Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas scenes


In the Christmas season, homes offer a variety of Christmas decorations and settings. Whether modest or grand, they always cast me back to childhood memories, the main one being dad’s unique Nativity.

His scene was mounted on a raised platform around a fresh pine tree. He had the basic figurines and the rest was made from any scrap materials he could find. He built a wooden stable, surrounded by shepherds and sheep. The three kings made their way along a path, plaster camels following. Palm trees were fashioned with bits from the garden. The landscape was complete with little cardboard houses with twinkling lights inside. The whole thing wasn’t always to scale—sometimes the camels were dwarfed by the Wise Men. The distinctive feature of dad’s scene was the water that ran along a little creek and splashed through a water wheel, courtesy of a concealed pump. I’m not sure that water wheels actually existed in Bethlehem, but it added magic to dad’s Nativity. Above everything, dad hung the guiding star, lit by a well-positioned, hidden light bulb. He left the crib empty with all players in the scene serenely waiting. The atmosphere was heavy with expectation, until baby Jesus appeared on Christmas morning.

As a child, the working wheel and the twinkling lights made this more appealing than the legendary Myer windows. As I grew to adulthood, I became more appreciative of my father’s creativity and the effort he put into making people happy. We were poor and in those early days, he used his ingenuity and his artistic skills to bring the scene to life.

Over the year’s dad’s nativity, scenes have attracted attention. In the 1970s, he built one that filled our dining room. I can't remember where we ate dinner that year, but the local paper sent a photographer and ran an article on dad’s seasonal efforts.

Dads’ in his eighties now, and every year he still makes a Nativity scene for a local church. Even with shaking hands, he manages to fashion the houses and trees, and put all the figures into just the right spot. It still has a water wheel, and it’s still out of proportion, but everyone loves it.

So, as you enjoy people’s decorative efforts this year, think about the work that your fellow citizens have put into sharing the Season with you—and spare a thought for dad’s camels, having to carry the giant Wise Men.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Curriculum vitae

One of the first questions we’re asked when we meet someone is ‘What do you do?’ The answer to that question potentially sets the course for defining each other. What does the world of work mean? Certainly, it means income. It can mean power and status. It means belonging and it has a lot to do with identity. For many, what we do is who we are. That’s understandable. We spend so much time at work whether our world is white or blue collar. We take jobs to pay the bills or as a stepping-stone to where our passions really lie. Sometimes we get stuck there. Sometimes we are unceremoniously trundled out of our hard-earned position on the ladder of success (whatever the hell that means) and bumped to the ground by redundancy, illness, accident or just plain bad luck. Not having a job is devastating for most and being unable to pay the bills is just one part of that. Our social networks are impacted, our capacity to contribute and our sense of place.

I was talking with someone recently who is struggling to find regular employment. This person is talented, experienced and willing. The job market and potential employers don’t always respond in ways that are encouraging and that’s if they even bother to respond. How who we keep our spirits up when the world of work and all that it brings to us isn’t available? I don't know that entire answer to this question. I do know that it is worth encouraging people to keep going, to redefine themselves, to look at other ways and to keep up hope.

For many years, I worked as a recruiter. Good recruiters read between the lines of a CV. It’s not only about what you’ve done but also about what you haven’t done. As a recruiter, I was interested in the ‘roundedness’ of people, in the real meaning of curriculum vitae as per the Latin meaning the course of one's life. It isn’t just about work. In between what we do and how we handle life in general, we find who we really are.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The characters we meet

Recently, a writing friend pondered some of writing's big questions—how do we build our characters and how much of the character is drawn from ourselves. The very first novel wrote was a terrible, terrible, terrible, YA novel. Did I mention it was terrible? But, I loved my characters, mainly because they were composites of me, my experiences, people I know, people I’d like to know, people I didn’t want to know. They had all the traits I didn’t have and wanted, and none of the one I did have, and didn’t want. I would see them as I walked down the street. I imagined them in familiar locale settings. I invented lives for them I couldn’t live. I gave them power I didn’t have. For characters to be informed by our own experiences and observations seems to be an accepted method. We start with what we know. In that process, we discover what we don’t know, and what we need to find out. How does a character behave in certain situations, what would she/he do when scared, frightened or elated? Since my first forays into writing, my characters have become more realistic, more complex and more interesting. Part of their development comes from my own. As I get older and wiser (hopefully), the choice of reactions, responses, idiosyncrasies and physical features that are imparted to the characters I write is drawn from a wider pool of experiences and observations. On the page, they can be anything, anyone, including the best and worst of ourselves.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Ferrari, my silent partner

When I write, I have a constant companion. He’s a silent partner in my work. My partner is always nearby and encourages me with adoring looks. My silent partner loves my voice when I read my work out loud. My silent partner loves me and my work unconditionally. My silent partner thinks everything I do is wonderful. My silent partner is my dog, Ferrari. He’s followed me from room to room, his whole life, which stretches to 12 years (roughly 84 human years).
A few days ago, I discovered that Ferrari has an enlarged heart, due to a leaking valve. What a bizarre coincidence that my dog developed that same problem as I had. In the doggy world, valves don't get replaced, so Ferrari doesn’t have the benefit of high-tech prosthetics like the one I have. Prior to surgery, when I couldn’t breath and I spent my days in bed, writing letter to those I loved, and wondering if I’d make it through the day, Ferrari stayed at the foot of the bed. His determination to protect me extended to attacking my husband if he dared set foot in the bedroom. We sorted that out pretty quickly. No longer the alpha-dog, Ferrari relaxed a little, but still his attention was on me constantly.
Ferrari is a companion dog, a Maltese Shih Tzu. In past parlance, he would have been known as a lap dog. In reality, he’s not that precious or fancy. Okay, so he’s groomed regularly, his coat’s dazzling white and his eyes melted chocolate. He’s feisty; his bark is surprisingly deep, not at all the high pitch yap associated with small breeds. These days, barking makes him cough. That doesn’t stop him defending his territory. He barks at anyone who dares walk in his street, or pass our back gate or ring our doorbell. Once you’re in the house, it’s a different story. Visitors are presented with his stuffed toys. Their shoes are sniffed and the tail wagging accelerates.
He’s not a great watchdog. On one occasion, burglars got into our garage and stole two sets of golf clubs, while we were inside having dinner. Unfortunately, that particular evening the spread included a large cheese platter. That’s Ferrari’s idea of heaven. Clearly golf isn’t. We forgave him that.
Everyone loves Ferrari. He’s sweet natured and kind to old people and little kids. Everyone wants to take him home. We can't go for long walks anymore. He’s not interested in sniffing around the streets. Sometimes he just looks at his food bowl, as if he can't be bothered.
There is no way of knowing how long Ferrari will stay around. He’s on fancy dog meds, which may help his heart muscle. Maybe in the mysterious ways of animals, he’ll know when it’s time and he might let me know too.
Until then, Ferrari remains my silent writing partner. The spot by my desk is reserved for him. Unconditionally.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Everyone has a story

No matter how many workshops I go to, I always learn something. Today was spent with a group of writers, exploring biographical writing. The session was led by Goldie Alexander www.goldiealexander.com It was fascinating to hear slices of people’s lives, cut from a pie of rich experience. I went with an open mind, not thinking I was interested in biography at all, but the session gave me the kernel of an idea for a short story, one that I’m excited about writing. I made new writing ‘buddies’; people like myself who are trying to tell their stories, or honour the life of another. Many of the writers in the group were braver than I in sharing their personal experiences and their embryonic work. One of the best ways to develop as a writer is to share with others who can nurture the work through a reader’s critical eye, while still giving the author confidence to keep going. I felt connected with the biographical stories that each participant brought to the group. They were all compelling. They all deserved to be told.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Announcing Juncture Press


Writers, looking for design and quality digital print? Short run, fast turnaround. More information www.juncture.com.au or chris@juncture.com.au

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Lost for words (Lessons from NaNoWriMo)

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) www.nanowrimo.org has become a worldwide phenomenon for writers of all levels of experience. The concept is simple, churn out 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November.

I’d heard lots from writers who’d taken on the challenge, but never thought about doing it myself. On impulse, I registered. To my surprise, I discovered a NaNoWriMo-me. She taught me a lot. This is some of what I learned:

Meet the challenge: An eager novice, I gave myself an appropriate user name ‘whatamithinking’ and sat at my blank screen filled with a mix of trepidation, optimism and a good dash of caffeine. With one part of my brain singing my mantra ‘what am I thinking?’ NaNoWriMo-me argued, ‘This could be fun. Get to know me.’ So, I wrote.

Persistence pays: First day, I churned out two thousand words. I was on my way! Until Word crashed and consigned my document to an inaccessible part of the PC. I’d need the entire ‘Without a Trace’ team to have any chance of seeing it again. So, its only day one and I’m ready to chuck it in. But hey, at the time, I was on the Gold Coast and sunrise is around 4.30 am. I figured rising early would give me a chance to catch up. By day two, it was clear that holidays and dedicated writing don’t mix well. Sun, sand and surf, beat out the screen each time. ‘You’ll find time if it’s important,’ said NaNoWriMo-me. I found pockets of time during the day to write—five minutes here, ten minutes there. The word count climbed. I kept writing.

Carry a toolbox: The NaNoWriMo website provides lots of tools for the writing journey. Graphs and charts to measure your progress, a merchandise store (where, not surprisingly, the book ‘No Plot? No problem’ is the only ‘sold out’ item). There are regional groups you can link with, writing buddies, events to attend and regular ‘rah-rah’ emails from mentors. NaNoWriMo-me didn’t use all those resources, but it was good to know they were there. I kept writing.

Tell someone who cares: Each day I’d give my husband an update of the numbers popping up in my word count. ‘That’s great,’ he’d say not taking his eye off the news broadcast. Don't get me wrong, he loves the fact that I write, even though he doesn’t entirely get why id write all those words and not use them. A number of non-writers friends agreed, giving me a blank-faced ‘Why?’ when I told them of the 50,000-word aim. NaNoWriMo-me learned quickly who was on My Team. She didn’t talk much, instead she conserved her energy for the page. I kept writing.

You don't have to write well, you just have to write: Here’s the thing; I never had a plot to lose. I had one-dimensional characters, most of whom I decided I didn’t like. Don't ask me about landscape, setting, or theme. My timeline travelled more than the complete series of Dr Who. Dialogue, seemed to flow, but sensory detail was absent. My inner critic screams ‘Loser!’ in an amplified voice. NaNoWriMo-me ignored it. I kept writing.

Don’t look back: My tale started with a contemplative woman in her sixties, who though some convoluted story lines reflects on her days as an unwitting porn star. Don't ask. I didn't. Despite my lack of direction, I wasn’t tempted to edit, focussing on pouring the words onto the page. Would I get to the word count Holy Grail? I pushed on, like a desert explorer moving toward the oasis mirage. I kept writing.

You CAN be brave at your keyboard: our writing class was advised to write about what we’re afraid of writing. So I did. Prim and proper me wrote sex scenes. My inner critic tried talking me out of it. What if your kids see it? What if someone thinks that’s what YOU do? But NaNoWriMo-me did the cheerleader thing, ‘Go for it!’ Sometimes I’d laugh out loud at the sheer drivel I wrote; sometimes I was surprised by the eloquence of a line. I kept writing.

Enjoy your destination when you get there: my writing GPS may have been wonky, but I managed to hit 50,000 plus words on day 22. My progress bar on the official website turned from blue to green. I did a little jig and gave myself a round of applause. I’d be getting that PDF certificate in which I could write in my name and hang on my wall. I’d met my goal. I took a deep breath… and decided to stop writing.

Celebrate the surprises: The big surprise was how much NaNoWriMo-me taught me about my process as a writer. I know where I get stuck. I know what excuses I use to put off getting those words down on paper. I can tell you exactly at what point my brain will tell me its ‘tea and biscuit’ time. NaNoWriMo-me tells me it’s ok to write really badly without my perfectionism gene going into overdrive. She gives me permission to not have structure and plot all cemented in place before I start. She tells me that in their absence, I can still write.

Since NaNoWriMo ended, I’ve found new energy for my other writing projects. I don't know yet if I’m a better writer for the experience, but I’m okay with that. What I do know, is that I can commit and I can get a story onto the page.

Would I do it again? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t mind spending another month with NaNoWriMo-me. I quite like her. She’s never lost for words.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Bottom drawer

I’ve been thinking about the number of writing projects that don't get finished: the idea doesn’t hold water, we lose the plot, the characters are ill formed or we just simply lose interest. Maybe we get diverted by a better project comes along. Most writers can't bear to get rid of the work they’ve done even when they’ve veered off track. Most of it gets relegated to the bottom drawer, a kind of burial ground for the unfinished.It’s a location we should never underestimate for its richness. Out of that mound of incomplete work, we can excavate treasure. We need patience. It can take years to resurrect an idea or fuse it together with a newer brighter one. The work is there waiting, in its seeded format. Even looking at writing in out formative stages as creative and expressive souls can, at the very least, show us where our writing strengths have developed. Digging around in the bottom drawer can be a fruitful adventure. Don’t be afraid to reach in.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Workshopping

I’ve been sitting in spring sunshine, enjoying the draft work of some of my writer friends. We’re workshopping each other’s pieces. Seeing if we can help fine tune the work. It’s done without envy but when fellow writers are talented, we’re often left wondering why we bother to sit at the PC. In the grand scheme of things, many writers have grave doubts about their ability. No matter how successful, it’s easy to wonder where the next idea is coming from, the next publication or worse—for those of us new to the game—will there ever be one? It’s one of the reasons we don’t to write. We procrastinate, because we aren’t convinced that what we produce will be good enough. The reality is unless we start there is nothing to edit, to fine tune, to finesse. Getting out of this mental mire is tricky. One thing that works for me is this: when I can't think of the first line, I write the second, or the third or one that may end up in the middle. I write my way through the doubt and past the voice in my head, telling me the writing isn’t good. On occasions, the voice is right. On others, the click-clack of the keyboard has to be consistent enough and loud enough to drown the critic out. Sometimes I use an old school method, a fountain pen. The scratch of the nib on the paper can also mute the critique. Constant attention to the page is what breaks through the barrier. My talented writing friends are not without their own doubts and insecurities. Yet they have produced their drafts and offered them trustingly to others to rip and repair. It’s almost a sacred duty in which the writing of others serves as an inspiration to rein in our reluctance and keep going. Once, it’s on the page, the critic is silenced and the critique can begin.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Writing in the spaces

Most writers I know talk about the struggle to find time to write. Many aren’t full time writers, so the demands of work and daily life are understandable intrusions.
However, there are strategies that you can use. One that works for me is:
 One word at a time
 One paragraph at a time
 One page at a time
Ideas come to me in passing so, wherever possible, I leave my computer on and open at the piece I’m working on. Sometimes it’s just a page to which I can add ideas that pop into my head. It only takes a minute or two write, the word, the sentence. Over the period of a day, this adds up. It’s not the word count that is important, it’s moving the story forward. Word count is just one mechanism that quantifies progress. It doesn’t qualify it—that comes when we redraft. But, you can't redraft what you don't have. We have to persevere if we are to take ourselves seriously as writers. There are lots of reasons not to write. There are lots of reasons we don’t get to our writing. Interruptions, our own fears, others telling us we are wasting our time, the list goes on and on. For a true writer, procrastination is not a sustainable option. Julia Cameron has some insightful things to say about this topic www.theartistsway.com or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3KLocmjJwI

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Floating

It's overwhelming to work out what to do with a life. This short blip of time in which we decide (and achieve) dreams, vision, goals, Shoot for the moon, someone once said. I want to shoot out there, but personally, I find it hard to navigate by the heavens. I’m lost in the Constellation of Consternation. Wondering what lies at the end of the direction I didn’t choose. I float with no direction, no control. Ending weightless. Each stage life brings a different desire, a turning from or tweaking of what is, what failed to materialise and what disappointed. I love making the plans, listening to those of others—how they decided, how they arrived, adding I must do that too! to my own list. That’s the crux of my problem. No matter how much I learn, there is more to learn, new technology to master, new thinking to embrace. Each new concept reveals untrodden paths and again I’m forced to choose, impelled by time, among the eternity of the stars.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Launching

I’ve succumbed to pressure and set up a blog. I’m now webbed, Facebooked and blogged. It’s an unfamiliar world of stretched boundaries and less privacy. Mostly it’s about being in cyberspace wondering if I really have something to say. It’s also about dealing with the anxiety of doing what needs to be done in the new world of self-promotion, networking and bringing the written word to others. I’m not brave by nature, but I’m prepared to have a go.