It’s deepest, darkest winter. Technically it’s not the darkest winter; that went by a month ago and I am starting to notice the longer days and I'm grateful for that. But it’s deepest, darkest winter in that there are months of it behind us and months ahead. This past week we’ve been in a big freeze. And while winter walks usually feel good with cheeks glowing healthy pink and the hearty inhalation of great gobs of oxygen, recent blustery days have made it really unpleasant to be out.
I’m actively not complaining about the cold. In other parts of this province and most of my country it’s much colder than it is here. My Australian friends are enduring the worst heat wave they’ve ever had. In a cold snap you can make yourself more comfortable; in a heat wave there are only so many clothes you can take off. Cold is invigorating; heat is energy sapping.
In winter I miss the light more than anything. These days the subtle progress of daylight’s lingering over the street feels like a blessing; I want to reach out and grab it but the million colours of twilight elude me as exit the work day, moving westward ahead as I walk toward home. I miss the explosion of colours in the other seasons; winter's twilight is a jewel on the mostly monotone landscape.
The light has gone when I get home. I turn on the stove light, all my life a symbol of comfort. A symbol of the best thing about deepest, darkest winter – how good it feels to get home.
Happy New Year. Yeah, I know, it’s closer to February than it is to the new year swing over, but the break was intentional. Sort of. After the year of daily posting “rules,” which I didn’t stay true to in the end, I did what I have done upon being released from “rules” in the past –I revelled in the no more rules. The photo-a-day project was a good thing; don’t go thinking I’m regretting it. The exercise made me keep my eyes open, and I documented a year, and even if I didn’t manage the one-a-day in the end, I took lots and lots of photographs, a few of them decent. I’m just a natural rebeller against rules so I'd say I did pretty good. (Even better if I got the rest of December's photos back-posted!) Anyway, now that I’ve got those things expelled from my system I’m back. Here’s where I’m at.
At the beginning of the year, everyone is thinking about fresh starts and resolutions. As a big fan of fresh starts, it is the same for me too. If I were to state some resolutions, which I’m not going to do because I didn’t make any, but if I did, they would revolve around writing and creativity and personal authenticity and cooking and getting more sleep. And revitalizing this blog.
Over the extended bloggerly break I’ve been working out ideas about where I’d like to go with this space now that the photograph project is over. I still don’t have that clearly defined in my mind, but I do know that my intent is to put the focus back on finding inspiration and making pictures with words. What those pictures will look like, I have no idea; I’m just soldiering on.
I really loved writing people watching stories, but just I don’t have as many these days because I’m not trapped in subway cars with them for two hours or more a day any more. And this makes me very happy. I’ve always enjoyed the people-watching aspect of public transit, but doing it every day for several years took a piece out of me. For all the wonderful things a big city is, it is also filled with millions of people who aren’t looking beyond the ends of their noses in getting about their days and to an over-sensitive sod like me, the daily sea of rudeness was demoralizing. So I’m refocusing on the process of finding and developing inspiration in other ways, and my lovely, solitary walks to and from the office each day are the perfect times to meditate on that. That and, er, perhaps, some loving kindness toward the city full of rude people I’m still so quick to judge.
I will continue to use photos to enhance my blog space, but now I’m thinking about playing with photos creatively, and finally learning how to use my PhotoShop software to its full extent, and connecting them to the things I write. I’ve got a brand new phone and now a number of new camera apps to try too.
It’s January, my annual nesting period; and I’m obsessed with food. Every day I’m searching for new recipes, looking at my cookbooks and food blogs and the good thing is that I’ve tried, with success, a number of new favourites to put on the table. This past weekend’s kitchen adventures included tomato-onion-red pepper frittata (eaten over two breakfasts), chicken enchilada soup, vegetable barley soup, crispy quinoa bake, balsamic roasted carrots, roasted tomatoes with parmesan and Ceri’s broccoli salad. I didn’t have homemade lunches a number of times in recent weeks and the thought of the restaurant/takeout options near work, though abundant in choice, grew increasingly unfavourable. I thought of taking up a challenge, say, to try a new recipe every week, but there’re those rules again.
My little family and I are in a really good place together. Ceri and I have moved ourselves into a comfortable, though never fixed routine. We continue our quest to find something to do every weekend, and times at home are happy and relaxed and thank goodness he is amenable to one of the only channels I’m keen to watch on TV these days, Turner Classic Movies (through which I obsessively shut out the world time-travelled over my relatively quiet holidays). Both my girls have new homes and happy work and social lives filled with good people. We all meet every Friday night after work at our favourite local for “beer o’clock” and dinner where we decompress from the work week and catch up and laugh a lot. I’m so lucky.
I’ve started a new semester in my online creative non-fiction class and through it I continue to meet some really great people who seek to do what you and I do – tell our stories. Each new learner that comes to a class inspires me in one way or another; I learn so much from them. In return, I try my best to inspire them to tell their stories.
It’s January. My world is small. A good small – a beautiful thing.
Where are you at?
These days much of my world looks like this. I have heard all kinds of grumbling about it, and I suppose if I had a car I might be grumbling too. However, much of this is about transforming one of the best things about this city – the harbourfront, which has gotten kind of shabby. If this is going to be a world-class city, then this jewel of a spot needs fixing up. Bring it on, I say.
I get as much pleasure looking at the objects in my window when they're reflected by the morning light onto the curtain as I do looking at them when the curtain is open. It's kind of otherworldly-like; secret goings on in that other realm just beyond the reach of this one. Like when you're a little kid and you think all your toys come alive when you're sleeping, interacting in a toy community with toy concerns and toy traditions and toy conversations - all above the little non-magical world of mortals and thus never to be shared.
In which we get up close and personal with thousands to watch the lighting of the tree and subsequent fireworks at Nathan Phillips Square (Toronto City Hall).
Should I go suddenly from this life, I hope it's not by decapitation by glass falling out of the sky.
After work Ceri and I meet up at Fran’s for steak salads on the patio and chat and watch the world go by. It’s been another hot day and sun dresses float by on women everywhere. As a collection of them walks over to a table on the patio, I remark that every one of them has a pattern I wouldn’t pay money for in a million years. Ceri says that he was thinking all the dresses weren’t looking so bad.
It’s a beautiful summer evening and we’re reluctant to leave, so we linger longer than usual. As my friend Lisa said yesterday, it’s what we wait all winter for, no?
Summer has officially arrived and Canadians everywhere are doing what they love to do a lot: complaining about the weather. Not me. I'm so glad to see summer. I am glad to have my bike out; to be wearing sandals and getting pedicures. I'm glad that the city festival season is in full swing; that I am going up to the cottage soon; that my skin is turning brown and that there is colour everywhere. I’m glad to be spending entire days outside; that the harbour is filled with boats and the Harbourfront filled with tourists. I’m glad for the long days and that the summer solstice is almost here. I’m glad for the abundance of fresh foods, and especially glad for having people I love to share it with and a rooftop patio to share it on.
This post is dedicated to my most recent Creative Non-fiction class, who I'll be saying farewell to soon. I've always used photography as a metaphor for writing in my classes, particularly this semester, during which I have also been carrying out my 365 photo project. Following is some of that waxing metaphorical about some very common writerly issues:
(My apologies to professional photographers everywhere. But you get the picture.)
1. A photographer creates images on paper. A writer creates images in a reader’s mind. That’s why all the writing teachers always say, show it don’t tell it. Have faith in the reader to see the images you’re creating.
2. The best photographs, like the best stories, don’t have unnecessary stuff in them. Once a photography teacher I had said: “You line up your shot, and then you take everything out of it, one by one, until the picture doesn’t make sense any more. Then you put that last thing back in and shoot.” When you’re telling a story, you’re creating those mind images, and you want to take out the stuff that might be cluttering them because it’s cumbersome. If something isn’t essential to the story; if it doesn’t move the story along in some way, take it out.
3. If the focus isn’t clear, it’s not a good picture. Do you know what your story is about? Are you sure? Can you say what it's about in one sentence? If you don’t have a clear idea as to what the point of your story is, you might end up putting a lot of that extra stuff in it and it won’t be clear in your reader’s mind either.
4. The simplest of photographs can have tremendous impact, just like simple language and uncomplicated sentences. Just like taking out the extra stuff, you want to take out unnecessarily fancy words and convoluted sentences. If you use simple language almost all of the time, that one fancy word or complicated sentence used on just the right occasion, will have much more impact.
5. Zoom in close; it’s all in the details. If you resort to generalizations, clichés, worn phrases, wagonloads of adjectives and adverbs, and assuming that your reader will know exactly what you mean when you say things like “and so forth” or "this or that" or what you are implying by ellipses at the ends of sentences… you’re falling into the trap of writerly laziness. Get in close with lots of detail, and the pictures you create will be much more interesting.
6. When you’re zooming in, look for story elements that provide interest, such as colour, textures, layers, lines, perspective, movement, life, light and emotion. A good photograph conveys multiple dimensions. So should a story.
7. A photographer doesn’t have to stand there and explain her picture before an audience can appreciate it. Similarly, it’s usually best for a writer to jump straight into scene rather than explaining all the background up front. Scenes are much more interesting than background. There are ways to weave in necessary explaining stuff later; and sometimes it isn’t necessary at all. A little mystery never hurt anybody and it might even make a story more enticing.
8. A photographer carries his camera everywhere because he knows that opportunity can present itself anywhere. A writer carries a notebook with him wherever he goes because he knows that ideas weave in and out of the consciousness all day long, and a really great idea could be gone in a moment. A photographer acts on sudden inspiration. So should a writer.
9. Just as a photographer takes hundreds of pictures in the hopes that one or two of them might be really wonderful, a writer writes a lot. Like a photographer who plays with angles and depth of field and lighting, the writer experiments, tries new things, gets outside her comfort zone, plays with language and style. I go on and on about journaling in my classes because the number one way to write better is to write a lot.
10. A photographer is always scanning for subjects. Her eyes are always searching for interesting shapes, nuances, forms, colours – everything is a potential shot. Similarly, writer is always scanning for the story. “Look at your world through the writer’s eyes” I tell every single class. Inspiration doesn’t rain on you magically, you have to pay attention.
My wonderful niece posted this video on Facebook yesterday. She says is very inspired by it. How wise of her.
A 13 year old wise soul: beautiful thing number eighty-five.