It has been an odd time, this spring. Different threads of my life have been variously worked, unraveled, reknitted, and sometimes even finished. Others are stubbornly left hanging there, neither one thing or the other.
A Stack of Washcloths from Leftover Yarn
At the moment I’m sitting at the table in front of the patio doors that lead out to the deck of a house in the Indiana Dunes. The view is woodsy, trees just leafing out, mostly oaks, maples and cottonwoods. It’s very different than the view from the big window at home, which looks across the street at a massive plain brick wall, the swimming pool side of a former YMCA. It’s a bit of deja vu for me, as I’d once lived in these dunes for fifteen years. It’s also very different than the spring I’d originally envisioned, which was working and puttering under a shady arbor in my garden, and getting to know and play with a grandchild. I’m still getting my sea legs with the current reality, so that I can make the most of it.
The novel proceeds apace, and the first quarter is currently in the hands of my Reader Team. There are similarities between learning to write a novel and learning to knit well: the choices, the options, are vast, for one thing (pattern/plot, yarn/protagonist, color/style), and it takes a lot of practice to do it well, to get a flow going, and to have consistency in the gauge. Many writers say you have to write a million words before you get any good at it, and I think the same might be true of knitting (or crocheting or other needlework), although the speed at which my daughter-in-law went from knowing nothing to producing stunning sweaters could not possibly have added up to ten thousand stitches, let alone a million.
While working on the novel, I moved from hacking together a plot line and some characters to refining them, and became aware of elements such as dramatic tension and telling versus showing. My protagonist has become less and less like myself, taking on a life and attitude of her own, which means that when I now sit down to write, I must enter into her point of view, get inside her head. The other characters have become more real, as well, and the plot has shifted because the more they become distinct personalities, the more their motivations become clear, the way their threads of the story want to play out. I find myself no longer working to a formula, which is thrilling and scary at the the same time. Riskier, too.
Risk is relative. I will turn 58 this summer. It’s not old, but it’s not young. I’ve written my million words and knitted my million stitches, so even doing something new is not as new as it would have been thirty years ago, or not new in the same way. Some of the baby steps in learning something new can be skipped, while others can be real hurdles. But time itself becomes a more pressing factor. Over the winter, we were near as a close friend gradually faded out from a brain tumor, an inescapable reminder that time can run out before finishing the normal course of steps toward a goal. And the likelihood increases with time.
Time, too, increases the number of loose ends, incomplete story lines, unresolved plots. “You can’t go home again” becomes an echo that doesn’t end. “What happens next?” becomes an unanswered question. I used to have a bad habit of not doing the tedious finishing work with projects, the blocking and the weaving in of the loose ends; it didn’t matter back then, there was plenty of time to do it later. These days, however, it brings great satisfaction. Actually seeing something to completion, dotting the last “i,” crossing the last “t,” weaving in the last loose threads, finishing Act I, then Act II, and finally the entire story with Act III–it’s a gift, really.
There’s a catchy title for you, hm? Seriously, though, it’s been a while since I’ve taken a step back and thought about why I’m a minimalist. Now is a good time, especially with spring cleaning coming up, and Courtney’s Project 333 is about to have another seasonal go-round. And, incidentally, if you are new to minimalism, Project 333 is an excellent way to start, a real mind-opening experience that I can’t recommend enough.
It’s Time to Do It.
There are as many variations on minimalism as there are minimalists, and that number seems to be increasing, hopefully faster than the number of useless items in our respective junk drawers. Far from dead, minimalism appears to be seeping into the mainstream. Earlier this month, The New York Times featured an article by Treehugger.com’s Graham Hill, entitled “Living With Less. A Lot Less,” which is an account of how he became a minimalist, and the high-end way in which he lives it. In turn, it triggered a recent post by Katy Waldman on Slate.com, “Is Minimalism Really Sustainable?” which expressed the feelings of many that minimalism itself may be okay, but Graham Hill’s version was just a variation on conspicuous consumerism. The Hill article also inspired Dana Feldman of BreakThruRadio.com to remind us of Barry Schwartz’s TED talk ‘way back in 2005 on Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, and the relationship between minimalism, pessimism, and the delight in things that comes of lowered expectations (and many thanks to Dana for mentioning this blog). Read more »
Suddenly it’s been a month since I last posted, and am not quite sure how that happened. January-February-March always seem to be a blur, where I go into a physical and psychological Maintenance Mode, doing nothing more than what is absolutely necessary. Perhaps I’ve only really noticed the passing of time because I worked on the business taxes yesterday, which are of course due a month before personal income taxes. Perhaps the stress of trying to figure out what I was doing gave me an adrenaline hit.
Setting Down the Pen for a Moment
This does not mean I haven’t been writing. In fact, I’ve been writing more in the past month than I usually do, just plugging away at my novel, and continuing to learn the craft. Writing a novel is very, very different than writing a blog post, a nonfiction book, or even a short story. There are so many different elements and so many different approaches, and so many decisions to make. The ability to see many possibilities is a desirable trait in any kind of creative endeavor; so, too, is the ability to make decisions. The two traits, however, are often in conflict.
Should my heroine be in the throes of a personal disaster at the start of the novel, or should she be past it and yet a little scarred? Should the small town be landlocked or in a waterfront resort? Should the old lady be killed off or should she live another twenty years? Sometimes I think I’ve made my decision, write several chapters based on that decision, and then suddenly run into some sort of problem that a different decision could have avoided. Sound like real life, doesn’t it?
Yet if I don’t make a decision, the story doesn’t move forward. And that’s what we novel-readers want, isn’t it, for the story to move forward? Even if all that happens is a bit of personal growth, it’s a step forward for both the main character and the reader’s experience. Our own lives only move on as a result of decisions and choices.
Thus, while immersed in trying to make decisions that move my novel forward, the sense of suspended animation increased in the rest of my life. It was time to take a look around and reconnect. We’ve begun to put some plans in place, to change things up a bit on the home front and spend more time in the company of good friends during the warmer months. Fortunately, I’ve been dieting since the holidays ended, and have managed to fit back into my basic blank tank bathing suit, which I’d purchased seven years ago but never wore. There are supposed to be plentiful opportunities to wear it this summer. (And also fortunately my friends have aged just as much as I have, and my flabby arms will be in good company.)
The writing, however, will continue throughout. At this point, I predict the novel will be finished before summer, some good six months later than I’d originally planned. On the bright side, I’ve been taking my time to learn the craft as thoroughly as I can, and laying the groundwork for the novels that will come later; those will hopefully not take quite as long to hammer out. When I’m ready I will post a chapter or two or at least share in the details. It’s getting closer and closer to being finished, and I’m writing the last part of the story now. Never thought I’d see the day that I could say that I’m finishing a novel.
So I guess my own story has been moving along, after all
Abuse of authority or power is something most of us agree is a bad thing, whether it involves an absolute dictator, a priest, a parent, a teacher, or the manager of a fast-food restaurant. But where there is power, there is also the handing over of power, to varying degrees. In instances where we accept that another adult has godlike or patriarchal authority, we abdicate exercising our authority over ourselves.
No, Your Eminence!
Respect for authority is not the same as blind obedience. Consciousness of an hierarchy, a structured order, is a useful way to keep a society running smoothly and for the greater good. But both parties, the leader and the led, are expected to assume the other role as needed. In situations where the leader is seen as infallible, however, delusion is in play–and where there is delusion, there is often abuse in some form or other.
The abdication of one’s authority and power is not always a conscious one, particularly if you’ve been brought up in an environment where someone holds total authority. You are conditioned to place your total trust Read more »
Last week I worked like a house afire. Over the weekend and so far this week: nothing. An odd sort of ailment has settled in, not the flu or cold, just one of those winter blah things magnified a hundred times, where one can barely sit upright, let alone compose anything that makes sense. The Februaries, I guess.
It’s a good time to snuggle in and do a lot of reading, letting the author do my thinking for me, which of course means not reading anything too demanding. It means watching programs on t.v. It means idiot-level knitting (washcloths made from left over cotton/linen blend), comfort food (anything with noodles), sufficient amounts of chocolate, and ibuprofen and vitamin C. Warmth and fuzzy socks. An occasional nip of brandy. As much sleep as can be had between bouts of weirdly vivid dreams.
When I’m like this, I shy away from essay writing, and you should be glad. But I can still share some of the things I’ve been enjoying or finding useful lately, at least in the form of links. This list is by no means definitive or exclusive, it’s what comes off the top of my head as I’m in front of the computer at this moment in time (the Amazon links are affiliate):
Mystery Authors–I read their series from beginning to end:
C. S. Harris: Her Sebastain St. Cyr series takes place in the Regency era, and is replete with the dashing hero, the feisty heroine, and nefarious plots to bring down the government or ruin a family’s fortune and reputation, all better-written than most of this sort. What Angels Fear is the first book in the series.
Katherine Hall Page: Her Faith Fairchild series practically defines the contemporary cozy mystery genre. The novels begin from about 1990 to the present, and take place in a fictional historic small town not far from Boston. Faith is the wife of a local minister, but not in the least sanctimonious. She is also a caterer, so there are recipes and often food-related plots. Start with The Body in the Belfry.
Tasha Alexander: Her Lady Emily series takes place in the 1880′s-90′s, and the heroine challenges nearly every convention of the Victorian era. Most of the stories are based in London, but a few take place abroad, beginning with And Only to Deceive.
The Passive Voice: a sort of digest/blog covering aspects of writing and publishing. The Passive Guy is a lawyer, but doesn’t get into legal advice on this blog. Instead, he simply presents excerpts from publishing-related news items, or poses questions, or provides differing points of views, sometimes with his own take on things. He posts quite frequently. This is a great resource for writing/publishing food for thought.
Advice to Writers: Jon Winokur puts up a writer “quote of the day,” usually quite brief, and nearly always hitting the mark for me. I find the selection of quotes to be more attitude-adjusting than inspiring, which suits me to a T.
iPod Games–which are available in free or cheap versions:
Words With Friends: everybody does it.
Scrabble: better than Words With Friends.
Bingo Rush: weirdly addictive.
Catapult King: hilarious graphics and sound effects.
My Fitness Pal: the most amazing calorie calculator I’ve ever seen or used–it’s got a huge database, AND you can enter your own recipes. Not only calculates calories, but carbs, protein, fat, water intake, and both strength and cardio exercise. I use the desktop version, but there is also an iPod app. I thought I was pretty good at keeping mealtime calories within reason, but got some real eye-opening results when I entered my recipes. Can’t say enough good about this one.
Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and his other volumes are now available for iPhone/Pod/Pad. It is one beautiful app, very smooth to use. I like to kick around through it almost as much as playing a game, just to read about food.
Beethoven Piano Sonatas: Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) interpreted Beethoven like no one else, bringing out the lyrical lines rather than just going all sturm und drang like most performers. I’ve been enjoying MP3 recordings of his Waldstein Sonata (No. 21 in C Major, Opus 53), and of the final Beethoven Sonata, No. 32 in C Minor, Opus 111, which I had the good fortune to hear Kempff himself perform in London in 1980. It was sublime.
Catch up with you next week