Crows

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Crows

A family of crows lives  and nests close to our garden. Here are four of them together on the same branch. Two years ago, there were five of them. Last year there were seven and this year ten flew in the other day. They are such beautiful flyers. All weather conditions, too, summer and winter, all year round visitors.  I wish I could photograph the sound the air makes through their pinions as they swoop low over the roof on a warm summer’s afternoon.

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And they leave such gorgeous tracks in the snow. It is always fun to have them around and totally raucous when they find something worth eating.

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Geoff Slater has captured them to perfection. He’s better with his pencil than I am with my camera.

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New Projects

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New Projects

 … how do you choose them, these new projects? Simple answer: I really don’t know. So much depends on you and your work habits. In my own case I have a back log of projects. I have been writing and creating for years. As a result I have a whole set of files that I can turn to and select from. Two novels, about fifty short stories organized into two or three as yet unpublished manuscripts, a couple of hundred poems, organized into three separate thematically organized manuscripts, a set of writings on facilitating creative writing …

Projects … do the work and then choose the order in which you will publish it. I look at the hollyhock that suddenly appeared last year in my garden. Do the work: the birds (in all probability) seeded it. The hard work: the hollyhock grew itself. I should add that my beloved nearly tore it out on the grounds that she didn’t recognize it and it looked like a weed. But she left it, and it grew into what it was meant to be: a hollyhock. One stalk. So many buds. We didn’t know which would blossom first. And it didn’t matter. One after anther they all blossomed. The hollyhock knew what it was doing [we didn’t]. It had belief and faith [we didn’t]. But we had hope.

The Hollyhock Project: This year the hollyhock has eight [yes, eight] different shoots. It’s no longer a single flower, it’s become a bush! It has also shed seeds further afield [I should really write abed, since they’re all in the same flower bed.] I wonder in what order they will blossom. It doesn’t matter really: I am just confident they will bloom. And the sunflowers have rooted below the bird feeders. They have their own projects and I know they will grow as and how they will. And the yucca has four shoots that will flower, how and why I just don’t know. But each flower has its project(s) and I am confident they will all flower and flourish.

My own projects: When June came in, I didn’t know what to do, nor did I know in what order to do it. Then Time-spirits came together. Geoff gave me some drawings and I chose one for the cover. I took the manuscript to the printers, got an estimate, and received a mock-up. The text had shifted in the transfer from computer to computer. My 70 page text had grown to 132 pages. I spent the next 72 hours rewriting everything, eliminating words, lines, poems, dropping the text back down to 70 pages. It is now published. I wondered what to do with the McAdam Railway Station poems. Geoff came to see me on Sunday, 23 June, and told me that he would be celebrating his birthday the following Friday. He also told me that the McAdam Railway Station would be unveiling his mural the following Sunday (June 30). The McAdam railway poems were published on Saturday, 29 June, and I took them to McAdam in time for the ceremony.

Trust: Trust yourself, trust your projects, trust the universal spirit [Northrup Frye’s Spiritus Mundi], under whichever name you acknowledge it). And remember, genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Put in the mileage, put in he hard work, believe, and trust. ¡Qué será, será! Whatever will be, will be.

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Comment: another golden oldie. I am trying to choose what new projects to start and which old projects to finish. A pleasant problem. Meanwhile, I am enjoying the prospect of a nice, snowy Canadian winter day. Best wishes and happy writing to all.

Revisions

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Revision
“We are not writers, we are re-writers.” I do not remember who said this, but it is extremely well said. We write, yes. But then we rewrite, sometimes obsessively, again and again. But how does that rewriting process take shape? Why do we rewrite? How do we rewrite? And what do we do when we re-write? These are all vital questions.

Mechanical revisions and rewrites
This, for me, is the search for typos, punctuation errors, mis-spellings, grammar corrections, that sort of thing. Yes, we can rely on a (reliable?) editor and a not so reliable spell-check, but the editor usually costs money. Or we can learn to do it ourselves, which is what I recommend very strongly.

Grammatical revisions and expression checks
These are usually a little more difficult to deal with. Do the verb tenses check out? Are subject and verb clearly delineated? Does the wording make sense, not just to us, but to the outside reader? A second pair of eyes is always useful at this point. Also, a sense of distance from the text is useful. Leave it a day (or two) and come back to it later when he creative rush has fled the system.

Structural revisions 1
Whenever we do a structural revision, it is essential to check that the revision ties in with the rest of the piece and that we maintain consistency throughout. A simple example: I decide, on page 77 of my novel, to change my main character’s name from Suzie to Winnie. Clearly, her name has to be consistent, both backwards (1-77) and forwards (77 onwards). While this is obvious, other changes, taste, color of hair, color of eyes, height, weight, tv program preference, may not be so easy to check and double-check. But it must be done.

Structural Revisions 2
This is where we must pay attention to the vision in the re-vision. We must ask the question, what does the poem / story / chapter / text want to say? What is it actually about? Often, in the flush of creation, we write words (actions, thoughts, emotions) on the page and they flow like water from a fountain. It’s a wonderful feeling. Later, during the re-vision process, we must ask ourselves, again, deep down, what do these words mean, what are they trying to say? This is actually a slightly different question from what am “I” trying to say?
The speaking / writing voice may want to say something, but the words (and characters and actions) themselves may want to say something else. Now we are faced with a dilemma: do we write what we want to say or do we follow the intricate word-path growing from what we have written? As a beginning writer, I did the former. As a more mature (and I hope, a slightly better writer) I now do the latter.
The result is often a piece that is radically different from it’s starting point. When you listen to what the story / poem / text / characters etc are telling you and when you follow words and characters, then structure changes, paragraphs switch places, thoughts move around, expressions change. We are no longer forcing words into our meanings, we let the meanings grow out of the words. This is particularly important in short story telling and the writing of poetry. It is vitally important to the novel where any inconsistency must have a relevance to the development of action, plot and character. It is also a totally different approach to the meaning of re-vision.

Summary
I realize many writers may have difficulty accepting these points. Those trained originally in the academic world, in particular, will respond negatively to the idea of the words ‘not being forced into the correct academic shape by the quasi-omnipotent academic mind’ aka Constable Thesis Editor. However, the more creative a writer is, the more that writer will respond to the creativity that lies within both the creator and the creation that has appeared on the page and, as writers, we must never lose sight of that creative act, for it is one of the most truly wonderful things that we can do.

Comment

This is a golden oldie. However, it is still worthy of being reconsidered. Why do we revise? How do we revise? I hope this article is of use to the many out there who are looking for help and encouragement.

Butterflies

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Butterflies

Here today and gone tomorrow. Ephemeral. Like all of us ‘poor creatures, born to die’ (as Dylan Thomas once wrote in Under Milkwood). It seems strange to look back on last summer’s photos and to remember that yes, they were here, those butterflies. Outside the window. Perching on the flowers. Showing their varied colors. Alive. Vibrant. Raising and lowering their wings.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I wore a grey suit and lived in a concrete, four-walled cell that they called an office, I was asked if I would edit a new journal for one of the institutions with which I was involved. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘That would be great.’ ‘We’ll need you to submit a title and a theme,’ they said. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Of course I will.’

I thought about many things: titles, themes, topics, writers … Then I thought about other journals with which I had been involved in various capacities. Then I considered walking in the footsteps of the Journal of Higher Education with all of its cutting-edge articles and high-powered inspiration. I breathed a sigh of frustration, then of relief. ‘Got it,’ I said, and the Journal of Lower Expectations was born.

Alas, it was a butterfly that never spread its wings. ‘Your services will not be needed,’ came the curt reply when I submitted the title.

Think about it: a couple of years back, there were no bees in the garden: CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). Last year, there were no birds. The feeders stood empty, and bird flu was the cry on everyone’s lips and the plague on every bird’s beak. Ephemeral. Butterflies on a rock. Australia burns and people are rescued from the beaches where they have taken refuge in the sea. Everyone, everywhere, now needs to live with lower expectations.

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Butterflies and birds and bees: will they be back next summer? Who knows? I certainly don’t. But then, I am a true agnostic. I have no scientific background worth speaking of and neither ax no knife to grind on this topic. I genuinely do not know where we are heading. But I believe least those who protest most, especially when they bluster and bluff and try to pull the cocoon of disbelief over my eyes by shouting loudly their point of view. I have eyes. I can see, even if there are no butterflies, birds, or bees to be seen. Alas: I can still see and suffer their absence.

Please
will ye no come back again?”
Poor kangaroos, kookaburras, koalas,
wallabies and platypus ducks.

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We will miss you so much if you any of you,
let alone all of you,
along with the butterflies, birds, and bees,
go AWOL.

Black and White

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Black and White

There is a moment in winter photography when the world of color turns to black and white. Color is still there, but today it travels incognito, anonymous. The world is formed by shapes, trees draping their branches, snow weighing them down, dressing them in wedding gowns for their marriage with the new year spirits that haunt sunlit, moonlit snowbanks and dance across the snow. Even the clouds exist to give a soft, quiet dramatic touch to the winter beauty that visits the garden. And yes, it will always be there, even if we are not here to see it because it will carry on without us. As for us, we are secondary, mere witnesses to winter’s beauty and the nature that surrounds us.

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Amateur photographers can sometimes capture this effect in a moment of luck (or occasional inspiration). Great painters have always known this art of the minimal. El Greco drew light from darkness, his portraits often finding their own fire and lighting up from within.  Caravaggio, too, knew the values of chiaro-oscuro, light and dark, black and white. Velasquez was the master of the spotlight that highlighted the eggs frying in the pan, the hand of the water-carrier. Goya, in his etchings [The Disasters of War, The Caprichos] and dark paintings, drew mood and anguish from this contrast between light and dark, black and white.

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My friend Geoff Slater has caught such a moment in his sketches for Scarecrow. Above he catches the precise moment when the scarecrows, male and female, reach out to each other, and beneath a Van Gogh planetary sky, dare to dream of mobility and love. The dream world: so important to us all and especially to the creative artist who dwells in each of us. Deus est in nobis, the Latin poets used to say, it is god within us. The god of black and white who transforms the world into color and light.

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Black and white, light and dark, winter trees, Clare, two scarecrows, deer and crows: labors of love that reach out and catch us unawares, blowing our hearts wide open, letting in the sun and the wind and the ever present joy of seeing things, seizing them, sizing them up, in black and white.

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Aliens

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Aliens

They came in from nowhere. Appeared on the coaster. Smallish, slightly flaky, dried on the outside, they craved liquid. Climbed into the coffee. I fished them out on a spoon. They floated down my throat.

Now they are within me. They have taken possession of my system. Now nothing is the same and I see things in a different way. That plate on the table, diminished and slightly blurred.

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Those flowers, edible now. Those geese in the garden, my brothers and sisters.

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That cat, my friend.

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Going, going …

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Going, going …

… and soon they’ll all be gone, save for the lucky ones that Clare gathers and sticks in pots to winter over in the house-warmth. Over the coming months, if you visit us, you’ll find these flowers in corners, on tables, in places that are touched by the low winter sun. Clare keeps lots of geraniums and they do winter over very well. She makes a selection of colors and then places them in sunlit spots. They bring color and light to the darkest days and help keep winter at bay. They are also great to photograph against snows and crows, and I often use their window reflections in my indoor photography.

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Here are some red and white geraniums getting their last touch of fall sunshine as they cling to the back porch.

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This little group await their fall prune. Clare will trim them down and then bring them in. They will be slightly dormant for a while and then start to flourish once again. By the time next spring comes round, they will be ready for their outdoor adventures, a day at a time, back in overnight, and nursed and nurtured until they are ready for their full summer blossom.

It’s Thanksgiving this weekend, so a Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may you all have flowers to brighten your life and bring you some beauty and peace.