Friday, July 30, 2010

On Writing Exercises

It happens once or twice a year, inevitably, that I am drawn to them: writing exercises.  I've had an almost continuous itch for them since I was in my late teens, since I realised how much pleasure I derived from writing, from creating.  True, most of the time the itch lays dormant, as I roll about in other pleasures, like cooking, knitting, dyeing fibre, being outside, giggling with my boys, soaking in moonlight by the sea, and such similar small adventures of daily life.

Then, quite suddenly, an energy will sweep over me - the "time to create" energy of the Muses, like I've become their living quill, and am now hooked up, a conduit open to the Universe.  I love these moments - the energy fills me and drives me like no other force.  I feel a fire in my belly, in my solar-plexus.  I have the urge to run, to sing, to dance, to drum, to paint, to write, to swirl and sway and somehow burn this fueling source.  This often strikes me at inopportune moments, like when I am just about to go to bed, or take my son to school, or make spaghetti with meat sauce.  I suppose the Muses don't care about timing or circumstance.  "Create!" they say, "Write!  Take this voice we are giving you and let it be heard!"  I've heard artists or their biographers mention how creation and art would happen at all hours, even driving them from sleep and their morning beds, in order to obey the command.  Were I a proficient musician, I would go to my instrument, and play until my fingers ached.  But since this drive most often points me to pen & paper (or in my case, a computer screen & keyboard), I step into the Writer's shoes, and let the words flow.

Which brings me back to writing exercises.  I have several books which contain wonderful ideas, suggestions and encouragement to help novice writers work through their demons, insights, Muse-ings, and stagnant moments.  They can free that block which paralyzes us all frequently.  When the energy of the Muses strikes not, these books can open a writer to becoming that conduit, or if the energy flows, they can help to direct and focus into workable writing.

Here is a list of the ones I love and use.  Mine are all from many years ago, so there are likely several more recently published.  Please feel free to share any you'd recommend.
  • Writing the Wave, by Elizabeth Ayres
  • Escaping into the open, Elizabeth Berg
  • For Writers Only, Sophy Burnham
  • The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron
  • Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
  • Wild Mind, Living The Writer's Life, Natalie Goldberg
Hm, I might need to take a wee break from my knitting (gasp!) and immerse myself into these books and their exercises again.  After all, my story-in-utero is still percolating, but getting rather insistent that I start to actively work on it.

For now, to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream (have I mentioned that my dreams often give me wonderful and very detailed story ideas?)...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What's in my ears this week, July 25th

Another weekly post series I want to do is what I am listening to each week - music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.

So this week, in taking a break from the Outlander series, I have been listening to podcasts and audiobooks.

The first has been Monk's Hood, a Brother Cadfael novel, in a Ravelry RAL (read-a-long), which I finished in about three or four days while working on the sleeves of my Estelle cardigan.  It's a easy book, very well told and interesting.  I suspect I'll check out the other Brother Cadfael books sometime soon.

The second is what I'm currently listening to - the CraftLit podcast, which is working through a Librivox recording of Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities.  It's a little more difficult to follow than Monk's Hood, and the language and references definitely of the time.  Fortunately Heather Ordover, the CraftLit guru, walks us through the tricky and/or esoteric sections & terms.  I'm going to keep working through this as I finish the last four inches of my orange sock - deadlines, you know :-)

And lastly, episodes #52 and #52 of the podcast Electric Sheep - one of my favourites!

That's all for this week!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Doing the happy dance!

I'm finished my Estelle Cardigan!  Buttons and all!

Necessary photo....

She fits me and I'm in love!  Too bad I'm done in time for it to be too hot to wear.  Wait until September comes though....

Monday, July 26, 2010

This week on the needles, July 25th

It's all about finishing my Estelle cardigan.  I am done the first sleeve and am now half-way done the second.  Then weaving in ends, buying some buttons and wait until the weather cools enough to wear it.

Oh, and I'll try to finish my orange socks this week.

That's all for now - it's almost too hot to knit (perish the thought!).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

This week on the needles, July 18th

This week is late, and short, as I'm still working on my main two projects - the purple Estelle cardigan, and my orange socks.

The Estelle cardigan is almost finished in the body, then I'll need to do the arms.  This is the project that I signed up to do as an "OWL" for the Ravelry Harry Potter cup group.  It needs to be done for the end of July, which may not happen.

The orange "brick road" socks are moving along great - I started and completed the second sock in a week, which is fast for me.  This would have finished the pair, except that I purposely made the second sock a lot taller than the first.  I then ripped out the cast on and the two inches of ribbing in order to start knitting the top to meet up the longer sock.  It's much harder to rip out the reverse knitted fabric - it's the first time I've done it.  And now the stitches are messy and I'm not sure if I'll be able to recover the right look of the mock cables.  Ah well.  If worse comes to worse, I'll rip it all out and start again, from the toe-up this time, to match the second sock.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beyond the Sentimental Journey

An agonizingly wonderful and heart-wrenching one, more like.

I've emerged, not yet a half-hour ago, from finishing "reading", listening to the Outlander novel that I mentioned two blog posts ago.  I really buckled down with both the listening of the story and the knitting of the orange sock (see previous post).  Well, I couldn't help it, really, as I was smitten with both.  These orange socks, especially the second, will be eternally linked in my memory with the novel.

(Possible SPOILER moments ahead - you are warned!)
This book has so many "on-the-edge-of-your-seat" moments, so many "Will he/she make it, or die?" scenarios, that I've come away sad, happy, exhausted, exhilarated, wanting more, and needing a break!  I became so attached to our two main characters, Claire and Jamie, that the thought of either of them dying, or being apart was torture!  Diana Gabaldon, the author, is a very good storyteller.  She knows how to create conflict, by God, but really, sometimes it was too much!  I was so stressed out about the situation near the end last night when I went to bed, that I stayed awake until 3am, listening, in a cold sweat, needing to go on, but terrified of what the outcome would be.  I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep leaving that part of the story unresolved, so I persevered.

There are several books in the series, and I plan to read all of them.  I am tempted to dive right into the next one, Dragonfly in Amber, but I think I'll take a wee break.  On the Ravelry group, there is a RAL (read-a-long) starting soon with one book option likely being a Brother Cadfael book called Monk's Hood.  I've seen the BBC movie versions of these books, so am now ready to read the books.  It'll likely be in audiobook format too, as I can knit while "reading".  I also get one credit with every month, so can choose Monk's Hood for this month, and perhaps in August, download the next Outlander novel.  That'll give me a chance to return to, ahem, a more normal way of functioning, day-to-day.

Why do I say this?  Well, this afternoon, as my sons were occupied with play, and I was washing the dishes, I realised that I had been so wrapped up in the Outlander story, it felt like I was going through the motions of my normal daily activities.  I was living so much in the world of the characters and their story that I was barely living in the present.  I thought about this, as I watched my sons, and it came to me, about how my boys live.  Children, especially very young children, live in the present moment all the time.  I believe it's a Buddhist concept (could be for others too) about trying to live and focus on the present moment as much as possible.  We adults are very guilty of living in/for the past and/or the future, or living in our heads, and often forget about just "being" in the present moment.  We ponder, meander, wonder, wander.  A three-year-old now?  No, he is entirely in the "here and now".  Unlike his mother who has been floating through mid-18th century Scotland for the last week ;-)

Everything I think now, with my "in-my-head" voice, has a Scottish accent.  Damn.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

This week on the needles, July 11th

I'm starting a new sort of blog post.  A way to keep track of my knitting, for me, and possibly for you, should you care.  I'm going to try to make this a weekly reoccurring post, hence the title "This week..."

I'm absolutely commited to finishing all my WIPs (either by knitting them or, if needs be frogging (ripping out) and reknitting, or frogging altogether and using the yarn for some other purpose).  This also means no starting of new projects until I've completed everything.  So I'll be at this for several months, I suspect, as I had way too much "startitis" in the last year and have many WIPs/UFOs (Work-In-Progress/Un-Finished-Objects).  I've got five pairs of socks to complete, three sweaters, two sweaters that are almost completed but are huge on me so need to be frogged and started again, two shawls, one lace-knitting scarf, one regular ribbed scarf, one small sweater for my son, a cowl, a shawl for someone else, a Clapotis, and a felted bag.  Yes, all that.  Can you tell I'll have enough knitting on my hands for the next six months or so?

So what I've currently got on the needles that I'm actively working on is my Estelle cardigan (the one that was too large in the yoke so needed to be reknit), and it has a deadline of the end of July.
I'm actually moving forward very nicely on this.  This time, the cardi is obviously more "stripey", as I decided the only way to balance the blend of the lighter and darker skein was to alternate more overall with a ball of lighter and a ball of darker at a time.  This way the light and dark will be more distributed and yes, give some stripes, but at least the whole thing will look like this.

The second item on the needles is a pair of socks.  They are called "Red Brick Road" by Wendy Johnson, with a mostly stockinette body and faux cables along each side.  Very easy.  I started them in April of 2009, when I was obsessed with orange.  I completed the first sock by June of that year, cuff-down, though the pattern calls for toe-up.  At that point I didn't know about the easy toe-up starts, so made it cuff-down.  The second sock needed to be knit, and now that I've joined the 12 Socks Project, where WIPs socks are allowed, I decided to start with the sock project that was closest to completion.
These are being knit with the indie dyer numma numma, in her sock yarn called "The Usual", in the "Chinese Takeout" colourway.  Yes, they are really orange!  But I love the colour and the multi-plied yarn is great, albeit a little splitty when doing certain stitches.  The second sock is moving along really quickly so I don't anticipate this taking to long.  Will definitely have these done as my "July Socks".
The final project that I've been working along casually, with no particular pattern or deadline, is a basic triangle shawl, mostly in garter stitch, with some sort of nice lacy edging later on.  I'm working on it with two skeins of my own hand-dyed single-ply fingering, in the Broceliande colouway, alternating the skeins at one end to even out the differences between the skeins and show off the variegation nicely.
I'm using 4.5mm Addi Turbos needles (love!) and the slender singles yarn moves so smoothly along their shiny surface.

That's all for this week :-)

All Outlander, all the time!

Alright, I admit it, I am completely entranced with the novel Outlander!  I bought it from a few weeks ago, and can't seem to stop listening to it in my spare time.  In fact, I've been creating spare time just to listen.  Ooh, and it's great knitting audio!

So just what is this Outlander of which I speak?  Well, without giving away too much, it is a story of a young English woman named Clare Randell, a 1940s nurse visiting Scotland, who accidentally goes back in time to a Scotland of the mid-18th century.   Now, if you don't wish the storyline to be ruined for you, don't read the "Plot Summery" in the Wiki page link I send you to if you click on the "Outlander" above.  I accidentally read a wee bit more than I ought and spoiled a little of the action that will happen following the part I'm at (chapter 15 or so?).

One reason I really like this story, besides it's being historical fiction and having some romance, is that I'm never quite sure where the plot is going to go next - there are so many possibilities!  It keeps me on my toes :-)

I'm surprised that it's taken me so long to get to this book.  I think I must have forgotten about it.  One of my friends was reading it, if my memory serves, around the time she was living with us briefly.  I recall her telling me how she liked it, what the basic plot was, and that there were some really juicy, but tastefully done "intimate" scenes.  And yet this novel slipped my mind?  What was I thinking?

I'm off to knit for a short time before bed.  Tomorrow I'll try to post an update on my current knitting.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Knee-deep in Mint, Marjoram & Melissa

This past weekend, I did some gardening.  I've been so busy with Gaia's Colours work lately that I have almost completely ignored my yard and gardens.  We were all in the backyard, my husband, boys and myself, and I decided to do some weeding and trimming.  One bed that really needed my attention was the main one that is immediately visible out our back kitchen window.  It contains raspberry bushes, a butterfly bush, St. John's Wort (the original, non-commercial variety, that is medicinally used), mint, rosemary, marjoram, fennel, thyme, oregano, lemon balm (Melissa), and weeds.  Two years ago I gave this bed a radical make-over, removing two very old, large, but sickly, rose bushes, and all of the weeds.  I then planted the raspberries and the herbs, plus some flowers of various types.  I can't now really find some of what was planted, as so much has gone wild and the weeds and grass have almost completely taken over.

So work was needed.  I pulled and dug and stripped all that was not supposed to be there.  And after two days of work, it's still not complete.  It's a work-in-progress.

However, with my new camera, I have been taking photos of the garden, and other areas of the backyard.  Here are a sampling....

Blueberries ripening in the blueberry & strawberry patch.
Non-commercial, medicinal St. John's Wort.
Commercial, non-medicinal St. John's Wort (much easier to find).
Comfrey (medicinal, and also great for "compost tea")
Melissa/Lemon Balm (I hate this stuff, and yank it whenever I find it) - easily confused for mint by it's looks. In the Mint family.
Raspberries, including a "golden" variety.  My boys eat these almost faster than they can ripen.
Mint - I have lots because I love it and let it spread rampantly, as it tends to do :-)
Marjoram, with a solitary mint sprig.
A huckleberry bush, waiting to be planted (it has now since been planted amongst the mint and raspberries).
A wee hazelnut tree.  Apparently we'll have to wait a couple of years before we'll get nuts.  I'm excited anyway!
A fairly reliable sunset shot.  Lovely!
Finally, a gratuitous kitty shot - this is Sarah.

The last Turn of the Screw

(I started this post back in mid-June, but didn't complete it, as I was very busy.  I am finishing/posting it now)

Thankfully!  It's over.  The reading of The Turn of the Screw, that is.  Don't get me wrong - it's a very interesting and challenging story, but man! it's a difficult read/listen.  Henry James, a American writer in the Victorian era, appears to have been a challenging writer to read and understand.  I've seen the movie Portrait of a Lady, with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich, that is based upon James' novel of the same name, and it was sometimes hard to watch and fully understand.  James seems to have used his writing to dig into human nature and the psychology of our behavior.  He was also one for leaving questions unanswered, and for abrupt, startling endings.

After The Turn of the Screw, the CraftLit podcast moved to some American short stories, one of which was by Mark Twain, about learning to ride a bicycle.  Peculiar.  I didn't really get into the stories presented, though, no fault of the lovely Heather Ordover - it seems that most short stories of American life in the late-Victorian era don't really appeal to me.

So then, we moved to England, one hundred years or so previous, to the Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities.  I must admit, other than reading The Christmas Carol as a teenager, I haven't actually read any Dickens.  I've seen many BBC productions of several of his novels, like The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Little Dorritt, The Old Curiosity Shop, David Copperfield, and Bleak House.

I'm only a little ways into the LibriVox reading of A Tale of Two Cities.  It's a little hard-going in some respects, but then, I likely need to get used to the style and flow of the writing.  Heather does a good job of explaining confusing references from the time though.

And as of this week (July 5th), I'm taking a break from Dickens and CraftLit in favour of listening to Outlander, a novel by Diana Gabaldon.  It's really good, and I am so wrapped up in it.  I'm only eight chapters in, and enjoying every moment.

I still have another blog post to do, so am wrapping up the "what's been in my ears lately" review :-)

Onward and upward!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

For Canada

My beloved Canada.
You, my sacred space,
My vast and sweeping homeland.
A Lover of two oceans with crashing coastlines arms,
With your jutting Rocky teeth and long gold thighs of prairie
With your swirling curls of emerald forest and icy tundra bones.
The cafes and highways pockmark your lovely face,
And tar-sands scar your skin.
But I still love you, my Canada.
You are a country like no other - my mother,
A large, warm, protective embrace
That rocks me to sleep at night.
Happy 143rd Birthday, dear Canada!