Saturday, 25 March 2017

Designing Ideas

This piece, “Morning Has Broken”, has been sitting on my design wall since mid-January, but this week I took it down and finished it...I think!

I wrote about this piece, my response to grief, in my January 14 post. It's still on my design wall because I'm not sure whether I should add some more sun rays stretching out into the black border. Hmmm.

Since then, the term “design wall”  has been rattling around in my head.In quilter’s terms, design walls are like giant bulletin boards where quilters mount quilt pieces temporarily and move them around till they like what they see. “Just right!” they say, and then proceed to sew them together into a lovely, delightful whole.

The design wall in my studio is totally essential to how I work. I put unfinished pieces up there, and they sometimes stay up for weeks, months, and even years until I figure out what I need to do next. Here's what's on my design wall right now:

This one has already been pulled apart once, and may not have enough life in it to get completed. Time, and the design wall, will tell me.
The idea of a design wall expanded in my head, and I was thinking it was perfect for this week’s blog post. The design wall which is my brain held all the pieces of my blog post, and I thought I could just stitch them together when I sat down to write. Not so. The pieces didn’t mesh, they didn’t look good together, and I had to pull them back and wait. This is when art imitates life. Or is the saying Life imitates art? Whatever. There just seemed to be a synchronicity between what I’d planned to write and what actually happened.

Sometimes ideas are not ready to be born and need more time to gestate; sometimes, our creative thoughts just need to mellow and gel before we put them out there for the world to see. Perhaps we should consider that our life has a design wall, too. Sometimes elements of our life are just not ready to move forward and need more time before we can put them into practice, before we can make decisions about the future. Perhaps we shouldn't be in such a hurry to get through stuff so we can get on with the next big thing. What do you think?

This idea obviously needs fleshing out, a little more depth of thought, some more noodling -- that's why I'm posting it on your brain's design wall today.  If it seems to you there's something here that bears further exploration, you can fiddle around with it till it feels right to you!

I don’t know how my friend Joy does it, getting into my head space and stealing my ideas ... I opened her blog post this morning, and there was the blog I was supposed to write, all done for me. Thanks, Joy! You can read her post by clicking on the link to Life by the Swake to the right of this.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

BLOB's Book Club

As I was thinking about writing another blog post, it occurred to me that I am a BLOB – Blogger to Lovers of Books. So welcome to the first meeting of the BLOB book club, with me doing all the talking. (There’s often someone like that in every book club, isn’t there? Today I get the honour. But please talk back in the comments section.)

Until recently, I didn’t have a lot of interest in book clubs – tried it once, but it didn’t work for me.

But now I’ve just joined a book club with a difference: only two members, hence the name: TWITS: Two Women Investigating TextS. We meet once a month over supper in a cozy restaurant with very tolerant owners (the meetings have lasted more than 2 hours, and the waiter keeps saying, “Take your time, take your time!”) We do not have assigned reading – instead, we just talk about what we’ve read this month. And talk. And talk.

Would you believe the title of this picture refers to these women as OLD women? Not us!
A book club with only two members? But it works. At our first “meeting” (and I use the term loosely), my fellow TWIT handed me The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Schwalbe and his mom, a two-member club, met in the hospital periodically and shared books and ideas  as she was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. This heart-tugging memoir  is like a fruitcake studded with goodies, each chapter full of ideas for further pursuit. I’ve been gobbling up the goodies full tilt lately.

One of them features another two-member book club. In The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Queen Elizabeth (yes, THAT queen Elizabeth) discovers a bookmobile by the back door of Windsor Castle when she is out walking her Corgis. She pokes her head inside and discovers one of her kitchen staff browsing the shelves on his lunch break.

This gets the queen thinking. “She’d never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did (throughout this short book, the Q refers to herself as “one”), but liking books was something she left to other people. It was a hobby, and it was in the nature of her job that she didn’t  have hobbies...And besides, reading wasn’t doing. She was a doer.”  Doing involved  reading briefing notes, reports, speeches from the throne. However, as a polite gesture,  she asks the library technician, “Is one allowed to borrow a book? One doesn’t have a ticket.” Although, she adds, “one is a pensioner”, not sure that would make a difference. That simple act changes her life.

“Briefing is not reading,” she tells her secretary. “In fact, it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual, and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject; reading opens it up.”

Nicely put, old girl.

Her Majesty promotes her eager-reader kitchen helper to become her personal book assistant, and they have a wonderful time sharing ideas and following rabbit trails from one author to the other, until the rest of the staff gets their knickers in a knot...ah, but you need to read it for yourself to enjoy the surprise ending.

Her Majesty is right: reading opens up your world. Reading has been opening up my world for as long as I can remember, and even before that. As a toddler,  I used to pull all the adult books off the bookshelf and look inside each one, over and over again in spite of being disciplined for it. It was an act of exploration, I think. Somewhere in those books, I sensed, were other worlds to experience.

I became a besotted reader. Saturday mornings were library mornings. Bedtime was reading time. So was almost any other time. I alienated a lot of would-be friends because I wouldn’t get my nose out of a book when they visited. Finally, I found a friend who loved reading and read at the same pace as I did. We would sit side by side on the sofa, reading the same book, nodding when we were ready to turn the page. It was another two-person book club. Ah, bliss. And so my reading habit has continued right up to now – just ask the resident sweetie. “Did you finish it?” he mumbles sleepily when I stumble to bed way after midnight. Of course. But he’s back to sleep already, before I can tell him all the gory details.

The RS and I might also be called a two-person book club, although it’s a little lopsided. He’s a good listener, but an indifferent reader. I read the best parts of my discoveries to him, which we discuss as we sit side by side in our easy chairs, a la Dagwood and Blondie.
Couldn't find an appropriate Dagwood and Blondie cartoon on the net, but this works, too!

Occasionally he decides he’ll try reading too. His interest was twigged by my reading excerpts from Post Traumatic Church Syndrome by Reba Riley. Riley was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home and church, and she has the scars to show for it. Actually, most of us have scars to show from growing up, no matter what religion or no religion we were raised in, and no matter how idyllic our childhood. But Riley is brave enough to undergo a quest to heal these scars by visiting thirty different worshiping communities that range from Native vision quests to Buddhist and Hindu temples, and everything in between. In the end she finds...ah, but that would spoil the ending. Read it for yourself – it’s a good one. And, as Her Majesty says, it opens up your world.

It’s always a grand day when I discover a new novelist that makes my heart sing. My latest discovery, recommended by my TWIT pal, is Kaya McLaren.  I read On the Divinity of Second Chances, about a polarized family that eventually transforms itself into a strong and healthy unit. Their individual journeys prove that there is a God of second chances who smiles when we get it right. “I know time can never go back,” says Phil, the dad. “The past can never be revisited. At best, I can take elements I enjoyed in the past and re-create them in the present. I am no longer in a state of retirement; I am in a state of reinvention.”

Oh, gee, where has the time gone? Look at that, we’re the last ones left in the restaurant. Reluctantly, we pack up our books and set a date for our next meeting.

Reflecting on TWITS, the associate TWIT says, “I've loved being able to talk about whatever I'm reading and am doubly delighted when we both enjoy something. I also pay closer attention to what I'm reading so I can talk about it somewhat intelligently. And that's a good thing.”

Nicely put, old girl!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Listening to my Gut

In these troubling times, with #45 in charge south of the border and snow, lots and lots of it, north of the border, it is very tempting to hide away. I want to pull the blankets over my head and say, “I’m staying here until things improve. Wake me up when the world is a warmer, kinder, gentler place.”

Turtling lite, I call it, retracting into my shell from time to time, trying to avoid the nasties. I try to ignore the worst news stories, the ones that predict gloom and doom. I refuse, mostly, to click on Facebook links to heavily partisan sites, whether leaning to the right or to the left. But once in a while, something gets by me, and once in a while, I feel a churning in my gut. When my gut speaks to me, I sit up and pay attention.

I imagine we all have a little warning signal built into us, a vestigal remnant reaching back to pre-history. Those bodily reactions warning of danger kept people safe, and they still do. For some, the signal is literally seeing red; for others, a headache or shortness of breath or an accelerated heartbeat. This is wrong, we say to ourselves. For me, it’s a feeling in the center of my gut, a clenching, turbulent feeling. Danger! Danger! Danger! these signals tell us. Do something.

Running further away, or pretending this isn’t happening, is one option, or pummeling the signal into submission. In the long run, these don’t work. The poison is still out there, and won’t go away. Lashing out takes you in another direction, spewing your raw emotions all over– onto FB, letters to the editor,  or into your social conversations, or taking it out on innocent bystanders. I have been guilty of all of these reactions and more, and I have lived to pay the price. Avoidance produces a long slow simmer of angry stew which eventually boils over. Lashing out means that when the venom is vented, you are left with a mess on your hands to clean up: apologies, corrections, shame, guilt.

Another gut warning just came across my FB feed the other day. It was a video of a TV channel, on which a  perky young woman with a head of blonde curls was given the opportunity to editorialize on  “A Day Without A Woman”, a day of protest that had just been held. It didn’t take me more than a few seconds of listening to realize she thought it was a crock. “Look at me!” she said in effect. “See how well I’ve done? And I didn’t get any help from anyone, I did it on my own merits.” Among other things she pointed out that if women made poor choices, they only had themselves to blame for the mess they were in. They could protest all they wanted, but it wouldn’t get them anywhere. And even if she had said something positive, her derisive tone of voice said, “You folks are fools!”

I’ll admit that I had not paid much attention to this protest, so didn’t have strong feelings about it. And yet, I heard the alarm bells: Danger! Danger! Danger! My gut was tied up in knots immediately. The problem was, there were just enough smidgens of truth in her rant to make her followers give her the high five. Right on, tell it like it is, sister! And there were just enough clever, high-sounding sentiments to silence the undecided, or cast doubts in the hearts of feminist supporters. Danger, indeed. The devil knows all about clever sentiments and half-truths. (S)he can smooth-talk you into believing night is day and day is night.

I’m not saying this woman is the devil. Far from it. She has opinions, and she wants to voice them. But just because she is passionate about her cause doesn’t mean she’s got a corner on the truth. Her rant left no room for thoughtful dissection of the issues, the pros and cons of A Day Without A Woman. Worse, she was so good at what she did, and so attractive, that many listeners didn’t feel the issue deserved a second look. I watched and wondered: if she wasn’t so young and attractive, would she have had this opportunity to sneer so publicly at feminists? Was there any room in her heart for the woman who was abused as a child and is so broken that her choices are poor? Is this derisive sneering going to lead to a kinder, gentler world? I knew I had to do something.

I created this piece several years ago, as a reminder to myself that I should not be silent if there is something important to say.
So what should we do when the alarm bells begin to chime in our bodies, when we see injustice happening, or one-sided reporting, or downright cheating and lying in public, with lies disguised as the truth? It’s happening more and more, and hiding under the blankets will not make it go away.

Here’s my thoughts: first, we listen. We listen to our bodies. Usually, your gut (or your head, or your breath) has got it right.

Then we breathe, deeply, slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately to clear the anxiety and anger, and to examine our own motives. That may take a while, but time lends perspective. Sometimes the problem is not what is outside us; the danger signals may alert us to something within our own lives that needs attention. Better to take care of that before we try to fix the world.

We open our hearts, our spirits and our minds to a higher power, listening and trying to discern what the right action is.

And then we do what we feel called to do. Some of us may do some housekeeping of our own souls. Some of us might write a letter to the editor – a thoughtful, careful letter. Some of us might post an antidote on social media – an inspiring quote, a humorous meme, an informative, unbiased story. Some of us might call a friend who has been hurt by the injustice. We might give money or volunteer time to an organization that stands for what we believe in. Each of us is different, and we are called in different ways to do something good to restore the balance of the universe. Even just a smidgen -- every little bit is important.

As for me? I blog.