Tag Archives: blogging

Just Before the Muddy Middle

The path to completion is never easy…

Approaching the muddy middle… never a fun place to be. Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

There’s a stage in every writing project where the first draft seems unfinishable. For me, that point is usually somewhere between the 50–75% mark. By then, I’m usually frustrated by how slowly things are going, feel like I’m never going to finish the first draft, hate most of what I’ve written, feel that either I’ll never have enough to say to finish a whole book or that there will be no possible way to wade through all the resources and rough notes to and whittle them down to a reasonable number of words that will fit within the target word count. By that point, I’m usually feeling bogged down by all the reading I’ve done and physically am buried under stacks of printed out articles and teetering piles of library books. The number of tabs open in several different browsers are slowing my poor laptop down to prehistoric speeds.

It’s all rainbows and unicorns around here at the moment. I wish I could hang onto this feeling of lightness and optimism as I approach the book-writing equivalent of the doldrums. Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

But just before I get to that dreadful muddly middle where it seems there is no realistic chance I will ever finish writing the first draft, there’s a lovely stage of enthusiasm and ease that lasts up until about the first third is done. I’m nearing the end of that blissful stage in That Deforestation Book and I thought I’d take a moment to pause, reflect, and enjoy the fact that things are going well.

There are loads of resources out there and I’ve sunk my teeth into several (though finished reading none). I’m finding my research is actually fitting quite nicely into the fairly detailed outline I set up in Scrivener. I’ve been told by my editor to be careful because Scrivener and Word (which is how I’ll eventually need to export the draft before it goes off to the editor) don’t always play nicely together. For the moment, I’ve decided not to worry about that too much because I’m finding Scrivener to be quite helpful and a good fit for the chaotic way in which I write. I jump all over the place in a manuscript when I’m starting out and only later go back and get all methodical and chronological about the material. That’s when I realize just how big the gaps are that I’ve left to deal with later…

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For now, though, I am merrily inserting ‘look at this later’ comments to myself when I discover I don’t know as much as I thought I did about specific details (like the percentage of forests in BC that are clearcut each year and how that number has changed over the past 50 years). On the other side, I’m finding resources like the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) document, Global Forests Resource Assessment 2015 which is available as a free Kindle download and which provides an interesting overview of global deforestation (and replanting) numbers over the past 25 years.

Basically, I’m still feeling optimistic and happy about how things are going. I’m approaching the 30% mark in terms of word count and am easily finding material to slot into the various sections. What I also know is that this feeling of ‘I’ve got this’ is about to turn into ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ as I approach the halfway mark and the beginning of the muddy middle.

Wish me luck!

Also reading: Breakfast of Biodiversity: the Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto [and various other titles procured from the library — love my library!]

Word Count (cumulative): Just shy of 3000 words

Suggestions? How do you deal with that terrible place in the middle of a first draft where things slooooooow right down and it seems like you’ll never reach the end?

Haven’t bought the last book yet? Here’s the link to Christmas: From Solstice to Santa

Romeo and Juliet – Part 1 (39/365)

Pretty much the whole day spent at rehearsals for the Canmore Theatre Festival. I assume you are all coming!! If not, here’s what you will miss… except with music, and dancing, and great hippy costumes, and amazing acting and a TREEHOUSE!! Yes, really.

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With a party and a war, all kind of happening at the same time. Can you say fight choreography? And then, across a crowded room…

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That thing happens between two people… it doesn’t make any sense. The parents think it sucks. But… the line gets crossed. I can’t draw that part because it’s sort of x-rated and this is a more-or-less PG blog.

Did I mention party? Hippies? Yeah, well – drinking, drape-smoking, stabbings can’t be far behind… Uh-oh. Tybalt doesn’t fare too well.

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Romeo takes off… leaving his beloved Juliet behind… This can’t be good.

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Juliet reacts as one might expect and rapidly sinks into a spiralling pit of despair (no idea how to draw one of those…)

So does Romeo… but to see how it all turns out, you’ll need to keep reading the blog (or, come to the real show, which will be in 3-D with actual live actors, even the ones who die… which, in this case, is quite a few of them).

On Sketching in Public – A Sketchy Business (22/365)

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Sometimes there’s not a lot of choice when it comes to choosing a subject to sketch… my knee and foot were handy while waiting at the hospital…

For whatever reason, I am happy to pull out my phone or camera or even the awkward iPad and take photos wherever I find myself. The exception to that is portraiture – bad enough when I know the subject, beyond daunting when I don’t. That’s why, when you look through my billions of images, you’ll rarely see one that includes a recognizable person. It’s a shame, really, because people are endlessly fascinating and certainly worthy of being photographed. But there’s something about invading people’s privacy and stealing their souls that makes me anxious. So, I generally wait until passers-by get out of the way before snapping the photo. 

 

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People? Who needs people when you can photograph your dog? This is Pippi, looking adorable as always… 

 

Maybe that’s why I enjoy Humans of New York so much. Brandon Stanton’s work taking photos of people in New York is both disarming and captivating. The combination of deceptively straightforward images and the stories of the people he photographs is endlessly entertaining. Not in a funny way (though, sometimes the anecdotes are pretty amusing) but also often in deeply touching ways. More than once since I became a HONY groupie (groupy?) years ago I have been moved to tears after seeing an image and reading the accompanying text. 

 

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Sunflower experiments… various waiting rooms

 

Not that this is a post about street photography or candid portraits. Over the past couple of weeks as I’ve been trying to draw something every day, there have often been times where the available time to do a sketch was in public somewhere… in a waiting room, at a ferry dock, on a plane or at a coffee shop. 

I have forced myself to surreptitiously pull out my notebook and draw something, but oh my, it’s excruciating. First, it’s physically challenging to contort myself so I hide as much of what I’m doing as I can from curious eyes. I cross my legs to make a sort of angled platform for the notebook and then ‘rest’ my right arm over the page while leaving just enough of the drawing peeking out that I can sort of see what I’m doing. People are curious, of course. I would certainly wander over to peek at someone’s work if they were sitting out in public somewhere, drawing. So why the shyness? I’m keenly aware that I’m not very good – and, that this does not matter. But who likes to think that the response from an onlooker will be ‘dear God, why is that woman wasting her time? What is that she’s trying to draw?’ 

At the hospital the other day, I was waiting with Dad in a small room off to the side of the main emergency room waiting area when the lab tech came in to take a blood sample. I was sketching something from a photo I had taken over the weekend (oh, how much do I love having so many photos at my fingertips on my cell phone???) and the lab tech stopped and asked, “Are you sketching?” I nodded and blushed but before I could say anything else she started going on about how in all the years she had been working at the hospital she had never seen anyone drawing while waiting. “People are always on their phones! Their heads are down. They aren’t paying attention to anyone else. This is so cool!”

 

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Pretty soon, I’m going to have quite the collection of waiting room chairs in my notebooks…

 

She didn’t actually come over to see what I was working on, but the whole time she was busy with Dad she kept talking. “We all used to draw, didn’t we? And color? They say it’s very therapeutic – relaxing. Why did we ever stop? Why did we ever stop playing? Why do they take the swings out of the middle school playgrounds?”

 

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Children’s Playground in Tiergarten Park in Berlin by Max Liebermann, 1885

 

What excellent questions! What the heck happens to us when we grow up and get all serious and think that everything we do either needs to have a dollar sign attached to it or has to meet someone else’s standards of good enough? She wasn’t the only one to note the strange shift that happens at some point in our childhoods when we stop experimenting and trying stuff. Dani also made a comment when she was looking over my shoulder at a truly awful rendition of a lily I was struggling with and observed, “We all stop drawing as eight-year-olds. That’s why our drawings all look like they were done by eight-year-olds.” 

It’s true. My lily was crude, but not in a good, sophisticated Picasso-esque kind of way. It was just badly drawn and the colour was wrong and there was something terribly skewed about the perspective. Kind of like what I might have come up with when I was about eight. For so many years I have kept that eight-year-old kid artist wannabe locked up, banished to a darkened room without access to coloured pencils. Now, suddenly, she has burst out of her room and gone mad!

 

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Just a bunch of squiggly lines, right? Any kid could do that, right? Wrong… Artist and his Model by Pablo Picasso, 1926

 

What is interesting about my recent efforts is that for some odd reason I seem to have reconnected with my eight-year-old self and am treating her much more kindly. I am so enjoying exploring different materials, techniques, subjects, approaches as I blunder my way from page to page in my notebooks. It’s fun to be messy, to be wrong, to make mistakes. There is nowhere to go from here but up! To facilitate this progress (because I have to believe that if I keep going, there will be progress), I am determined to get as comfortable whipping out a sketchbook when I see something interesting as I am pulling out my camera or sitting down to write in my journal (or, as I am doing right now, typing on my iPad). I used to be a bit embarrassed about that, too, but in terms of writing in public, I have done it so often I don’t even think twice about settling in wherever I find myself. 

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I’m writing this while on a plane heading from the coast to Calgary. I’m inches away from my seat-mate, who is watching something on her iPhone. Outside the window, we are descending into fields of crazy big puffy white clouds… I stop my writing, flip the iPad over and aim it out the window and snap a few reference shots. I’ll sketch those clouds a bit later. Maybe even in the airport, at a coffee shop, while I’m waiting for my shuttle to take me back to the mountains. 

 

Handstands! (21/365)

A super quick post this evening after a very long and busy day, the highlight of which was following Dani off to circus school!

 

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An odd juxtaposition of trapeze artist and parking lot… 

Island Circus Space is one of two new outfits offering circus skills classes in the Victoria area (the second is Victoria Centre for Circus Arts). Today I only had time for a quick introduction to handstands (Dani is obsessed with learning to do a really good one…), but next time, I’ll take a class that involves hanging from the ceiling wrapped in silks, or draped over a trapeze bar, or coiled around a swinging hoop… or something. I’m sure there are official circus terms for some of the intriguing bits of equipment I saw in use today…

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As a kid, Dani was never the right way up… she was always doing cartwheels, handstands, handsprings, etc… The more things change, the more they stay upside down! I snapped this on the beach on Pender Island on the weekend. 

I don’t have any photos of my handstand attempts – Dani was too busy being a conscientious spotter and, obviously, my hands were busy.

Art selection of the day:

 

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Acrobats in Paris by Gosta Adrian-Nilsson (1924)

I have an early start tomorrow (heading back to Alberta) and still haven’t packed, so keeping this post short and sweet!

 

 

 

Blissful Interlude (19/365)

My visit to Pender didn’t last long, but it was heavenly to enjoy the sun, water, beaches, friends and food at the Bluewater Cruising Association rendezvous at Poet’s Cove.

… and the dog, of course! I don’t have any grandchildren, but I sure do enjoy hanging out with my grad puppy Spartacus (Sparty). He’s becoming such a confident little boat dog!

My visit ended with a great potluck! The dinghy rode a bit lower in the water when the time came to shuttle me back to land to catch my taxi down to the other Pender Island (there are two – north and south).

I took lots of photos so I have more than enough reference material to get back to work drawing various things once I get back home.

I even managed to find a bit of time to work on my lines for Romeo and Juliet while hanging gout in the cockpit.

I also managed to find a bit of time to do a blind contour drawing of the Dragon Fountain from Butchart Gardens.

Here’s a photo…

The idea is to not look down at your drawing but to choose a line in the object and follow it without ever lifting pencil from paper.

About to board the ferry now and head back to Victoria for another couple of days before hopping back on another flight to Calgary.

How Cool is This?? (16/365)

 

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From the series of images, Ornitographies by Xavi Bou (visit the website here…)  www.xavibou.com (many thanks to Xavi Bou for permission to use the photo here)

Imagine if you could see the patterns made by birds as they swoop in unison, drawing on the canvas of the sky. I’d never heard of the artist, but one of the wonderful volunteers who stayed with us on the farm a few years ago sent a link to an article in National Geographic about the artist/photographer and wow – how cool!

Dad, of course, was immediately intrigued and asked if I had seen the images as they relate so well to what we’ve been talking about in our ongoing lines and patterns discussions…

 

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Birds in the Clouds by Georges Braque, 1960 

 

So many artists have explored the image of birds in flight it’s hard to know where to start with examples.

 

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Twelve Birds by M. C. Escher, 1948

Line, pattern, repeating shapes, and negative space all fuse in this work by M. C. Escher.

 

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Lucian Freud takes a different approach in Landscape with Birds (1940)

Da Vinci tried to freeze the movement of birds with the naked eye…

 

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Drawings of a bird in flight by Leonardo da Vinci (1500s)

 

 

Leonardo had an ulterior motive, I think – hoping to learn how to fly himself. The challenge kept him busy for years…

As for me, I’ve been having enough trouble trying to draw things like a coffee cup sitting on the table in front of me and that, so far, is more than challenging enough!

For the moment, I’m happy to enjoy the work of others when it comes to this subject, but perhaps at some point, I’ll take up the challenge and try to capture movement in the ethereal form of birds in flight…

 

 

 

 

Elk! (Day 9/365)

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I was cycling home this afternoon, hurrying because the weather had changed for the worse in the hour or so that I’d been out, when I spotted these gals… The resident elk herd was enjoying the fresh grass right beside the main road leading into town.

 

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American Elk by John James Audubon, 1845

I only saw cows and youngsters, no bull with this group (I just learned that tidbit – the males are not bucks, as I would have thought…) who were eating and lounging and paying no attention to traffic or cyclists waving cameras in their direction.

For your edification, a few useless facts about elk:

  • There used to be 6 sub-species of elk in North America, but two are now extinct
  • Mature bulls can weigh more than 700 lbs (explaining why it’s such bad news when they are hit by cars on the highway)
  • To attract females, males urinate on themselves, soaking their hair and making sure they are nice and smelly (rather glad males of the human species don’t indulge in such delightful behaviour)
  • Utah has claimed the Rocky Mountain Elk as its state animal
  • An adult elk will eat about 20 lbs of vegetation in a day

 

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I’m sure the local elk are enjoying those luscious, fresh green leaves as much as I am! Spring is springing!!

What’s your favourite local wildlife species?