Look back, look ahead

I know it was a horrible year, and yet it was somehow a good year for creativity. The work wanted to be made.

Writing

I finished the first draft of my first novel—as yet untitled. I have been living my own dictum. You only learn to write by writing, I tell the students I teach and tutor in academic writing. The more you write, the more you experiment, the more you learn how to write.

James Hillman said that “truth is revealed. It cannot ever be told. It has to appear inside the telling or through the telling.” Never have I found this more resonant than in writing fiction. I started out with a vague idea for a story, but it has only been inside the telling that truth has been revealed, an exciting and serendipitous—perhaps even magical—process.

I was privileged to have the first six months of the year off work and the second half working at home. This flexibility allowed me to establish a regular writing time in the mornings, so most days I wrote at least a paragraph and sometimes several pages. The novel is about 300 pages long. I will leave it to rest for a few weeks before I go back with an eye to editing. My small but loyal writing group helped me stay motivated, and I am grateful to them. I loved hearing other writers in the group read their work.

I published 18 blogposts in 2020. Long ago Michael helped me to be content with “3 plus me” (it’s written with a wineglass writer on my mirror). That just means if I like it and three other people like it (Michael is inevitably one of the three), then I am happy.

One of the posts this year was a beautiful guest blog by my sister.  And we collaborated on a second one. I love collaborating on blog posts and I welcome any of you to get in touch with  me if you want to write together.

Editing

This year I was accepted into Simon Fraser University’s Editing Certificate program and I have completed 3 of the 12 courses. I aim to finish in 2021, and intend to start my own freelance editing and writing coach business. I have done this kind of work as a side gig for years, but now I am ready to formalize my training and freelance in a serious way. Editing is a profoundly creative act. All of those decisions to be made about word choices and paragraphs, sytnax, architecture, punctuation. . . .

In my reading about editing, I came across Susan Bell’s, The artful edit, an interesting book about how to edit your own prose and hone your understanding of other people’s. I loved the way she takes the reader through the masterful editing of The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald and his editor, Maxwell Perkins. She has provided me with so many ideas both in editing my own work and as I apply my skills to my clients’ writing.

Sewing

I sewed in fits and starts this year, but as I look back I realize I was productive, though it often didn’t feel that way. I finished the textile art piece Eight Worldy Winds early in the year. The piece now hangs on my office wall to remind me of the transitoriness of feelings, fortunes, and life itself. Then the pandemic shifted me into giving mode—I wanted to make small gifts for people. So I started with potholders I had promised to friends a long time ago, then I delved deep in my scrap supply to make one-of-a-kind bags for other friends. After that, I sewed masks. I have to admit, that was a duty more than a joy. Then I started making aprons for people I love. By the final apron, I felt I’d perfected the pattern. I almost forgot about the blue cape I made (my courage cape) out of an old wool blanket. So much fun!

I went back to a bigger project with the Rhapsody in Blue quilt. It’s one of those weird quilts that actually look awful close up, with the mishmash of colours and patterns. But the total effect is pleasing. I started machine quilting of the top today, after pinning the whole quilt with safety pins. It’s the first time I’ve tried using curved safety pins to sandwich a quilt, and I like it. In the past, I’ve used the spray adhesive between layers, but I find it is not secure over time, and sometimes it takes me a while to finish a quilt top (now, especially, with a puppy).

There is something incredibly liberating in free motion quilting. And it’s a physical act; my whole torso sways and moves as I push the material under the needle, forming loop de loops. 

Puppy raising

Raising a puppy is a creative act. Just as raising children calls for creativity every day, so does having a puppy in the house. I used to make up games and stories, craft activities, and innovative ways to distract and delight my children. Now I am doing the same kind of thing with Marvin.

Going forward

I put sewing and writing on hold during our first few weeks with Marvin because it was an immersive experience—all of my energy was need to do my paid job and engage with and train the puppy. Those few weeks taught me an important lesson. I felt drained and bereft without my creative outlets. It is not just a luxury to take time to write and sew. Creativity is my lifeblood; creativity gives me momentum to keep on going; creativity feeds me. Especially in this year of the pandemic, I have leaned heavily on creativity, and I am so grateful to have the time to pursue my creative acts.

This year I let go of some things—drawing and my aspiration to learn to play the ukulele to accompany my singing. I just can’t do everything. So I focused on writing and sewing. I’m not sure what I’ll focus on in 2021. Some contemplation is in order.

Remember, creativity is your birthright. It’s not granted to just some people—we are all born with innate creativity. As children it seems more accessible and we rarely question it, but then its force seems to fade for some people. I encourage you to spark your creativity if it’s dormant. Write a poem, cook something new, learn a song, write a song, draw a comic, sew something. Make a birthday card for a friend. You never know. . . . 

All my best to all of you. Thank you for reading. 

 

An eye for detail

This morning I sat at my desk in my pajamas, writing, enjoying the way the light spilled from the lamp onto the scarred surface of the wood. Appreciating these last couple of days of not working. After a whole year off, I go back to my job on Thursday. My phone was on silent, but I noticed a missed call pop up on the screen. It was from the hair salon where I had booked an appointment for 11 a.m. Lots of time yet. I called back and asked if there was a problem….Did they need to reschedule?

Detail from a drawing by Michael Carpenter. Pastel on paper.

“Well yes, your appointment was at 11 and it’s 12.”

“It’s 12? No, it’s 8:58 a.m.” Pause. “Wait a second, where are you?”

“Alliston, Ontario.”

“What? Really? Oh my God, I am so sorry. Aren’t you the Gallery Salon on Yates Street in Victoria, B.C.?”

 “Where? Victoria? No, we’re in Ontario. Our salon is the Gallery Salon, and we’re on Victoria Street in Alliston.”

I was deeply apologetic, and then we both had a good laugh about it. After I ended the call, I thought about the details that I should have twigged on yesterday. I was looking online for a local salon that had a high rating—the Gallery Salon came up, located on Yates Street in Victoria. But I couldn’t find their website so looked for a Facebook page. Sure, the Gallery Salon has a FB page, but I didn’t notice it was a different Gallery Salon, one located in Alliston, Ontario. I tried to book with their online app, but got a FB message to call them to schedule an appointment. 

Why didn’t I notice the 705 area code when I called? In the back of my mind, I figured the area code was some new cell phone code, like 778, which startled me when it was first introduced. The owner mentioned HST when we talked about pricing. Why didn’t that detail wake me up? in British Columbia we charge Provincial Sales Tax (PST) plus Goods and Services Tax (GST), whereas Ontario businesses charge a combination of the two, called the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Perhaps I had temporary amnesia and thought time had slipped back to 2011 or 2012 when B.C. briefly charged the HST. 

In any case, my mind had done a superb job of filtering out information that didn’t align with my expectations. Selective perception? Frightening, really. 

What does it mean to have an “eye for detail”?  I expect myself to have eagle eyes because I am an editor-in-training. But each of us notices some details and not others. It depends on your focus, your task, your mood, your intention. Today I was interested in the details of lipstick shades. I was writing about Phyllis’s lipstick:

“Her lips, Geraldine noticed, were the colour of the heavy hardcover Roget’s Thesaurus she kept under her bed. Claret red. Revlon’s “Certainly Red.” The shade matched Phyllis’s certainty, her sophistication. Not like her grandmother’s “Candy Pink” from Avon, sold by Wilma from upstairs, the Avon Lady and Garnet’s babysitter. No, not that silly, girlish, domesticated pink. Far from it.” 

I looked up Avon and Revlon lipstick shades from the early 1950s and old book covers of Roget’s Thesaurus (Geraldine, a 13-year-old philologist, keeps a dictionary and a thesaurus under her bed). So many shades of pink and red. Burgundy, geranium, candy floss, salmon, cherry, garnet, ruby, watermelon, and blood.

Some days I notice almost every plant we pass on our walks, marvelling at variegated leaves, unusual blooms, the shape of needles, the saturated cobalt blues and plums of the hydrangea petals. Other times I barely register my surroundings, my attention drawn inward or wrapped around an intimate conversation. An eye for detail, like everything else, is variable, relative, and contingent on context. 

As I finish my first course in the editing certificate and work on the final assignment this week, I am grateful that I can switch on my eagle eye when I really need it. When it’s time to proofread, I can shut out distractions and use a ruler to move slowly down a page of text, my antennae out for anomalies, typos, extra spaces. When it’s time for big picture detail, my mind can range like a camera viewfinder, alert to where prose needs a signpost, where a key transition needs ballast. 

I have reassured myself that if I weren’t so distracted yesterday by multi-tasking (making a hair appointment while reading my email), I would have noticed I was talking to the owner of a salon located 4,274 kilometres away from my hair. When I set my intention, I have a grand eye for detail.

And yet, I still need a haircut. . . .

Update

In my last post, I said that I would let readers know the results of my fundraiser. Thank you to Barbara Churchill who purchased the Four Seasons quilt for $260—all proceeds went to Black Lives Matter, Vancouver B.C. 

No takers for my piece, the Eight Worldly Winds, but that’s okay. I like to see it hanging above my new desk, which is actually a used kitchen table we bought for $20 last week. I’ll be working from home now, and this is my home office. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.

Eight worldly winds hangs above my new desk

The magical golden key to being alive in a full, unrestricted and inspired way

We’ve been drawing and writing and sewing around here. Michael ordered a drawing bench from Nicole Sleeth and arranged to pick it up on Saturday. Sleeth is a painter, but as a sideline she sells handmade benches that are great for life drawing, as they comfortably accommodate the shape of your body when you are facing a model. I asked Michael if I could come along for the ride, expecting to simply pick up the bench and head home again. But when we knocked on the door, Sleeth welcomed us in, beckoning down a long narrow passageway, past her two little sausage-shaped dogs, into the studio, a long, light-filled room. I was excited to visit a working painter’s studio and see the canvases in progress; new finished work hanging on the walls; shelves of paints, supplies, and curious objects; huge windows facing Fisgard Street; a couch where, once they were tired of barking, the two dogs curled up and observed their owner chatting with us.

 

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Last September, we visited Sleeth’s show “All Eyes on You” at Fortune Gallery. Her work “centers on the female figure as an exploration of power, connection, and lived experience.” Standing before each monumental painting, I felt the personality of the woman before me. The unashamed, unadorned nakedness of women looking comfortable in their bodies startled me at first, but I was soon drinking in the honesty of these representations. I enjoyed that exhibit so much, I saved the postcard. It made me realize I am more at home in my own ageing, sagging body now than I ever was in my twenties or thirties. Later that day, I revisited the studio in my mind and appreciated Sleeth’s gracious unexpected welcome, another one of many small adventures we’ve been having this year, my year off work.

The second half of my year’s leave hasn’t gone as planned—Covid-19 cancelled our trip to Haida Gwaii, where we would have been this week, exploring the parks and learning more about the Haida Nation. So instead of travelling afar, we focus on home, neighbourhood, and our creative journeys,  all of which bring contentment. Now that I’ve finished the Eight Worldly Winds project (more on that next time), I will start working on a Courage Cape. The cape is my idea in response to a life coach who asked what I could do to grow my courage as I set out to start my own editing business.

Earlier this month, I had a free life coaching session on Zoom with Lori-anne Demers, who helped me to figure out what I need in order to be/see myself as an entrepreneur. When I go back to work in July, I will concurrently develop a plan for eventual self-employment as a writing coach and editor. Having skills and experience is one thing—I have a PhD and many years of experience in writing, editing, and teaching. In June, I start the first course in Simon Fraser University’s editing certificate program to consolidate some of those skills. But it’s the chutzpah of charging what I’m worth and facing the world with confidence that scare the shit out of me. So Lori-anne asked what I might do to feel into my courage—what symbolic creative act will give me fortitude as I launch this new enterprise? “I’ll sew a Courage Cape,” I said.

 

The Courage Cape idea just came out my mouth–no premeditation. I love sewing quilts, pillows, bags, and potholders. Lately, I’ve been eager to graduate to sewing garments. I recently ordered Stylish Wraps Sewing Book, by Yoshiko Tsukiori, from Bolen’s Books and picked it up on Saturday before we visited Nicole Sleeth’s studio. The hooded cape—one of the easier patterns—looked like just the ticket, I thought yesterday as I browsed through the different styles. I love capes; wearing them requires the kind of panache that I aspire to. But Tsukiori’s recommendation to use boiled wool to construct the cape had me worried. Boiled wool is about $30 a metre, and I know I make mistakes when I sew something for the first time. I didn’t want to waste money.

So today I got on my bike. It’s a glorious day—sunny and warm. I cycled the E & N trail to Store Street, admiring all of the graffiti along the way. I locked my bike in front of Value Village. They’ve reopened with new safety protocols. A vivacious young woman with purple hair, a plexiglass face shield, and a ready smile was stationed at the entrance, spraying each shopper’s hands with sanitizer. I headed straight to the back.  I found a big royal blue wool blanket with understated green criss-crosses for $5.99. It’s in the washing machine right now. I’ll use this wool for the first rendition of the cape. We’ll see how that goes. When I finally make a Courage Cape I am satisfied with (who knows, it may be the first iteration), I see myself wearing it with confidence as I edit a mystery novel, my feet crossed casually on my desk.

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Forty-five days left until I return to work. I counted this morning. May I treasure each adventure. May you treasure each of your adventures.

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“Being satisfied with what we already have is a magical golden key to being alive in a full, unrestricted and inspired way.” Pema Chodron, The Wisdom of No Escape. I keep this little piece of paper on my desk to remind me that I have all I need to be content with  life. It’s all here.