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Before and…During

There is nothing that embodies hope more than working in a garden. You do what you can. You do what you know how to do. And then you hope. For rain. For sun. For time before the inevitable first killing frost to allow small roots to dig deep. For stems and leaves to reach high. For rabbits and deer to begone from your garden, which they view as their salad bar.

An earlier post described how my perennial garden went awry when I was physically unable to keep up with the weeding and when one little, tiny mistake or two (involving aggressive groundcover plants) threatened the entire garden. Here is the before picture of all the devastation.

Decrepit garden

It left me feeling very sad, most unhappy. So I asked for help. It was worth every penny I had to spend to get this little piece of my land back under reasonable control. And the bonus came in the form of a few minutes here and there of talking gardening and plants with the man I hired to help me out. That’s what gardeners do. They compare notes. They share tips. They commiserate with the inevitable setbacks that gardens give us. These were very pleasurable random conversations.

The work is by no means done, but phase one is complete. The invasive groundcover plants have been moved and brought under control. The weeds have been vanquished. At least for the moment. Here is a look at the results of phase one.

garden free of weeds

 

And the joy is that a few perennials I thought were killed were only hiding beneath the invasive ground cover, fighting for their lives. They have been saved, replanted. Tomorrow I will visit the nursery to get a few more companion plants to join them. This will be phase two. I won’t be able to fill all the garden this year, but I can make a start, and then protect the space awaiting next year’s plants with a good, thick layer of mulch. The pile of wood chip mulch is ready and waiting to be put down. I will post one last update when this year’s work is accomplished.

This is my tangible example of progress, not perfection. And I am content. And hopeful.

If you need a laugh, check this out, by G. L. Cromarty

Writers know all about the writing zone. About how easy it is to get distracted. About how hard it can be to get started. About how difficult it is to keep going. And about how annoying it is when our nearest and dearest interrupt us in the middle of our writing flow. So, for those […]

via Writer at work! A guide to acceptable writer interruptions #writing #amwriting — G.L. Cromarty

Don’t Break a Winning Streak

Subtitled: Whatever works for you!

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I’ve been washing a lot of dishes by hand lately. I don’t know why, when I have a dishwasher that I love. It’s efficient, super quiet, and sanitizes my dishes. But there is something satisfying (if dehydrating) about putting my hands in hot, soapy water. It’s therapeutic. It’s meditative.

I worry though, if I do this as a way to procrastinate. A way to avoid sitting down in my chair and staring at a blank page on my computer screen. However, the fact is that I am writing now more than ever. I really don’t think it is procrastinating. Maybe it is the opposite?

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Perhaps the time spent cleaning up after cooking and eating a meal is what is feeding my word flow. Maybe the hands in hot, soapy water go beyond therapeutic, beyond meditative, all the way to magical?

Okay, that’s it. I’m slipping into my MLB ballplayer superstitious mode now. If washing dishes by hand does the trick for my creativity, then Imma do dishes by hand indefinitely!

Like the ballplayer, after a winning streak, who must hang his ball cap on the newel post every night, and nowhere else. Or who cannot put razor to face for fear of breaking the streak. Because who in their right mind wants to break a winning streak?

Besides, if I really want to procrastinate, there are much more fun ways to do that. Like my TBR pile.

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A Good Day to Be in the Garden

Garden

A very good day. Summer at its best. I ate my first summer nectarine and it did not disappoint. The weather is warm, breezy, not too sultry yet, and I’m smart enough to stay out of the height of afternoon heat. The sunshine, the breeze, the green grass. It all has me thinking about gardening.

I have to confess. I am an outstanding visualizer. I can imagine and envision the most amazing gardens. I love flowers. I love beautiful foliage. I love perennials. I have learned not to be charmed by voracious bunnies and deer. And don’t get me started on mosquitoes.

But I digress. The visualizations are sheer perfection. The actual execution…not so much.

The photos here document my most earnest attempts to establish a perennial garden of some beauty to approximate in my front yard what I can see in my dreams. It was nice. I was happy with what I planted. The little beauties did okay for me.

Here is the before photo, long view. You can just see the astilbe near the center that is pictured in close up above.

Before garden

Then I made a mistake, as I am prone to do, and planted an invasive ground cover. I admit my ignorance. I admit my impulsiveness when I am charmed by a little beauty in a pot at the nursery. So, I planted ajuga. Lovely ajuga, with pretty bronze and green leaves and gorgeous blue purple spikes of flowers.

Ajuga is the beast of the perennial garden. It is a killer. It is selfish and domineering and it just takes over and destroys lovely, civilized blossoms like my astilbes and those other charming pink blooming things in the photo. They are all gone. The ajuga, bully that it is, is laughing its way all over my front garden.

To make things worse, I’ve had some health issues that kept me out of the garden for a couple of years and weeds and grass moved in also. The ajuga seems to have welcomed its buddy bullies. Here is the after picture: a close up of the area where those beautiful flowers above used to live (with the addition of a bird feeder pole). I call it Decrepit Garden.

Decrepit garden

 

So I am taking action. Enough is enough. I am resisting. And hiring help! Smartest move ever.

My gardener Jim will help me banish the ajuga (I really still like it during it’s blooming season) to two contained, raised planting areas along the foundation in back of my house. There I will welcome them and invite them to run riot and be fruitful and multiply. Today Jim moved all the garden soil we brought in and spread it out in the two back planting areas and filled all my containers (for annuals) with soil leftover from that.

Tomorrow he will come back and start evicting the ajuga and replanting it in the back gardens. Yet one more day he will return and clean all the weeds and invading grass from my front perennial garden. And then, oh joy, some refined, civilized and quite genteel blooming perennials will be brought back and welcomed into my front garden. Astilbes, more bleeding hearts, perhaps some Canterbury bells and more columbine. Maybe hostas.

I can’t wait. I can see it all now in its sheer perfection. When it’s complete, I will take a photo and report back and you will all be incredibly forgiving and nod your heads and say, “Ah, yes. Progress, not perfection!”

“You would think truth were a fool.” — Shakespeare

I will return to good old Will and his insights in a moment, but first…

I saw a very good movie today at the local theater about Churchill (Brian Cox portrays Churchill) that touched a lot of feelings and yes, I basically had tears falling through most of it. There were moments of human frailty; regrets leading him to doubt the wisdom of throwing young men onto the beaches of Normandy; burdens of guilt and depression; fears causing a great leader to lash out indiscriminately at those around him; the sorrow and helplessness of those who loved him, standing by, only able to bear witness to his struggles; and the nobility of standing up to do one’s duty despite it all.

Soldier WWII

This movie did not get great reviews. Maybe because is it a slow-paced and quiet movie with rare moments of high drama. But I thought it was atmospheric and I was absorbed by how it delicately probed those many peripheral issues mentioned above; peripheral to the main story line of conflict over the launching of the D-Day operation.

It was impossible not to draw parallels between the agonies of decision-making and duties of leadership that Churchill felt just prior to the D-Day attack called Operation Overlord and the indecision and stress we feel as our nation, the U.S., struggles through divisive current events.

It’s very unsettling to have our intelligence gathering community confirm that we have been, may still be, and will certainly be again in the future, under attack from our persistent enemy, Russia. Yet alarmingly, there seems to be no will to take a stand on violations committed by Russia against our country by some of the top leadership of our country.

These are hard times for many of us in the United States as we watch and worry our way through nonstop news of politics and investigations. As we seem to be facing a very real enemy, but one without a face. In fact, news may be accurate. News may be only lies, innuendo and propaganda. This damaging propaganda could be spread by anyone among us, who may be either a witting or an unwitting agent for Russian interests rather than U.S. interests.  Indeed, William Shakespeare could have been discussing today’s state of public disinformation when he wrote, “He will lie, sir, with such volubility, that you would think truth were a fool.” All’s Well that Ends Well. If truth is a fool, then our trouble runs deep.

Fears, doubts, anger, and the death of courteous and civil discourse. These make for a brewing storm. But the real tragedy is the apparent sanctioning and unleashing of paranoia and hate, creating a horrific division in our nation, full of bitterness and vitriol. An abyss seems to separate the two differing viewpoints about the man occupying the White House and the direction he should lead our country, and no middle ground left upon which to meet and identify any points of agreement. So how do we bridge this divide, like a river separating us?

What divides us

Matthew 12:25 King James Version 

25 And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:

We seem to be approaching desolation. People on social media are starting to discuss the phenomena called confirmation bias and belief perseverance. Discussions rapidly devolve into ‘shouting’ matches full of hurled insults. Arguments where reason, factual data, and stories of personal experience of harm that will come from certain policy actions and legislation convince neither side to budge from their positions.

I think this is true and I can actually understand why this happens. A person becomes deeply invested. Your beliefs are a big part of defining who you are. So admitting that a core belief you hold is wrong threatens your sense of self. Humans have very strong psychological defenses to protect from such fundamental shocks to our systems!

Attacking and vilifying will only cause a person to harden their positions.

So how do we begin to come together again? When people resort to hurling insults or even threatening violence, who can turn the other cheek? It takes great self-possession at such times to make a choice to employ a civil tone, a touch of empathy, to attempt to understand the problems that led someone to this point. To see The Other as human, just as we are, and not as The Enemy.

Can we, as a nation, begin to do this again? We used to have this capacity. Even governing used to employ the art of compromise, with respect on both sides. What are the approaches that may prove helpful?

Do you, readers, have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions for ways to find our way back to a less divided middle ground? To agree on some common beliefs to help move us forward as a nation? If you do, please share your thoughts in the comments following this post, with my thanks.

What is it like writing a dark psychological thriller?

I cannot resist sharing this here on my own site because it is simply a fun read. Plus…there are funny cat videos!

Milly Schmidt

For years now I’ve been almost exclusively writing YA fantasy in all its various forms – paranormal, dystopian, urban, speculative, and even a bit of science fiction (but that was a mistake, a very big mistake) – all revolving around a central, incredibly clichéd angsty romance.  But for the last few months I’ve been writing a contemporary YA novel on the other end of the spectrum, something so dark and gritty, that I often take myself completely by surprise, looking over my shoulder to see if anyone is watching.

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Why Do We Tell Stories?

Desert bird

Because in our mind’s eye there may be an impossibly blue bird, with pink wings, swooping over a hot and dusty desert, drinking red nectar from cactus blossoms. Where did it come from and where is it going? Who knows, maybe that bird transforms into a dragon when attacked? In other words, we imagine. We envision.

We humans are social creatures, even the most introverted and shy of us. We watch our fellow creatures. Watch and listen and wonder. Ask why and what if? We make sense of it through telling ourselves a story.

That old woman is frowning over a letter as she sits on the park bench because, oh no! She’s reading an eviction notice. Losing her apartment of 38 years to a demolition and redevelopment project. Total disruption. Wouldn’t you frown too?

Two teenage girls meet at a school locker and exchange smiles and hugs, chattering quickly. Then one shows the other a picture on her phone and suddenly the locker door is slamming loudly and one girl is running, crying, for the door. What just happened here? What is the story?

That old dog, with the age whitened muzzle and the deep brown eyes, lying with his head on the foot of his owner as a young dog nearby leaps and barks and runs to get a ball thrown by a small boy. Is the old gentleman dog irritated by the young pup? Is he happily reminded of his own younger, boisterous self? Is he simply content to feel the sun on his back, sniff the air, and rest his jaw on a beloved foot? And how did the first dog gain entrance into the human circle? When, with whom, and how was that bond first forged?

Curiosity. Making sense. Soothing our fears. Explaining big questions. Entertaining ourselves. And connecting us with heart bonds and empathy.

These are some of the functions of storytelling. So, pay attention to the world today. Notice the human stories and questions that pop up around you, in the grocery checkout line, at the coffee shop, in the doctor’s waiting room, at the red light in traffic, at the art museum as you marvel over an oil painting or marble statue or a tiny jade carving. Let yourself wonder and let stories flow.

A Challenge for you

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Write a haiku about something you see out your window. Okay, not the best view out the window in my picture, but hopefully yours is better. If not, use your imagination. Post your haiku as a comment below. Haiku form, three lines: first line has five syllables, middle line has seven syllables, final line has five syllables.

Haikus are fun to write, sort of like those six word stories. Here’s one to get you going:

Awake. Sunny, gold,
Forsythia blooms riot.
Red bird sits serene.

Ready, set, GO!

 

Naming the Dragons

Have you ever thought about naming your dragons as a first step in learning to dance with them? Could that even work? Well, on the theory that it is wise to Know Thine Enemy, let me make a start on mine. Specifically the dragons that come between my writing and me.

For me, there is the Fear family of dragons. They tend to come perch on the parapets of my Castle of Imagination when I wish to write. Of course you can’t see them. They live in my mind’s eye.Castle

Like Darryl Blank-page, who is a dull gray and doesn’t do much except stare (blankly) and occasionally belch a little puff of ineffective smoke. He is of the genus Scribus Blocktorium.

Or Gilda All-That-Glitters, who is shiny, but sly, promising wonders. She bats her eyelashes and purrs sparkles, trying to entice me to chase after her. But at what cost, requiring what changes and what threats to my introverted creative life? “Come to me,” she whispers. “Interviews, book signings, platform building, forget about writing time.” She is of the genus Successiva Traptorium.

And her big brother, Frank No-Way-at-All, who is a dark purple with green spots. He regularly blasts out flames of discouragement that are hard to dodge, full of rejections and inner critic voices and scorn. He is of the genus Failureus Perpetuem.

Okay, dragons, I see you. I name you. And I think I will go now and work on polishing my shield and my dancing shoes. Wait right here. I’ll be back.

Dancing Shoes

There Is a Method to My Madness

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My life method, when I want to learn a new skill, is to find books to teach me. It’s how I learned to cook, joyfully. It’s how I learned to knit, sew and quilt.

Up to now I have been mostly a ‘pantser’ in my writing method, which means that I do waste a lot of time. I have finished my first novel and the second has been simmering in the background. Now I feel it beginning to come to a boil. But I don’t want this novel to take as long to write as the first one. So it’s back to my life method.

I bought a book, a good one, on how to outline. It’s on my e-reader. I put off starting it while I read two excellent YA novels. (Read widely. Learn from other writers. Good to do. But still, it is procrastinating a bit.)

Today I sat down and began to read it. Here’s the irony. There is something about focusing on the craft that makes my imagination start to work overtime. So when I read books on the craft of writing, suddenly my characters, or new ones I haven’t imagined yet, started to hold conversations in my head.

That’s exactly what happened as I began to read my new book on outlining. Well, what is a writer to do? I put down the e-reader and head to the keyboard. I have to get this stuff down before it flies away again. No idea how, where, when I will work it in, but dang, this is an interesting conversation!

So while I approach mastering the skill of writing with an outline, I will also keep on dumping snippets of dialogue, ideas, even images, into a document I simply call Notes on “Working Title.”

What is your writing method? Share what you like in the comments, please!