A Time for Reflection

Planets and the sun

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday kicked off the forty days of Lent. For those who follow church time, Lent is traditionally a period to clear out the excess that clutters our days to make room for the new life that will come with Easter. It is true that the new will have a hard time finding a spot to settle in with us if all the available real estate is taken.

Without a doubt, our lives get cluttered. Objects, behaviours, ideas, activities – you name it – somehow, these things start to take up way more time, energy and space that we ever thought they would. In the best sense, Lent can be the broom that sweeps clear and helps us get back to the basics. Lent can be a time when we hone in on what really matters to us and how we might find our way to doing what we can to enact change.

Peace Crane Project, Lindale park Gardens, Minneapolis MN

Here is a list of ways to make change this Lent (by no means exhaustive and only meant to prime the pump of your own imagination):

  • Spend at least an hour outdoors every day for the next forty days – fresh air and glimpses of nature (even in the city these do abound!) are restorative.
  • Look into a micro-lending agency like Kiva. Giving a hand up is a great way to make change.
  • Resolve to grow something – anything will do. Start some seeds. Nurture a house plant. Pop the end of a green onion in a glass of water. Simply pay attention to the process and enjoy the miracle of growth.
  • How about this … don’t buy anything you don’t really need for the next forty days.
  • Tackle a de-cluttering task – break it down into small pieces and resolve to finish the job before Easter. Less stuff hanging around is always conducive to a better outlook on life. And you may just find a few things to give away.
  • Heal a broken relationship even if all it involves is letting go and forgiving yourself.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose – any of the R’s will do.

“Everything in life has its own time. There is time to celebrate and there is time to mourn. This is the time for reflection and transformation. Let us look within and change into what we ought to be.” (Aaron Saul)

An angel sitting with the Buddha in our garden - photo by Bruce Witzel

Rusty Beginnings

An era gone-by

Taking a dive back into the 5th book of the Crater Lake series has me reeling with how rusty I become when away from this work for a few months. My current notes show no measure of finesse. Everything is overwrought and jagged. Trying to sort out all the threads of this upcoming novel is akin to plunging into a knitting basket of yarn after a group of rambunctious kittens have had a romp.

I’m thankful that I’m not starting from scratch. The file folder for the upcoming novel already holds several documents – detailed sketches of all my new characters, research notes on bullying programs and Afghanistan vets, list of storylines, a master table of characters and a table for this book. I have some notes on dogs that baffle me. This information must have been something I thought would be useful. I’ve created a rudimentary storyboard – sparse with post-it-notes, a few tentative lines and connections. Much work remains to be done on this valuable visual aid.

The story is a mess in my head. At this point, there is a tendency to overreact to this chaos. I have tagged one new character for possible elimination from book five. Her story may be of more use in book six. But I’ll keep her in the notes for now. We’ll see. No need to be too hasty.

Simply begin. It’s the only way I know to proceed with the task of creating a novel. My method is to write my way into the story. The more words I throw on the page, the more organized and clear the ultimate story becomes. I’ve been here before. When I begin to glimpse the contours of the whole thing through the mist, that will be the point when I know I am close to tipping from note taking to actual writing.

The promise of that moment keeps me going through the difficulty of these early days. It allows me to bear my stuttering first attempts to unravel this mess of knotted yarn before me. Damn those kittens!

Where do you begin on the journey of creating a novel? How do you manoeuvre the first faltering stages? And what if your ideas are not even at the knotted yarn stage? I came across a post on Writers Helping Writers the other day that listed some great ways to generate ideas – Ten Ways to Goose the Muse. Check it out!

I’ll leave you today with a photo of my latest garden statue acquisition. We purchased ‘Edgar’ at the Millerville Christmas Market on our recent trip to High River, Alberta. He’s a mischievous gargoyle who looks as though he just dropped in for a bit of fun. Edgar may or may not be up to no good. I suspect he may show up in my upcoming book as a new addition to Izzy’s garden. She might see him from her kitchen window and experience the same delight I feel every time I see him. Edgar was created by Castaway – an artist out of Okotoks. I am sorry to say, I gave the business card away to someone who admired Edgar and now I can’t find a link to their work. All I can say is that they create lovely stuff at a reasonable price and if you’re ever in Okotoks, Alberta looking for a statue, look them up!

Edgar has found his forever home

Barb Wire Bronco

Barbed Wire Bronc - Glenbow Museum - Guenette photo

Here is a highlight from our visit to the Glenbow Museum in downtown Calgary yesterday. A sculpture by Jeff de Boer (2006). The Barbed Wire Bronco rears up in a dynamic explosion of power, seething with tension and vitality.

de Boer used more than two miles of barbed wire to create this evocative work of art. He was inspired by a horse named Cyclone – the bucking bronco who threw 129 men before Tom Three Persons rode him to a standstill at the 1912 Calgary Stampede.

The horse is Alberta’s most beloved animal because it personifies the character of this land – freedom, movement and fluid beauty. The statue captures the animal’s sheer muscular sinew and its unquenchable spirit. And, ironically, it is made of the same material that served to fence in the wide-open grasslands of the prairie.

John Ware stamp

Some of you who follow my blog may recognize the face of John Ware behind the Barbed Wire Bronco. This fascinating fellow was mentioned in a post I did two months ago about the Bar-U Ranch. To learn more feel free to tap the link. I’m thrilled to have time to discover the often edge-of-your-seat history particular to Southern Alberta. Quite the place – now and then.

Northern Lights sculpture - Glenbow Museum

Northern Lights sculpture that reaches up the central stairway of the Glenbow Museum – stunning!

All Saints Day

Saint Francis - Patron Saint of Ecology and the Poor

All Saints Day – also known as All Hallows – thus last night was All Hallows Eve!

A bit of reflection on saintliness via some literary minds is a nice way to start the month of November. This list of quotes came to my attention on Writers Write blog.

Gardening Saint

Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent. (George Orwell)

Saints - Bruce Witzel photo

If I were going to convert to any religion I would probably choose Catholicism because it at least has female saints and the Virgin Mary. (Margaret Atwood)

St. Francis in Santa Fe

Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance. (Anne Sexton)

Blessing of the animals , downtown LA - bruce witzel photo

Kids delight in ‘magical thinking’, whether in the form of the Tooth Fairy or the saints: whether you see these as comforting lies or eternal verities, they are part of how we help kids make sense of the world. (Emma Donoghue)

Statue in Montreal - photo by Bruce Witzel

In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints. (Frederick Buechner)

Gravelbourg Cemetary

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. (Oscar Wilde)

MosiaCanada 150–Over But Not Forgotten

The Muskoxen

(My personal favourite – Muskoxen – an offering from the Northwest Territories. I could almost feel his grassy hair blowing in the breeze.)

MosiaCanada, a signature event of Canada’s 150 celebrations in the Ottawa/Gatineau area, was our countries biggest horticultural event.

Lise Cormier, head of Mosaicultures Internationales of Montreal, instrumental in bringing this event to life, says, “Canada is space and this is really a place for imagination.” So true!

The Canadian Horse

(The Canadian Horse – New Brunswick)

I had the great pleasure to visit this installation, a tribute to our country’s history and its founding peoples, in late September when the temperature soared to the mid-30’s -uncharacteristic for that time of year.

Bill Reid's Killer Whale 2

(Bill Reid’s Killer Whale – British Columbia)

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My son, Doug, and I strolled over the bridge from downtown Ottawa to Jacques-Cartier park in Gatineau, with incredible views of Canada’s Parliament Buildings the whole way.

View of Parliament Hill

Once in the park, we marvelled at the incredible pieces of mosiculture artwork arrayed around a winding one-kilometre path through the park. Though I felt somewhat wilted due to the heat, the plants were fresh and trimmed to exquisite form with a multiple of gardeners snipping away in the shadows.

The Drum Dancer

(Another favourite – The Drum Dancer – Nunavat)

The pieces combined three different art expressions – sculpture for the structure, a palette of colour and horticulture as the medium to create a living, ever changing form. Each piece consisted entirely of annual plants, most chosen for colourful, season-long foliage instead of flowers, grown in soil sandwiched between layers of a geotextile supported by metal frames and watered by internal irrigation systems.

The Puffins

(The Puffins – Newfoundland and Labrador)

Ahead of the June 30th opening, almost 100 gardeners – some from the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing, which sent pieces to celebrate Canada’s birthday – were at work installing what would total over three million plants of 80 different varieties.

Blessing of the Good Dragon

(Blessing of the Good Omen Dragon – Beijing)

A horticulture friendship between Canada with Shanghai and Beijing led to coloured works of art that delighted the eye.

Celebration of the Nine Lions

(Joyful Celebration of the Nine Lions – Shanghai)

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The biggest sculpture was a 15-metre tour-de-force – Mother Earth: The Legend of Aataentsic.

Mother Earth

Mother Earth sits in contemplation with her gentle face of silvery grey santolina and long hair of tumbling sweet potato vine and purple petunias. Water pours from her car-sized palm, where a bird alights to drink, into a shimmering pool below.

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MosiaCanada 150 closed on Oct. 15th after more than 1.3 million visitors took in the sheer delight of living mosiculture. I am so happy to count myself among those who wandered in wonder.

The Lobster Fisherman

(The Lobster Fisherman – Nova Scotia)

Before I Fall – A Movie that Makes You Think

Before I Fall movie poster

Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) seems to have it all: popularity, a loving boyfriend (Kian Lawley) and a seemingly perfect future. Everything changes in the blink of an eye when she dies in a car crash but then magically wakes up to find herself reliving the same day over and over again. As Samantha tries to untangle the mystery of a life derailed, she must also unravel the secrets of the people closest to her and discover how the power of a single day can make a difference.

I don’t see many movies, let alone a new release! Stop the presses. My daughter and I found ourselves with time to spare last night. I wasn’t so tired I had to flop in bed at 9:30. This movie was cued up and ready to go. The first twenty minutes of viewing, before the dramatic scene that sets the stage for the plot to unfold, are pure slogging. The viewer will almost wish something bad happens to the main character and her friends. They give a new meaning to the expression ‘mean girls’.

Once Samantha has died and is thrust into a purgatory of reliving her last day on earth over and over, the movie gets interesting. The blurb summarizes nicely – discoveries are made, past behaviours are examined and a variety of denial mechanisms are brought into play. But ultimately, Samantha is forced to recognize her culpability in setting a terrible chain of events in motion.

The twofold message of this movie is a great one for young and old alike. The plot aptly demonstrates how, with one tentative step after another – no choice earth shattering or worthy of pondering in and of itself – a person can end up on a path never planned for or anticipated. Even more important is the belief we all have that there will be endless time to get things right. We brush off behaviour that is petty, or mean or selfish. We know we’re better than that and we’re sure we’ll make it right in the future. But what happens if our time runs out? On any given day, are we ready to leave this life behind?

Samantha discovers that living one day fully with not a single regret is all the preparation needed to make the ultimate sacrifice and leave this world knowing she made a difference.

See Before I Fall with the young people in your life. Talk about the message. This movie will make you think.

Rainy Garden Wednesday

Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life – John Updike

Apple blossom in the rain

Apple blossoms in the rain – how beautiful is that?

Iris in the rain

Iris in full bloom.

Mountain Bluet

On the blue theme: Mountain Bluet.

Rhodo in the rain

Rhododendron kissed with rain drops.

Rainbow down the slide 3

I caught this rainbow slipping down a slide area on the mountain across the lake.

Rainbow down the slide

Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – Part II

Juniper Berries, Snow Canyon Utah Oct. 8, 2016 - bruce witzel photo

79,000 words at last glance. My draft file for  No Compass to Right (the fourth book in the Crater Lake Series) continues to grow.

I went on a couple of interesting diversions today. Have you ever read the advice about making every scene count? At later stages in the writing process – rewrites and editing – I’ll be refining that advice down to making every word count. But for now, in the first draft construction of the story, it’s putting scenes together to make chapters that is building the word count.

I’m working from a detailed outline for this with all the chapters laid out and the scenes within each chapter defined as subheadings. I went through the whole list today and added a section to the top of every unwritten scene: Purpose of this scene. This proved to be an excellent use of my time. I found two scenes that would be completely redundant and one that served no purpose at all. Out they went before I ever wasted the time writing them. Of more use to me were all the new ideas that came up as I forced myself to consider how each scene could accomplish more. Scenes that do double-duty by achieving multiple purposes are dynamite.

I also had a research task to accomplish today. How does one convert a school bus to a living space? What does such a space look like when it’s finished? I’m here to report amazement on my part over what creative individuals can do with small spaces! I have this old library bus that one of my characters has renovated – you’ll be happy to know he’s leaving the large multi-coloured bookworm mural on the side of the bus.

The other day I had to Google which NHL teams played hockey on TV during the playoffs in 2012. Little details matter. In a rural town like the one I’m writing about, if you invite someone for dinner on a Saturday night in May, that person better expect to arrive at your house to find the hockey game on and more than a few of the family watching.

That’s it for me today. I’m enjoying these instalments from the trenches. Reflecting on the writing process is like priming a pump – words just begin to flow.

Mind statue - Bruce Witzel photo

Cloudy Skies and Collages

Creating with collage!

Fran's Collage - July 2016

I’ve recently been reunited with all my collage material. It is pure joy to haul all the brown envelopes of magazine pics out, dump them all over the table and get busy creating. Collage is a wonderfully creative and therapeutic activity. Give it a try if you are trying to work something out. Whatever comes out of the process is bound to be enlightening.

Unshod–A book of Short Stories

Unshod twitter

“Short stories consume you faster. They’re connected to brevity. With the short story, you are up against mortality. I know how tough they are as a form, but they’re also a total joy.” – Ali Smith

A couple of months ago, I was invited to contribute a story to an anthology being put together by eight, talented women authors – Jan Morrill, Pamela Foster, Staci Troilo, Joan Hall, P.C. Zick, Michele Jones and Lorna Faith. I would be number nine. The theme was western stories. That stopped me in my tracks. What came to mind was the old west, gunfights and cowboys. I certainly had nothing along that line. Upon further inquiry, I discovered the organizers were looking for an out west theme – era open. West coast got me in the door and my short story Helplessness made the cut.

Here’s what the reader can look forward to in this book of short stories …

An anthology of traditional and contemporary western short stories where the characters are lain bare. Nine female authors pen western tales that you’ll want to retell around a campfire. These aren’t your granddaddy’s westerns. They’re the next generation’s, and they’re darn good.

  • Feel the pain of a young Japanese girl who comes home from an internment camp after World War II and learns it’s easier to go with the flow than to fight the current.
  • Struggle with an expectant mother on the cold winter prairie while she waits for her husband to come home from a hunting trip.
  • Journey with a young woman to the Four Corners as she tries to connect with her Navajo ancestors.
  • Try not to believe in the superstition of the blue moon—if one dies, three more will follow.
  • Know that one way or another, life will change inalterably that day.
  • Walk in the footsteps of an old cowpoke who thought he made the deal of a lifetime.
  • Suffer the torments of a young lady who wants desperately to marry but seems destined never to wed.
  • Walk the wild western paths and run from unimaginable dangers.
  • Choose between an unhappy life of luxury or a happy life of simplicity.

Unshod is free for your reading enjoyment through the following e-book vendors:

Amazon.com       Barnes & Noble      iTunes      Kobo      Inktera      Scribd  

I hope you’ll download this free book, enjoy the read and maybe even feel inclined to write a short review.

85. Helpless

(An original piece of art work drawn by Xiaonan Gao for my short story Helplessness when it appeared on StoryShack)