even if that’s not a fear of yours you probably would never scoff at someone who harboured that fear. Some of those fears are so deep rooted and personal that we can’t even bring ourselves to speak them for fear even saying the words could make the fear a reality.  Some of the fears are more on the surface and are just straight and simple being scared of something, whether our logical mind says we should be or not.  No matter what fear we’re dealing with, trying to conquer that fear can feel like stepping up, grabbing our measly sling shot and preparing to slay a giant.

Some of my fears that fall under the last category are very pint size.  Earwigs and maggots.  These creatures disgust and worry me in ways that I recognize are not legitimate.  My biggest fear of them is that somehow they will crawl inside me. (I’m sure there’s some deep rooted, psychologically based explanation there but I have no desire to discover what that is).  As a moderate example of my fear, a few weeks ago I was staying at someone’s house, sleeping on a mat on the floor.  Just before turning out the light I saw an earwig crawling near my pillow.  I hurried to the bathroom, grabbed a tissue and killed the little bugger.  Lying down, however, I feared there may be more.  I probably lay there scared one of them would crawl inside for 3-4 hours.  Now I’ve never heard any accounts of earwigs crawling inside people’s ears or any other part of their body, but I’m still ridiculously paranoid about it.  (If you have heard of it, PLEASE do not tell me.)

Today I decided I had to deal with this type of giant – only on a much larger scale.  About four days ago I opened the compost container on my balcony to see dozens and dozens of maggots.  The past three days I’ve been semi-trying to ignore this (knowing I would have to deal with it eventually when the container was full) and passively dealing with it by spraying vinegar and then bleach on the terrors.  Despite my efforts, more and more kept appearing (I’m getting queasy just recalling this).  Today when I took off the lid there were dozens and dozens around the edges of the container.  They slid down the sides and dozens more dropped from the cover, which held even than the top and sides combined.   In shock and terror I dropped the cover and then, of course, had to pick it back up.

I went inside, washed my hands, and – shaken – tried to go about my day.  But then the creepy crawlies started.  I felt things crawling on me everywhere.  Now, logically, I knew there was NO chance one of them could have gotten to my feet and crawled up a leg without me noticing it.  I’d checked my hands and arms and none of them had made it there from the cover.  I started to relax and then I thought – but what about eggs? – what if they were so small I couldn’t see them. What if they hadn’t been washed off well enough and somehow . . . ok – I’m going to stop here.  If I tell the rest of this story and the lengths I went to in trying to satisfy myself that there was no chance maggot eggs would have the opportunity to hatch inside me and feast I’m sure more than one of you may suggest that some time in a mental health facility may be of benefit to me.  What can I say?  Irrational fears make us do irrational things!

After realizing how this fear had overtaken me and after some prompting and assurance from my long distance boyfriend (if he were here I would have had him deal with it four days ago) I decided I needed to take care of this myself and get rid of them once and for all.  I was stronger, I was smarter, and dammit how pathetic is it that I’m letting little relatively bugs have this much control over me!  And so about 45 minutes later, after much stress, much mental pep-talk, an overuse of plastic bags, an overuse of bleach (I know – very un-environmentally friendly), and about 5 hand washings the task was done.  Besides the bleach inhalation and a queasy stomach that lasted an hour or so I was none the worse for wear.

Now, this was a long story for what in all honesty, and to most people was a simple act to overcome a simple fear, but it wasn’t simple to me.  It really wasn’t.  And I feel ridiculous, yes for how big and hard this was for me but I also feel proud that I did something about. I went onto the battlefield, I slayed my giant, and I came out stronger.  I didn’t wait for my fella to take care of it when he gets back in two weeks (I asked, and he agreed).  And I’ve gleaned a lesson from this experience.  Throughout my life it’s inevitable that I’m going to face way more things that scare me.  Some will be fears on a similar scale to this and some will be much worse and even harder to overcome, but I’ve now got this experience to hold onto.  I made a decision, I set my teeth (figuratively), and maybe I’ll still be equally afraid about some squirmy bug crawling inside me in the future, but I know I won’t be nearly as afraid to do something about it when I have the opportunity.

Have you overcome any fears that, deep down, you know were irrational – is there a story there?  What lessons or advice do you have for helping others get past the fear in their lives – be it a maggots, the fear of death, or those things we cannot bring ourselves to speak?

* As a final note – from now on I’m keeping my compost in a paper bag in the freezer.

Editor’s block?

You hear all this talk about writer’s block.  It’s a common phenomenon that seems to plague pretty much every writer at some point in their lives – for most writers, at a lot of points in their lives.  I don’t hear so much about editor’s block though . . . I think I have it.

I decided to do a read through of my novel draft.  I wanted to just read it through, get a feel for the flow, the order of things – it very quickly turned into editing and rewriting.  As a result, it’s a lot slower going than I planned and I’m not really getting ‘the experience’ of the story the way I wanted.  I think, however, that this probably means it needs an edit before the story can be properly experienced.

Part of my frustration had been the little netbook I was using to do that editing (as well as all my other work.)  If I needed to go to another part in the 329 page manuscript I could wait  20-30 sec. to get to it.  Now opening the file up in the first place?  That could be a minute or two.  And if I wanted to switch pages to my browser to check on the name of a town, the year a particular restaurant was open to make sure my character wasn’t eating in a place that hadn’t even built yet, well, it was a good 45-60 second wait for said page to load, said search to occur, and several seconds more to get Word opened again to make the change.

“Good novels are not written, they’re rewritten.”

Michael Crichton

So, finally fed up with the time all this wasted (and the time it wasted during the articles I was writing and editing for my ‘real’ work) I spent almost all day searching for a fast new computer.  And it’s great!  I can get so much more done, I can start to do a task and actually do it before the time waiting for a page to load sends me to another task.  I love it.  I love it so much I spent a large part of yesterday reading tons of information and advice on the art of editing.  I even downloaded a 52 page book on editing and read it all. It was excellent.  I highly recommend it.  Needless to say, I didn’t get any actual editing done. I justified that fact by the truth that my editing will be better now that I’ve done all that reading, and it will.

Today I woke up with intentions to get through three chapters before going through the to-do list for my contract work.  A phone call stopped me before I’d started so I did that interview and thought – well, I’m on a role, I’ll get my to-do list done first and I did. I had an amazingly productive day, largely thanks to my new computer – I affectionately have named it Turbo.

To-do list completed, I opened up my manuscript.  I got through one chapter and decided I needed a snack.  Said snack didn’t seem to agree with me and I went to bed to try to sleep through a horrible stomach ache.  I woke up feeling considerably better and headed to my computer.  I opened up the manuscript and thought, you know – my files are a mess – now that I’ve got Turbo I should use his speed and ease to make everything organized.  It will save time in the future.  (. . . I guess I just decided Turbo’s male – makes sense – I’ll probably be investing more time into this relationship than with any other, including my fella – if you’re reading this don’t be jealous!)

Files organized, I realized I’d yet to write a blog and here I am.  I’m determined to get through those chapters as soon as I publish this.  Oh!  The oven timer just went.  I guess dinner’s ready . . .

Please tell me I’m not the only one who deals with writer’s block!  How do you deal with it? What advice have you gleaned?  Why do you think it’s so hard to get past despite the fact that we really want to see our stories ready for other eyes? – I have my own ideas about that – but I’d love to hear yours!

Who says the ‘law of attraction’ is law?

Over the past several years I’ve been hearing a lot about the law of attraction…I imagine you have too.  And I’ve got to say, I’m skeptical of it.  Extremely skeptical.  I mean sure – it’s a great concept, I’d like it to be true, I’d like to believe it’s true.  But at the same time, if it is true what does that say about me and the things that aren’t the greatest in my life.  Are they like that because somewhere deep inside I want them to be?  And how do you explain those people who go out day after day, year after year buying a lottery ticket, hoping that one day they’ll have their big win . . . does the law of attraction mean their belief is really not belief at all?  How sad.  How pathetic.

Now maybe I just don’t understand the law of attraction.  Maybe those of you who do are sitting in front of your computer screen or device shaking your head at my ignorance.  And that’s fine.  Enlighten me!  But while I’m waiting, let me do my own little search . . .

So, what I’ve gleaned from my reading – the law of attraction is basically that the way we think, whatever we think, creates and brings to us whatever we think about.  I understood that much already (or at least the idea of it).  And I do make an effort to have a positive perspective about things in my life, knowing that I have the power to decide how I react to all situations in life and to act in ways that will work for me, not against me.

The idea behind the law of attraction, however, is that the universe is hearing our thoughts and then responding.  Which raises the question to me . . . well then what about morals?  Justice?  What if the universe thinks, and rightly thinks, that I’m a jerk face and don’t deserve the positive things I’m trying to bring to myself . . .even if I don’t think that.  If I thoroughly feel I deserve all the good I want – then do I get it?  Well, maybe that’s why so many people who are jerk faces seem to be living the high life.  Hmm . . .

In a show summary for Louise Hay, who apparently is considered the mother of positive thinking encourages people to start living the law of attraction by saying things like, ‘I love who i am.  I love life.  Life loves me.  It’s going to be smooth and easy. Life works for me.’.  I just tried it.  A lot of me retains that skepticism, and thinks the universe part may be all a bunch of hokum, but a part of me also got the warm fuzzies as I spoke.  I want to believe this is true . . . and I suppose even if it isn’t technically, thinking those thoughts, saying those words to myself can’t be of much harm.  They may help to give me a more positive perspective on the things that aren’t so ideal in my life.

Other people talk about negative energy, disbelief, and desperation and say if you have fear of failure, fear of lack, whatever, the law of attraction won’t work.  So maybe that’s my problem (though I don’t know that I do have a problem).  That I don’t feel I really believe it.  So how do I overcome this?  And do I believe that overcoming it will make a difference?

I won’t go through all I’ve read on this quest (if you’re interested in learning more, go ahead, look things up yourself) but I will say that as I’ve been reading a greater part of me is thinking, what do I have to lose by striving to believe, by acting belief until maybe it becomes true?

Ms. Hay comes back with the quote “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” If she’s right I guess I just need to decide that I’m ready, act on that readiness, and when I truly am a teacher will show me the way.

What do you think about the law of attraction?  Do you believe it?  Do you live it?  Have you had experiences with it?  Do you believe the concept in general but not that ‘the universe’ is involved?