"writing"

Fresh Start

I have a new goal: write a little every day.

And by "a little", I mean at least 10 minutes.

I may not always write in the same place. In fact, I can guarantee it that I won't. Sometimes it will be here on my blog, but more often than not, I am sure it will be in notes on my computer or my tablet, or in a journal (a private, pen-and-paper kind), or my songwriting notebook, or one of my other blogs. (Yes, there are multiples. All of the others I have are updated even less often than this one. Do the multiple blogs denote narcissism, or simply wishful thinking when it comes to writing time? Um... I'm going with option two.)

I find writing to be therapeutic, even cathartic, as evidenced from the stacks of hand-written journals I have in a box somewhere (created during my teen years, when I had, you know, time and stuff). And, I have noticed (and have also been told by many others who noticed the same) that it is much easier to write, and the writing is better, when it happens every day. I prove that to myself every time I look back at blog posts from, say, five or six years ago--when the posts actually made it into pixels on the World Wide Web four+ times a week rather than getting lost somewhere in the corpus callosum of my brain.

Speaking of corpus callosum, it is regenerating the long-dusty pathways of that very marvel of the human brain that is the precise reason for my new sense of purpose when it comes to writing. Why? Because somewhere in the dark and musty halls of the right hemisphere inside my skull wanders that elusive spectre that many have referred to as the Muse, but which I prefer to think of as inspiration. The problem is, in the crushing pressure of the "too much on my plate" that I have been overwhelmed by--and am finally starting to wriggle out from under--in the last several months to years, I have forgotten how to hear her.

(Aside: Henceforth, I will sometimes personify Inspiration as a woman, since that part of my brain is the source, and I am a woman. I may even refer to her as the Muse on occasion, although I have no desire to give any credit whatsoever to the Greek idea that Inspiration took the form of a tempestuous and fickle goddess. Rather, I consider inspiration to be divine, either directly from the Holy Spirit, or indirectly through the fact that God created this marvel inside our craniums, and made all of its workings wonderful, and gave us the ability to listen to (and the freedom to choose not to) the more elusive messages our right brain tries to share with us constantly. Nevertheless, as the Muse is now a term that has come to represent this inspiration, and most do not consider it to be divine in any form, let alone to be a goddess, and is SO much easier to use than explaining all the aforementioned stuff every time (and is seven letters shorter to type than "Inspiration"!), I may represent Inspiration with the word "Muse" on occasion as I muse over why my inspiration has been so sparse in the last year or two. End aside.)

I have read a book or two on brain mechanics. My brain is a little over-tired right now, which is why I know "mechanics" is not the word I was looking for, but can't think of a better one at the moment. At any rate, it is probably not news to you that our brains develop new pathways at a startling pace until we are about five years old. After that, those that do not continue to be used are essentially disconnected, and by the time we are twelve, they die-off rate is exponential. The older we get, the more difficult it is to reconnect pathways (or create new ones), but it becomes somewhat easier if we do it a lot. That includes the pathways that connect the logical left brain and the creative right brain together in the web of nerves between them. The stronger the pathways connecting these two dichotomous selves, the more easily and often we get those "Eureka!" moments that are the Creator's gift to us--moments that help fill our lives with purpose, meaning, and excitement.

I think it's only natural that the Creator gave those he designed in his image the ability to create in turn. But like the talent that was taken from the foolish servant who hid the only one he had in Jesus' famous parable, if we do not exercise our creative muscles, they grow weak and flabby and disintegrate... or rather, those neural goat tracks are abandoned for highways that are better maintained.

So, here's to repaving some roads!

... Now, I really gotta go get some sleep. :-)

I Could Use A Little Fuel Myself

I need to get out of here--out of my house, out of this town, beyond the boundaries of these four walls and this river valley. I need to breathe fresh air, see green trees, stretch my legs and my mind and my horizons. I need to get behind the wheel and drive and drive until I don't want to drive any more. I feel the call of warm weather, warm company, and warm Starbuck's Caramel Apple Cider.

I need an adventure. I've been cooped up too long, doing the same thing, stuck in bed, too tired to do my laundry. I'm tired of looking out my own front window. I'm tired of walking the same worn paths around my house. I'm tired of being tired.

C'mon, Honey! Let's load up our stuff, load up our kids, load up the van! Let's seek out adventures, greener pastures, the wind on our faces and the sun on our backs! Let's hit the road and get out of here!

Spring. Break. Can't come soon enough.

Creativity Is For Copycats

cre·a·tive (kr-tv)
adj.
1. Having the ability or power to create: Human beings are creative animals.
2. Productive; creating.
3. Characterized by originality and expressiveness; imaginative: creative writing.
n.

One who displays productive originality: the creatives in the advertising department.

♣♣♣

I often get comments about how creative I am. These are usually uttered with a wistful look in the eye of the speaker, followed with something along the lines of "I wish I were that creative, but I don't have a creative bone in my body."

One of my friends, Christa D., told me once about something she heard regarding this very lament: we are all creative beings. Why? Because we were made in the image of the Creator.

Not long ago, I was thinking about the very essence of creativity. What does it mean to be creative? Isn't it just rearranging known variables in a new order, and maybe even throwing in one or two that no one seems to have combined with those before?

For example, in yesterday's post, I posted a video detailing the many variations of Pachelbel's Canon in D that have appeared in western music. Why is this? Well, let's think about it: There are only 12 different tones in our scale, covering almost eight octaves. There are only a finite number of chords that can be built with those tones. And to limit it further, our ears are trained to prefer only certain movements of those chords. For instance (bear with me as the music geek comes out for a minute), I think you would be hard-pressed to find a song on the radio today that does not end in a V-I chord combination, unless they chose to leave it deliberately unresolved. ("Clocks" is a good example of an unresolved song.) Without that good V-I punch at the end, the song does not feel "finished."

More than that, there are certain chords we like to hear more than the others. And we like them to move a certain way to other chords. With all of these "rules" to what makes a "good song," is it any wonder that there has been very little truly creative happen in pop music since Bach was writing fugues for his organ?

What?! you say in shock. Are you comparing bands like Nine Inch Nails, KISS, Enigma, and yes, even artists like Gordon Lightfoot and Shania Twain to classical music? Beethoven would roll over in his grave!

You think my statement too harsh? Remember, Beethoven wrote the popular music of his time, and if he wrote something a little too radical, it was not likely to earn him a lot of money--similar to artists of today.

Of course there has been plenty of creativity in music over the last four hundred years, even in "pop" music. However, you seldom see big jumps in style all at once. Usually it is a gradual change--each generation and artist building on the knowledge of the last, pushing the edges of the popular style envelope (but not too much!), but with a backbone that still very much resembles the original. We still use the same 12 tones. The same basic chords. Even Indian music, which also incorporates quarter tones, still has to deal within finite limitations. The generation after Bach wasn't suddenly shaking their hips to "Old Time Rock-and-Roll," for instance. And Mozart was considered a radical who died young--and broke.

We can see further clarification of this if we look at today's popular genres. (I keep emphasizing "popular", because the twentieth century saw some really far-out stuff, musically, that WAS a rather big jump away from what the masses were listening to--but on the other hand, the masses don't know the names of most of those composers, and it is the masses I am addressing, so we'll stick to popular music.) A country song sounds very different, stylistically, than a punk rock song. I have a friend who insists that country stopped evolving creatively about ten years ago, that they have hit a rut, and every song now follows the same basic formula that country has used for the last decade. He prefers heavy metal, because he says that at least there is still creativity being employed there.

Now, I'm not into metal myself, but I can appreciate his enthusiasm when he talks about such-and-such guitarist with jazz roots throwing jazz-based riffs into his guitar solos. Not only that, it would be ridiculous to try to write a song that would work for both country and heavy metal--not a style you often see "redone" in the other. (I only say "often" to cover my butt--I don't know of any, but that doesn't mean no one's ever tried it.) So, in other words, when someone sits down to write a song for a particular genre, there are rules which one must follow to be accepted as "creative" in that genre. Yes, you want to make it sound different enough from everything else out there that you don't land yourself in a plagiarism suit, but, as mentioned before, there are only so many methods you can employ to this purpose. Plagiarism is more easily recognized in lyrics than music, unless there is a certain riff that is in both the "new" and the "plagiarized" songs.

Anyway, let's get back to my point, which is this: anyone to whom the world refers as "creative" is actually and essentially a copycat--their creativity lies in being able to arrange the elements they are given in a way that is slightly different from everyone else's. The elements are the same, and certain formulas must still be applied in their arrangement. It is the arrangement itself which is the "x-factor", that makes it special.

Let's apply this to other things: Science. If I remember correctly, the atom bomb was invented almost simultaneously in three different places around the globe. These scientists rearranged the elements and knowledge that they were building on from those who went before in such a way that they discovered this super-destructive mechanism. The time was just right--all the elements were available, waiting for that "creative" x-factor to discover the secret they held. It could not even have happened before then, because the human race did not possess enough knowledge to have the correct elements of re-arrangement. But once they did, "creativity" took over.

In scrapbooking, everyone works with the same basic elements: photos, paper, glue, words, and embellishments. Even in scrapbooking, you see certain "rules". You often hear about "design rules" and "what looks best on a page," as well as different scrapbooking "styles." And just as often, you hear about "throwing out the rules". The beauty is, you don't have to be creative to scrapbook. Be a copycat. It's actually a hobby where blatant plagiarism is encouraged! (Well, in the actual layouts, so long as you are not making money off of them or something.) But it's also a hobby where you are free to be as creative as your imagination--and your nerve--allows. Rearrange those elements with wild abandon! The copycat part is that you are using the same basic tools that everyone else has available to them, in a medium that is pre-determined. The creativity comes in knowing that you can use any arrangement of those tools that you want--and you can't be wrong! It's your scrapbook--as long as you are happy with it, that's what counts!

Here's something even more basic: cooking. Whether you are scrambling eggs, or inventing a new pie recipe, there are certain restrictions placed upon you by the very definition of what you are trying to create--but you are free to combine any flavours that you wish within those restrictions. Your tongue (or your family) will tell you the outcome, but all you really need, all anyone really needs, is the bravery to try. To risk. To stick your neck out and rearrange the elements.

So c'mon. Be creative. Be a copycat!

My Secret Obsession

I have never been one of those girls that gets obsessed with superstars.

While my friends were drooling over the posters of Christian Slater, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Val Kilmer in their lockers, I was rolling my eyes and saying "Whatever!" under my breath, while I slammed my own locker door on my own hand-drawn poster of a character from a book I had read.

However, I have been known to get obsessed with stories. Frequently.

I love reading, and always have. I also love watching movies, because for the last few years, I have found the leisure time I used to spend reading increasingly diminished by my other responsibilities and hobbies, but still felt the need to consume stories. This year has seen me picking up books again more, and it's a pleasure I had forgotten how much I loved.

The first story I became obsessed with was Black Beauty, which I received for my ninth birthday, I think it was. Over the next few years, I read the paperback so many times that pages were broken away from the binding and sitting loosely in the book. I actually re-purchased the book as an adult so my library of children's books would still contain it.

Then, at twelve, it was Walt Disney's The Little Mermaid. I watched it every day for at least six months, sometimes more than once in a twenty-four hour span. My parents tolerated this fairly well, but I think I understand my father's subsequent aversion to all things animated. Especially since, as an adult, I am fairly amazed by the shallowness of every main character in the story.

Other stories followed, with differing degrees of obsession, but here are the ones that grabbed hold of me the most: the off-Broadway Canadian tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera in 1992; The Princess Bride in both book and movie form; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; Braveheart and Gladiator in movie form (although the book for Braveheart is excellent--I highly recommend it); Moulin Rouge; and more than it would be polite to continue listing. Hmm, do we notice any commonalities here? *ticks each off on fingers* Love story, love story, love story, and, uh...yep, all love stories. I'm such a girl.

This week has been marked by a new obsession: Pride and Prejudice.

I had read the novel when I was nursing Jude, using it to keep me awake while I was up with him at night so I didn't just fall asleep in my chair with him on the breast and wake up two hours later with him ready to feed again. (You moms who are nursing or have nursed a baby know what I'm talking about.) I loved the book then, and had long desired to re-read it, but there were just too many other books on my "to read" list to justify reading something I had previously enjoyed.

I loved the book so much that I was hesitant to watch the movie. Does this happen to anyone else? I was nervous that the movie would not do the book justice, and thereby ruin both for me. I even rented the Colin Firth version once, but "ran out of time" to watch it before it needed to be returned. Ahem.

Well, last Sunday night I watched the 2005 version starring Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen. And fell in love.

I immediately began to re-read the book, and watched the movie a second time on Thursday before it was due back at the video store. (I seldom watch a movie twice in the same week, so that must tell you something of how much I enjoyed it.)

I just find it amazing that in a world where every interaction seems so steeped in protocol and etiquette, and barely a private thought is expressed publicly, that two such people as Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam (!) Darcy could fall in love. Also, in spite of the fact that the Bennets are considered a bit "low" because of a poor yearly income, among other things, it still seems a bit like reading a fairy tale without the crowns and tiaras since the main characters are obviously upper-class enough to not spend their days cleaning and cooking. Instead, their time is chiefly spent in walking to the village, gossiping, reading, doing needlework, and visiting with friends and family.

I wish my life were more like a Jane Austen novel sometimes. Then I could use words like "amiable" in everyday conversation. However, since it is not, I must content myself with using them in my blog posts. Since I intend to read several other Austen novels in succession after finishing P&P, expect the language of my blog to be influenced for a few more weeks to come.

Oh. And even though I may not get obsessed with superstars, that still did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying the Josh Groban concert I attended in Edmonton on Tuesday, or appreciating that he has rather fine features when he walked within two feet of me on his "I'm here so you can love me" walk through the crowd. (I'm sure he would have asked me up on stage to sing with him, if he'd only seen me standing there. Hee!)

How was your week, friends?

84,000

84,000 is Jude's "number of choice" whenever he's trying to get across the concept of "a lot."

"How long until Daddy gets home?"

"A few more hours."

"84,000?"

"How far is it to Papa's house?"

"It's a really long drive, remember? It takes us all day."

"84,000?"

Or, when I comment, "You're getting really tall, buddy!"

"Yeah! I'm 84,000 tall!"

I don't know where he picked this number up from--one of his friends, probably. The funniest thing is, he really has no concept of any number over 10, and has no clue about units of measurement for time, height, distance, or anything else. Jason just playing along and saying "yep" probably isn't helping, either.

This week it seems we have accomplished 84,000 renovation projects, but in reality we are only at varying stages through three or four. Remember Max's room in Where the Wild Things Are? Remember how the carpet turned to grass and the trees grew up to the ceiling and it turned into a forest by the sea? That is, apparently, what is going on in our basement bathroom. When we lifted the linoleum down there to prep it for new flooring, we discovered a small lake that was harbouring a rather largish colony of black mold. And, lovingly wrapped around the base of our toilet was--I kid you not--a tree root. We diffused Young Living's Thieves blend of oil for a day in there to kill the mold, and the air is much clearer-smelling. Now I just have to go down there and clean up the mess. (Apparently, using chlorine bleach actually just drives the mold spores into the air where you can breathe them in, and the Thieves actually kills 99.96% of the spores.)

There's something more than a little unsettling about discovering that nature has invaded your domain so passive-aggressively. Most of the "something" has to do with the dollar signs adding up in your head to fix the problem--the little voice that is whispering in your head is fairly certain it will be somewhere in the area of $84,000.

I have heard that there is a magical, terrible moment that sometimes happens to people with very long, straight hair, when it suddenly develops a mind of it's own and instantaneously snarls so badly that almost the only way to solve the mess is to cut it all off.

That is what happened to my back last night, inconveniently right before our date. I was going along fine, minding my own business; I had just put the paintbrush away to get ready for the date--wrapping it carefully in a plastic bag so that later, I could easily pick up where I left off--when BAM! out of no where I could barely lift my arms. Somewhere in the middle of my back the muscles had snarled beyond recognition. Hopefully, complete amputation won't be necessary--just a massage from my honey should give a good jump-start on the healing process. (I suspect that my sexy new chocolate brown bra is the culprit, unfortunately. Sigh.)

This morning, unfortunately, it still hurts 84,000.

Happy Weekend, friends. Tell me something interesting about your week...

Skip five--or maybe not.

Skip--5 minutes.

It had been reminding me every day, just like that, for at least two months. Every time I would sit my soft tushy down in my chair at my desk, open Outlook, and look at my daily schedule, there it would be--not pushy, but a present reminder of an unkept promise to myself.

One, two, three, four...

The rope smacked the laminate in front of me as my bare toes pushed off in unison, the rope slid underneath, and my toes made contact with the floor again.

I had had a few false starts where, instead of smacking the floor, the rope had made a painful acquaintance with my shins. I tsk, tsked myself, then shrugged--I guess that's what happens when you don't handle a skipping rope for almost twenty years.

...eight, nine, ten...

I was actually skipping rather quickly--much faster than the easy, take-your-time-and-jump-over-one-leg-at-a-time approach I used to have during school recesses. No "Cinderella dressed in yellow" here--although my brain had time to go a mile a minute, I was hard-pressed to even gasp out the few words it required to tell Jude to stay well clear of the rope's path as it whizzed through the air.

...fifteen, sixteen, seventeen...

Five minutes? It seemed so basic, almost laughable, when I had first put it into the daily planner. Of course I can do five minutes! I can do it while I am waiting for the oatmeal to cook in the morning! I can do it while I am watching my kids play outside! Piece of cake!

...twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six...

Did I really say five minutes? I can hardly breathe here, and I'm only at twenty-seven reps!

Thirty!

Okay, time for a break.

Jude asked me a question. I wheezed out a response between gasps. I thought of the triceps that had been flapping rather annoyingly while I bounced. I thought of the slim-but-not-very-well-toned calves that were just barely getting warmed up. As soon as my breathing was under control, I did another thirty reps.

Then I collapsed on the couch.

Five minutes? I guess I'll have to work up to that.

To See What They Could See

Once there were three brothers named Jude, Noah, and Jabin. Jude was the oldest, Noah next-oldest, and Jabin was barely more than a baby.

One of their favourite things to do was to go out on walks to see what they could see.

One Tuesday morning, Mommy said to the three boys, "Get your outside things on. We need to take our van to the shop, and while it is being looked at, we will walk around and see what we can see."

So they put on their hats, and snow pants, and coats, and mittens, for it was a mild winter day, but it was still winter, after all.

When they dropped off the van, Mommy put Jabin in the stroller and said, "Walking along the street can be dangerous, so make sure you always hold on to the stroller." (This was especially important for Noah, whose attention wandered faster than he did.)

Then they set out to see what they could see. And they saw...

...a GREAT BIG TRUCK with a very noisy engine and thick black smoke belching out of its exhaust pipes...

...a yellow school-bus, empty of children, waiting patiently in the grocery-store parking lot...

...a white town-bus, and a grey and red passenger bus...

...some men blowing snow off a roof--and some crows holding parliament on another one...

...some of their favourite story characters on the front of the movie jackets when they went to borrow a free movie from the supermarket...

...a very friendly and helpful lady who held the door open for them at the bank...

...the fun red button they got to push that held the door open for them on the way out of the bank...

...lots of busy, hungry people that filled up the little restaurant where they ate their lunch...

...a video and some pictures that Mommy took on her new phone...

...a really cool abacus that was in the toy box at the shop when they got back.

When they got to the grocery store, Mommy said, "Jabin, you look tired. Do you need a nap?"

Jabin blinked back. Jude said, "Not me! I don't need a nap!"

When they got to the restaurant, Mommy said, "Noah, you look tired. Do you need a nap?"

Noah blinked back. Jude said, "Not me! I don't need a nap!"

On the way back to the shop, Jabin fell asleep in the stroller. He slept and he slept and he slept. Mommy said, "Jabin is sleeping a lot. He must have been really tired."

Jude said, "Yep! But not me!"

Noah got so tired of walking, he tried to climb onto the stroller and rest. There wasn't enough room, so Mommy said, "Just a few more minutes, Noah, and then you can get in the van and have a nap."

Jude said, "But not me! I don't need a nap!"

"Okay," said Mommy.

Jabin woke up when they got in the van. He was smiling and very happy.

Noah still looked a little sleepy.

But as they were driving home, and Mommy looked into the rear-view mirror to see what she could see, she saw...

...Jude.

And he was fast asleep.


-------------------

Now I just need an illustrator! :-)

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

For I May Never Pass This Way Again

She was behind the counter as I breezed into the hardware store. I was glad to see her, and when she glanced up I smiled and asked "How're ya' doin'?"

She nodded and returned the obligatory, "Alright, and you?"

"Good, thanks," I said, then asked her to remind me where the electronics section was, even though I knew perfectly well. She looked across the store and named a couple of aisles, and I went to look for my item.

As I stood in line at the till, I wondered--not for the first time--what her story was. I knew very little about her--just that before she started here a few weeks ago, she used to work at the grocery store. I had once seen her in that same store as a customer with a young child in tow--a daughter, I think. Something about this woman told me that the father was not a prominent part of her life, at least not anymore. Perhaps it was the thin line she set her lips into whenever she had to do, well, anything. Perhaps it was the lack of a ring on her left hand. Or perhaps it was the fact that she never smiled.

I had tried to get her to smile. I had made a point of commenting on her unusual, but pretty name. I had used said name every time I had seen her since then, even when her name tag was not present or visible. I shared my own name with her, making small talk about the weather, the season, the busy-ness of the store. But not once had this woman with the flame-coloured hair and serious eyes broken into a full, genuine smile.

I wondered what had happened to this woman to give her such a serious outlook on life. (And if perhaps, she would still be working at the grocery store if she had been a little friendlier with the customers.) I also wondered if today would be the day when I would reach my goal--to see a beautiful smile crinkle her face, and see if maybe the lines were not so uncomfortable there as my experience would suggest.

"Would you like a bag for that?" Her query interrupted my reverie. I looked at the small item she had just rung though.

"No, thanks. Save a plastic tree, and all that."

And then I saw it--the slight up-turn of the corners of the mouth. I was close, I could feel it!

It was like the smile just kept growing. The few remaining comments in our conversation were not particularly humourous or entertaining, but before I left, she was wearing--albeit briefly--a full, glorious smile.

As I got back into my van, I knew what my new goal was:

If possible, I will be her friend.

Shocking Headlines and Stupid People

So, I'm standing in the IGA with my one ball of yarn in my hand. This is supposedly the Express, 6-items-or-less line, and I've already been standing there for 5 minutes, cursing out the lady two ahead of me who can't count. I know that Jason's home with Jabin, who is probably screaming his head off demanding food, but there is nothing I can do about Miss I-Can't-Read, so I start to scan headlines on the tabloid rack. Get a load of this one:

"William Catches Camilla CHEATING ON CHARLES ... and tells Dad."

Two odd things about this headline:

1. I can understand wanting to cheat on a guy that looks like Prince Charles, but who in their right mind would want to have an affair with a woman that looks like Camilla?!
2. Nowhere in this headline did the word "shocking" appear. I didn't think tabloid writers could create a headline without using this word. They've overused the word "shocking" so much, I don't think they really know what it means anymore!

Okay, make that three odd things:

3. This headline had nothing to do with Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, or Jennifer Aniston. FINALLY! Someone is giving it a rest! (Can't say the same for the other 4 or 5 publications on that rack.) The ones who were rehashing the current favourite tabloid topics were obviously lacking some truly remarkable news this week. Besides an inflated episode in the Brangelina drama, there was one about how Tom and Katie really met, a totally unsubstantiated rumour about Britney being pregnant again (with a picture of her hand on her totally flat belly), and Nick and Jessica Simpson's current affairs. Oh, and lets not forget a guest appearance by O.J. Simpson!

I can't imagine working at one of these magazines and having to find new trash to print every week. What if no one is doing anything trashy? Then you have to start inventing stuff, or putting totally unsupported rumours as the headlines on the front of your magazine! I'm sure SOMEWHERE, someone NEW must be doing SOMETHING worthy of putting on the front cover! Perhaps it might even be something worthwhile, such as "Martha Stewart Now Making Handmade Cardboard Boxes For Homeless Shelters" or "Mel Gibson On A Hollywood Marriage That Works". THOSE are the headlines that would make me pick up a magazine and bring it home. (Well, maybe not the Martha Stewart one. But at least it would give me a good feeling while I'm trying not to let my angst in the Express Line overwhelm me.)