Taking the Time

I’ve been reading through Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing, and while some of it strikes me as more than a little pretentious (what can I say, I come from good, practical, farmer stock), I do very much appreciate the reminder to be mindful, to be aware, to not be so overly focused on the result that one misses the beauty of the here and now.

With all that in mind, when we went out for a family walk yesterday afternoon, enjoying the late February sunshine even amid the biting wind, I took my big camera instead of just my phone, and enjoyed taking pictures for the sake of the photography, rather than in order to post them on Instagram (don’t get me wrong, I snapped one or two with my phone camera as well, and posted THOSE on Instagram, because Instagram is my happy place). And while they might not be the finest photos in all of creation, they made me satisfied. I’m glad I took the time to see things from a different angle, and take the photos even if it meant I didn’t get the instant rush of posting them online at once.

It’s the same feeling I get when I write anything by hand, especially something in my journal, using cursive. It takes more time, it won’t be seen by anyone else, there’s no practical value in it – and yet there is something about it that satisfies.

I have tendencies toward dawdling (those did not come from my practical farming forebears), so it is important for me to not get lost in my daydreams and never accomplish anything. On the other hand, it is also tremendously important to not be so wrapped up in the end goal and “getting things done” that I forget to savor the slower things in life, the things that aren’t necessarily tangible or goal-oriented. A tricky balancing act, and one I know I’ve blogged about before, but one of which I always need reminding, and at which I will always need to keep practicing.

DE Stevenson

“I am grateful for all my blessings; amongst them the Gift of Storytelling, which seems to please and amuse so many people all over the world.”

“It seems to me that this job of interpreting my own people to other people is the most important contribution I can make to the world and to peace.”

-D.E. Stevenson.

I discovered D.E. Stevenson thanks to Goodreads recommending her “Miss Buncle’s Book” to me based on my fondness for Miss Read. Curiously enough, the Miss Buncle series are among my least favorites of her work; I prefer her stand-alones, or the ones with two or three loosely-connected books. However, they were enough to get me intrigued, and now I’ve read everything of hers our library has, and am starting to expand through ILL to others in our network.

Like Miss Read, Stevenson writes stories about ordinary people, stories in which (generally) not a lot happens. Nice, friendly, meandering stories, that give you a glimpse into somebody else’s life and fit into their shoes for at least a few brief moments. Stories which, as a kid, bored me to tears, and now I love.

And along with enjoying her books, I appreciate her philosophy as well. Aren’t those quotes up above lovely? Sums up a lot of my feeling toward writing and storytelling.

So, if you enjoy “quiet” stories, give D.E. Stevenson a try! She wrote dozens of books; if you enjoy them, you won’t run out of reading material for a long, long time. Also? She was the cousin of the great Robert Louis Stevenson!

Comfort … Snacks?

I loved hearing about all the different comfort drinks that people crave – thanks so much to everyone who chimed in with an opinion! It’s always immensely fun for me to learn about the ways in which people are similar, and where they’re different. (Why no, I’m not a character-based writer at all, *coughcough* yes I totally am.)

Prompted by the variety of comfort drinks people have, I asked on Twitter about comfort foods, specifically snacks, and so of course now I want to expand that here on the blog as well. Dark chocolate is a common theme (count me in on that one), as well as various baked goods.

So, what’s your comfort food, more specifically your comfort snack? That which you eat alongside your comfort drink?

I love food, a lot, so it’s hard for me to narrow it down. Basically, if I can eat it easily in one hand while reading, and it goes well with a cup of tea, I’m going to enjoy it. But like I said above, dark chocolate is definitely toward the top of that list. Scones, also, or biscuits, or homemade bread … I’d better stop there, or I’ll make myself (and all of you) too hungry.

Have at it in the comments! I’m having a blast with these posts.

Tea, Coffee, or ???

I have a serious tea addiction. Well, not quite an addiction, because I can go a day or two without it without getting any withdrawal symptoms, but my day does tend to feel unfinished if I don’t get my cup of black tea at some point.

At some point before 3:00, that is, because after that I can’t have any caffeine that isn’t chocolate-related, unless I want to stay awake ALL NIGHT LONG.

This is a bit of a problem sometimes, when it gets to be mid-afternoon or early evening, and I want some sort of cozy, comfort drink. Sometimes I can make herbal tea work, and sometimes hot chocolate, and sometimes I just have to suck it up and endure until the next morning.

I enjoy coffee, but it’s a normal food-and-drink related enjoyment. Tea, I enjoy as much for the experience as for the flavor. What is it Nora says to Anne in Anne of Windy Poplars? “Anne Shirley, do you think a cup of tea is a panacea for everything? It’s you who ought to be the old maid, not me.” (In her defense, Anne was being particularly grating at the time) But yes, along with Anne Shirley and Miss Marple and countless others in literature, I think of tea as a cure-all for all ills.

But I know some people feel that way about coffee (ahem, Lorelai Gilmore), and some people don’t understand a fondness for hot drinks at all. Which got me wondering: what do most people choose for their comfort drink? I asked on Twitter, and then decided it was a question worthy of a blog post – or at least more worthy than most topics that float across my mind these days.

So. What’s your preference for a drink that’s experience and flavor, something that can bring you comfort no matter how grim everything is? Because inquiring minds want to know.

And you never know, at some point I might want to write a character who doesn’t love tea as much as I do, and I’d better have some realistic alternative for him or her!

Creative Outlets

I was flipping through old photos the other day (sort of – browsing through them on my computer, but that doesn’t have as evocative a sound), and found myself missing my big camera, and the time when I took photos regularly. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ease of my camera phone (even if the pictures do tend to have crappy quality), but there is something about seeing the world through my viewfinder that I miss. I’m hoping to do a photo shoot with the girls around Easter, maybe jump start my photography hobby again.

Although this one turned out pretty darn near perfect, crappy phone camera and all.

Although this one turned out pretty darn near perfect, crappy phone camera and all.

I play around with a number of creative hobbies, without getting super serious about any of them. I quilt, but not brilliantly. Sewing clothing, same. I used to scrapbook, but haven’t in about … well, I think the last time was when Joy was a baby. And occasionally I like to stick my toe in the waters of sketching, though I usually pull it back out again at once because that water is cold. I like baking and cooking, though having to do them every day or else we don’t eat does tend to diminish their appeal. Knitting I pick up at the start of every winter and lay down at the end and consequently never finish anything that takes longer to complete than a scarf. I adore music, and one of my goals is to someday take piano and voice lessons again, because without them my voice has turned to a rusty squawk and the piano winces every time I get near it.

One of my recent sewing projects, a white blouse for Gracie's Easter basket

One of my recent sewing projects, a white blouse for Gracie’s Easter basket

And a pink skirt for Joy's Easter basket.

And a pink skirt for Joy’s Easter basket.

I used to feel kind of badly about myself, that I dabbled in so much without ever feeling the drive to become expert in any of it. Of late, though, I’ve come to think of it as a good thing. I think it’s good to have something, a creative something, one can do just for fun, just to relax, without ever feeling the need to perfect it. I work to perfect my writing. There’s my passion. The rest? They’re more like … palate cleansers.

Sometimes my mind needs a rest from writing. But it doesn’t want to veg, it just wants to relax a little. So picking up my niece’s baby quilt (yes I’m still working on that NO I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been it’s pretty well a standing joke by now OK?) as a chance to rest those creative muscles without letting them get all flabby? I’m pretty sure I’ve killed this metaphor dead, but you get the picture. IT’S A GOOD THING.

So yes, I will pull out my nice big camera soon and enjoy once more the creative effort of setting up and pulling off some great shots. And I won’t feel bad that I don’t feel so passionate over my photography that I could totally make it my life, yo. It’s a fun hobby, and it’s just fine if that’s all it ever is.

Censorship VS Guidance

The Goosebumps books were at the entrance to the Children’s Room at the library growing up; you couldn’t help but see them whenever you went it. They were popular, too—very few of the books I loved were ever borrowed by anyone but me (this was back in the day when the patron’s name was written on the card in the back pocket, so you could see a book’s history whenever you picked it up. The nosy neighbor/author in me misses those days, when you could speculate about the other people whose names were on the card, especially if one name cropped up on several of the books you borrowed frequently. “I wonder who that person is,” you could muse. “I bet we’d be friends.” But I digress), but the Goosebumps books were always getting snatched up by kids about my age, and there were always gaping holes in the shelf.

“I don’t think so,” Mom said firmly when she saw me eying them speculatively. “Those are not a good idea with your nightmares.”

Saddened, but not wanting to mess with my nightmares—these were terrible, and plagued me well into my teens, and could be caused by nothing more than seeing a gruesome picture on a tabloid cover in the grocery store check-out line—I bypassed the Goosebumps books and went back to the delights of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander, and the like.

~

An older friend of mine read and loved the Dark is Rising books, and lent them to me with a caveat that they might be scary in parts. So Dad read them first, and then handed them over to me saying that they did have some dark parts, but that he was pretty sure I could take it, and if I wanted to I could always talk to him about them. In fact, I loved them (as did he, and Susan Cooper remains one of our favorite authors to this day—I bought him King of Shadows for his birthday last year, in fact, and he was just as swept up as he’d ever been in one of her tales. But I digress again).

~

My sister wasn’t much of a reader as a kid and teenager. While I would stay up late reading, she preferred to lull herself to sleep on logic problems. When she did read, she liked books such as Baby-Sitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and, as she got older, Sweet Valley High and Avalon romances. My parents called those “fluff” books—enjoyable but no substance to them—and the rule was you had to read a certain number of non-fluff books to the number of fluff books you were allowed. My sister grumbled a bit about this, more because she was the oldest and it was her job to complain about all of our parents’ rules than because she thought it was actually unfair, but she stuck with it. And a few years ago she was trying to convince me to give Dostoyevsky a try, because she’d read some of his books and thought they were awesome. She also still enjoys fluff books. And logic problems

~

About a year ago, I was desperately trying to find books that Joy would want to read. Excited by her advanced abilities and unduly influenced by memories of the large tomes I enjoyed reading in kindergarten and first grade, I overdid a bit and overwhelmed her. While she was perfectly capable of reading the Little House books, she didn’t enjoy them, and her disillusionment with the “big” books I was giving her spread to reading in general.

Then we found the Rainbow Magic books at the library. Pumped out by computer, lame by any standards, they were nonetheless perfect for a six-year-old who enjoyed the thrill of reading “chapter books” but wasn’t ready mentally or emotionally for the themes in most MG writing. Despite the wrinkled noses of many of my friends, I cheerfully borrowed them by the armload each week for her, while at the same time giving her more picture books and other young readers (the Magic Tree House books were another big hit, which has worked out nicely with social studies, I must say—I never know when she’s going to pipe up over something we’re studying, “Oh! Jack and Annie went here.” Digressing again). I’m exceedingly thankful to have had them, especially now when I catch Joy happily curled up with any book from Ladybug Girl to the Frozen novelization to Winnie-the-Pooh to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. On the other hand, when this winter the library didn’t have the next one in the series, I deliberately did not suggest ILL or skipping that one to move on to the next. Thus far, she has plenty of other reading material, and she hasn’t seem to miss the Rainbow Magic too badly.

~

There’s a lot of justified complaints about censorship out there. Including and especially parents censoring what their children read. Or what other people’s children read. But sometimes parental guidance gets lost or unfairly shuffled into the same category as censorship, and I think that’s a shame. Because gentle guidance and help with reading—whether it be in limiting the number of certain types of books your kids read, or reading books before letting them read them, or telling them to wait until they are older, or even swallowing your pride to let—even encourage!—them read books that are frankly crap (and then move on when said books have served their purpose), is something that I wish more parents would do. And it’s a far cry from censorship. It is, to be blunt, simply part of what being a parent is all about.

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Thanks to Maureen, whose tweets on this subject got me thinking about my parents, and how grateful I am to them for the way they encouraged my sister and me to be readers, and then prompted this post.

Also, in case anyone is interested, the Little House picture books are well-loved by both Joy and Grace, and went a long way toward piquing Joy’s interest in the real books once she got a little older.

Slow But Steady

Writing productivity has slowed to a trickle these days. We started school back up on Monday (the girls and I – Carl’s semester doesn’t begin until the end of the month), and between that and rearranging the bedrooms and organizing the arts and crafts supplies and being neighborly and recovering from holidays and travel, and just being so tired (I actually dozed off yesterday afternoon for a little while, which never ever happens), it’s awfully hard to get anything done.

The nice thing about where I’m at right now is that I don’t feel guilty about it. Sure, I’d like to be writing every single day. I’d also like to be awake enough to take care of my clothes each night instead of letting them accumulate beside my bed, but so far that isn’t happening either.

I’ve learned – am still learning – to go with the rhythms of life. Some times I am going to be able to focus on one thing, sometimes on another. Right now, my main focus is on school and keeping the apartment basically livable. Since I have company coming over for tea next week, I imagine pretty soon I’ll have to spend some time focusing on cleaning. Eventually, school will find its own groove again, and I won’t be as tired from all our travels, and I’ll be able to think about writing again.

My stories aren’t going to perish if I don’t tend them every day. My writing abilities aren’t going to vanish if I take a week or so where I only write a few words here and there. I know this is contrary to what most professional writers say – that you must write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. I’m sure there will come a time in my life where that kind of self-discipline is absolutely applicable. Right now, it’s more important to me as a person, not necessarily as a writer, to show myself grace.

It’s also more important for me to be a good teacher to my kids, since I have taken up that responsibility. It’s more important for me to be a present and engaged mom and wife. It’s important to be a good neighbor and friend. Writing is important, and it is vital to who I am, and I would not dream of just “not writing” for an entire season, but it doesn’t need to be first and foremost on my list of priorities right now. There will come a day when my children are grown and my life is more settled, and I will be able to bump the writing up on my list.

For now, I’m okay with simply making sure I don’t go too long without doing writing of some sort.