Wednesday, November 7, 2018

November IWSG - Just Keep Plugging Away

Why hello there! It's been a few months since I've participated in the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Summer was a bit crazy and it was best that I stepped away for a while. To be perfectly honest, I just haven't felt much like writing.

So I decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer's Month). I should have known that life would get even more hectic and it has (more on that in a future post). I typed a little one Day One. I eked out a few words in pencil on Day Two. Days Three and Four were a bust but I was able to talk to a writer friend a little about writing so I'm not counting those days as a total loss.

As I wandered through Day Five (this past Monday), I had a head cold and had pushed myself too much the day before hiking in the rain. That morning, before heading out to run errands, I clicked on an email from the NaNo admins and saw this quote:

That resonated with me. If you're like me, you want writing to be glamorous. We float down the hall to our writing room, coffee in hand, sit at the computer and away we type, glorious sentence after glorious sentence. The truth is that many times we have a great idea but the minute we start to put it on paper it misses the mark. I'll have these lovely scenes all mapped out in my mind but the minute I start to type, it sounds like I've lost all ability to communicate coherently. To be blunt, the words suck and I'm left with a mess that doesn't resemble the story in my head.

Gardening is a lot of work. You have to prepare the soil, the yard, the garden area. You have to get the plants are start the seeds. You have to plant them, water them, keep them alive until their roots are established and can stand up without fear of losing them in the next mild storm. Then you have to weed and watch and harvest, all the while continuing to tend the ground around you, trimming and plucking, planting and pruning. And that's how we have to go at writing. Unless you buy a house with a mature garden already in tact, you're going to have to do a lot of work to get your yard exactly how you want it. Cottage gardens aren't born over night; it takes years to get that lovely explosion of color and texture. Novels aren't completed in a month. A draft? Sure! I've done it many times. But after the drafting – the seed starting, the rooting, the watering – you have to tend to those words and help them grow.

So what's the point? What's the key to both of these projects? Patience and the willingness to go to the computer (or the garden) a little bit every day. You have to look at the writing, the gardening, the process as important. Even ten minutes a day will get your closer to the words The End than doing nothing. Just because you can't finish a novel in a day doesn't mean you can't work on it daily. Believe that what you're doing is important and it will become important to you. It will become something that you can be proud of, something that will begin to grow, and sprout leaves and then one day you'll see the buds form and flowers will burst forth and you'll realize all those gorgeous blossoms are there because you took the time to tend them and you didn't give up on then when they were just spindly little twigs sticking up out of the cold, hard earth.

Think of every idea as a seed, every word as part of the tending. Think of your stories as plants that need water and fertilizer and weeding 'round the roots. Allow your stories to take root so that they'll grow in strength, in your mind and on the screen. And as you tend them, you'll start to see them change and you'll recognize them by their flowers. When the time comes, you'll get to harvest them – send them off to agents and publishers – and see what kind of beauty and nourishment they can bring you and those around you.

But you can't get tomatoes if you don't plant the seedlings. And you can't get a novel if you don't sit down, day by day, and write the story, word by word.

Happy November,

PS: If you're interested, I'm chronicling my NaNo journey on my Instagram account @jenchandlerwashere. Feel free to click over and join in!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

To Reminisce and Remind - Halloween in Hindsight

Halloween is a little New Year, a day that I like to breathe in deep and remember that it's finally that time of year when it's acceptable to slow down and walk through the mists of morning wearing a long, black cloak. Autumn gives us that ability. Cooler mornings, cold nights. The final click in the shift of seasons that leads into the holidays that really and truly want to be more about loving each other than running to the mall.

To my ancestors, Halloween WAS the New Year. Samhain they called it (pronounced “sow-in” with the “ow” like in “cow”) and it was the dividing point between the light and the dark halves of the year. At Samhain, the veil that divides this world and the Otherworld was thinnest and the spirits of the dead and of the Celtic Otherworld mingled with the living.

I've always loved the freedom Halloween brings. For one day out of the year I can be whatever, whoever I want to be. No one's going to look at you like you're a freak. They'll smile, gawk, maybe even giggle a little but it's all part of the fun. Sad, really. I mean, if you were to wear your Halloween costume in February how many people would shun you, arch an eyebrow at you, cast stones? Of course, I do live in Savannah and I've seen men in sundresses on a May afternoon and heard tales of women carrying stuffed chickens to River Street. No one batted an eye. My herb witches hat and I should be relatively safe.

Back to the New Year aspect of Halloween. There's a bit of anticipation, a build up to the evening when the ghost and ghouls come out, going house to house, wassailing their candy with the rather hollow threat of “trick-or-treat”. I love giving out candy; I love seeing the costumes. I love seeing kids given the freedom to choose whatever they want to be for the day: super heroes, super villains, monsters, ghosts, rock stars, dentists. I light the candles, put on the Vincent Price flicks, and wait for the knocking to cease. Then it's just me and the darkness.

I think about those I've lost – my father, a favorite aunt, all four grandparents, my writing mentor, a beloved cat. I light a candle and I wonder what it would be like if I could talk to them a moment, tell them how much I miss them, how much they mean to me still. And I know they're smiling, nodding, agreeing, proud of how far I've come, excited about where I'm headed. That's what I love about the Day of the Dead tradition in Mexico. Dia de los Muertos isn't about skulls and the dead coming back to dance with the living. Rather I should say it isn't only about that. It's about honoring those we've lost, remembering them, inviting their memories back into our daily lives, not allowing the business of “now” to push them back into the cobwebbed corners of our minds and hearts. It's about confronting our own mortality because, let's face it, none of us will live on this plain forever. It's about celebrating life as much as it is remembering the dead and reminding ourselves that life is beautiful and short and we'd better enjoy it and do as much good and let in as much light as we can while we're here.

Samhain. The Day of the Dead. All Hallow's Eve. Beautiful and ancient. Fierce and frightening. Reminiscent, radical in their reminders of the past and of the future. So many people are still afraid of this time of year, turn their backs on it, try and turn it into something that it isn't. “Don't scare the children!” they slobber. Really? I grew up with all the usual suspects: the headless horseman, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, vampires, haunted houses. I read as many ghost stories and ghost hunting books as I could get my hands on. I giggled when Icabod Crane was hit with a pumpkin. I slept with the lights on “just in case”. Kids aren't stupid. They know what's real and what isn't. What's important is that we, as adults, allow them the change to let their imaginations run wild and to see for themselves what is “scary” and what is “fun”. Because the fact is, Dear Ones, there's more terror and horror on the national news stations than could ever be dreamed up by the likes of Tim Burton, Guillermo del Toro, George Romero, Vincent Price or Boris Karlof

Everyone needs a chance to dream, to shuffle off this mortal coil and become – for one night – something truly amazing. Something scary. Something magical. Something not in the everyday vocabulary. I hate seeing adults wander around on Halloween as if they're immune to the shifting of the seasons, the merging of worlds. Sadly, modern life hasn't prepared us for these shifts and merges. They have tried to silence them with science and endless to-do lists. What the world needs now is a little more quiet, a little more sitting and being and a whole lot less rushing and running and eyes-glued-to-our-phones-ing.

I hope this Halloween, you allowed yourself a little fun and games. I hope you put on a mask, a hat, a Hogwart's robe and sauntered out to the grocery store and laughed along with the grandmother who stood in line behind you. I hope you let your kids be whatever they wanted to be, let them visit the neighbors, let them eat some candy and be – wait for it – kids. No matter how old they are. I hope you carved a pumpkin, watched Ghostbusters or Goonies or binged the entire first season of Stranger Things again. And I hope that you took some time that evening, when everything is quiet, to light a candle for someone you miss deeply, breathe a prayer, sip some tea, and feel the earth shift as it does this time of year, every year.

And if you didn't, if Halloween found you just doing what you do without so much as a pack of M&Ms or a black t-shirt, ask yourself why? Be honest and open and then, next year, plan on getting in the spirit a little. It doesn't have to be much. You don't have to deck your halls with cobwebs. You don't have to get dry ice and put it in a cauldron out front. You don't even have to watch a scary movie. Just remember that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that any of us can possible imagine.

But we should try, Dear Ones. We should try.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Ritual is Rooted in the Present

The things that anchor us rarely seem significant. To the casual observer, our most precious possessions look worn and ragged, something to be tossed in the bin or sent away to the thrift store or charity sale. Yet we cling to them, gather them in shrines around the house so that we are always encompassed by the heartbeat of our past, of those long gone, of memories that whisper, "That's right. You did it before. You can be strong again."

Ritual is the same. When one speaks of ritual the image conjured it one of grand cathedrals or temples in jungles surrounded by robed monks and silent nuns, incense clouds and bells of great gongs signifying the soul's ascent to heaven. For me, ritual is rooted in the present and smells of musty decorations pulled from the weird cubby-hole in our bedroom wall, cut into the stone above the make-shift closet and wound somehow in time with the plumbing.

September 01 gives me permission to put away the Summer things and I seek out the burnt persimmon and rich cabernets of fabric and pumpkins that have sat patiently since the day after last Thanksgiving when Christmas signified another changing of the guard.

I have a collection of towels, started simply because one needs towels and why have boring ones when each season plants charming designs in our line of sight whenever we walk into a shop? A long line of linen bearing woman precede me and I'm not about to break the cycle. There's probably a Lady of Shalott curse in that somewhere: Let fly the seasonal changing of the towels and be forever cursed to use stained bar rags and old holey t-shirts! Oh the Doubtful Mocker Beware!

The Summer towels get washed - as does a Spring towel that somehow hid and emerged in time for one last hurrah before being banished to the cubby for another year - then folded and put away.

It's bittersweet, this farewell to the arms of the warm season, and a bit strange as it's still blistering hot most days until after Halloween. The humidity will continue to gather thick like unseen clouds lying in wait for someone to walk - splat! - and face plant into that hard to breathe thickness that you can taste in the sweat on your upper lip.

I feel a catch in my stomach as I put away Summer things. Did I enjoy Summer as much as I should have? What did I miss out on? I should have had more get togethers. We should have made ice cream. We didn't once take the bocce ball set out to the beach. We only toasted the full moon once.

Then I whip the Autumn linens into shape, letting their hems snap before I smooth them on the bed and fold into lovely, straight squares to be laid into the kitchen drawer where they'll go on rotation, their ranks always needed on the front lines of baking and cat-caused spills. The knot inside loosens and I smile at the whimsical beauty of the coming days of longer nights, shorter days, foggy mornings and blustery walks on the beach that transforms from the bathing suit clad sun worshipers to the slowly dwindling numbers of those true beach lovers, the Winter troops who bundle and stroll against the biting winds and driving sand into shins turning blue because of just one more dip in the surf.

And I'm happy again, excited instead of melancholy, as the usual strains of Autumn fill my wistful head. There's treats to bake and stews to make, chili to simmer all day long and bread to spank into submission on a pizza stone where it will shroud itself in a crisp curtain of crunch, broken by knife and enormous pat of herbed butter.

I buy one of those bottles of pumpkin spiced creamer which always makes my husband the coffee purist blanch and laugh and makes me giggle every time I sully his perfect brew to a murk of cloudy artificial deliciousness. And I don't care one bit because it's Autumn and for once I actually do jump on a band wagon that's filled with hay and squashes and those silly little scarecrows that wouldn't scare even the Cowardly Lion out of a hay field in OZ.

This changing of the guard garners a bit of nostalgia, makes me bite back a few tears, then catapults me into full-on Fall and there's a little spark of wonder thrown in: as soon as I turn that calendar again, the ghosts and witch's hats will join the ranks of gnomes and ravens and I'll then add turkeys and probably a few more owls and foxes and mushrooms because, can you really ever have too much woodland magic in your home?

No, I didn't think so.

There will be other rituals, others cleanings, other leavings. The pots outside will need showering. The plants will need pruning. I already had to funeral the rosemary; I shall remember it well. The last of the first herbs I tried to grow in the measly sunlight in the Courtyard of the Shade Demons. Fingers crossed the basil doesn't succumb until I can turn the rest of it to pesto.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

IWSG - September

"I started writing because of a terrible feeling of powerlessness.
 I felt I was drifting and obscure and I rebelled against that.
 I didn't see what I could do to change my condition.
 I wanted to control rather than be controlled, 
to ordain rather than be ordained, 
to regulate rather than be regulated." 
~ Anita Brookner

My fingers itch this time of year.

I long to return to the glen of paper and pen. I begin to breathe easier and the air smells of old books and ink.

Perhaps I'm not as hopeless as I thought.

Perhaps the enduring flame of words, the desperate need to create that I try and try to shake from my shoulders is the catalyst I need, the encouragement that I do have something to say and it's worth saying.

Here's to Autumn and freshness and falling leaves.

Here's to standing up against paralysis that shouts, "Just give up! You aren't cut out for this!" The pen, so I've heard, is mightier than any sword. When powerless, start typing. When drifting, anchor to a shore of the spines of giants, their words ballasts against storms and rising tides. We can change the outcome of anything if we're brave enough to gather up courage and nouns and rage against the darkness that threatens to tear away from us the very breath of creativity that we all carry. The light still flickers, no matter how dim, and we can control the flux of oxygen with the simple scratch of word to screen, pencil to paper.

All healing begins with that most powerful phrase:

What if?

Let it bolster you, let it carry you, let it squeeze from you the scream that needs to erupt so that you can clear the air of any uncertainty you may have that you, too, have a story to share.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Last vestiges of the halls of Summer

I've always loved the newness of September. It heralds in change with memories of freshly sharpened pencils, new notebooks and shoes, and the big, old poplar that used to blaze the yard at my parents' house in orange and gold against a backdrop of clearest blue.

My current soundtrack is the cicadas outside. Their song isn't as strong as it was in early August, but still they rattle on, last vestiges of the halls of Summer.

I love Summer; I love the way it calls me outdoors, invites friends over for cookouts, bocce games, homemade ice cream and chilled, white wine. I long for a porch again, for a grassy space to plant my toes for these gatherings. We've not had a traditional Summer get together in years, not since we moved and gave up the porch and yard for a 20 minute ride to the beach. Even that hasn't gone according to plan. Work and rain encroach and we're left with sipping coffee indoors while the courtyard remains shadowed and refuses to dry out.

I wonder if we could get the lane designated as a mosquito habitat. Do they give out those little plaques for that, like that do for other forms of wildlife?

But Autumn brings with it new hope and I breathe a bit easier knowing soon the air will crisp and the bugs dwindle and at least we can sit in the courtyard with wine or coffee and listen for the hoot of the big, brown owl that returns each year, on the hunt for rodents in anticipation of the dimming days of Winter.