Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Solitary Art

Virginia Woolf wrote:  -- a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

Though writing can be done simply – all you need is a pencil and a piece of paper for the very basics – starvation and homelessness are not conducive to work of any kind! Even if your necessities – food, clothing, and shelter are taken care of, money worries (e.g. the roof is leaking, part of the house is collapsing) are not helpful when trying to do creative work.

Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down.

Still writers write, and can manage on surprisingly small incomes if required, and motivated. It helps if you can focus on the writing and set other concerns aside for periods of time.

For most writers work is solitary. It may require quiet and uninterrupted time as well as space to write. Hence the room where, for at least part of the time, you can shut the door, spread out papers and reference works if needed.

Which is not to say that some people can’t and don’t write in coffee shops, at a kitchen table, on the bank of a river, in a public park, on a bus or while lying on a couch and appearing to sleep. The location may be public, at times even noisy, but the act of writing, whether on a piece of paper, a computer, or in your head, is solitary for most writers.

Some of us do collaborate, others share their work in a writing group, with a mentor or editor and get feedback that we may or may not use. Again, it’s up to the individual.

Actually getting the words down on paper or computer can be a struggle at times. There may be a rush of ideas initially and then comes the hard work of making your ideas a reality. Hurray, you have a first draft! Leave it for a while and come back with fresh eyes. Oh no, it’s awful! Or not bad, but not right either. What now? Another draft, the opinion of another writer? Perhaps.

Does a structure of writing at certain times of the day for a certain number of hours help? Some do it this way. Others set a goal of a certain number of pages that have to be done in a day, but can be done at any time – more flexibility. Some are morning people, other night owls.

Of course it gets easier the more you do it, right? Not necessarily. Each story, poem or book offers its own challenges. As do the changing circumstances of life that have nothing to do with writing.

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.

At times I’ve worked on several projects in a week, setting aside different days for each project. In other situations I’ve focused on one project until I completed a draft, then worked on another project while the draft rested. I’ve preferred the flexibility of setting goals of a certain number of pages.

Recently, though, I’ve had a more difficult time. Yes, I got some work done, completed a draft and a revision. But then, I had a hard time getting motivated to work on yet another revision. I felt tired, I wanted a holiday, or just wanted to goof off and do a lot of reading. A break can be useful, but this one seemed to be going on too long. It wasn’t what I’d call writers’ bloc (I’m not sure I really know what that is; I’m certainly never short of ideas, though I do at times lack the motivation or energy to actually sit down and write.) So I made myself do a little writing and felt OK about that, but not completely happy.

Aha! An idea. Where did it come from? I don’t know – probably the same mysterious source where all creative ideas germinate. What occurred to me was something I hadn’t done for a really long time. I would set a fairly rigid schedule and apply it to each week day, working in my activities such as yoga, walks, meals, reading and goof-off time as well as ample writing time. Weekends will be flexible. Yes! It appealed to me.

After some days of the above schedule I found that the writing was going well again, and I could also be flexible within the schedule if need be.

Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Remembrance of Gardens Past – Autumn

It seems to me that September this year in Saskatoon has been unusually green even into the end of the month. There are a number of factors that cause deciduous trees to change colour, including shorter days and longer nights, colder temperatures, soil moisture and sunlight. We had a very hot summer and recent weather hasn’t been cold enough to start the colour changes, though we also haven’t had much rain. Nature can still be mysterious.

I may have to cut my grass once more and I’ve still got annuals blooming this year. My garden notebook from the past shows the variety in the season over a number of years, and it seems that we have had long falls before. Still, I remember snow and frost in September, though I’m glad to see that holding off this year,

Sept. 6, 1998

I’ve been preparing for spring by taking out some more grass at the back and planting pink tulips in front of the anemones, and a couple of white iris in front of the chrysanthemums.

Sept. 14, 1999

I have brought in all my tomatoes, left out carrots, beets, some lettuce and peppers. Will see how they do.

Sept. 16, 2000

Yesterday and today were incredible days for September – hot, sunny, no wind. Sat in the yard a lot and just basked in it.

Oct. 14, 2001

Dug the last of my carrots, drained the hoses and cleaned up the yard a bit. My pink chrysanthemums are blooming in gay profusion in the back yard. (These have since died out, but I miss them. Have to look for more in 2018).

Sept. 21, 2002

A long fall – still have roses blooming, cosmos, golden Marguerite, and delphiniums for the second time.

Sept. 15, 2003

Cut some lavender, which is blooming for the first time ever.

Oct. 9, 2004

Malva still blooming, chrysanthemums in full flood with butterflies, white delphiniums having a second bloom.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Space Grabbers, Culture, Personal Space, Introverts and Extroverts

Advertising in some form is as old as our human ability to make marks. It could be on cave walls, carved on rocks and trees, printed in a newspaper or magazine, broadcast on radio or television and so on. Some of us need to let others know quite publically what we are doing or want to do.

In the 1920s and 30s press agents and publicists began to use print media to publish stories about their clients or products. So rather than straight ads readers would find what looked like newspaper stories or magazine articles that were in reality a new form of advertising. Apparently media owners really disliked this and called them space grabbers.

I’ve begun using the term space grabbers for other situations. The group that spreads out across a sidewalk and ambles along paying no attention to who might be behind them. The truck owners who take up two parking units, the motorcyclists who make as much noise as possible driving down the street, the people who park for days and weeks in one place on the street despite a parking bylaw that prohibits it. Those who scatter garbage in their wake and never pick up after themselves. The companies who use all the resources (e.g. water) they can without thinking about future generations. Those who pollute. Those who bully and harass others.

Why is it that these things bug me so much? It would be easy to say because those people’s behaviours are wrong; they pay little attention to the needs of others. And perhaps that’s so, but I think there are other elements at work as well.

Is it true as someone said to me recently that we are becoming less kindly in the way we live with each other? What bugs you most that might relate to space grabbers – the noisy concert many blocks away? The clouds of acrid smoke from a fire pit?


As cities grow larger they develop more problems just from the sheer mass of humanity and all its complexities. To a certain extent we have to put up with each other, be somewhat flexible about the things that bug us. Still, for each of us there seems to be a place where we hold the line.

In the end it may come down to something basic – how we feel about incursions into our close environment. And it’s not only our visual sense that notices incursions on personal space.
Edward T. Hall (1914 – 2009) was an anthropologist and cultural researcher born in the United States. In the 1930s Hall lived and worked on reservations in the southwestern United States. This was an area where several cultures existed – Navaho, Hopi, Hispanic, and Anglo. As he explored worlds strange and new to him Hall began to see how culture affected each individual’s behaviour.
Subsequently he traveled in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Eventually he worked for the U.S. State Department, teaching intercultural communications skills to foreign service personnel. He continued to observe and study how humans behave in a variety of cultures and situations. His books range from The Silent Language (the ways that we communicate without the use of words) to The Fourth Dimension in Architecture (the impact of buildings on behaviour) and to The Hidden Dimension, which is about proxemics, or humans’ use of space and the effects that population density has on social interactions and communication.
It should be noted that Edward Hall is not the only person to study these topics.
In the Authors Preface to The Hidden Dimension (first published in 1966, but still very relevant and not only in the United States) Hall writes:
It is increasingly apparent that clashes between cultural systems are not restricted to international relations. Such clashes are assuming significant proportions within our own country and are exacerbated by the overcrowding in cities. Contrary to popular belief, the many diverse groups that make up our country have proved to be surprisingly persistent in maintaining their separate identities. Superficially, these groups may all look alike and sound somewhat alike, but beneath the surface are manifold unstated, unformulated differences in their structuring of time, space, materials, and relationships. It is these very differences that often result in the distortion of meaning, regardless of good intentions, when people of different cultures interact.
I began my life in a small city in Germany, living in an apartment block with a shared playground and other shared outdoor space. Later, my family moved to a farm in Canada with fewer amenities, a different language and much more outdoor space. Huge changes in culture. My earliest life, however, impacted me most for I still prefer to live in a small city rather than on a farm, though I do like visiting wilderness areas. And yet, in that city I am very aware (if only subconsciously at times) of the space around me.
Among animals, territoriality helps to prevent overpopulation and is a way to protect breeding grounds and raising of young. In our cities, have we been paying enough attention to the effects that crowding can have on the human psyche? Does it have the same effect on us all? Hall would say, No.
There are contact and non-contact species of animals. Halls list of the former includes walruses (showing a picture in his book of them sleeping crammed together), pigs, brown bats; his lists of the latter includes horses, swans, hawks. Though Hall does say that all species begin as contact types, but change as they grow and leave their parents.
According to Hall there is also a relationship between aggression and display – aggressive animals display more vigorously. So do some humans view vigorous display in others as aggressive?
People from different cultures, says Hall, not only speak different languages, but what is possibly more important, inhabit different sensory worlds.  Each world has its own set of sensory inputs, so that what crowds people of one culture does not necessarily crowd another. In addition, social animals need to stay in contact with each other.
Most of us are familiar with the terms introvert and extrovert. These are terms that attempt to define how individuals interact socially. Each of us generally knows where we fit.
I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert. That means I enjoy spending time with others in moderation and like a lot of time to myself. I prefer quieter activities though I do enjoy a noisy spectacle on occasion. Because I’m a quieter person who doesn’t often make a fuss, it seems to me that people don’t always notice that I’m
Extroverts are more out there, showing themselves, making themselves noticed. So they push their boundaries out quite visibly. Introverts who come into the orbit of some extroverts have to push back hard in order not to feel run over. 
Certain characteristics are born or created in us perhaps through culture, and are difficult to change. From all I’ve read you can’t change your tendency toward introversion or extroversion, though you can perhaps engage in various activities that stretch your preferences. Neither introversion nor extroversion is wrong. However, by being more aware of peoples’ tendency for one or the other we may be able to be more tolerant of differences. We need to remember that each of us comes from our own traditions and may have diverse needs in terms of personal space. At the same time, it seems to me that city planners and architects can do more to avoid overcrowding in cities and make them gentler, more livable places.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Remembrance of Gardens Past – Summer

Summer is the time in my garden when I can relax and enjoy it – flowers blooming, herbs ready to use, berries to eat, greens coming along and other veggies. Of course, there is weeding to do and grass cutting, although I have very little lawn now. Summer is also a time when I think about what I might do differently next year.

A while ago I wrote from a garden notebook I kept for a number of years about spring in my garden. Here follow some entries from the summers.

June 11, 1998

My cukes died so I need to get some more. (I haven’t had a lot of luck with cucumbers. I have started some from seed indoors and transplanted them. Mostly they died. I’ve had a bit more luck with buying plants, though my cukes have never been plentiful or large. Too much shade where I plant them. Should try a different spot, even if it is among the perennial flowers.)

June 21, 1999

My pink and red roses are blooming. (I still have a couple of the rose bushes I planted at the beginning – Hansa and Henry Hudson. Others have died and been replaced or not. Disappointingly this year a yellow Bill Reid rose that I had for a few years hasn’t come up. I’ll have to look for another yellow rose to replace it next year.) Anemones and irises are pretty much done.

August 29, 1999

I have harvested some things – tomatoes (more to come), a few carrots, beets, all my potatoes (only about 8 – I gave up on trying to grow potatoes), garlic.

June 17, 2000

I think I am done planting for this year. Harvested some rhubarb (my rhubarb gradually declined so last year I moved it. It has looked healthier this year, but hasn’t grown much), half of which I will freeze.

July 10, 2000

I want to start more basil this winter (I love growing herbs, particularly perennials or those that reseed themselves – cilantro, tarragon, oregano, thyme; but I also plant others – basil is a staple). Also a few tomatoes again. Flowers. Maybe peppers and cukes.

June 3, 2001

Very windy today and cloudy – rain would be good. Am sitting out in my sheltered spot beside the house.

July 3, 2001

California poppies (annuals in a pot) in bloom. Also my other poppies (perennials) out in the garden are starting to bloom (This year I seeded some Icelandic poppies in honour of having travelled to Iceland; I was late seeding them, so I hope at least a few come up). Eating strawberries.

 August 8, 2001

Gladiolus (I don’t grow gladiolus every year, some years I save the corms over winter and replant them in the spring; other years I just don’t bother.) have been in bloom for a week or so. Daylily has been blooming. Ligularia had one kind of sick-looking bloom.

June 15, 2002

Have my deck set up with pots now and my chairs out. (I didn’t have a deck for some years and then decided on a low, small deck without railings as I don’t have a very large back yard.)

June 29, 2002

Have too many purple and white irises, but will thin them out some. (It’s fun rearranging and moving, adding new plants.)

July 26, 2003

Next year— move white delphinium, light purple delphinium and buy a yellow peony (Hah, I have yet to do this!), some purple lupine? The yard is much like I want it.

July 18, 2004

Deep purple delphinium is in bloom, also heliopsis (yellow), and Swan River daisies in pots.

July 2, 2017

I get so much joy out of my yard. Exercise, the fun of creation, surprises, birds coming to the feeders, planning and anticipation.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

So You’re Going to Iceland!

I’ve wanted to visit Iceland since was in high school and read a fictional book about it. The countryside, the Alþingi, all that history. I wanted to drive the ring road. And this spring I did it, with the help of my son (who did all the driving) and my grandson (who added his love and laughter).
Based on our experiences I have a lot of suggestions and advice.

The high season is considered to be June through the end of August, but parts of the country (e.g. the south) were very busy even the last half of May. I speculate that the same might apply into mid-September. So unless you are gung ho for the summer festivals, I’d suggest going in May or September. Some facilities, including some camp grounds may be closed. I’ve heard that a winter holiday (excepting Christmas which is also very busy) are also great.
Iceland is horrendously expensive. We took some dried food, bought food in grocery stores, and camped for a good portion of our trip. We splurged on one dinner and a breakfast, and also had one fairly reasonable lunch.  My son and grandson bought street fare – Icelandic hot dogs 3 times.

Camp grounds ranged from approximately $25 to $44 per night, not bad.
After a while I just quit converting to Canadian dollars. One other monetary issue: in northern Iceland the machines (grocery stores, gas stations, etc.) declined my credit union master card, though the ATMs took both it and my bank Interac card. On my return I called the credit card company and found out that in the north there were “encryption errors.” For some reason the machines didn’t work properly for my card. Initially, though, when it happened, I visualized us in Iceland with no money! Good deals are to be had, however – more on that later.

Try to arrive in Iceland late in the afternoon (most hotels and similar facilities check in is around 2 pm, though you can often get in earlier). We arrived at the airport just after 7:30 am and if you’re like me you don’t sleep on airplanes. This means a looong day before bedtime and we didn’t want to waste the day sleeping anyway.

At the airport usually one takes a ‘flybus’ to the BSI bus station (unless you are booked for a car or camper van right from the airport – they will usually arrange transportation to their facilities if they aren’t at the airport). This is not a city bus station, but the station where a lot of different tour buses congregate. From here you can walk, take a cab or get a shuttle to your hotel. Depending on where you are staying, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend renting a car right away. Parts of Reykjavik (if that’s where you are staying all your trip or only for a few days) have very narrow, congested and one-way streets that may also become pedestrian only during the weekend. If you do rent a van or car, do a walk around check of tires, hub caps etc. every day to make sure all is OK. Ideally, take pictures with date stamps. We lost a hub cap, no idea were, and it cost us extra.
We drove the ring road, with a couple of diversions in 9 days, eight nights. I’d recommend taking at least 14 days, or even 3 weeks if you want to see a lot and have the money. Another option is to stay in Reykjavik and either rent a car for day trips out or book  one or more bus tours.

A pretty good deal is the ‘Hop on, Hop off’ red bus tours of Reykjavik. The ticket (approx. $50 per adult is a 24 hour one and you can pack in a lot of the sights – start at the Harpa (concert hall and convention centre on the harbour, buy your ticket  from the driver), continue on to a square  near the downtown centre, city hall, a whale watching sight (separate boat tours - we didn’t book this), the Maritime Museum, the National Museum, Hallgrimskirkja, Perlan (a great observation point), Kringlan Shopping Centre (just like most other malls in the world), Laugardalur thermal pools and spa (well worth a stop for a swim. Great for kids with a water slide; soak in the hot pools) etc. If you’re 67 or over you get a discount at many Reykjavik facilities, children are free at some or get a discount. The bus departs every half hour from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, the last one arriving back at about 7:30 pm. When you hop off, just make a note of the time and get back out to that stop ½ to 1 hour from that time. The bus includes earphones (take them with you each time) with multilingual channels for commentary.
If you get accommodation in the central area of Reykjavik, anywhere from near the Hallgrimskirkja to the harbour, you’ll be able to walk to many places as well. There’s a variety of hotels and hostels (the latter would be cheapest especially if you don’t mind dorm rooms). We had a very nice hotel suite for our first few days with kitchen facilities to make our own meals and breakfast provided along with the fee.

Another option is to rent a car and take daytrips from Reykjavik:
·         the Golden Circle, which includes Þingvellir Park, Geysir hot springs, and Gullfoss (a waterfall – foss means waterfall);
·         explore the Reykjanes peninsula where Reykjavik is located;
·         explore the south coast (glaciers and coastline; Keldur which is off the beaten track has a small turf house village; see Mount Hekla; waterfalls; the town of Vik and the troll rocks). This area was very busy with people and traffic when we drove through at the very end of May.

Or go a little farther afield for 2 or 3 days and visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the northwest. Unfortunately we didn’t get there.
Another option is to base yourself in the north at Akureyri, a northern town/city. This is a quieter area and several day trips can be taken from here. You can fly to Akureyri from Keflavik airport, near Reykjavik (which is where international flights usually arrive).

An hour from Akureri is Mývatn Lake with bird life and lots of old caldera and lava fields. Nearby is Dimmuborgir with its castle-like outcroppings and ‘troll caves.’ Beyond that it’s not far to Dettifoss (a couple more hours or about an hour from Akureyri by a different route). Just past Mývatn watch out for a place that looks like a construction factory on the right. Stop there – it’s supposed to be a place where they bake/steam rye bread underground. Unfortunately we missed it. We didn’t miss the sulphur springs – a field of steaming and stinking mud pools, not for swimming! Very impressive. And later just off the side of the road, some outdoor hot pools filled from hot springs, and yes you can soak here.

What did I love? The East Fjords (wish we’d had more time to spend there), Reykjavik, Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon on the south coast, Skaftafell National Park also in the south, and the town of Vik, the Golden Circle, Keldur turf village.
What do I regret not seeing? Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the west, the West Fjords, more of Akureyri, Dettifoss, the underground bakery, going on a whale and/or puffin watching tour, exploring an ice cave. Not enough time, not enough money.
I’m glad we had a van on those rainy and windy nights. I admire the young people who bicycled and camped in tents. One night I went to the kitchen/washroom area building in our campground (it was pouring rain) and the floor was filled with sleeping bags.
I’m home now and I keep having dreams of travelling across lava fields and in small spaces. I’m working on a long poem that I started in Iceland. I also have ideas for a story related to my series ‘The Leather Book Tales’ and just a smidgeon of an idea for a young people’s story.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Remembrance of Gardens Past – Spring

When I turned 50 a friend gave me a garden journal with quotes and poetry and space to write in. I used that journal from 1998 to 2007. I wrote a lot each season in the early years and then was skimpier over time. Here follow a few of my entries from springs through the years.

March 20, 1998

I have decided to plant at least I rose this spring. Haven’t decided between a Fairy Rose in a pot or some shrub roses – David Thompson, Cuthbert Grant, Hansa, Prairie Dawn – in front of my vegetable garden. (Note: I have currently 3 rose bushes – Hansa, Henry Hudson, and Bill Reid).

May 16, 1998

Have done a little bit more at the back to begin the decline of lawn. Put in a couple of meadow sweet (tall, white) against the back corner of the west fence. I moved the peonies up so they are in front – took out grass and weeds.

April 8, 1999

Have started by raking leaves, filling up the compost. If it doesn’t snow I will rake more leaves tomorrow and maybe even cut grass. (Note: I compost leaves every year.)

May 2, 1999

I like the physical work of gardening.

April 11, 2000

Next year I start my bedding plants a month later – Feb. 1. The tomato plants are getting huge and it will be more than a month before I can plant them outside. (Note: Haven’t grown my own bedding plants for a few years.)

May 28, 2000

White anemone blooming, also a pink tulip. Had a deep purple red recently. I’ve planted annuals at the back – white alyssum near the garage and lobelia (blue) near the house. It’s been a cool spring. Soon I may be able to cook some rhubarb.

April 20, 2001

Planted sweet peas outside on the 14th. Today I planted a row each of spinach, carrots and lettuce. (Note: These were all seeds.)

May 23, 2001

Just to note, the dwarf lilac (syringa vulgaris) I planted this month is called Prairie Petite. Prune dead or broken branches in spring and other that (prune) right after blooming.

March 3, 2002

Dreamt last night that I had tomatoes and peppers really early in the season in my garden. There was a funny friendly beige and white striped (like a sweater in horizontal bands) rodent living in my garden.

May 6, 2002

Carrots, lettuce, arugula.

May 6, 2003

It looks as if my clematis vine is coming up. I was worried that it had died in that shady spot by the back fence. (Note: My clematis has been thriving in that spot for many years.)

May 29, 2003

Siberian Iris blooming. The anemone sylvestris and pulsatilla have been blooming for a while.

April 19, 2004

A beautiful warm sunny day, though windy, and cumulous clouds. Tulipa tarda coming up. (Note: This is a lovely small yellow perennial tulip that spreads and survives.)

April 20, 2005

Rhubarb just popping up. Strawberry plants, of course, as always greening early.

April 15, 2007

Little yellow crocuses coming up. Raked snow mold – lots – first I can remember here.

May 16, 2017

Through the years I’ve changed my front and back yards, taken out sod, added more perennials, tried different vegetables (I have a small herb and salad garden). Each spring I’m anxious to get out into my yard, see what’s coming up, decide what to rearrange or change. I have a small lot and a small house, but I love to create in the outdoors as much as I love to create with my writing.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Running Away

On Sylvia Tyson’s 1976 album ‘Cool Wind from the North’ there’s a song called ‘River Road.’ The chorus goes:

Here I go, once again,

With my suitcase in my hand

I’m running away down river road

And I swear, once again that I’m never coming home

I’m chasing my dreams down river road.

That’s exactly how I have felt recently.
It’s a quest for freedom, for relief from stress and worry, from certain responsibilities.

I’m sixty-nine and my parents are ninety-four and ninety-one. My mother has dementia, my father has within the space of five months fractured both hips and had hip replacement. When not in hospital my parents are in good long term care two hours away from me. I try to see them once a month there. The hip replacements meant extended hospital stays in the city where I live, so I was up to visit every day. It’s hard to see anyone, much less a parent in distress because of pain, confusion and frustration. There’s really nothing to be done to ease the distress of confusion and frustration. I see the years of decline and think about my own aging.

I retired from my paying job fourteen years ago so that I would have more time to write. Since then, I’ve published four books. Writing is my passion, and I’m still learning and developing. I resent time away from it because I know that I haven’t as much time and energy as I did when I was in my twenties, thirties and even forties. I have more aches and pains now and don’t recover from injuries as quickly.

I believe in finding answers to problems and challenges, but I haven’t found the answer to my current one yet. It seems to me to have something to do with attitude. I continue to think and read about this to try to find the path forward so that I can be as healthy and happy as possible. I don’t want to be an angry, grumpy old lady. So I continue to do yoga nearly every day and go for long walks by the river, as well as to write.

At times it feels as if it’s all I can do to hang on, to go forward. I have friends, but at the worst times it seems too hard even to try to contact anyone or to have to deal with people at all. It requires too much energy. There are times when it’s vital for me to withdraw from the world and try to regain peace, hope and energy.

I still believe in the possibility of finding answers to these challenges. I haven’t ruled out running away.