On going backward

Sometimes you have to go backward to move forward, and today I was able to take time to visit Historic London Town and Gardens, where they recreate 18th century life.  I needed to get a feel for the place and for the scale of its reconstructed buildings, as part of the current novel in process is set in the early 1700s.  

I've always loved Williamsburg but, as focused as it is on the revolutionary years, it necessarily gives short shrift to the late 1600s/early 1700s.  London Town is one of two places on DelMarVa that fill that gap (the other is St Mary's City, which covers the years up to 1695).  While London Town's imposing William Brown house kicks off the mid-century interpretation, an early 18th century style interpretation of a carpenter shop and home, plus an original 1720 tobacco barn reconstructed on the site in 1980, are also on offer.

I bought some books in the visitor center, because buying books at an historical site is something of a law, then had a snack out in the sunshine before I grabbed the camera and strolled the grounds.  The buildings (other than the visitor center) weren't open today; they open next week.  But it was nice to have the place largely to myself.  I took lots of pictures and tried to imagine, as I do at every historical site, what the town's original inhabitants might have thought and felt, how they spent their time, what conditions were like in the heat of the summer and in the brutal cold of the darkest months of the year.  As I wandered, I asked one of my characters (yes, I do that; a lot) what she thought about the chill, strong wind that belied the deep blue sky echoing the South River.  Her response was instantaneous: Our home is only a hovel but I'll be relieved to get back inside to the shelter from the wind and the warmth of the fire.  

The simplest answer is often the best one, isn't it?  The first thought I imagined my character having was a practical one.  No lofty thoughts buried in that pragmatism, except maybe to remind me that gratitude, in its simplicity, is essential to daily life.

I went backward to get a feel for a certain time and found, within that step backward, a continuous thread to tie a character's thoughts to mine.  I can make that work, and that's pretty cool.

Historic London Town  #historiclondontown



On opening up space

“If you build it, he will come.”  So says the voice that whispers to Kevin Costner in the movie Field of Dreams.  So what does Kevin’s character do?  He builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield.  And what happens? The 1919 Chicago White Sox, or, rather, their ghosts, show up.  He creates an open space and it gets filled.

Every one of my writing classes energizes me for my next step, whether that step is another synopsis rewrite, expanding the latest synopsis into a fuller outline (the current prospect), writing or revising scenes, or literally standing up and acting out scenes to get inside my characters’ heads.  I was fighting with that outline prospect one night last week when I was too tired to think.  Not wanting to retire without at least trying, though, I picked up a small notebook about the size of a 3x5 index card and jotted notes for a photo project idea I’d had in the car that day.  Yeah, I know.  Not about fiction.  But what that page did was allow me to get that idea out of my brain and onto paper so I didn’t have to worry about forgetting it. 

It opened up space for thoughts about fiction to bubble to the surface.  I turned that page and wrote at the top of the next: “TGR ideas for plot structure” and started brainstorming.  (TGR is the acronym for the novel’s working title.)  It only took a couple of minutes of staring at the grey lines on the page before I started scribbling.  Ten minutes later, I’d covered four of the small pages and had a clear picture of what scenes I needed to write next, and new thoughts on how to work the storyline.   

I finally put the notebook down, satisfied with what I’d written, happy I’d taken an admittedly brief length of time to do something creative.  It was proof one doesn’t have to dedicate hours upon hours to create something, that some days all that’s needed is a commitment to creating and a few minutes to act on it. 

Opening the notebook and writing titles on the pages seemed to be all it took to jot one idea down and open up space for each next idea to make itself known.  

So tonight I’m raising my cuppa’ to acting upon creative commitments and opening up space for new ideas to grow.

What actions allow your imagination to thrive, and how do you make and keep your commitments to yourself and your creativity?

A sneak peek at a few filled spaces  

On not seeing the forest for the raindrops

We were blessed with our first rainfall in a few weeks while I was driving to the garage this afternoon.  My Suzy-Q, a 2006 Hyundai Elantra sedan, just got a new transmission (woohoo!) and I had to drive our van, which we lovingly call Green Hornet though Green Monster would be a more accurate moniker seeing as how it's not nimble or quick like a hornet.  It does lumber down the road with weight and persistence, so maybe 'hornet' isn't so far off the mark, after all.  Anyway, I needed to drop in at the garage to pay the balance on the transmission so The Hub and I could return later, after the shop was closed, to pick her up.  

When the rain began, I could see just fine using the intermittent wipers, but as the rain set in the wipers couldn't do the job.  The rubber wasn't swiping the rain off the windshield to give me a clear view; it was smearing the water around instead of cleaning it off of the glass.  Seeing where I was going felt like using the bottom of a water glass as a windshield: it's not smooth, and no matter how long you hold that glass upside down there's still water clinging to and distorting the bottom.  

It was hard to see through the raindrops.  They kept distracting my eyes, calling attention to where my attention least needed to be.  I needed to have my eyes on what was happening ahead of me, but my eyes kept getting distracted by the raindrops -- they were bright, and my eyes kept getting distracted the same way an autofocus camera wants to focus on the thing closest to the lens.  

When our mechanic met me (at my car with an umbrella in his hand!), the first thing I asked him to do was put in new windshield wipers because I couldn't see a damn thing.

I posted yesterday about seeing the gold, taking chances, and going for the good stuff while it's there, yet only 34 hours later I was getting distracted by something (or, rather, hundreds of little somethings) that kept me from having a clear vision of what I should have been focused on.  The risk in losing focus is that when the time comes for decisions to be made, whether the many small decisions we make every day or the major ones that come along only once in a while, being distracted means -- for me, anyway -- that I can't refocus quickly enough to trust my decision making progress.  Living in focus needs to be a habit so there's less time living in the quandary and more living in the joy.  

Focus is on my mind these days, as I try to establish new habits in how I spend my time.  There are so many distractions that aren't nearly as important as the thing I should be looking at, yet those are the things I end up focusing on.  When I can't see the forest - that thing full of potential growth come spring, that thing that guards and treasures and hides the life that shelters within it -- it's time to step back, refocus, and improve my vision.  

How's your vision today?  What challenges you and, more importantly, how do regain your vision when you discover you're not focusing where you want to focus?  Please share in the comments!

This road leads through a wooded area.



On awakening and taking chances

The drive from Cow County into downtown Baltimore for the second day of a conference was uneventful even if nerve wracking.  I'd planned an early arrival so I wouldn't have to rush and would avoid the heaviest part of rush hour, but the volume of traffic careering around me down the narrow triple lanes though I was already going 10mph over the speed limit was disconcerting. 


I got in early enough to drop off my car at valet parking and get settled before the breakfast session roundtables opened. On my way upstairs, I spotted the golden light of sunrise on the water and the buildings across the way, and decided I'd best take the chance to go back out and snap a few shots with my phone while the light was good.  I was glad I did. Not 20 minutes later the grey had taken over. 


The reflections in the water were pretty with an implied serenity that belied the realities of a city readying to unleash its daily hurry.  A water taxi pulled in from across the harbor.  It was fun to watch the city awaken.   


The morning had me thinking about chances and how we choose whether to take them, and which ones we deem worth taking.   Decision making in my world rarely comes with a 2-by-4.   And sometimes the chance isn't really indicating that the easy, perfect looking  road is the best one; sometimes the chance is telling me to recommit to staying on the same path but with renewed vigor.  Maybe not to give up something I like for something that looks perfect for me, but instead to stretch and take action that will turn something I like into that perfect-for-me situation.  It is, too often, hard to determine which is the better road while I'm still standing within the quandary.  

That, in itself, can be problematic, because sometimes you only get but so many chances to grab the gold before grey takes over and your chance has passed you by...


Notes on a missing month

I hear November came and went as usual though I was sure it had fallen off the calendar because I missed quite a bit of it.  My mother wasn't doing well and I went to visit for a week.  Ten days after I came home I bought a ticket to fly back out the next day for another week.

My mom's showing clear signs of Alzheimer's, though I've since learned that the A-team label isn't always assigned because it's a diagnosis of exclusion given after having ruled out other forms of dementia.  I've only scratched the surface of what there is to learn about it, so I'm sure I'm saying that wrong.

During my first trip, tamaracks were the color of burnt butterscotch and aspen leaves were a vibrant goldenrod.  I'd never been to Montana in the fall, so it was a privilege to see autumn color gracing the mountains and valleys alike, even if many leaves had already fallen. The piles of fallen color were just as beautiful as the leaves that still clung to their trees, as if nature had spilled a paint bucket on roadsides, and on yards within weathered picket fences, and on the step-on-a-crack-break-your-mother's-back seams of concrete sidewalks that ran down streets outside fences separating shotguns and cape cods from summer stormcloud grey asphalt. 

One morning as my first visit drew to a close, I grabbed my camera and took a turn outside in the glitter of sun shining on hoarfrost covered grass and cattails, letting the colors and crisp air lead me.  It wasn't until I was nearly done shooting that I realized the pattern: I was drawn to pairs of things, and to leaves caught in half-fallen states, propped up by branches they'd found in their descent or trapped in chicken wire wrapped for protection around the bottoms of tree trunks.  

My mom and dad's connection is so strong after 57 years of marriage that even fleeting memory cannot separate them.  They remain together in their own mid-air state -- neither present, nor past.  In transition. Whispering sweet nothings in each other's ears, 'necking' as my father says with a giggle, and living within the state of transition as if it's a normal part of life.  Because it is.  Because in the midst of changing seasons, my parents prove that two people can hold tightly to each other no matter the breeze that tries to pluck them from the branch they've grown on for almost six decades.  

In the midst of the cold, grey winter, memories of fall color live. 

Keep up or digging deep: Part II / Goal: Whelmed

Too often, there's too much packed onto my calendar and, if there aren't external demands, there are self-imposed ones.  And they build until I feel overwhelmed.  I'd like to have enough control over my time that I can be, as The Hub and dear friends are fond of saying, just whelmed.

Shalagh of Shalavee asked for a list of things I've moved from one day's to-do list to the next day's (see comments) so I posted one, but I realized today that it didn't include any of the things on the nine 3x3 post-its in the front of my appointment book.  Most of the things on those post-its are sparks of poetry, fiction, personal essays, photography project -- all the creative pursuits that make life worth living.  And they don't even include the quilting projects.  I'm not willing to give them up but I can never carve out the time needed to work on them, partly because working on them requires big chunks of time, when all I've really got is 10, 20, max 60 minutes in a day.  Carving out that time is my greatest challenge.

Other items on those post-its are household-type things that, no matter how un-fun they are, need to be done.  It always feels good when those things are accomplished, but the doing isn't my favorite thing.

I've been trying different time management techniques since Covey hit the corporate world in the late 80s (yes, I'm dating myself here).  I've found lately that nothing works as well as simply getting up and doing the thing I'm putting off.   Lagging energy at the end of the day means too many days escape me without my getting much accomplished.  Why is the simplest thing often the most difficult to do? 

I'll keep going and trying to figure out how to fit 30 hours of doing into a 24-hour day, but if someone wants to do my laundry, shopping, cooking, and cleaning, give me a call.

Wow, this was hardly an uplifting post.  I'll add "write a more positive post" to tomorrow's to-do list.  And probably the day after that's, and the day after that's...




Keeping up or digging deep?

I've been looking at all the different things I do and asking myself questions -- why I do things, how much time do I really need to give them, whether there are other ways to achieve the same goals, and whether they are really important enough to need doing at all.

I've begun cutting back or cutting out three or four things.  If they become important in future I can give them more attention but for now they don't warrant time or energy or, least of all, the worry that comes from thinking I should be doing them.  Moving them from one day's to-do list to the next only provides written proof that I've somehow failed another day.  I'm not keeping up.  

But why does it matter whether I keep up?  Not everything on my to-do list is a top priority.  Some things, when evaluated more critically, don't need to be there at all.  When my days feel filled with activities that only scratch the surface, it's time to ask a question:  

Am I just keeping up, or digging deep?  

I spent several hours on homework Saturday and Sunday (with social media breaks, I confess) and ended the weekend with fleshed out character sketches for one WIP (work-in-progress), historical research done for the same story, and an SD card with some decent photos from a late afternoon trip to Gettysburg with The Hub.  

Creative, productive, and worthwhile because I was deeply invested in it.  

What matters to you?  Where do you invest your time and energy the most, and why?