If you have been a regular reader of my various blogs over the years, I owe you an apology for having sort of disappeared. I haven’t actually disappeared, but I have mostly relocated my blogging efforts to Medium.
Because I wasn’t completely convinced that blog-readers over there would be interested in reading about things like the perils of duck-farming (and other such misadventures), I was a bit reluctant to move my entire blogging life from here to there. I don’t easily succumb to ‘grass is greener’ temptations, but in this case, recent changes to the way the Medium platform works have completely won me over.
One of the things I love about Medium (and, I’ll be writing a post all about that very soon) is that I can write about anything I choose – travel, art, food, farming, climbing, writing – and there’s an audience. Things aren’t organized in quite the same way as a traditional blog, so people find and follow the topics they are most interested in.
And, yes, the platform is set up as a subscription service so writers actually get paid for their writing efforts! You can read up to three stories a month free, but after that, it’s $5. a month to subscribe. I LOVE the platform and find that modest charge to be more than worth the modest investment AND I know that when I comment on or cheer for the writers I enjoy, they benefit directly. There are no ads on the platform, which is another huge plus to my way of thinking.
Anyway, all that to say, come find me over on Medium. I will try to remember to cross post over here more often than I have been, but if you don’t want to miss out, pop on over and say hello!
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…
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 2015which 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.
So, What’s the Difference between Pollarding and Coppicing?
The difference between the two ancient practices (according to this BBC article, there are coppiced trees in France that have been coming and going, so to speak, for six centuries!) is that one cuts a coppiced tree right to the ground, whereas a pollarded specimen has been cut a bit higher up. In both cases, the new growth is quick, vigorous, and eminently useful.
Thin, pliable, young shoots may be used for basket or furniture-making, but if you leave your fresh growth to mature for a bit, it’s possible to produce quite a large amount of usable wood in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to the basic concept, I’ve added some new vocabulary (stool, copse, lop, poll) and found a few decent photos, so that whole section is looking reasonable.
Have I Ever Coppiced a Tree? Why, Yes I Have!
The first time I coppiced a tree was after a wild blizzard on Vancouver Island. A lovely old, but fragile, plum tree split in half and basically disintegrated under the weight of a huge amount of wet, west coast snow. The sprawling wreckage that emerged when the snow melted was heartbreaking, but the debris was also affecting other trees in our orchard as one half of the plum had fallen across a young cherry tree we had planted and the other half had crashed into one of our favourite apple trees. So, we cut the plum tree down thinking that was that. Lo and behold, when spring came a virtual forest of plum tree stalks shot up from the stump. We left the spindly young ones alone for a few years and they put on quite the show of blossoms each spring. Because the original fruiting part of the tree would have been grafted onto rootstock, we never did get any more edible fruit, but the amount of regrowth was truly inspiring and I used quite a few of the new sticks to build some rustic gates and other farm and garden structures.
That was my introduction to the concept of coppicing which, as my father enlightened me at the time, was a common practice back in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. In terms of That Deforestation Book, my fond memories of lopping and chopping have been recycled quite nicely into a sidebar in the pollarding section…
Word count: Running total 2663 (though, that’s a bit inflated because it includes my growing list of references which won’t be included in the final total…Using Scrivener, I’m not quite sure how to exclude a section when doing my word count. If you are a Scrivener expert, do tell…)
By the time you get to the end of Romeo and Juliet there are bodies everywhere… There’s Paris, for example… about to be discovered in the dark by the Friar. Come to the Canmore Summer theatre Festival (coming up SOOOOOON!!!) to see who else winds up sprawled across the grass…
Here, though, in my world (which has shrunk to the dimensions of my computer keyboard), I’ve been obsessing about death. Still. Again. I’m deep into revisions of my book about medically-assisted dying and oh, my – it isn’t getting any easier. The subject matter, or being a writer.
Mountain Graveyard, by Kurt Schwitters, 1919
How is it possible that I can get to this point in a manuscript after so many years of writing books and still feel that I should perhaps be looking for other work? But it happens with every manuscript – I get to a point where I completely lose perspective and think that the whole project is worthless. It’s more boring than anything ever written by anyone – the subject is boring. My opinions are boring. Death is boring. Life is boring. Being a writer is definitely boring. Everyone in the book is boring because – guess what – they all die!
Sigh. This is the point in my day where I push back from my desk and throw in the towel. There is no point in flogging this sorry horse to… yeah, death any longer.
Thanks, Picasso. I can always count on you to have painted something appropriate to my bleaker moods. This is “Minotaur With Dead Horse in front of a Cave Facing a Girl in Veil” by Pablo Picasso, 1936
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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…
Here in Canmore, these elk are resident ungulates.
This bison/buffalo is on display in our town hall…
Ancient ungulate imagery… Two Camels Fighting (1530)
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.
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.
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.
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?