The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

28 February 2012

Where I write

I love this!  Jennifer at Conversion Diary has asked people to write about, and take pictures of, the space in which they write.  I'm always keen to learn how other people write - everything from the equipment they use (Robert Ludlum wrote every novel in long hand with a pen on legal notepads) to how they schedule their writing time and every other bit of trivia I can glean, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing what other Conversion Diary readers will share.

Here then, is my writing space:

I like to be able to see outside when I'm writing. This window overlooks beautiful mature trees, which inspire lovely daydreams.
My desk is long and narrow, so I often have books and papers piled on the bed behind me, or on the floor beside me. (That's a shawl on the floor - very Elizabeth Bennet, but useful in the chilly winter!) Reference books are in easy reach to the right, as well as a few CDs for mood music. The other end of the desk holds the girly goops and potions which have nothing to do with my writing, but on occasion offer a welcome distraction.
Essential, but hidden away

Pencils at the ready
My pen of choice

Work in progress often begins with pen and paper, but without hard and fast rules.  Sometimes it's just one line of an idea, sometimes it's a fully edited, ready to go piece, which then gets typed into that state-of-the-art bit of technology you see there. Most often it's the one line, written in whichever notebook was handy at the time, then I stare out the window, 'working' on the rest of it.

A few other books nearby. My beloved Jane Austen collection is on a lower shelf, but you can see some Tolkien and Lewis there - good friends I wouldn't want to be without.  Snoopy is a piggy bank, and he's got coins I've collected from different countries I've visited. Behind St. Anne is a penguin made from a water bottle - a gift from Number Two Nephew on St. Valentine's Day.

A view from above. Just visible is the stool I sit on. It's covered in an almost Tiffany blue suede, with brass buttons tacked around the bottom.  It makes me happy every time I see it (though some days, I'm sure my bottom has become square from sitting on the thing for so long.  It's a pretty bit of nonsense... pretty hard!)

And there you have it.  I love the space I write in.  I like to feel cozy and private, and this little corner of the house fits the bill quite nicely.

Of expectations and production

Rats.  I knew I should have written it down.  Or finally followed through on my idea to always, at all times, and constantly have a voice recorder with me.

Now I am tormented by a wonderful idea for how to flesh out something I've been working on for over a month that drifted through my mind just as I was falling asleep one night.  I thought of getting up for my notebook, but - and I remember this very clearly because it turned out to be horribly wrong - I told myself that it was so obvious, I would have no trouble recalling it in the morning.

Writers everywhere must deal with this.  I hope they do.  I hope they also have notebooks, and bits of loose paper, and several disorganized computer files chock full of terrific first lines, exciting outlines, sparkling bits of dialogue, and insightful article proposals that have been abandoned because of the next great idea or because the gloss wore off in the face of having to apply elbow grease to the ethereal brilliance of received inspiration.

There are deadlines to meet, and not to be overlooked is the personal need for accomplishment. I need to produce a good finished product with enough regularity that I don't forget I'm a writer.  People always say you never forget how to ride a bike, but you just try the Tour de France after not being on two wheels for more than a decade.  Every skill needs to be used or it becomes clunky.

Beginnings are easy, it's what comes after that gets really hard.  Either the beginning is so good, so full of promise that I find reasons not to finish it because no way could the rest be as good as that opening, or, the thing is crap and I'm paralyzed at the thought of having to fix it.

The piece of writing I mentioned above crosses into both categories: it was a good idea and it has a few really good images in it, but drawing it out into a coherent story has been awkward and it no longer works, now matter how I tinker with it, so it has been languishing in a WIP file. (Works in Progress) (Whip would be a better name; those unfinished bits can sometimes lash at my conscience when I spend an hour watching West Wing reruns instead of working) Which is why I now bitterly regret not throwing back the covers and braving the cold floor to get some paper when a way out of this mess beckoned two nights ago.

Back to the drawing board.

20 February 2012

Rays of light

Only occasionally do I dip into the daily news.  There are intermittent periods of daily scanning the headlines, listening to talk radio, browsing websites and blogs, and scouting out podcasts about the current state of the world.

And then I pull my head back into my shell, in shock at what I've learned.

During this last such episode of attempted attentiveness, I didn't make it all the way back up the surface of awareness before I wanted to duck back into oblivion again.  What is going on?  I do realize that there is a constant tug-of-war between progressives and conservatives, that ground is fought over between secularism and faith, and that people with agendas are always agitating while everyone else is just trying to live a life.

All of which seems to have exploded and accelerated  in a very short while. Two strong examples come from the governments of Ontario, and the US. Dalton McGuinty, the Premier of Ontario, is pushing to have gay alliance clubs in all Ontario high schools, and GLBT sex taught in all Ontario schools (starting in early elementary grades).  If you don't have a high blood pressure problem, here's a short segment from Michael Coren about what our politicians are up to.   And here.  Oh Canada!

To the south of 49, I've been hearing about President Obama bulldozing his way through the Constitution of the United States of America by taking advantage of recess appointments, talking about not needing Congress because he would do what he wanted to do, and most recently, making kingly proclamations that cross the lines of personal freedoms - which if unchecked, would attempt to force people of faith to put their souls in danger. Hello Coliseum.

I've also read about young women across England who dress like prostitutes to go out clubbing because they like the attention it gets them from the boys.  Incidents of injuries have increased from drunken girls in high heels attempting to walk home.  What was the response to this very sad state of affairs?  Not a campaign to help the young ladies discover their value and worth beyond their sexuality, or community outreach to help young people find more productive, less demeaning activity.  No, a program  providing free paper slippers for the intoxicated hooker-wanna-bes to wear home.  How sweet.

What has become of reason and common sense? When did honour, integrity,character, and faith take a back seat to tolerance and psychology?  Why has faith become something to be ashamed of, to hide away like a dirty secret for fear of being labelled with some inaccurate '-ist' or "-phobic' tag?  (For example, I believe homosexual sex is unhealthy and immoral - I am NOT afraid of gay people which is what homophobic actually means) What happened to there being right and wrong, and being allowed to say so?

There is always a ray of light, however, and thank Goodness for it.  This week's ray comes from Baroness Sayeeda Warsi of England, who recently gave a speech about diplomatic relations between Britain and the Vatican in which she quotes Pope Benedict, and several encyclicals.  Do yourself a favour and read (or watch) her remarks.

14 February 2012

Safe place

I've had a brainwave:  I must designate one spot in my home to be 'a safe place', so that when I say,"I'll put this in a safe place"  I'll know where it is five months from now when I go looking for it with the vague notion that I have that very thing which just then crossed my mind.

Example of the moment:  I'm losing three inches tomorrow in a drastic hair cut. It's an emergency-measure cut, actually, because I came home with a scalding headache after work from having my hair in a ponytail all day. That drove the point home:  too much is too much. The time before last I found a really good style that worked well, and I remember telling myself to put the picture which inspired the cut in ... you guessed it... a safe place so I could show it to the next scissor-wielding artist to tackle my crown of glory.

Only I can't remember where I put it, and I know I kept it, at least for a while, because I would come across it while dusting or sorting, and I would tell myself, "No, don't throw this out, you must keep this forever!" But what seems a likely spot?  In the closet where the hair goop is?  On the bookshelf inside the flocked cover of Grown-up Glamour? In the magazine basket where so many stray bits and pieces of paper end up? In the desk tray where reminder notes and to do lists go to be forgotten?

You see how useful and less stressful it would be to have just one spot to check? Whether it be spare keys, a list of phone numbers, an odd sock, the tricksy bolt that keeps coming out of the chair - any time you were looking for any thing you'd know to look in 'the safe place'.

12 February 2012

Random pieces

... of my tiny mind.

Where does dust come from?  I try to stay on top of it, but all of a sudden, when I'm not looking, (dust-sized) mountains of it appear one day on a lamp base, or around the pencil mug on my desk, or behind the bedroom door.  Does it happen at night? Dust particles send each other text messages and agree to flashmob previously arranged locations?  No wonder the average household used to have 'help' (I'm reluctant to use the 's' word).  Imagine how dusty a Victorian home would have been with all the knick-knacks they had - not to mention all the fabric they used to cover the arms and legs of furniture.  I shudder at the thought of those dustbunnies.

Speaking of servants, let's linger for a moment in Downton Abbey.  Here are some of the best Maggie Smith moments - as the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

This fabulous British import of entertainment candy fulfils all the requirements of satisfying television viewing: scrumptious costumes; romance above and below stairs; a period in history near enough to be familiar but distant enough to be an escape; breathtaking locations; honour, chivalry, and manners; gallant heroes and slimy bad guys; talented cast and crew; British accents.
We're very near the end of series two, and I hear that they will soon begin filming series three. This worries me a little, as the Brits excel at telling and story and allowing it to end naturally, whereas in the case of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes et al are succumbing to public pressure to keep it going.  There has been a hint of melodrama creeping in, and a feeling of story lines being stretched beyond the credible. Still and all, I'm hooked and eagerly anticipate the next instalment every Sunday evening. I'm watching the clock even as I type this.

There is an interesting program (on NBC) called Who do you think you are.  It delves into the family tree of various well-known folks.  What makes it so interesting is not the celebrities, but the revelations that come about from the investigation into history.  Many of the stories have shown that a person's history - whether one is aware of it or not - makes itself present in concrete ways today.  For example, a football player wears on his jersey a number that pops up in the family tree again and again.  An actor with a passion for activism and social justice discovers that his family tree is well stocked with activists and fighters for justice. A family's favourite restaurant sits in the location of an apartment that family lived in generations back.  No man is an island.

Being now back to full time work - thank you, Lord - I'm struggling to find time and energy and inclination to write. I suspect I will have to figure out how to make the available time count, and work at wrestling the words to my will, rather than waiting on them as they are willing to make an appearance. When I had all the time in the world to court the muse, I would spend hours gazing out the window as I sat at my desk.  I don't have endless hours now, and being limited in time means every minute I spend at the keyboard must count for more than they ever did before. I admire women authors who raise children, work outside the home, and still manage to produce reams of published material. I realized recently that I've being dallying with being a writer, because I am a perverse person. I had time and opportunity to make a serious effort to improve my craft and seek publication.  Every attempt has been half-hearted, probably out of fear - either at being found out as lacking talent, or the reverse, being discovered to have talent and then being expected to produce something real. Go figure.

Have you ever noticed how it's the thing you can't have that you want, the only thing you can think of to do that you can't do, and the thing you may not say that sits right on the tip of your tongue, ready to throw itself on the floor in the middle of the room for all to know about?  I have a secret... someone else's secret... and I may not say it aloud for months still.  I don't know how I'll keep it tame and in harness.  Argh!

Poor Whitney Houston.  I was never a big fan - I listened to Def Leppard and Depeche Mode during her heyday, and I had little respect for girls in my class who liked her (I was such a music snob).  I made a compilation CD for my sister years ago featuring songs that were 'really important' to us - music from vintage U2, Talking Heads, Joy Division/OMD and so on.  I wrote liner notes for each track detailing how it was significant, or key moments from the videos - details that mattered at the time. I ended with "and for everyone else there was Whitney Houston".   She sure had talent though, and it makes me sad that she lost her way.  Drugs are such a blight on our society, at every level of the economic ladder.
This was the "My heart will go on" of my day. 

08 February 2012


"Can you take off the shield for me?" Five, asking me to peel a tangerine.

I'm not known around the house for my culinary skills.  I pitch in every now and then, and sometimes it works, but most often I consider the meal a success when everyone leaves the table alive.  After one good meal, the family teased me that all I needed really, was some practice. "What have I done?" I said.  Quick as anything, Four piped up in reply, "You've done nothing."  Out of the mouths of babes and boys.

After one not-so-successful meal attempt, the boys were becoming rather robust in their comments.  After I asked them to settle down, one of the little ones lent his support:  "Quiet.  This is Tante Tess's supper... she made it and we have to do what she said."

Four, Five, and Felix watching The Game
Again at the supper table.  Four, sitting beside his Mama, leaned against her arm and asked, "Can you scratch me?  You know where".  After she obligingly began scratching just the right spot on his back, he said, "Ohhhh, yeah.  That's where!  "Now the other one?" Mama asked.  "Yeah, that one," he said.

The Earth is, you know, round. Four, demonstrating school is not wasted on him.

I was in the upstairs hallway when I heard the voice of a little person climbing the stairs, "Tante Tess?"  "Yes?" says I, "It's me, Five. I have to be in my room."  He'd been sent to his room for fussing. I like his helpful nature... identifying himself when he speaks is so thoughtful, don't you think?

It used to be that strangers would have to actually talk to the little Peanuts to get a response from them.  Now all they have to do is look at them and the boys are off and running. During a recent visit to a store, a lady in the same aisle glanced his way.  Seeing this, Five was off and running, telling her all about who used which coloured light saber, which characters were bad guys and how all the characters of Star Wars were related.  Seeing the dazed look in her eye, Mama Nut advised the poor woman to not ask any questions and make her getaway while she could.

06 February 2012

Newspapers in the dark

It can be very frustrating, when contemplating the state of the world and think it is all too big for one person to do anything about it.  How can I, simple Tess, abolish world hunger, or solve the crisis of the economy?

Well, I certainly can't do any of those things, but I can think of one simple thing that would make the world a safer place:

Well-marked house numbers, people!  Even better?  Lighted house numbers.  Do none of you think of the lowly newspaper deliverer (oh, how I wish I could just say 'newspaper boy' without offending someone)  (Hang on!  In this case I do very specifically mean newspaper boy... my Number One Nephew)

One has a job of delivering a local daily paper to old fashioned paper-in-hand folks in his neighbourhood.  I performed the service on his behalf today because he was with his family at a Superbowl party this weekend.  I'd walked the route with him a couple of times during the Christmas break and he left me a list of the addresses he delivers to.

Should have been simple, right?

Only, 6 am in February is a rather dark time of day.  And nobody has house numbers where you can see them! I would scuttle up to a front door and hold up my cell phone, hunting around with its eerie blue glow for some confirmation this was indeed the house I was looking for.

Not to mention steep front stoops in the dark are quite a hazard!  If my nephew were delivering papers in Greece, he'd be eligible for early retirement at 50 with a full pension because his occupation was dangerous. (Greece has very generous retirement plans for hazardous jobs like hair styling and anyone speaking into a microphone.  Chemicals in the first instance, and bacteria in the second.  I'm sure according to those standards, stumbling around predawn streets would qualify)

Of blank pages

I have discovered a worse thing (for a writer) than a blank page (also known as writer's block).  It is even worse than the mistaken delete. It is saving a document on an unfamiliar computer, and not being able to find where it was saved to.

Far worse.

For over a week now, I've been tinkering away at an article.  The original idea came swiftly and easily. Some catchy phrases tossed themselves onto the hat rack skeleton... and then the process stalled.

Which led to the tinkering.  Every morning I would save the previous evening's changes then email the revised document to myself so I could chip away at the warts during the day.Then I'd get home from work and do some more typing and deleting. Without any breakthrough.  I was basically moving commas around. Painful.

Then came that ill-fated day.  During a break I opened the document and without really thinking about it, I altered the tone and structure of the piece.  Suddenly, it made sense; it flowed; it said precisely what I wanted to say when the original idea teased the muse. Then the bell rang and I had to go back to work. What I did next I have since come to regret, bitterly.

I clicked 'save'.  I didn't pay attention to where it was being saved.  I was using an unfamiliar computer in a network with protocols I don't yet understand.  If it had happened in a movie, the shot of me tapping the keyboard in that moment would have been in slow motion with someone off camera yelling "nooooo!" followed by my head hitting the keyboard in despair like that guy on Sesame Street who can't remember the end to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I don't know where it went.  I don't know who has it.  I sure wish they'd give it back because it was mighty fine, but it was also elusive - of its moment and never to be contained by mere words ever again.

Back to the blank page I go.

03 February 2012

Peanuts come home

It's a big, big day in the House of Nuts.  Number Two and Number Three Nephews are returning home from two weeks in the Olde Countrye - that being Merrie olde England, Britannia that used to rule the waves, heart of the Empire where the sun never set.

Their Grampa, bless his stout heart, took them on his own to visit his mum, a spry and sprightly 102 year old natural wonder.  I can't wait to hear their stories, but most of all, I can't wait to be able to squish them in a big hug.  The house has been far too quiet with them gone; the more beating hearts under the roof, the better.  Dear Lord, please bring them home safe.