The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

31 December 2018

Of corduroy hats and anniversaries

Ten years ago today I wrote here at the Lighthouse about my dad's death. The fluidity of time is such that it stretches long  and distant, then with startling unpredictability it contracts tightly into itself so that events seem near enough to touch them as though they just happened.
There are memories from within the months leading up to and immediately after that are a presence just over my shoulder. I can hear them and feel them clearly because time hasn't yet worn away the details of them. The month I spent with mom right after, for example, and the week we had the two littlest of the Peanuts with us. The months and months I slept with a candle burning on my bedside table. The sight of one of the boys climbing into the back of the hearse and hearing his pleas for Opa to come back. Unexpected conversations about him with people who'd known him. Standing in the grocery store with a can of tomato soup in my hand while other shoppers mercifully pretended it was perfectly normal for me to be crying.
The days immediately leading up to my wedding carried with them a lot of emotions about my dad, which, I think, is natural. I didn't dream of being walked down the aisle by my daddy, but I did - and still do - wish the two men had known each other. They would have got on so well, I'm sure of it. (In fact, I'm quite certain my dad had a hand in R and I being together)
Aside from wedding boohoos, it's been a while since I've been surprised to tears by stealth memories. Missing him has taken on a physical presence in my body like it's one of my organs and maybe because of that I've learned to let it do its thing while I carry on.
Which is why I was unprepared when a memory of his corduroy hat popped into my head a few days ago and had me weeping in the hallway at home. It's been ten years and I can picture it so clearly, still feel it in my hands.

03 December 2018

Floorboard collision

There is a writing prompt site called, where after clicking on 'go' you're taken to a new page with one word at the top, and below that, an empty text box. You have one minute - 60 seconds - to write anything, whether you're inspired by the prompt or not. At the end of time, a delicate chime sounds to signal it's all over, your fevered brain can rest, your fingers can still, and your heart rate can slow.

Today the prompt was floorboards, which caused my brain to fracture, because right away my thoughts headed to the state of my actual floorboards, which, if I were to have unexpected company, would bring shame on my Dutch ancestors, after all the hours they had spent daily scrubbing the sidewalk outside their front door as a precursor of the cleanliness within the home. But at the same time my mind went to a picture I saw in an issue of Outdoor Photographer today, of Arctic Hares leaping through tall grasses. (Dusty bunny to hare, get it?) The sight of a rabbit in mid jump is surely one of the most joyous images, so you can't help but smile in delight at the freedom and joy that comes from very nearly being able to fly. (Just think of yourself as a child on a pogo stick or a trampoline... without the broken bones, of course. See what I mean? Joy.)

The two thoughts collided causing inspirational paralysis. I typed and deleted about 75 words in those sixty seconds, mostly in an attempt to find a way to describe the highest jumping rabbit with words that didn't include 'leaping with abandon'. Mental thesaurus meltdown.

Even now, hours later, I still haven't swept my floors, but I HAVE spent some time online looking at more pictures of rabbits leaping with abandon, which has made me feel much, much happier, despite the appalling state of my housekeeping.

30 November 2018

The joy of paper goods

I bravely braved the hordes of mad shoppers today (entering a store will be an act of bravery between now and February 7th, because Black Friday Week sales will morph into Boxing Month sales which will linger just until it's time to overspend for Valentine's Day) and entered our national We Used To Sell Books But Now We Sell Coffee Mugs And Pashminas store to buy an agenda for the coming year.

Once home I spent a cozy hour with a cup of tea and coloured pens marking in birthdays and anniversaries and other days of note, such as the day a boy gave me a ring and asked me to marry him, and the day our offer for our first home was accepted. 2018 has been a very, very good year and I want to always remember to be grateful for all I've been given.

Aside from the gratitude, though, and the satisfaction in the organizational qualities of  a good calendar (which are not to be dismissed as insignificant), I take complete delight in stationery. Not only did I buy a pretty calendar (which was on sale, so: hoorah!) but also a pen to go with it (because there is a rule in stationery: every new notebook, journal, or agenda, must needs have a new pen to match it) and (because they were on sale too) a set of three magnetic bookmarks.

In the pages of this lovely book is plenty of time marked out for writing, which I'm really itching to do.  I'm keen to find a good prompt-a-day or even prompt-a-week type site or tool.  I'm also looking into options other than Blogger for posting online. In the meantime, I've got my trusty notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils, and I'm good to go. Come on, 2019... I'm ready!

18 November 2018

Of the motivation that comes from dinner guests

It's remarkable how the imminent arrival of company brings with it a burst of motivation - and the energy required to act on that motivation - to deal with the last lingering boxes that need to be unpacked; to, for the first time since moving in, vacuum the floors, and eat like a civilized person at the table instead of in front of the tv like a sloth. (My apologies to all sloths worldwide, who, even if they had the option, would probably prefer to eat like a civilized sloth, hanging from a tree instead of in front of a tv watching something entirely banal and lobotomizing.)

It's also remarkable how the fact that the imminent company happens to be the parents of New Husband makes every detail of the meal especially fraught with expectation. The meal must be not only edible but presented just so; the house was fluffed within an inch of its barely-ours self; I had every component of the meal organized and got myself dressed June Cleaver-like, ready to greet our guests at the door looking fresh and calm, giving no sign of the fact that only moments beforehand I was cleaning up the Jackson Pollock episode that resulted from whipping cream in a rogue mixer. The coffee table groaned with nibbles that no one sampled, and the wine rack is now well stocked with 17 different grape varietals.

I really ought, at this point in the recounting, explain that all this fraughtness came solely from my own desire to please our company. New Husband's parents are kind and warm, and have never ever made me feel I had to cook like Nigella Lawson or entertain like Martha Stewart.

There is something really lovely about having guests at your table. The house feels filled up with love and fellowship and joy and that goodness lingers for a long time after. It's as though sharing your abundance (even if it's hotdogs) increases what you started out with. Our beautiful home feels even more special to me now than it did yesterday because we've shared our delight in it with someone else.

I'd like to share one lesson I've learned over the years, concerning preparing for entertaining, or decorating your home in general: twinkle lights go a very long way to making any space feel warm and magical, so if ever you feel yourself at a loss (or just want a pick-me-up)... twinkle lights!!

15 November 2018

Of the fun of moving

In my long years of walking this earth, I have accumulated some experience in moving house. I've been through the process of emotionally detaching from what is dear and familiar and looking for a new place to call dear and familiar.

There is a great deal of work involved, physical and mental.  So, so, so many decisions to be made!  By the end of it, I didn't want to have to choose between jam or jelly on my sandwich. That was simply one decision too far.

It's such fun unpacking the boxes, though. Even if it's only been a matter of days since you've seen that colander, it seems a brand new and delightful object. Your ordinary and everyday things take on a different personality in their new space.

The challenge is in finding them again once you've tucked them away in a cupboard.

13 November 2018

Oh winter

Even here in Sohoe, winter is an imminent reality. We've had one day of plump flakes falling from the sky, and while they didn't linger on the ground, it was enough to prompt the putting away of cute summer flats and the finding of warm woolies.

There have been changes, here in the Lighthouse. I am nearly one month married, and nearly one month living in The New House, which is located Where the Water Thunders. Both the married and the New House realities have me eagerly awaiting an appropriate time to feather my nest with things sparkly, cozy, and totally hygge. If I didn't have a strong rein on myself, our little home would look like Christmas exploded all over it. Just wait until I find the baking tins... I'll be unstoppable.

Where ever you are, I hope you are safe, warm, dry, and happy.

11 May 2018

Of Spring, and the where of it

Yesterday was a giddy sort of day. I was off work, the sun was shining, and it was warm. It felt delicious.
Today, a nip is back in the air, and the sky looks as though it has given in to the inevitability of a stubborn, lingering after-winter of chilly grey days. I fear we will land suddenly into the fully-fledged humidity of summer. My opinion of humid summers would be clear to you, dear reader, if you could see my face as I type those words. 'Humid' (grimace) 'summer' (shudder). I am an autumn girl, preferring crisp mornings and cool evenings warmed by cocoa and wood fires to languid sultry days spent clutching a sweaty glass of lemonade.
However, I look forward to this time of year all winter long, when we can watch the slow creep of returning life in the leaves and blossoms, the reopening of garden centres, the nearly forgotten mosquito-like hum of distant lawnmowers. I love the feeling of utter lightness of being that comes from stepping out of the house without boots and sweaters under the big coat and hats and scarves and gloves. I feel as though I could drift along on a current of air like dandelion fluff. Which is why this dance of two steps toward summer, one step back into winter is a challenge. I'm sitting here at my desk wearing fuzzy socks and a thick sweater when I'd far rather be strolling along the waterfront smiling at the sun from behind dark glasses in sandals and a juicy-coloured cardigan.
A short while ago I tucked boots and hats away, bringing out the summer shoes in their place. Now I'm itching to clean out the car, scrubbing the floor mats clean of winter dirt and emptying the back of scrapers and extra blankets.
A sure sign of spring.

27 April 2018

Of tractors and more

I live in the country.

Or at least I used to until everyone and their dog wanted to build their house across the street. My little hamlet is becoming a town.

Even so, my landlord owns a tractor. Actually three tractors of various sizes. One is actually a snowblower type machine, but I like the reaction I get when I say "three tractors". One is smallish, and is used primarily for moving things like very large flower pots from one bit of the property to another bit, and to takes piles of paper to the burn pile out back by the orchard.

The largest one has its very own bay in the garage, and it only comes out for the very heavy work. It gets hitched up to tillers and seeders and other things I'd make up the names of, but you'd catch on that I don't really know what I'm talking about so I'll leave it at that.

When I came home today I saw him hard at work out in the field with BT (Big Tractor) which made me happy because the man really does love to putter with his toys. Eventually I heard rumbling approaching the house, and then the sound of BT's wheel on the paved driveway. And then nothing. I heard doors open and close out there, and an occasional mutter, and then again nothing.

The next thing I saw was him walking past my living room window with a rifle in hand.

They don't shoot tractors, do they?

25 April 2018

Hello, the world!

...testing... testing... 

Does this blog still work?  Are there even any readers out there?

The itch to write has returned, and it is niggling at me, like a burr stuck to the inside of my sweater in a place I can't quite reach. The only thing to do, it would seem, is... write!

It has been an unendingly dark, grey, somber, cold, wet winter. All the hygge I could muster was not able to dispel the unendingliness of it. This week has felt like a reprieve for the sun shone as prettily as it could, the sky blued so beautifully, and the air was full of the happy sounds of chirping birds.

And then today happened. It is, once again, dark and wet with a general air of "nooooo, not again!"
As I sit here at my desk in the window, I hear the wind grabbing at the screen which is such a lonely, sorrowful sound. The sun is setting, and even though it is after eight which is much nicer than when it set at 4:30, I'm wishing it would linger just a little longer.

Still and all, we are surely heading into Spring, oh frabjous day!

I hope the sun is shining on you, where ever you may be.

19 February 2018

The joy of writing

This was my last 12|12 submission. The prompt was joy, and as I knew by then that I wasn't going to continue the challenge in 2018, I wrote a reflection on what the year of short story writing had been like.

It began with a thought: could I do this? Should I even try? It was going to take time. It was going to take effort. It was going to demand commitment, and that always makes me squirm with resentment when I’m not a one hundred percent believer in a thing.

The challenge appealed to me, so I couldn’t dismiss it outright. It called to my competitive streak and asked if I had the goods to see it through. Did I have the courage to say “I am a writer and these are my words” to a whole group of strange writers? (By strange I mean unknown to me, not that they were writers of strange things, though that did turn out to also be true at times.) What if it turned out my love for writing was better used as a creative hobby to occupy spare moments rather than something to be shared with others? Publicly? With my name on it? That was a scary prospect: my name on my words out there for all to read, with no way to hide that I thought of myself as a writer.

In the end the decision was made without a whole lot of thought or deliberation. It seemed obvious: of course I was going to participate, take up the challenge, join the strange writers in a year-long journey of storytelling. And so we began. I knew it would be difficult, but not as difficult as it was. I expected it to be fun, but not as fun as it was. I thought I would learn a lot, but not as much as I did. For example, I learned that when I’m given a deadline, I become constitutionally incapable of finishing the assignment - or sometimes even beginning it - until right before the assignment is due. I wrote one story in a two hour window of opportunity I had before submitting it on deadline day. I would often have an idea, a strong idea even, not long after learning prompt and word count, but could not seem to find the time or the will to wrestle the idea into a story until a day or two before the deadline.

I also learned that I have a definite process, instead of the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, inspired-by-the-muse approach I thought I had. I free-write ideas, one liners or quickly sketched paragraphs, in a notebook until I have one with life to it. The few, spare words on the page are the shadow of an image, a scene, a line of dialogue, an ambience, or a character, and I know there is a story to be told about it. Then I begin writing in whatever notebook I have on hand, sometimes roughing out the details I want to capture. I don’t erase, because I often change my mind to include a phrase or entire paragraph, only to decide to leave it out in the end. Or maybe I’ll keep it?  Instead I cross the bit out or wrap it in parenthesis, and use symbols like *, $, or % to reposition a block where I think it will work better.  Usually once the writing has some momentum, I will use a word processor to do the bulk of the work, particularly when it gets to editing and polishing (when there is time!  Time, I learned in this challenge, may be a luxury, but a necessary luxury in storytelling.)

More than once over the course of this 12/12 challenge I was frustrated by my inability to convey the idea well, leaving it an incomplete suggestion of what it might have been. One month I knew the characters, I knew their situation, and knew there was a powerful story to be told, but I got bogged down in unnecessary details leaving no room for the story itself. I plan to go back and rework it because it has real potential. In another instance I derailed the idea to the point it had no resemblance to the original at all. I’m not going to renew its misery by revisiting it… we - the idea and I - will both be happier if it is left in peace in the past. There was a story or two that had good beginnings, strong foundations, but there wasn’t the time needed to nurture them into maturity. They remain in infancy, hopefully to be polished later. Perhaps some stories are like wine… they need to be left alone in a dark cellar for a time in order to fulfill their promise.

But more than once I also experienced the joy of being able to put into words exactly what I wanted to say, to convey precisely the idea I had, to tell the story that came to life in my imagination. Four times I posted a story I was proud of, and was pleased to receive feedback that let me know the strange writers understood what I had accomplished. I used the word ‘joy’ in that earlier sentence because, well, that is the prompt this month, but also because joy is exactly what it feels like when my words tell my story in a way I am happy with. I don’t think there is a more satisfying moment for a writer than when she realizes her story does not need to be tweaked, massaged, or polished, but she can let it stand on its own and she can be proud of it. What a feeling of accomplishment comes from constructing a story that engages the mind and awakens the imagination of the reader, that somehow they get it. That is joy, indeed!

I discovered writing requires time. I don’t write well with a few minutes here or there carved out of a day filled with other occupations. I need time not only for the act of writing, but before I can even come to that, I need time to allow my mind to come to rest, to let the noises and distractions of life seep away. Before I undertook the 12/12 challenge, I was writing only when I felt disposed to do so, so I didn’t realize the extent to which I need silence of the interior variety, and the vigilance required to maintain it. I must be intentional about writing if I want to continue writing regularly with a goal in mind. I haven’t figured out how to fit it into my daily life, but I have learned that I want to do so, somehow. Tips and tricks are appreciated!

As for a goal, I do have one. With the 12/12 challenge I discovered that I like writing short stories, and I have an idea for a couple that I’ve written to become part of a series that may one day be published as a collection.

I also learned what a remarkable thing human creativity and imagination is. Every month I thought I knew what most of the stories would be about, but the strange writers were never predictable. They never disappointed with their ingenuity, crafting moving, compelling, startling, beautiful, horrifying, surprising stories each time. I was intrigued by where the ideas come from with such diversity considering we all start with the same prompt.

The level of craftsmanship I found in the group of strange writers was inspiring. It issued its own challenge for me every month to aim higher, to work harder, to write better. I like knowing there are other people like me out there, people who love to write, want to do it well, but maybe struggle a little with the practicalities of writing in the midst of daily life. It was encouraging to witness the willingness to stumble in the attempt and the wanting to keep on learning to write well, and the openness to receiving critique whether good or instructive. I was inspired by seeing so many strange writers show up every month with another story even when life was a challenge or technology was uncooperative, or time raced by at an astonishing pace.

Not to be overlooked is the generosity of every writer who shared their work in the 12/12 challenge. Having access to so many short stories in one place gave me insight into the technical craft of constructing a good piece of writing. It would be interesting to witness the process behind how each writer arrives as their completed story, wouldn’t it? Even so, the finished work on its own offered something to learn from, be inspired by, and get enjoyment from. It was like taking a master class in short fiction. And then, because actually writing the stories isn’t the end of it, each contributor then took the time to read other stories and offer thoughts, praise, and suggestions. That is a wonderful gift to receive from another writer.

2017 has been a challenging and rewarding year of writing. I’ve learned a lot, been inspired, and greatly encouraged. Thank you, all, for your part in it. Happy 2018!