In the Studio

I’ve had a productive week. Sixteen mugs, three small bowls, and a vase thrown on the wheel. I ran the risk of not getting handles attached to five of the white mugs and getting their bottoms trimmed up; I had left them to stiffen a day too long on the shelf, so it was a scramble in getting them trimmed, pulling handles and getting them on. As I was working I knew there would be cracks at the joins, and I really thought I’d missed the window, but with a good roughing and lots of slip I hoped for the best. Then I went on to work with red clay.

Sure enough the next day when I checked the white mugs they had indeed formed cracks where the handles joined the mug. I set to work with a paint brush, vinegar and a flat, wood tool and mended the fissures. I had to do this every day until all the pieces were completely dry. Why Vinegar? It moistens the semi dry clay without adding extra water to the clay because it quickly evaporates. So it gives me enough time to manipulate the softened clay to make minor mends.

Luckily I managed to save all the white mugs. The red clay pieces were carefully monitored as they set up. Then I spent a day trimming the bottoms and pulling handles and attaching them. But checking them the next day I spotted a few of them had small cracks, so out with the brush and vinegar.

I have been making a lot of mugs, trying to get them right. When I first started making them they came out of the kiln so small, not taking into account how much shrinkage happens. Then, when I think I have a good size mug and glaze them, I’m unhappy with the end product after the final firing. In the last firing for example the clear glaze applied over top of the underglaze, was too thick and caused some lumpy and cloudy areas in the final fire. So, trial and error, and practice, practice, practice.

I think I’m getting closer to the size I’ve been after, and the thinness. Tomorrow I’ll be under glazing. I’ve stumbled upon some designs I was quite happy with on my last batch and I’m excited to get to work. Fingers crossed this batch is the charm!

Then I made a mini-Apple Pie and Orange-Fennel Ice Cream, because- balance.

Cheers!

Monday Motivation

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

This Monday prompt is a quote from Erich Fromm, a social psychologist, a psychoanalyst and philosopher.

Why do I feel apprehensive when faced with a blank page in a sketchbook, or a blank canvas, but have no such apprehension when facing a blank page waiting to be written on?

Not letting go and to allow myself to make a mark on a fresh surface feels different than writing. I can write with abandon, but the other I hesitate. Do I worry that I’ll waste material? There’s an issue right there- the word worry. Not conducive to creative endeavours.

In writing on a laptop I can delete and begin again without concern about the paper I’d be going through. But paint, canvas, brushes and good drawing paper is expensive. Can I be exploratory and playful with the medium; can I justify the cost when I can’t be certain anything will come of the work? So I become tentative.

A Little Space

I made a couple of purchases the other day for my basement studio. A six foot long plastic banquet table, an adjustable, portable table top drafting board, and an easel. Boom. The long table replaces a small drafting table I had picked up second hand a couple years back, but it wasn’t working for me, I needed more space to sprawl. The drafting board is compact and can be easily moved, used anywhere, or folded up and put away until needed. And the easel is an upright model, not a tripod, so takes up less floor space.

One side of my small studio works fine, the pottery side. I have my wheel well placed next to the wood stove, a long canvas covered work table with a full length shelf underneath that holds boxes of clay and other related material, and a short table with a small shelf for under glazes and brushes. And I have a tall shelf unit that holds all my clay work in process.

It was my studio’s “painting” side I was struggling with to get right. Like a bird fussing over its nest, I’ve prodded and pecked until it “felt” right, until it had flow. It has to work. Especially so since I do have to consider the size of my studio area. It’s small.

But I believe I’ve got the lay out just right now~

So I originally had this post close to sharing on January the 11th but, well life, I guess. So this is what I’ve been doing between then and now. I’ve settled into my studio- it feels good, got some pots thrown.

Freshly made, now waiting to trim and foot (clean up their bottoms) and apply handles to the mugs.

I’ve also spent some time in my kitchen, making French Macarons, meat pies, and carrot cakes. I’m enjoying once again making edible stuff. I moved away a bit from baking especially. Because I kept debating with myself the downside of the combination of sugar, and eggs, and butter and how expensive those ingredients are, and for what? To make me fat. (..ter). But since Christmas baking, I’ve reconnected with confection. Although maintaining a workable distance for the sake of weight. And I do have a captive neighbourhood who are more than happy to relieve me of the caloric burden, if I so choose. Oh, and Bob. He will oblige willingly. And he lives with me, so that’s handy.

I once had visions of having a bistro/bakery. It’s one of the main reasons why I trained as a chef and baker. That or an amazing boutique Bed and Breakfast. Fifteen rooms. Waterfront. Oh what I thought I could’ve done with that.

Mini 4″ Carrot Cake with candied carrots and caramelized walnuts.
Mini carrot cake. 2021

But, everything is in its place, as it should be. So, a little baking; a little cooking; a little clay work; a little painting; a little writing. I’ve also joined up for a fun project called The Sketch Book Project from the Brooklyn Art Library. They sent me a booklet filled with 32, 5 x7 white empty pages, and I am to send it back by August’s end full of whatever I have created within. Then it joins thousands of other little sketchbooks to be cataloged in their library. My niece is participating too- so we’ll inspire each other.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m boiling orange peels in simple syrup and they are ready to tray. Cheers ~

Short Story

Here is my second story from the Protection Island Short Story Book. It is fiction and was inspired from a Times Colonist competition many years ago. The Colonist had put up a challenge to write a two hundred and fifty word short story that had to include the five words: newspaper, cosmos, whale, spiderweb and impress. I didn’t win, but got good feedback. Since then I expanded the story and changed Cosmos (which in my original story I appointed as the cosmos flower) to Forget-me-nots to better suit the ending.

               Seafarer

They met in Ucluelet at a B-B-Q get together of a mutual friend, on a sunny Saturday in early July after a month of rain. He stood across from her at the patio table loaded with assorted salads and condiments. He paused over the potato salad when he noticed her putting her burger together.

She looked up when she felt his eyes watching and caught his stare, stopping her action in mid motion. 

“Sorry,” he said, and smiled down at his still naked burger laying on the half bun, “most people put potato chips on the side.” 

 She continued to add chips on top of her open burger and then squeezed mayonnaise over the chips. She reached towards him to pick up a long slice of pickle and placed it gingerly on the chips, glanced at him as she placed the top bun on, and pressed lightly with a crackling sound then picked up her burger and took a bite. He hadn’t taken his eyes off of her. 

 “I dip french fries in my milkshake too,” she said and walked away to sit with her girlfriend. 

She owned a small sailboat, built by a local shipwright. A 28 foot wooden sloop named Island Girl and moored in Campbell River where she lived. She had sailed her first big voyage last summer, circumnavigating Vancouver Island, with two friends as crew.

In September he accepted her invitation for a weekend sail to Cortez Island. Out in the choppy waters of the Straits he hid his seasickness, and then fought to hide his terror when a short, intense squall hit them before they reached Mansons Landing. After reaching their destination he watched impressed as she set the anchor. He tried to pay attention as she explained to him what it meant to fall off when sailing upwind. He tried to pay attention when she described to him how to plot a course as they sat in the cockpit with red wine and chips. But his attention was caught up in her brown hair that had curled in the moist salt air, and then his thoughts pulled him ahead to how the evening would be, curled in the bunk, he inside her, floating embraced in this wooden half-shell on the still dark water. 

They found a place together that winter on Protection, a tiny island near the city of Nanaimo. Island Girl was tucked safely on her mooring in the waters between Protection and Newcastle Island. 

During their first winter together he was coerced out of their warm house for short day sails with her in the cold rain and wind, stuffed into thick cruiser suits, toques and gloves. He never let on his discomfort, his tensing, queasing stomach whenever a gust pushed Island Girl’s shoulder deep down into a tossing beam reached sea. It’s ok, she’d yell to him over the wind, she’s a good boat, she’s loving this.

They would come home chilled through and climb into the hot tub, each with a tumbler of whiskey, and he would listen in amused admiration while she talked of new expeditions, her desire for further shores, bigger oceans, maybe a bigger boat. In the evenings he would practice his guitar while she studied for her captains license. 

The summer that followed she took him sailing in the Straits of Georgia at any opportunity, exploring the gulf islands north and south, threading through the long inlets along the Sunshine coast. She noted on those trips, and then said that he isa fair weather sailor. When he said he supposed that’s true and how could she tell,she said because his arm isn’t locked around the winch, and he smiles more.

He sees now he missed taking her seriously when she would talk to him about crossing oceans. Sail here, what’s wrong with the waters around here, he said to her.

 It was all leading to this day, at the marina, with both of them facing each other on the ramp that led down to the 58 foot sailboat that waited to take her away. The opportunity to crew across the Pacific to New Zealand meant the time had come. 

She stood before him holding out a clutch of small purple flowers cinched up in newspaper. She waited while he turned away and distractingly looked back up the ramp at nothing in particular. Waited as he took a breath; watching his chest fill then collapse. 

He turned back to her and took the flowers, then dropped his arm to let them hang from his side. He couldn’t look into her face, his eyes searched for somewhere to anchor, where he could hold for a moment; rally a semblance of composure. He found it in a graffiti of three words in blue felt pen on the aluminum rail near her left elbow, Impress with kindness. His lips pursed at this whisper from the ether that told him to open his heart, just for this moment. Enough, he thought, to let her feel that it’s not lost on him; that he is capable of understanding she had anticipated this, wanted this long before they became involved, since before Ucluelet, since before him.

She was asking him to wait for her. She searched in his eyes for a blessing, or a release. She had said to him earlier; to not jump at this chance was like trying to hold a whale in a spider’s web.

 He was thinking of that image now, and it pulled his lips into a nearly imperceptible smile. He didn’t want a smile to come, he pushed it down, he wanted her to know his heart was breaking.

But she caught it and her face brightened. She knew he’d be fine, knew it then. They would hold fast. Anything more will just have to wait. There will be enough time for that.

A crew mate called to her from the sailboat, she turned and waved back to signal that she was coming, then turned back to him, opened her arms and shrugged a smile. 

He took her in and pressed her tight for a long moment before he pulled back and kissed her mouth. Then defying everything in him let her go and said, “Sail back home, sail back to me.” 

He watched her walk down the dock, and then was seized with a sudden need, before she stepped into the cockpit, before the ocean separated them, to call out to her, anything to make her turn and look at him one more time.

“Hey, what kind of flowers are these anyway?” He held them up tight in his hand. 

She smiled and shook her head, and shouted, “I don’t know,” then she laughed and said, “forget-me-nots,” and brought her hand to her lips and released a kiss to him as the dock lines slipped to free her.  

Our Auklet’s mainsail, taken one summer while out for a day sail in the Georgia Strait.

     

Drifting through January

Half way through one of the longest months of the year here on the North west coast (why does this month have 31 days anyway, c’mon.) It has a penchant for being the dreariest out of the twelve. Here on Vancouver Island we get little if any snowfall, other than Mount Washington up island in Comox. But whenever we do get snow I’m a happy camper. It’s still novel for me. I was born in California. It brightens the landscape and the sun usually will shine with the crisp weather. And it begs you to go out in it and take a walk.

But we’ve been having an ongoing succession of dark, grey, rainy days and nights. And this month out of all is the one I steel myself against. It’s long, it’s dark, and there are no “occasions” to break it up. My antidote, to embrace this month of few distractions to allow myself to go deeper within, readjust, and redefine myself. Ideally.

And attempt not to overly engage in the crazy making going on in America. But it’s hard. I did a rare political scribble one night when the news of the coup seemed relentless.

I’ve been working through my fridge and freezer. So, not sure where that fits in. Paring down, cooking stuff off, and getting my eating habits back in line, I suppose that’s a kind of clearing out and organizing, and readjusting. Yesterday I made many jars of peach jams from fruit I had in my freezer that I brought back from Salmon Arm last summer. I made some chicken pot pies, I made several loaves of bread. I made some soups. It seems once I start working in the kitchen then that is my day. There was a time I did this everyday. For years it was my career. Now, I don’t feel so compelled. Cooking has taken on a more functionary role than creative. I eat well, I cook from scratch, and that’s about it.

Sourdoughs

My daily yoga practice gapped a bit as did my daily morning walks. True most mornings it has been pouring rain and I think to myself, I should get out there anyway; I’m sweet- but I’m not made of sugar, I won’t melt. Then I correct and think-I’ve got nothing to prove. And I’m not hard core enough to walk in pouring rain. I’ll walk later. But later it’s no longer “my space”, “my time;” walking in the half light of morning with no one else about. It’s a special time. So occasionally, if wasn’t raining, I walked in the half light of dusk, and that was fine.

I began work on another non-fiction short story to submit to the CBC competition; deadline end of February. I’m pulling up a sailing trip I crewed on back in the 90’s down the coast of Baja. Also still working on a creative historical non-fiction novel.

So I plunk along. I’m going to post my second story from the Protection Island Book today too. More for my own record on my blog site; stories are a commitment for a reader to invest their time in, it’s there for me.

I just checked my blog word count- how easy it is to clock out five hundred words in my blog than when I’m writing and working on my other projects. I set a goal to get down a thousand words down during a writing session. Sometimes I make it, sometimes over, most times I can barely squeeze out three hundred words in a three hour session.

No matter though, I love the process regardless. Write on!

Short Story

Here is the story that was recently included in our island’s publication. Its subject is about our historical Protection Island event. It’s just over 2000 words so a bit of a commitment for a blog read and I thank you in advance if you read it through. The piece is a creative non-fiction; based on a real event that took place in a real location and with names of the real people involved.

Pocket Watch

The dawn of September 10,1918 began like many within the home of Nanaimo coal miner Robert McArthur. A golden light filled one window of his small home as his wife carried out a well practiced routine of lighting the stove, preparing some breakfast, and assembling some food to pack into her husband’s metal lunch pail. The two sat together for a brief time at the table, speaking to each other in hushed voices to not wake their children still sleeping deep in their beds. Then he got up and left for work gently closing the door behind him, and stepped out into the soft breeze of a clear twilight warm with the remains of summers’ end. 

His home was within the large land parcel of Harewood Estates, purchased by Samuel Robbins, the Superintendent for the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company. Samuel had cleared acres of forest between the Nanaimo waterfront and the foot of Mount Benson to sell or lease affordable five acre sections to miner families to farm. It meant Robert could have a large vegetable garden and keep some livestock to tide his family over during lean employment periods, or if another mine strike should occur. Samuel was well respected and liked in town, known as the People’s Friend, and some called him the Godfather of Nanaimo. He treated the miners with humanity, dignity, and fairness; a stark contrast to the coal barons of the Dunsmuir family and their brutal labour abuses.

Robert made his way down to the harbour front and then waited with the other miners for the tug and scow that would take them one kilometre across the bay to the mining worksite on  Douglas Island, a small reef of land one and a half kilometres in length and half that in width. The tall Head Frame of the mine’s main shaft towered over the island’s south end and could easily be seen from town.

Once across the men disembarked and trudged past Gallows Point that earned its name after two native men were hanged in 1853 for the murder of Peter Brown, a Hudson Bay Company Shepard. The men passed the tiny Lamp House on the left, and then gathered around the Head Frame to wait their turn to descend below ground. Occasionally a chuckle was heard above the din and hum of cables and machinery but a somber atmosphere prevailed as the men prepared for their shift.

The elevator cage appeared up out of the blackness. Its metal gate shuttered open and released a surge of sixteen tired men, looking like charcoal drawings come to life. The whites of their eyes flickered, and blinked into the bright new day, the pores on their faces plugged with black coal dust and sweat.  All of them wearing the relief of being done their night shift and eager to go to their homes and beds.

As soon as the cage emptied, a fresh exchange of men filled it again. Shoulder to shoulder, their clean scrubbed faces looked forward through the bars of the gate as it closed them in. With a quick jolt and hum the thick wire cable lowered the men down. Those standing above could glimpse the yellow glow of  headlamps being flicked on one by one, the only visible trace left of them as the shaft swallowed the men down the hole of its dark throat seven hundred and fifty feet into a black web of tunnels that extended out under the sea bed. 

Working deep below the ocean floor they could feel the rumble of CP ships plying the waters above, regular enough to set a watch by.

The waiting men appeared bone tired from the endless repetition of stooping, hard work. Some stood silent, still groggy from sleep, or lack of it. Robert’s gaze was transfixed on the sun crowning the bluffs of Gabriola and lifted his face to the glow that would soon be replaced by the inferior, dim halo of his headlamp lighting the long hours of hewing and clawing at the black seams; for the hope and promise of a better life, a future.

The cage came up again and as it unloaded Robert remembered he hadn’t wound his watch that morning and fished it out of his pocket. The gold plated time piece was a gift from his wife and children on his fortieth birthday, scrapping together what money they could, and he laughed to himself thinking of his daughter Emma at age six being so proud to have contributed ten cents earned from picking beans for Mrs Crenshaw. Now she’s grown and married. As he stood turning the winder till it was tight he thought of that morning’s conversation with his wife about their son Billy and he being anxious about starting his first class at High School that day. His wife said, he’ll do fine, he’s bright and can navigate his way through any challenge that comes his way, and then when she smiled Robert saw Billy’s face in hers and he said, thank goodness he takes after you. 

He held the firm hope that his boys would be saved from a future of the back breaking, dangerous labour of a miner. He was fifty-five and felt worn and ancient.

 Men skirted around Robert as someone called out to him in jest that he’s fallen asleep standing up like a horse, then the gate shut and the cage descended without him on its sixth drop of the morning. Robert, and fifteen others got the next one. He jockeyed his body into a tight space between Caleb and Angelo, two men, like many of the miners there, who left their homelands behind. Some brought their families with them to the new country, others married after settling in Nanaimo. Robert knew that fourteen of these men with him were married with children. He had the biggest brood with seven, another was a struggling widower with five children to tend to. Robert often saw a look of worry in that man’s eyes. He couldn’t imagine losing his wife, he’d be lost.

The cage gate jarred shut with a clash. Two men behind Robert continued their conversation about the war and boasted over the new British tanks used against the Germans. Someone else interjected and said, they should’ve let the flu settle the conflict and spared the artillery. Robert tensed with worry. The conscription act that was enforced two years ago took his two oldest boys; he and his wife prayed daily for their safe return. Another said, this is a time a man needs a stiff shot of whiskey, and lamented over the prohibition in Nanaimo.

The cage jerked once and then began its steady descent into the darkness, and conversation hushed. Robert reached up to turn on his headlamp. The cold, moist air pressed in around him smelling of salt water and mineral. The shadowed faces of the men surrounding him were held in routine repose as the minutes of their long descent passed, and then, Robert startled when his feet lifted off the cage floor as gravity released its hold.  

A free fall rush of wind became filled with the screams of sixteen weightless souls, and then after the first of several timber beams were breached the only sound that filled the long dark chasm was splintering wood and crashing, bending metal. 

Men standing above ground watched in horror when the cable broke. Powerless in their shock, reaching out but nothing to hold, nothing to be done except to listen and not wanting to hear the crashing, clattering sound. Distant hollers rose up from the hole in the ground as if it were the very tunnels wailing.

The working miners below had scattered out of the way thinking the mine was collapsing, barely making it clear of the plummeting remains of the cage, and the sixteen men, as it struck ground. The shouts and cries from those in the mine who ran to help realized there was no one there to help. They saw only a horror that would cause them to wake abruptly from sleep for many, many nights after. 

It took until late that night to recover the bodies of  Robert McArthur and the other fifteen men. It took longer to accurately identify them, having to rely on pieces of clothing and any personal items that could be found and returned to their family members.

Upon investigation it was noted that the corrosive salt air was to blame for compromising the integrity of the three year old cable. Perhaps an inferior, cheaper cable had been purchased to cut costs, perhaps inspections had lapsed.

The town of Nanaimo mourned the men, and poured condolences over their widows. They shook sad faces for the forty-two fatherless children. When Robert’s wife came forward several days later to claim her husband’s pocket watch she was told gently by a supervisor that it was the only item that came from the wreckage intact. 

She looked down at the watch in her hand and read out the time on its face: seven-ten, and then clasped it tight to keep from shaking.

Today, one hundred and two years after that September morning, Douglas Island, renamed Protection Island in 1960, is my neighbourhood and where I’ve lived for thirty years. I walk down Colvilleton Trail that leads towards Gallows Point, and the old mine site that ran here from 1890 to 1938, to the place where Robert and the fifteen men with him fell to their death. There is little sign of the toil, hardship and sorrow that had once been here. The mining scars are masked by the thick growth of grand fir, arbutus, Garry oak, cedar, and blackberry. Large manicured homes and gardens now line the still unpaved road, muting the island’s tragic history. Protection Island has over the years become a tight knit community of serenity and charm with over two hundred and fifty residents. 

Visibly what remains from the mine site is the lamp house, the date of 1911 still visible on the front of the small concrete building and has since been transformed into a private home. There is the shore line around Gallows Point that is made of small, sharp cinder rock, like lava rock, and what I think might be from the old Mine’s boilers. There are still large amounts of coal  strewn on the beach, and the odd length of track rail pokes out from under massive logs that many years ago had been placed along the beach to stop the shore’s erosion. Then there are the pieces of thick, rusted, broken cable breaching the cinder shore like subterranean snakes, as if resurfacing at last from those old black tunnels and that once violent wreckage. 

There is a large mural at the residence next door to the lamp house that commemorates the Douglas Island mine. Artist commissioned, it’s painted on the wall of a small secondary building that now sits on top of the original capped main shaft. Copied from an archival black and white photograph, it depicts the image of the towering Head Frame that once stood there. Near the road way the property owner has placed a coal cart, filled with flowers.

I regard this place with some reverence, remembering that sixteen men died right here all at once, under this ground I walk upon daily. I think about the two native men hanged at Gallows Point, a short distance away from the lamp house, and it seems all these men met death at the end of a line, be it cable or rope. And I wonder that I can hear the hollow cries, echoing the grieving wails of their widows, their children. So much suffering within this small plot of ground. 

Colvilleton Road vanishes into the ocean at the place where the big wharf once stood and rumbled with coal carts that rolled down railway tracks to empty their loads into waiting boats. From here I can look out towards Nanaimo while deep beneath me the now flooded mine shafts still thread out under the harbour’s sea bed, still linking the old Douglas mine to the big Number One mine at Esplanade just over there in town, a kilometre across the water. A mine that had its own tragedy of 1887 as the second worst mine explosion in Canada.  But that is another story. So goes the legacy of coal. 

Protection Island Coal Mine with Mainframe.

Random

I had a dream the other night of my old college painting instructor, Ian Garriock. I was entering his studio class, taking my place at a work table- oddly not at an easel- but I was wearing my Chef coat. Obviously I was blending my two disciplines; my younger art college days with my later in life, chef training days. I then had to leave the class to go to the big commercial kitchen, but expected to only be gone a brief time, when I returned to the art class it was over and students were leaving the room, other students entering. I went up to Ian, he sat before me, clear as a bell, down to the beautiful custom shirts his wife made for him. I asked if he was still showing his work, painting in his home studio, he said yes. We talked a bit more (can’t recall about what) then as I went back to my work area to gather my art supplies he called out to me the class assignment, Translate the verse to visuline.

I woke up with his voice still clear in my head and I repeated it a few times in my mind, then I thought maybe I should write it down- because, what the hell is Visuline?! I should look it up.

So I wrote it down in a small notebook I keep by my bed for just such an occasion, (honestly I’ve never had to write anything down in a hurry from my bedside ever in my life) and then later looked up the word Visuline.

It means nothing.

But I let it simmer in my thoughts for a couple of days and am now toying with the notion that Visuline may be construed for Visual. The sentence makes more sense then. Translate the verse (words) to visual (painting). Or perhaps from a literary perspective to Visualize the words. (paint a visual picture with words) Either way works; for Visual arts and for Literary arts.

But doesn’t work with cooking. Which would be accurate since my interest in it has wained. During my working life cooking, and then working in the culinary department at the University, had served as my creative outlet. Since retiring from it three years ago, I’ve turned my attention back to Visual arts, and have also now found a new passion in literary arts. Cooking was relegated to the proverbial back burner.

So I’ll take Ian’s message as a motivational message and say, Thanks!

Brighter Days Ahead. Hopefully.

Almost there. And wow has this month flown by. And even though our own family Solstice gathering was waylaid by our nemesis The Evil Vid (…um, Covid 19) I still spent copious hours in my kitchen baking stuff. Much of that has been sent to my son and his family, my daughter is a baker so she doesn’t need any goodies- she’s well stocked, and some I’d given as goody bags to neighbours. But I did get a little carried away. Biscottis anyone?

Almond Biscotti, one of many trays
Shortbread

And aside from the fact that I sent out all my Happy Solstice cards spelled with Happy Soltice, this isolated winter season went without a hitch. You would think I would’ve caught the mistake after the first card, but no half measures for me, all in or nothing. Apparently.

The book of short stories came out, ( ahem, thank heaven for spell check) the one with two of my submissions. It’s satisfying to see it in print, somehow feels validating. The neighbours that launched the project managed to raise about five hundred dollars so far towards our Beacon House renovations, not a bad start.

I will include both stories in my next two posts. As for any other writing – I haven’t done any. Nor have I set foot in my studio. Baking seems to have filled my creative needs rather well over these weeks. And my waist line. The biggest threat to my risk of expansion is the fudge I make each year. But I was clever this time, only making what I was sending away as gifts…no wait, there was the first test batch that, well, had to be checked for smooth, creamy texture. Can’t be gifting grainy fudge and a mis-spelled card.

The cards I sent were photos, mounted on card stock, that I had taken. Some from my poppy series; the year my otherwise dormant front veg garden sprung up in an amazing swell of vibrant flowers, and then also some I took while walking on Newcastle, a large provincial park island adjacent to our island.

Now I find myself in that Netherland between Solstice and New Year. That fuzzy zone where the day of the week is inconsequential. Do I eat, sleep, or learn a new language. It feels like a holding pattern, waiting for the starting gun, my feet against the running block…tick, tick, tick. But when the ball drops at the stroke of 2021 (2021! Can you believe it?) what am I expecting? And why put too much expectations on that stroke of midnight; which I don’t normally, but somehow this year’s end feels deserving of a fresh start in every sense of the meaning. Here’s to brighter days ahead ~

The Heart of the Matter

Last week I had a long conversation call with someone who is very close to me. She is a mother of two, an accomplished designer, an entrepreneur, and not yet forty. She shared with me that she was experiencing a powerful push to express creatively, but didn’t know what to do or how to start. This surprised me a bit, knowing her background and her work. I knew her as a creative person. The question she asked me was; what do you do when you feel blocked? In general my response was to say that there is no “one way” to open up creative channels. I said sometimes we need to do something else, step away and do some other activity that’s even unassociated with what ever work we are feeling blocked on. To be stimulated by outside observations; a market, a walk somewhere new, taking some photographs. Another way, I said, is to just plunge head first into the work. If it’s a blank canvas staring you down, make a mark- any mark. If it’s an intimidating blank page, write something- anything. Just mark the surface, if it’s music, make a noise-any noise. Break the spell, disarm the preciousness.

She said she had a guitar and a piano in the house and she felt a strong compulsion to learn at least one of the instruments. She asked me which I thought would be the best to start with. I said either, although the piano has all the notes laid out, perhaps easier to pick out melodies, and to learn to read musical notations. The guitar can be a challenge at first, the physical act of contorting your hand to make the different chord structures, and getting blisters on your fingertips. She said she was leaning more towards guitar.

She asked if she should sign up and take classes or go to YouTube? I said, either one. If she scheduled lessons for the guitar she may find it could set up a discipline to practice regularly because someone will be expecting to hear what she had practiced. On the other hand, she is a busy mom and business woman, and covid restrictions, using YouTube might be more accessible to get things moving.

Then our conversation got deeper, and to the heart of her question. And because I’ve known her from childhood I had sensed she was grappling with a bigger issue in her intense desire to learn the guitar. Her father was a musician, and he played guitar. She was very close to him but lost him to cancer when she was thirteen. Over the years, and perhaps especially now watching her own little girl go to piano lessons each week, I believed she was feeling another layer of grief. She is not only still in mourning for her dad, as expected, but there is the regret of a missed opportunity to have had bonded with her dad through music. That is what is stirring her now. She said, with emotion in her voice, I never asked him to teach me to play, why didn’t I? If she had expressed a desire to play the guitar then, she felt there could have been something more shared between them, something that would link them on a profound level. But when we are so young, we don’t think of these things, there is always time. Until there isn’t.

Then she said something that I found so bittersweet and beautiful; “I’m afraid of what will come out of me if I do learn to express through music.” She has so much love; and sadness, and regret, and gratitude, and grief, and longing- all so big and deep, that there was a kind of fear that she could be overwhelmed and unprepared for how that would manifest for her. And so rather than move towards picking up the instrument and begin to learn how to play, and risk opening a seam in the tender garment that holds her grief, she holds still. She feels blocked. But she understands where it’s coming from.

I had also suggested The Artists Way book and by doing morning pages the clarity I was able to derive from doing the exercises.

This is how important a creative practice is to us. It has a place, serving us through spontaneously frivolous and joyful abandon, but also serves as the vehicle for what is abstract to us; those big, nebulous emotions and subconscious whispers, an outlet for our questions that cannot or will ever have a definitive answer; questions that will never fit into any category, but that must somehow be reckoned. It facilitates our journey. It can clarify our understanding. It can link us together through our constant search for ourselves and who we are. That’s what Creative Expression Outlets do for us.

Morning walks

Taking a daily early morning walk is a practice I’ve begun to do, and find I am relishing this time I spend; pre-dawn, just enough light to see where my foot falls and where the pot holes lie. Where I live we have gravel roads, and only a couple of street lights. There is no traffic, no sidewalks. Only sea, and trees, and sky.

Living on a small island has a multitude of benefits, one of which is the carefree ability to walk at any hour of day or night in relative safety. Here I am among an extended family of sorts. As I pass houses I know many of the people inside who are just beginning to stir, a light being turned on, a fire being stoked in the wood stove. Many of them I’ve known for over thirty years.

If I hear a shuffle behind me in the dark, it is a deer moving from its night resting place, or an owl swooping from its oak branch perch, or just the wind.

What I love about my morning walk is the solitary time. Because it’s dark outside I’m not distracted, my mind and imagination can work. I can move my body in a rhythmical stride and it becomes almost a walking meditation. I will encounter no one on the road either, not until seven perhaps, when people are on their way to the ferry or their boats, or bringing their dogs out for a walk, or joggers.

On my most recent walk, I had a clear insight into a perspective on the story I’m currently working on. By the time day breaks I have made my way to the South end of my island to watch the sun rise, and I find some inspiration in some photographic opportunities, feeding my creativity further. These walks are like an “Artist’s Date” for me.

“Bridges”
Early morning rainbow, looking west over Nanaimo

And as the sun rises I feel all the opportunity and potential that a new day brings with it. I’m always lifted by this, optimistic for what I could do in a day, eager to start, even if I don’t start anything of note other than the laundry. And I’m grateful even so.

Day dawning over the gulf Islands

Sweet Little Days

Ok, I have found that I am not keeping my promise in making weekly posts. It’s not as though I’ve been unable to. The weeks seem to float by, like ‘sweet little days,’ to clip a lyric from John Prine; so unassuming that I’m caught unaware. And the next thing I know is- I haven’t posted anything.

In my last post I mentioned that I will be involved in the Nanowrimo (National November Writing Month) and that is precicley what I have been up to. The goal is to write about 1700 words a day to a total of 50,000 by the end of November. I started the month with a story I had already in progress, with 25,000 words already written. My goal is to have a written draft completed by the end of the month. The challenge too that I’m trying to overcome is the need to edit as I write. Having a stiff timeline like the Nanowrimo to work under pushes me to power through and not over think. To “fix it later.”

I compare it to the cooking competition show Chopped. The chefs are given a black box containing crazy mismatched ingredients and must create a delicious plate of food, within a sharply limited time frame, that is then put before the judging panel. In this situation, the chef cannot spend moments thinking; it’s Go- NOW!

Except I have thirty days to put something together, the chefs have twenty minutes.

Anyway, I’ve been tapping away on a historical creative non fiction, rather ambitious for a first novel; go big or go home and all that, and I’m making good strides. I think I am. That’s the thing with writing a book. You sequester away for days, months, years, as nearly a hermit, with no guarantee anything will come of it.

I’ve begun a little practice of waking early, before dawn, and heading out on a walk. It’s early enough that no one is out, and I feel like I have the island to myself. As the sky lightens I find images to photograph on my walk, so it becomes an Artist date ( The Artist’s Way ) and exercise at the same time, win-win!

I’m loving starting my day like that. When I get back home, some yoga, then breakfast, then feel I can sit down to write for a few hours- sometimes more than a few hours.

I’ve recently gotten my pottery out of the kiln, a big bin of mugs, some vases, and a couple of bowls, and I’m happy with how they came out. Almost. Still having issues with the clear glaze I apply over the underglaze; coming out on the opaque side rather than crystal clear on some of the pots. And my mugs could be slightly bigger- I’m surprised how much shrinkage happens in the bisque fire.

So that about catches me up. I can’t accept that I haven’t played any music for two months, so that is an issue in need of rectifying.

Cheers and stay well ~

Believe Me

I’ve been slow to understand that a belief in ones self and abilities is the foundation to everything worthwhile. And I mean slow- I’m sixty-two. It would’ve been great to figure this shit out when I was a nineteen year old art major, I might’ve gotten somewhere with it. But I saw myself falling into this debilitating pattern of believing that I didn’t have the “Real” talent or skill, or confidence. But others? Sure. They must be more, know more, smarter. I could not see myself as a professional artist. So I didn’t take my art seriously; including the art education I had received, sorry mom, dad, or any other talent I may have, like singing. I coulda gone places, I’m pretty sure now. This belief pattern has stifled years of the opportunity to build on a creative, artistic life. Drat. And thanks for nothing, hindsight.

In High school I was put into an art majors program. Upon my graduation my art teacher wrote on my transcript that I need to pursue this, that he didn’t want to see me become a Sunday Painter. I didn’t become a Sunday Painter. But maybe I should have, at least I would’ve painted once a week!

After graduation I went on to Banff School of Fine Art in Alberta for a summer session. When my parents asked would I like to enrol for a year, I said – no. I had a (fricken) boyfriend back home. I still get nauseous when I regurgitate this memory. Not the boyfriend, at the time he was great, but, me turning this opportunity down turns my stomach to this day.

An aside to that story: My boyfriend was also an art student and we went on to college together that September. In our second year he was accepted on a student exchange to Florida for the year. I wasn’t and stayed behind at our Vancover Island College. So, there ya go.

During my solo second year at college towards a degree in Fine Art, I became involved in theatre. I sang for the first time on stage, I joined a band that had a loyal following. When then it came time to continue on to University to complete my BFA, I bailed. Because I met a man. Oh to go back and slap my young self.

But I continued with sabotage. I was a champ. Every move I made where I had the potential to launch myself in a worthwhile endeavour, to finish my degree, to paint madly and mount a show, to sing, I’d never take the bait. I always felt I wasn’t enough, that I was an imposter, or that relationship was more important.

This has been my life’s pattern.

So, what troubles me is why we lack belief in ourselves. Part of us knows we are qualified or talented or skilled, but some other part of us says naw, you better step aside and let the other more qualified, talented, skilled do the thing. Even when the road before us is clear. I know I’m not alone in this, it’s a universal neurosis. How can we be our own worst enemy? If anyone should be rooting for us it should be – US! If you can’t find a supportive friend in yourself, then where? Who? Why do we self sabotage? It’s what I did throughout my entire youth, my twenties ….and thirties……and….ok, my entire life thus far.

That pattern stops here. Ok, it’s a process. I’m continuing to work through it, and I am making inroads into what has been blocking me.

I’m asking more questions than having answers for because I’m still searching for the answers. I had mentioned somewhere earlier in a blog post that I’ve been working through The Artists Way book with the goal to tease out some of these answers. It’s been instrumental for me. I still continue with writing my morning pages, a year now. I think by doing that work it has brought me to this point where I can see things a bit more accurately. It’s enabled me to stand stronger in my convictions to recover what I tossed mindlessly aside, who I am, in trade for not being abandoned. To please.

I’ve maybe disclosed more than anyone probably cares to hear, but it’s all about self reclamation here. Creative Recovery. I need to hear it. Am I exceptionally talented? Not at all. And that’s what’s important for me to understand. That it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you think I am or not. But the work I do is important. It matters.

Am I too late? No, there is no time limit, there is no age limit. It’s about picking up where I left off, except this time I have intention. An awareness about myself. Finally. But I have it, so that’s a start. That’s a good start.

Rainy Day

Just back from Salmon Arm visiting my daughter, her husband and my two granddaughters, one of which we celebrated her third birthday.

The card I made for my granddaughter. She’s obsessed with dinosaurs. Knows many of their names, since the age of 2. Genius.

I managed to get the final glazing done on a batch of mugs and bowls before I left. Still working on getting the size of my mugs right, and to get that perfect “Lip” on the rim. I use underglazes to create my patterns and designs, the final glaze is a clear glaze on the bisque ware.

Here are the under-glazed pieces before I coated them in the final fire glaze:

Here is one of the mugs, bisque fired and ready for final fire glazing. The size is better, I’ve been more aware to make the mugs on the large size to compensate for shrinkage. Most of my past mugs have come out of the bisque fire rather teensy.

The same mug painted with the final clear glaze. Looks kinda crappy, but it will be clear and the images beneath will shine through when it comes out of the final fire.

Then there is this bowl. I was attempting my first ever large bowl when it suddenly collapsed. I was about to pull it off when I noticed it fell into a pleasing way. It had a shape. It could still be something. I thought, meh, fruit bowl?

So I left it on the wheel for a day to set up, and then removed it to a board to dry further so I could clean up the bottom. Then I painted a poppy image on it, and hope for the best! Below is the bisque fired piece.

I hadn’t played my guitar or had done any writing over the week I was away in Salmon Arm, a house with two toddlers is a BUSY house. Now I’m home, that’s deathly quiet, and back to my creative practices. On this stormy, rainy October day it was spent in the kitchen making tomato jam and figuring out what treats to make for the ghosts and goblins that will be coming by my door in a few days.

Cheers~

October, already, can you believe it? (blurted by every news host across the land)

Yes, incredible as it seems, seasons do come and go in a repeated annual cycle; we know this, why are we always so surprised? It’s fall y’all.

It means for me that I had let some lengthy time lapse over the summer since I visited my blog. The truth is, my summer hasn’t been all too productive in the way of pottery- a little bit, painting/drawing- nil, or music- months ago I wrote two songs, since then; well, I had to wipe the layer of dust off of my guitar yesterday. I can’t blame my slackness on the VID- 19. What, stay home, away from people and keep busy ? Those instructions are an artist’s/writers dream scenario.

But I did do some writing. A neighbour, new to the little island community I live in, had heard there were many artists living here and thought it would be fun to call upon those of us who are inclined to write, to contribute a short story, up to 2500 words of fiction or non, for a book to be titled Protection Island Writes. The finished book would then be sold to raise money for the continuing renovations on our community hall, which now needs a kitchen makeover. The caveat: the story must mention or relate to Protection Island in some way.

So I got busy putting some edits in one fiction piece I had previously written titled Seafarer, a story about a girl setting sail to New Zealand and the lover who has to let her go, and then I set to work on another creative non fiction piece about the Coal Mine that once worked here on Protection Island in 1918. The story takes place on the day the elevator cage cable snapped and sent 16 miners 550 feet to their death. A horrific accident for this little island. I built the story around a pocket watch; the only item that came from the wreckage intact, and the miner who owned it, Robert McArthur. The watch remains, frozen at the time of the accident of 7:10, in our local museum.

I submitted both stories for the deadline of July 19th and then waited to hear if they would be selected among the other eighteen stories submitted, and be included in the book. All the stories were given over for consideration and critique to a long running reading group in another city. Toronto in fact. The neighbour I mentioned earlier who is putting this all together had moved from there to here, and so was calling upon her reading group to help out and make the final selections.

During this time I managed in June and July to visit my daughter and her family in Salmon Arm and coveted time with my granddaughters. And another few days spent in Vancouver with my son and his family, and more grand baby love. British Columbia’s “Curve” had sufficiently flattened, and travel restrictions had relaxed allowing us to roam our home provinces, but for how long? We couldn’t know when or if another clamp down would come again in the coming months. So I got those visits in while I had the chance!

By August I was notified that both of my stories were chosen. Better still, although I am happy to have either story accepted at all let alone two, both stories made the top ten list, and “Pocket watch” won first place out of the top ten. Sweet!

A zoom meeting was then organized for all the top ten authors to read an excerpt from their story, and the rest of the island community was invited to listen. So I did that. Uncomfortable with Zoom meetings. With “presenting” in general. Anyway, the book is said to be ready by Christmas. I think I get one for free, as a prize, – not sure. Kind of excited.

I still have a bunch of pottery that has been bisque fired ( some of the greenware pictured here) and needs to be finished with clear glaze and fired again. I will get that done in the next couple of days before another trip to salmon Arm to celebrate my granddaughters third birthday next week, and will also be the last visit of the season before the snow flies and… can you believe it, it will be winter!

Man, I just have to say, grandkids are one of the coolest parts of being old….er.

And then with November brings the writing marathon NaNoWriMo. (National November Writing Month ) The attempt (some would say a laughable attempt) is to write a novel in one month. It means 50 thousand words in 30 days, it means roughly 1.666 words per day. I’ve attempted twice in the past. Three times the charm?

I’ll be busy. But, ( index finger raised ) I have realized that complacency has been settling in on me over these months, and has slyly stymied my intentions of doing the exercise of creative artistic work each day; whether it’s writing, painting, drawing, music and lyric writing, photography or pottery. Doing a creative exercise/project daily, much like doing yoga daily, should set the intention to ingrain these practices, to make them second nature and habitual through repetitious action. To become a LIFESTYLE, a way of being.

I’ve decided to set up my own deadline to push me along, and keep me motivated and focused until it does become habitual. To help with this, I’m enlisting my blog as a tool and vow to myself, from this day forward, to post on my creative work and practice on a weekly basis, rather than a whenever I get around to it.

My blog will act as a kind of personal Sergeant Major, staring me down, impelling me to get to work in the studio, NOW!…. and then write a report on it and post it.

Hey, whatever works to start and keep the juices flowing.

Stay well, stay kind ~

Sunflower in my garden 2020

 

writing through the pandemic, and other calamities

Songwriting, I have been doing a bit of that. I, along with most of humanity one could correctly assume, feel tossed and battered in a hurricane of emotional turmoil at this time. I don’t know about you but some days I feel on the cusp of tears. With not only the pandemic, but now the violence and hate that is dominating over people’s efforts to do the right things. Specifically south of the border. So, I try to distill all that into brief lyrics.

RIP, George Floyd, if peace can even be found anymore, and the too many others who innocently fell under a needlessly aggressive, violent end.

 

Oh Mama

 

Oh mama, you picked a good time to go

You packed your things and floated out the door

We never saw this coming, what laid us down so low

Did I hear you say it’s the wicked seeds we sow

 

Oh mama seems the sky’s cracked open

Hearts are torn, there’s only darkness showing

The -light- has- left- our- eyes

Seems too late for redemption

But shouldn’t we try?

 

Can it ever be sweet again

Looking down from those high places

You’ve nothing left to defend

But I’ll take any love you send, down on me

 

Oh mama you don’t worry anymore

It’s not like this hasn’t happened before

Take the blows, bite back the pain

Mend the wounds, wipe the stain, do it all over again

 

Oh mama will you hold a place for me

When it comes the time my soul’s set free

By then I think I’ll have had enough

Of this crazy world that’s left me worn and scuffed

 

Will it ever be sweet again

Looking down from those high places

You’ve  nothing left to defend

But I’ll take any love you send, down on me

And it will be sweet again

When we’re looking down from those high places

We’ve nothing left to defend

There’s only love, there’s only to send

 

 

 

 

Artist in the time of Corona

Have you seen the memes being circulated that show an artist before, during, and then after the Coronavirus self isolation period? In each phase the artist is doing exactly the same thing- creating. Another meme shows a gardener in each phase of isolation who also continues as usual in working in the garden.

The message is obvious. Creatives, and artists can isolate like champs. Happy in our own little world.

And I’m grateful to be living in a good place while this nasty pandemic is ruling our lives. Not seeing my kids and grandkids is my only heartache.

Of course in the beginning of our Sheltering in Place period, there was quite a bit of anxious focus and energy given to thinking how to retool our lives to fit our New Normal. Like, how are we shopping now? Is it okay to even go to town to shop for food?  Do we set up sanitization stations at our front doors? Do we wear gloves? Masks ? Are we suppose to strip off all our clothes before entering our homes after being in town? Do we wash all our groceries and packaging before putting them away? What happened to all the toilet paper? The flour, the yeast?

Because I live in a tiny island community, one kilometre from the main big island of Vancouver, many here don’t have their own boat and rely on the private little passenger ferry to get to town. When the ferry had to implement a severely limited ferry schedule and cut the passenger count from 32 to 14 per run to adhere to health distancing protocol this brought a surge of near panic and mayhem amongst my neighbours.

I’m fortunate (logically practical?) to have always had my own boat. And right about now many of my neighbours are considering hard in buying their own boats too.

Those of us with boats were requested to be available for emergency rides if needed. Our community email feed each day became filled not only with discussions about the virus but also with; who needs a ride in, and is anyone going to town and could they pick up a grocery item, or asking if anyone is going to Costco, or to pick up a package at the post office, or a prescription at the pharmacy. Often times when a neighbour is in town they would post on our community fb page asking if anybody needs anything. We came together and we help where possible. Benefits of a small tight knit community.

There are the daily morning updates from our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and our community discussions over particular protocols to be followed, with the latest agreement that visitors would be disallowed coming to our island. In fact all of the gulf Islands have banned visitors form coming. Signs saying this were posted at dock heads, and at the ferry waiting area in town. Next was to close the kids playground area and our off leash dog park when the government mandated to close all recreation parks.

There was simply a lot to digest in those first few weeks. And it can take a bit of time to disseminate all of this new information. 

Now we have seemingly settled into our respective routines. The community email feed has levelled out. Requests for town item pickups have lessened. We’re tentatively acquainted with how things are to be done. We put on a courteous face, although there is a hum of cautious nervousness just under the surface when in town and interacting with a cashier at the grocery store, or waiting in line outside the pharmacy. We can’t ignore the profound feeling that this is truly a surreal experience/existence.

Being an artist while living through this is a saving grace. Creatives enjoy their solitary time, given there is coffee and snacks within reach.  We may not be in the company of others, but we don’t mind because we are in the constant, engaging company of our artist self. We can never feel bored, lonely, or at a loss in what to do. We are constantly inspired by even the quietest muse.

And, what I’m really enjoying right now is seeing the videos of the music, the dances, the skits, the art from all those out there who are embracing this forced opportunity to be creative too.

Give people enough space and time from the daily grind and see what good things can happen.

I hope you are finding your muse to help you get through this time and are staying well  ~

Silent Spring 2020

Interesting times we are all sharing. We are all hunkered down for the long haul here on Vancouver Island. It truly feels real now that the BC ferries, our connection to the mainland, has been severely curtailed. They have cut 50% of runs at two Vancouver Island terminals – allowing only four runs a day for commercial traffic- our supply goods traffic, and four runs for regular passengers. The terminal in my downtown, Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay, has been discontinued for the next two months.

I give a major shout out to FaceTime and Skype and Zoom. Our saving grace is our technology at this time. We can still keep in close enough contact with family and friends. Our kids can still easily keep up with their studies from school. Adults and kids alike can take up a new interest, do research on the internet, download books and reading material, and music. Along with all the virtual tours online of parks and art galleries.

People are getting acquainted, or reacquainting themselves, with actual cooking meals from scratch, and baking their own bread- how empowering is that!? Many are seriously considering starting a vegetable garden or at least growing some kind of food in pots on a patio or balcony.

People are digging deep into themselves through all this chaos; reawakening dormant, or once lost talents and skills. We are thinking and rethinking. We are reinventing ourselves.

This event may stretch in to the fall, some authorities are saying. How profoundly will we all be changed?

I think of all the brilliant innovation that is now being developed, the retooling, the radical new inventions being brainstormed. We will be changed by this, it’s inevitable. Travel will look different, our family connections too. Workplace environments will shift and re establish in a new way. Schools will definitely look and behave differently. Will there be an insurgence of home schooling? Smaller localized schools?

When this is over, we will all be a different humanity. I hold onto my trust of the 99.99 to infinity% of well intentioned, brilliant, humanitarian individuals in the world who have love and compassion for fellow inhabitants, and for those who are dedicated to working over the new ideas, the new thinking, and the new manner of living on the planet in our rebooted future.

I have been accused of possessing a “Polly Anna” attitude and outlook. And I have to agree. I’ve always been an optimist. But it doesn’t imply I am not aware of the underlying negativity that exists in the world. I acknowledge it, and voice it from time to time, but I don’t stay there with it. I see it, I understand what it is, and assess if there is some truth that needs to be retained from it, then I make the choice.

I turn the channel. I move on with new information with my innate optimism.

Interesting times. But fascinating too. Watch, observe; this is real time and we are all at the same time learning how to do this.

Our “Oneness” has never been so evident.

Stay well everyone and be a studious witness to all this unfolding. Be kind.

 

November blossom, Vancouver Island 2019

Spring Push

March is here and I’m happy about it! Time to start thinking about the veggie garden and other gardening activities, time for being out doors more than indoors, and soon time for swimming in the river and ocean.

Half of the month of February was taken up by a minor injury that required five stitches and two weeks to heal. I was pushing down on a large bag of my recycling bag to make room for yet a little more, and a can sliced into the fleshy part at the base of my right hand thumb. A nice fillet of palm.

I buy hardly any canned products, but that little can of evaporated milk got me. I clean all my recycling, because I’m an obedient citizen (insert sarcasm ), but it was still a can, and a deep slice. Off to the walk-in clinic and stitches, and a tetanus shot for good measure.

A note about the young resident doctor at the clinic. I chatted with him about where and how long he has trained, etc. He says UBC and  eight years, then the residency. He put his rubber gloves on, got the tray of sewing gear ready, then he reached in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone- had a look, swiped it to read something, then slipped it back in his pocket. I said, “Would you mind changing your gloves.” (it wasn’t a question) which he promptly did; I think he realized his slip. I thought, Didn’t they teach you hygiene in med school? Cell phones are petri dishes!

The cut kept my right hand in limited use. I managed to get some more pottery under-glazed, but throwing on the wheel was out of the question, or hand building.

I got some writing done too, class work, but also concentrated on a non-fiction short story to submit for the CBC competition that ended yesterday, the 29th. I had changed my submission story three times. I started with a story from my childhood and a grade five bully. Wrote 2000 words on it, then thought who wants to read about an old woman’s little bullying  episode from 1967?

So I started another story based on the life of a good friend of mine, someone I am close to and love like a brother, and who has overcome real hardship. 2000 words. Then thought- is this my story to tell? Then I started the third -and last story, because I was running out of time! I chose an event from a 1997 sailing trip from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas I was crew on. Some interesting things had happened on that voyage, so with one week left till deadline I wrote another 2000 word story and got it in last night.

Writing non-fiction is harder than writing fiction. More fun to create a world. Writing fiction is far more entertaining than trying to unearth anything interesting from my own mundane middle-aged life to write about!

I’ve submitted to this competition three other times in the past. Spoiler alert- I’ve never won, or was ever short listed. Never expected either, and still don’t. Right now I’m just working at getting comfortable with submitting! Of course my writing is garbage, that’s ok. Maybe it’ll improve, it’s why I’m taking a writing class. Each time I polish something for submission it’s good practice, working with a deadline, all that.  I know I get better by increments. And that’s quite enough for the time being.

Happy March !

Studio Work and Back to School

I’ve been a little preoccupied over the last few weeks. One, I’ve been getting some work done in my studio. It took me a while to get myself down in to the basement- my studio’s location-because I had to overcome a ridiculous hang up; where will I put the things I make? Where will I store them? True, there isn’t a lot of space down there, yet presumptuous of me to worry about stuff I haven’t even made yet.

So I gave myself a pep talk: just get in there, make stuff, then consider the logistics.

 

I can self sabotage like a champ.

And I know I’m not alone in this. Why do we self sabotage ? Especially when it’s something we love to do, or have always wanted to do? Self Sabotage is slithery, sometimes – many times- I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I don’t know about you but I can always come up with a justification for not doing something.  I’m working on rectifying this, and recognizing when it’s happening is the first step.

There should be a Self Sabotage Anonymous Group.

 “Hello, my name is Debra and I am a self sabotager.”

“Hi Debra.”

The other preoccupation; I’ve enrolled in a Fiction Writing university class! It was hit and miss for a bit because I was on the waiting list. This happened mid January and I’ve got three weeks assignments in. There are reading assignments, then questions to answer in paragraph form. We submit our own short story piece every other week and give constructive critiques to each other. The instructor then does his final critique privately to each student at the end of each week.

Writing is a passion for me. I’ve been writing, privately, for many years, and have kept journals since the age of fourteen. Badly written pieces aside, I want to do this. These first few weeks have been illuminating, and I’m loving the process!

And let’s just add that I need this class.

The bonus is the class is conducted online, which is ultra convenient. If you don’t know, I live on a tiny gulf island and commute by boat. So when it’s a snowin’, blowin’, sleetin’ or a rainin’,  I. don’t. care. I’m snug at home.

Enrolling in the class was a positive step in taking something I imagine I can do to the next level. It is also a sly method to seek some outside validation. In other words I can write till my fingers fall off and think it’s pretty good. But, in fact, like Schrodinger’s cat, I’m a great writer- in my eyes – in my house.

Now I’ll see which state collapses when observed by a third party.

I continue doing Morning Pages. I believe they have been instrumental in guiding me to dig down and mine the good stuff I had buried over the years. Focused journalling, is what I call it. Three pages every single day for nearly five months now.

Happy Creating ~

 

Tethers

The elephant and the tether. That’s what reclaiming my “self” feels like after years of my self being claimed by work, duties and obligations.

The circus elephant, accustomed to a limited range of motion while their foot is tethered to the post for so long that when the tether is removed, the elephant still never ventures outside the range of the tether. Over time that range has been ingrained into their behaviour. They are trained to stay within a certain circumference.

Don’t we kind of do the same thing? We, the elephant; our daily grind to make a living, the circus.

And we stay tethered even if its no longer attached to us too. Is it because the tether can represent something familiar and predictable? That it circumscribes a safe area where we are comfortable, because we know what lies there in that length of rope between the post and our foot?

Never really noticed this until I no longer had to go to a job, but I am, slowly, learning how to reset the parameters, regain the lost horizon. I feel weightless, but in a disconcerting way. But I know it’s only temporary, that unsettled feeling. I can only think this must be what it’s like when, once bound, now boundless. Oooh, that sounds lovely. And terrifying.

 

Self Portrait with Planet

New Year, New books, and why don’t we creatives take ourselves seriously?

Well, that was a bit of hiatus. We got through the hubbub that is the Christmas season, a happy time for me. I love the winter season, the get togethers, the food, the very atmosphere the season can bring with it. Also, I love the winter season for the quiet time, some delicious solitude time, the snug of a warm home on cold stormy days. Christmas time, being a secular celebration for me, doesn’t discount the beautiful spirit we share together in our human condition. Regardless of religion, I feel it brings us closer, and causes us to remember and connect with the people we love – or those strangers we want to reach out and help.

This year while out doing my gift shopping I noticed that everyone had a countenance of happiness about them. I saw no grumpy faces in other words. Everyone was courteous and polite, smiled at each other. I’m sure there are many out there that do dread the shopping forays.- Not me. The bustle in the shops makes me particularly happy. It’s a super conductive positive charge knowing everyone is shopping because they are looking for a gift to give to another. How can we grumpy when we are engaged in that kind of activity?

This year Bob and I bought only a few gifts for the three grand babies. Between us and our two grown kids and their spouses we had decided on no gifts, but then we all seemed to stumble upon hearing about this particular Swedish gift exchange of Jolabokaflod, or Yule Book Flood, and decided to adopt it for our own gift giving practice.  It’s a full on WIN in our family. Tradition installed!

As a happy and luscious addition to ones’ new book, you are also required to have some good chocolate and some wine as you snuggle down on Christmas Eve to read. I can’t think of anything more delightful! Just so happens I made some chocolate truffles to send along with the books. The wine- well they had to look after that, but next year I may wrap that up with the truffles too.  Ah, see how it can escalate?  Hmmm, do they need a new duvet to cuddle down into with their new book, truffles and wine?

My chocolate truffles!

My daughter gave me a non-fiction written by Kate Harris; Lands of Lost Boarders, Out of Bounds on the Silk Road. What a spirit this woman has! Loving it, beautiful writer, and I’m nearly finished it. My son gave me The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s a book that he had just read and loved, a book I had on my list to buy since October.

The War of Art runs along slightly the similar lines as The Artists Way, but isn’t a workbook per se. It’s not a big book, so got through it in a day, but found his insights very supportive and motivating for pushing through to, as its subtitle says, Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

Very helpful stuff in there. And since this blog concerns itself with the creative issues of unblocking and recovering our inner artist I want to share and touch on one of the sections in The War of Art that spoke loud and clear. On page 69 under the chapter “We’re All Pro’s Already” he lists Ten behaviours we all already do as employees when working that day job for other people or companies. The implication he makes is we can transfer these behaviours to our creative work. This, for me, was like an Oprah moment.

Of course! Why wouldn’t I apply the same discipline to my own creative aspirations as I did when an employee and held a day job? And I was a very good employee by the way. Here are the ten points he makes:

    1. We show up everyday.
    2. We show up no matter what
    3. We stay on the job all day
    4. We are committed over the long haul
    5. The stakes for us are high and real
    6. We accept renumeration for our labour
    7. We do not over identify with our job
    8. We master the technique of our jobs
    9. We have a sense of humour about our jobs
    10. We receive praise and blame in the real world

These ten points make sense; treat our creative aspirations with the same “professional” attitude we give our day job. Why would we offer ourselves any less attention? It became evident to me my own inner reason for never considering this has to do with me not believing my creative work is worthy of such a commitment. Hey, it’s not real work anyway, so I can take it or leave it whenever- not important.

In fact, I am cancelling an important date; turning my back on a loved one- ME!

Number 6 is a good one. Receiving monetary reward. Why do we have such a hard time putting a monetary figure to our creative work? Instead we look down at our beaten shoes, give a scuff, and mumble awe shucks when someone likes what we do and wants to buy. We can go to our day job and not even be 20% engaged in that job, but we still happily collect our pay.

I know, and I’m just thinking on the fly here; Art resides on a different plane. Because we have a near spiritual connection to our creative process. To “sully” it with money seems at odds. I don’t have an answer for that, because I’m guilty as charged in that instance. I find it difficult to attach a monetary figure to something I’ve made.  I haven’t made much of anything to sell as it stands, but the few things I have had to put a price on was awkward for me.

I do recommend this book for a good kick in the pants.

In the meantime, The Artists Way has been a boon to my inner work, I’m on Week Eleven now and have noticed many definite positive inner shifts. I haven’t gotten down to painting yet, most of my creative work for the last while has been working to complete a writing project, so not privy to sharing that right now. I am still gearing up to push myself into the studio though! It’ll happen.

Delving into my personal hold backs, blocks and self-doubt around creative issues is deep solitary work, with not much to show at first. I’m a sponge right now, soaking all this information up, and I’m loving this whole process of exploring my creative blocks of why’s and why nots. It’s an enlightening, revealing journey!

But also, in keeping with my sponge metaphor, I’m going to have to squeeze out something eventually.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Hope your Christmas was glorious, and wishing you a creatively fulfilled New Year ~