Tag Archives: writing life

W is for Weary, Work, and the Wonders of the Web

 

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April by Martiros Sarian, 1947 Oh, April – what a speedy month you have been! In, out and yikes! May is just arond the corner!

 

Wow. What a month! It looks like I might just make it to the end having made my goal of a post a day, but sheesh – it’s been touch and go! I suppose I should have known better than to try to combine a big book deadline with much of anything else, never mind a daily blogging challenge and a trip or two!

 

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Woman at Her Writing Desk, by Lesser Ury, 1898 Yep. That’s pretty much where I’ve spent the month of April. 

 

I can’t really complain. I’m so lucky to be able to do the work I love and even more lucky to be able to do it from pretty much anywhere in the world, as long as there’s an internet connection available. I don’t know where I’d be without being plugged into the web, I must say.

This book I’m working on now, for example. It’s about medically-assisted dying (euthanasia, assisted suicide, mercy killing, murder) and all the many medical, ethical, legal, moral, and personal considerations that lie behind the decision to live or die. The Internet has proven to be a rich source of raw material. From documentaries and news clips to lengthy articles in mainstream newspapers to scholarly dissertations in all manner of obscure academic journals, as well books and audiobooks, I’ve been kept busy plowing through more sources than one could hope for in terms of finding lots of background on the subject.

 

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Death and Wife, by Albrecht Durer, 1510 In a strange way, Death has been my companion for the past many month and thousands of words… 

 

I’ve also been talking to people online – through texts and emails but also through online ‘phonecalls’. I’ve been able to use an online transcription service to record and then transcribe some of those conversations. Even ten years ago, such a wealth of information would have been much more difficult (impossible?) to access. I’ve been working on this book for 18 months or so, reading, researching, thinking, listening, watching and learning in Paris, Spain, the Rocky Mountains, the Caribbean, and on the west coast. I’ve downloaded books and articles onto my phone so I can read while I’m standing in the lineup at the grocery store or while trapped in waiting rooms or getting from here to there and back on planes, trains, and automobiles. I’ve dreamt about death. Thought about it pretty much every day since I took this project on.

 

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Birmingham Reference Library, the Reading Room by Edward R. Taylor, 1881 I bet this library had a card catalogue. I must be among the last humans on the planet to have been taught how to use a card catalog. Computers were creeping in everywhere when I was at university, but to find a book at the library, one still had to thumb through the soft-with-use cards.  

 

The problem isn’t really ‘can I find the information’? it’s, how on earth do I distill all this, organize it well, and then shoehorn it into what is actually quite a limited word count, considering the vast quantity of information I’m starting with?

Whenever I think, impossible! I need to expand the manuscript! I need more words! I think of something my mother once told me. She said that you don’t really understand a subject properly until you can explain it to your grandmother from another country. By which, I think, she meant that if you really know your stuff you should be able to explain anything, even the most complex of topics, clearly and succinctly to someone who has absolutely no background or understanding of the subject.

 

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Scissors and Lemon by Richard Diebenkorn Cut. Cut. Cut. That’s what I’m doing next. Which seems a bit odd since what I’ve been doing for months is add. Add. Add. Write. Write. Write. 

 

The other lesson I learned early (in my capacity as a copywriter at a radio station) is that you should be able to convey a complicated idea (in that case, usually about a business, product or event) in very few words. A thirty-second spot can’t last 35 seconds. Concise. Precise. Economical. Those were buzz words back then, and that early training has made me aware that cutting and paring are more fun if treated like a puzzle and a game. Just how many words can you take away and still tell your story?

 

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Death of the Countess by Alexandre Benois, 1910. This might just as well be named, Death of the Writer as this is a pretty accurate likeness of me at the moment. 

 

With that in mind, I’m going to embrace my next couple of days of slicing, dicing, chopping, and cutting as I whittle away at what is currently a too-long draft. I have 72-hours before the deadline. I can do this. I can.

U is for Ungulates (AtoZChallenge2018)

 

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Landscape with Cows and a Camel by August Macke, 1914

 

The law of inverse proportions is in full effect here at the moment with one variable being how panicky I feel about my manuscript draft getting done by the deadline (May 1) and the second being how long I have to spend on my daily blog post! More panic? Less blog time…

 

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Back in my farming days, I spent a lot of time hanging out with ungulates… 

 

Today, I throw all efforts to tie into my theme to the wind and frantically scramble to find some visual representations of ungulates. Ungulates, in case you can’t quite remember from biology class, are mammals with some form of hoof. They include horses, cattle, pigs, camels, deer, and hippos…

 

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Here in Canmore, these elk are resident ungulates. 

 

 

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This bison/buffalo is on display in our town hall… 

 

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Ancient ungulate imagery… Two Camels Fighting (1530)

 

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The Moose by George Stubbs (1773)

Now, I’m going to have a quick shower and try not to disturb the neighbours with my baleful ululations (oooo – oooooo–nnnnnoooooo) as I consider the ticking clock that is ruling my existence these days… Then, perhaps a few more pages of edits before turning in.

Until tomorrow –

Ciao!

 

 

 

 

Do You Hygge? (reposted from nikkitate.com)

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Sometimes it feels like everything I do, read, think about is research. Case in point, this kalenderlys, which I found on Flickr (thank you, Sakena Ali!). Dani and I are putting the finishing touches on Christmas: From Solstice to Santa and we are at the stage where we are working with the designer to finalize the last few images. You might think I came across the tradition of the Danish advent candle (each evening in December you burn your kalenderlys until you reach the next of 24 lines inscribed on the side of said candle) by googling something like candles at Christmas or something logical like that. But no, I arrived at the kalenderlys via a dating app for professionals.

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I moved to Alberta not that long ago and don’t know many people in writing and publishing, so I thought I’d give Shapr a try. The app is intended for professionals looking to make business connections and works a lot like Tinder – swipe one way for someone who looks interesting and relevant, the other for those who seem to be selling financial management products. Not to say that I couldn’t benefit from some financial management consulting, but my interests tend to run in other directions.

Anyway, one of the matches that popped up was a blogger called Angela Davis who lives in St. Albert, Alberta. Angela has a blog called Hedonism and Hygge (subtitle: Live with Pleasure). So, most of the words I knew… hedonism… pleasure – yes, fine. But hygge? Before clicking on the link in Angela’s profile I googled hygge (what can I say, hedonism and pleasure could have taken me to a very different kind of website to the delightful one that Angela authors) only to discover a whole, huge world of hygge that I had no idea existed!

Hygge, it turns out, is a Danish thing that can be loosely translated as ‘cosy togetherness’ or ‘taking pleasure in soothing things’ or ‘enjoying the company of friends by candlelight’. There’s a whole hygge movement and a stack of books available from the local library system. I know because I immediately requested several of them.

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No sooner had I opened one published by the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen than I was reading about how Danes use more candles (over six kilos of candle wax per Dane per annum!!!!!) than anyone else in Europe. They also love their kalenderlys’s! (or whatever the correct plural would be in Danish).

Who knew? I love candles, personally, but almost never burn them. The principles of hygge encourage candle-burning, especially during the long wintery nights that lie ahead. It’s probably too late to order my own kalenderlys for this year, but next year… look out! Meanwhile, with any luck, we will be able to add an image to the chapter in the book about light and celebrating Christmas around the world.

What is your favourite tradition to celebrate the days leading up to Christmas?

Portrait of a Pilgrim

The Plan

We are on our way back to North America after having spent about five weeks in Spain, most of that walking the last 120 kilometres or so of the Camino de Santiago. What was the point of all that, you might ask? Why did we feel the need to drag ourselves, and in the end, a wheelchair, across a chunk of northern Spain? It would be great if I could say something glib like, “Because it was there” or “Because we like to go on vacations with a bit of a twist” but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

For one thing, we can’t really afford to just jet off and wander around the Spanish countryside for weeks on end. Usually, we either need to find a way to keep working on the road (Internet access makes this possible, though it can also create huge logistical challenges when connectivity is not quite as good as we need it to be). Even better is when we can find a way to tie a project to a travel destination. Sometimes it’s as simple as writing a destination travel article about a place we want to go (or, happen to be going anyway). Sometimes it’s using a destination or activity that takes place in a distant place (climbing, for example) in a book. Taking copious notes, reference photos, or conducting interviews to gather information is a way to write some of the travel costs off as long as the material is used somewhere down the road.

Digital nomad at work in a small cafe in the middle of nowhere.

In the case of this trip along the Camino Frances, though, the intention all along was to write a book about the trip and to find a way to integrate art (Dad’a art in particular). Not only is Dad’s work integrated into the written project, he is also beavering away on a series of works exploring the idea of creating a portrait of a pilgrim to be presented in an exhibition of work.

At the end of a long day of walking, Dad works on a drawing of the Castillo de Pambre

One of the the good things about being a writer or an artist is that all of life becomes a potential source of inspiration. That’s also one of the tough aspects of this type of job. There isn’t really a way to shut life off, close the office door and go home. Everything is raw material and holds the potential of the next great bit of writing or amazing painting. For someone in the arts, each day could be the one where our desire to create something worthwhile is realized. Just the act of living life becomes a pilgrimage of sorts, full of challenges and roadblocks to overcome on the way to coming up with something decent.

When we set off on the road to Santiago we knew we wanted to create something (visual art on Dad’s part, written work from me and Dani), but beyond that we weren’t exactly sure what our story would be. After all, we had plans, but plans never exactly correspond with reality.

The good news is that post trip we have plenty of raw material for a book and Dad is well on his way to creating some very cool pieces unlike anything he has ever done before. The walking together, the conversations in the evenings, the time spent looking at art, watching Dad create art, listening to conversations among other pilgrims, reading about the act of pilgrimage, visiting museums – all that input, that raw material provided a massive amount of information, stimulation, and inspiration. The creative wheels aren’t just turning, they are spinning fast.

We knew that part of the challenge after a trip is coming back and being thrown into real life distractions, so we decided to spend a couple of weeks together after we finished walking to Santiago in order to focus on the project. The process has been as challenging as anything we faced on the journey.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Some of our conversations have been predictable – like comparing notes about various high (and low) points of the trip, but we’ve also talked about mortality, what inspires us, surprises like how much we all liked the Segrada Familia, Gaudi’s ode to nature and God in Barcelona, and what makes a great portrait. We’ve asked ourselves a lot of questions about the nature of pilgrimage and what a real pilgrim looks like. We sought out images of pilgrims in art and now, as we begin to write (and Dad continues to work with pen and ink and wax crayon and tempera paint sticks and watercolours) what is emerging is a story about our pilgrimage, but also a meditation on what it means to be a pilgrim – in words and images.

We collected dozens of pilgrim-related images on our trip… this one from the Pilgrim Museum in Santiago.

Dad is also exploring juxtapositions of self portraits with ancient depictions of pilgrims. He’s playing with stylistic twists and bold colour, taking fresh inspiration from time spent in the presence of Gaudi’s work, Picasso’s ever-evolving approaches to art and portraiture, and the many, many pilgrims we have seen in carvings, sculptures, murals, painted, drawn, and etched into stone.

We have been privy to Dad’s creative process in ways that have never been possible before now – living in close quarters for so long there is no way to avoid seeing how he comes up with ideas, starts sketching, restarts, scribbles, and polishes. At the same time, Dani and I have been clicking away on our keyboards.

The artist goes shopping – finding art supplies was easy in Barcelona.

I’ve been working on recreating our journey, integrating notes about art and history found along the way. I’m also trying to figure out the best way to share the conversations Dad and I have had over the past six weeks or so that we’ve been travelling together. Dani is digging deeper into the many moments that make up a pilgrim’s journey, writing a series of reflections and information essays that take the reader behind the scenes on subjects as varied as bedbugs and courier systems. The more we write and draw and talk and question, the more we discover to explore, describe, question and discuss.

Leaving Sarria…

“Is that where we are going?” Dad asks, pointing up.

“Unfortunately,” I answer.

“Oh my God. I haven’t trained for this.”

At one point we all worried that we wouldn’t have anything to say about our trip, that our three creative wells would simultaneously run dry. In fact, the opposite is happening. We all have found so much to explore I’m thinking our bigger task will not be thinking of what to include but what we will need to eventually trim out.

No fears about not having enough reference material!

Ruts are for Wimps (or, old dogs and new tricks)

Just when I thought I was more or less settling into a pleasant groove (the politically correct term for rut), life sort of took a turn. First, there was the big move from the coast to the mountains followed closely by the unexpected trip to Paris. Then there was the addition of a teenager into the household. Then there was the edict from my doctor to stop baking bread every day and give gluten free a try. A new bicycle (a very fast, very smooth bike…). A new phone (it was great for three days before I lost it overboard while sailing). A new iPad. And, a new backpack. The latter items were procured as I start my serious preparations for the Camino trip later in the fall. Actually, next month. And, if you’ve ever prepared for a big trip you know that can blast you out of even the deepest of ruts. These days, it feels like pretty much everything is up for negotiation, adjustment and change.

Dani, Dad and I are writing a book together about this Camino trip (Dani and I doing the bulk of the writing and Dad providing the artwork) and I have decided to finally ditch the kitchen sink from my must-take packing list. My goal is to take only the bare essentials needed for the walk. Given that I usually travel with laptop, reference books, a couple of notebooks, a small stationery store, camera, phone, go-pro, tripod, external hard drive, digital audio recorder, charging brick, cables to connect all of the above, plus multiples of all clothing options for any possible weather event plus a deck of cards, snacks, water bottle, and several hats and pairs of sunglasses, you can imagine this whole ‘packing light’ thing is quite the challenge. I’m even leaving my favourite pillow behind!

Given that this is a working trip, I do have to take some version of my office along with me. I bought a case with a built in keyboard for my iPad which, though fiddly (the whole setup is half the size of my MacBook), seems to function well. Yesterday, I slipped it into my tiny new pack and jumped on my bike (a great find by Fabio on the local used stuff website) to test out the equipment. Not only was I able to sit on a bench and type my observations and reflections on the spot (something I need to be able to do while we are en route), I even managed to insert an image snapped while sitting on said bench. Wow. Technology. When it works, it’s so COOL!! Then I fired off an email (yes, with an image attached) all while resting on a bench facing the mountains and felt rather proud of myself.

One of the things we want to try to do is send regular updates (Instagram, Medium Series, my Patreon blog, Facebook) while we are out there to try to share some of the experience with folks back home. I guess it’s a sign of my advanced years that I am still marvelling at how it’s possible to conceive of such magical computing and communications power contained in something smaller than a paperback.

I also find myself re-grieving the loss of my precious duffle bag containing all my trip journals and some unprocessed films when I was on my way back home from Greece back in 1981. Foolishly, I had left the bag in the baggage shelf at the back of the train car I was travelling in and some opportunistic moron (nope, forgiveness and acceptance remain elusive on this one) swiped my bag. Sadly for them (and for me) the bag contained only memories – souvenirs, the journals, the lost-forever films.

Options for protecting the data were limited back then. I could have made a parcel and shipped everything home, but packages can get lost and films were not always that robust), never mind the matter of cost for someone travelling on a very skinny budget. Even photocopiers were rare and expensive back in the day, so making a copy to put in another bag (or strap to my body under my clothes) wasn’t all that practical.

This piece of sculpture outside Elevation Place in Canmore is Touchstone by Peter Powning

Yes, I know that it’s entirely possible I could drop my iPad off a bridge (my recent iPhone/sailing disaster was a very good reminder of that) before the day’s images could be launched up into the cloud, but I’d be missing only a day’s worth of stuff and not several months worth of notes, laboriously hand-scrawled in a series of tattered notebooks.

Today’s post (created 100% on the WordPress app on my iPad) is another step in this ultra lite mobile direction. So far, I’m loving this latest aspect of my new normal. What about you? Have you ever had a painful loss of data (analog or digital) while travelling? How portable have you managed to make yourself these days? If you are a digital nomad (or even if you aren’t but your head is overflowing with good ideas), what’s the most valuable piece of advice you can give me before I set off on my next journey?

An update about the Camino

Our trip to Spain is getting closer! Follow the link below to my writing blog for more details…

There is nothing quite like receiving that email confirming your flight is booked. In this case, the series of emails (Calgary to Paris via Montreal, Paris to Madrid and then various bits and pieces of the return trip plus information about trains within Spain) have triggered a crazy mix of wild excitement and sheer terror. […]

via Camino tickets BOOKED!!!!!! — Nikki Tate – Author

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Over on the writing blog… what’s keeping me busy these days…

After three months of being a writer in Paris (oh, it was fun to just write that phrase!), I am back in the Rocky Mountains with a list of To-Do lists! [Click on the link below for the rest of the post…]

via Pushing Forward on All Fronts — Nikki Tate – Author