Inveterate Night Owl

I am the daughter of a night owl and a grand-daughter of a night owl.  My children are also night owls. It is truly a genetic strain.  It can also be a strain on a relationship, especially if your partner is a day person.  Day people  do not understand night owls.  Any activity after midnight is a deliberate assault on their person.   Night life is definitely much quieter, fewer distractions (eg. meals to prepare) and thus concentration is uninterrupted.  Besides, my brain seems to get what must be akin to a caffeine kick around midnight.  It is very hard to try and sleep when your mind is abuzz with ideas and concerns.

My husband believes that I am a worry wart and I suppose he is partially right.  If I am not tired enough to sleep, I spend my time thinking about other concerns.

Earliest Artifacts

Exodus from Aklavik by Mollie Pearce  (age 14yrs.)

From the time I could hold a pencil or crayon I would draw.  At first it was just circles and then the usual stick people.  I was fascinated by grocery stores, so a lot of my drawing involved people shopping and rows and rows of boxes and cans.  Well, I thought they looked like boxes and cans however, as I often had to interpret my drawings for the grownups I guess they looked more like just a lot more circles and rectangles.

Then I got a kidney infection when I was six and wound up in the hospital for about a week.  It was at the beginning of December and the hospital staff were trying to make things look more “Christmassy”.   There was one very talented nurse on our ward who came in on her days off and painted pictures on the windows.  I was absolutely awestruck.  She asked the children on the ward to ask their parents to bring in some old Christmas cards that she could copy in paint on the windows.   She drew amazing (to my eyes) sketches which she filled in with paint.  I watched her for what seemed like hours. I thought to myself ‘I wish I could draw and paint like that.’

I also had a grade one teacher that would draw on the blackboard.  She drew different things for each month.  In April it would be ducks, rain boots and umbrellas.  In May it was flowers.  Even arithmetic questions were illustrated by objects like apples, teepees, trees and pumpkins with plus or minus signs between them.  It was the best thing about arithmetic period.

I filled notebooks with drawings.  In grade four one of my friends spent a whole recess and noon hour showing me how to draw a face on profile.  After that my glorified stick people became more realistic.  Of course, the proportions weren’t right but at least they began to look more human.  My parents had to ask less and less about what I was drawing.

By grade eight I was writing a book I called “Pioneer Daughters” (go ahead and laugh).  As we were at that time living on the prairie in Regina, Saskatchewan,  you can imagine what gave me the idea.  Anyhow I spent a lot of time writing and illustrating my book.  I designed the dresses I imagined the four daughters would have worn and spent a lot of time on the pictures.  That year I was asked to construct the grade eight graduation banner and I loved doing that.

Grade Nine was so exciting for me.  For the first time I was taught art by a real artist, one who had a particular interest in mosaics.  He had designed four mosaics for the school lobby, two were already in place and he was working on the third.  All four mosaics were to illustrate some part of academia.  The one that was in progress was all about Socrates and his students.  Mr. Miller, our teacher, and some grade 12 students were working on it.  That was the year that I discovered oil pastels.  The colours and the way they could be layered and blended enthralled me.  I drew a picture of women trying on hats in a store (still with the store fixation) and then I decided to branch out.

Our family was a naval family and so one of the postings we had was to Aklavik in the Northwest Territories.  I was not happy at the time of the posting as it was interrupting my upcoming Ballet recital, but I was so captured by the immensity, beauty and strangeness of the north that I soon accepted my disappointment.  I was not destined for the stage.  The north captivated me and so when I was trying to decide on what to draw I thought of a school trip we had taken while I was there.  Our teacher had taken us out of school to the river where we watched an Inuit woman cutting up a seal.  She was using the uniquely curved ulu (woman’s knife) and was carving up the seal very efficiently.  That scene was the one I chose to make an illustration of.   I wanted a lot of paper and so I used paper from a large roll of butcher paper and oil pastels.   That picture was one of three large pictures with the arctic as the subject.  Somehow that picture got misplaced after it was marked.   I did two more large pictures: one of the processional at the Anglican Church “All Saints”  and one of the shocking oil tank explosion in Aklavik which we witnessed when the townspeople were evacuated (picture above text).

At the end of the school year Mr. Miller asked me if I would like to help work on the huge mosaic during the summer and of course, I said yes.    It was very flattering to be trusted to cut and place the glass and ceramic tiles in the pattern he had set out.   I worked on it about two hours a day for several weeks until, once again, Dad was posted, this time to Ottawa.   I was thrilled to do it and I was able to work along side a grade 12 student.  Some day I would love to go back to Sheldon Williams High School and see the mosaic I worked on so long ago hanging there in the lobby.  That would be a thrill, even though I was just one of the unsung students who donated their time to work on the mosaics.

Word Addiction

My name is Mollie and I am a word addict.  It is a daily habit, I’m afraid.  I read everything in front of me; the backs of cereal boxes, the sides of aerial sprays, the contents of tins, newspapers, and catalogues. I love catalogues.  I collect words; big words, small words, unusual words, outdated words, even foreign words.  I play word games; Scrabble, Words With Friends, cross words, scrambled words, Balderdash, Lexulous, and any other word game that comes into my range of vision.  I love the look of words, the shape of words and the sound of words.  A blank sheet of paper is exciting.  I could cover that page with words, in different patterns, in different forms of poetry or prose, even in different colours of ink.  I get excited when I visit someone who has magnetic words to make poetry on their refrigerator.   I spend hours working with words, typing them out, writing them down, turning them around.  I’m a word manipulator.  I mainline dictionaries and the thesaurus.  I love the phone book and the world atlas because of the names of people and places.  It’s an incurable habit.

I would love to say that my addiction only affects me.  Unfortunately, this is not so.  My addiction causes me to delay meals, neglect laundry, ignore dust bunnies, and burn baking.  It is a terrible predicament but, I’m incorrigible and unrepentant.  When it comes to words, I am totally uninterested in a cure.

The Most Important

The most important aspect of my life is my faith.  I love my family very much, but before my family I had God and because God gave me my family, He knows how much they mean to me.  Yes, I think of God in the masculine gender, which I suppose is the traditional in me, but I am simply echoing the words of Jesus.  In my mind, God seems beyond “gender”, a combination of the very best characteristics of father and mother, but it is easier to choose the masculine pronoun than to quibble over English semantics.  Besides, we are all made in the image of God, so obviously God must embody all those qualities that are most admirable about men and women.

On the other hand, applying human characteristics to a being so incredibly powerful and creative is very simplistic indeed.  The universe is immensely mysterious and seemingly limitless.  It is really beyond human understanding.  Even if it began with a big bang as scientists believe, what was the initial source of all that energy?  Surely the answer is God.

The universe, infinite or not, is not the sole basis of my faith.  I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, and his ministry.  When I was very young I used to wish that I had been born during his life on earth so that I could have heard his teaching for myself and have had seen the miracles he performed.  I am no theologian and I won’t pretend that I don’t have some dark nights of the soul, but in the final accounting I find more to believe than disbelieve.  The Bible is a treasure trove of literature, so even if a person didn’t believe it only makes sense that it should be read by everyone.  The prophesies about the Messiah are plainly  pointing towards Jesus as are many of the beautiful psalms.  I love reading the epistles as well.  They are so very real, full of human emotion and practical advice.  Relevant, I would say, to anyone’s daily struggles.

I do not wish to force my faith upon anyone, but I think that it is well to know what another person finds important in their lives and upon what they base their morality.  “Seek” God says, “and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened.”  I have found this to be true.  Everyone is seeking, not that they know what they might be looking for, but everyone is looking for meaning in their lives.  I believe that we are here on earth to learn to love one another and that takes a whole lifetime.  We need to progress beyond self-preservation to selfless service.  What a different world that would be!

 

My Artifacts

I am much more confident about calling myself a writer than calling myself an artist.  However, I do both.  I have even had commissions for my artwork.  The one commissioned work that I am most proud of is the one I did of a farm house many years ago.  The family farm had long ago been sold and no longer existed, but the woman who had lived there as a child asked me to paint her a water colour of it based on an old oil painting and several photos.  The oil painting had been done by an Austrian prisoner of war who had been working on a farm across the road.  The oil painting had deteriorated as it had been stored in a garage for many years.  I agreed to take on the challenge.  I pored over the old painting, went to see a farmhouse made of similar materials and spent a great deal of time on the painting.  I decided, as a surprise, to add in a vignette of the woman and her two siblings as children on the bench swing they had in their yard.  The painting was fairly large, about 13″x16″ and the family was pleased.  I got the most money I’d ever received up to that point, about $250.

One other similar commission I did for my uncle who had a ranch in Alberta.  He sent me the plane ticket to visit them and I did for a whole week.  I had a wonderful time, made several sketches (in spite of the efforts of Tiny, their St.Bernard, to sit on my lap) and came home ready to paint.  I painted five versions of the ranch home – two in the winter scenery and three in the summer scenery.  I sent all five to my uncle so he could choose his favourite.  He decided to have all five framed, kept one for himself and gave the others to his children who all had their own homes.  I was very pleased with his satisfaction because he collected watercolours.  I considered it a good compliment.

Another commission was for the cover of a local magazine advertising farm gate produce.  I tried a number of designs for the publisher.  He chose two, one for the front cover and one for the back.  The design he chose showed a farm in a bushel basket.  The other design was the same one , as an outline.  I later found out he had that design enlarged and framed for his wall.

I have done illustrations for several magazines and two book covers.  One of my illustrations caused a bit of a controversy because I showed a baby bottle and one of the magazine readers objected to it.  She felt that because that magazine was for Moms and that they promoted breast feeding the bottle was sending the wrong message.  I countered with the fact that many moms fed their children juice and water from the bottle.  So for a couple of issues we had letters flying back and forth.

I love telling a story with words and through drawings.  I have a great admiration for a local evangelical who is also an artist.  He has done several murals and he travels with his wife every summer to camps and isolated communities where she sings songs on her guitar for the children and he draws to illustrate the Bible stories she tells.   I think this is a great teaching gift.

From childhood to the present I have been driven to draw and write.  I intend to go on doing so until I am no longer physically able.  I can’t imagine any other way to live.

Reving Your Writing Engine: Ideas

There are so many sources for ideas.  Instead of sitting in front of your blank screen staring at your keyboard do some of the following activities:

1.  Go through your card file where you recorded your notes about people you observed, places you described, stories you overheard, conversations, etc.

2. Read the newspaper, especially the personal ads.  They are full of mysterious tidbits.  Even the articles can give you ideas.   Social notices such as weddings, parties and obituaries are full of material.

3.  Photos of your family, especially old photos of grandparents are fabulous resources.  Magazines also are full of interesting faces and situations in photos.

4.  Current events in your community such as local politics and neighbourhood dramas can prove to be great starting points for short stories or novels ( changing the people sufficiently so that they are not recognizable.

5.  Historical happenings are gold mines for interesting ideas.  Visit the library and check out the local history books.  Monuments and tombstones are also fascinating.

6.  Mine your own life for memories of school days, family stories and interesting characters.

7.  Strange fashions, traditions and new trends can also spark an idea, especially for interesting articles.

8.  Take a walk around your neighbourhood and observe what is happening.  Is someone moving out or moving in?  Who is the reclusive neighbour no one ever sees?  What things do the teens do for amusement?  etc.

9.  Look through an art gallery or a book on art in the library.  What stories are behind the drawings and paintings?  Check out statues and sculptures.  What do you imagine when you look at them?

10.  Bible stories, myths, legends, fairy tales and even Mother Goose rhymes can suggest stories.  Set a myth in a modern setting.  Write a legend about a local landmark.

11.  Music can suggest amazing ideas.  Play a classical piece or your favourite jazz and write while you listen.  Take a song title and use it as the title of your story.  Read a poem and write the prose account that it suggests to you.

12.  Look through an atlas and choose a strange place name to set a story in.   Travel magazines and National Geographic magazines are full of wonderful pictures of far away places that would make great settings for a story.

13.  HIstoric journals, your own diaries and the diaries of famous people can prompt interesting ideas. Even the phone book can lead to imaginative plots and interesting names for characters.

14.  Old postcards can inspire in two ways.  The pictures on the front depict vacation destinations from the past and the hand written notes on the back can be a fun start to a story.  Period ads and old catalogue pictures can suggest historical articles or stories.

15.  Colours can suggest moods and emotions, even events.  Patterns and textures can stir memories.

16.  Unusual objects, especially antiques, can suggest situations and characters.  Old jewelry and souvenirs can prompt an idea.  Empty your pocket or purse and see what the contents suggest to you.

17.  Television ads, movie clips and titles can be the beginning of a plot.

18.  Even the weather report can start your imagination humming.

These are just a few activities or objects that you can use when you sit down to write.  There are a lot of good writing sites on the internet that offer daily or weekly prompts.  So don’t just sit there and stew.  Explore!

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Categorized as Pen

Mining for Gold

Now that you have kicked your Editor out of the office (or as my friend Effie would say “into the parking lot”) it is time to jump start your imagination.  Let’s face it, the imagination is the most incredible tool you have in your inventory and all too often we don’t feed it often enough.  The all time greatest quick starter is to read.  Read everything you can get a hand on.  Old books, new books, fiction and non-fiction, classics and garbage.  Read it all, otherwise how are you going to know what makes good writing good or why a classic became a classic?

The next best quick start is experience.  We writers need to meet new people and listen to their stories.  Everyone has a story.  Sometimes they might think their life story is boring, but not true.

Everyone is unique and we have all had experiences in our life that are worth hearing about.  I once interviewed an eighty-five year old man who swore he’d lived a very mundane life and then proceeded to tell me about the barn raisings he’d been too and the  trip he’d made out west during the 1940’s to help with the harvest during the war.

Our own lives are full of interesting discoveries too.  Not everyone has lived where you have lived or have done what you have done.  Search your memories for ideas that may lead you down interesting byways.  These memories are treasure troves for short stories, even novels.  They can lead to good articles too.  Remember the old grocer you knew who came from Ireland.  Was he living in the southern republic or in the northern Ireland area governed by the Uk?  Perhaps he would describe the difficulties encountered during the worst of the Troubles.  Maybe the local piano teacher has had a very successful student or won some prestigious prize themselves.  Older people are gold mines of story opportunities.  Did one of your elderly neighbours ever work in a munitions factory or fly as a bush pilot?  You will be surprised at the fascinating lives your neighbours have led.

Make sure you carry a notebook every where you go and I do mean everywhere.  The dollar stores have lots of small notebooks that can be slipped into a coat pocket or a purse.  Writers need to become eavesdroppers, not for gossip, but for story ideas and bits of conversation that can be used in a short story or novel.  People tend to tell their life stories to total strangers on buses, planes and trains.  Also, it is good to note down brief descriptions of interesting characters that can become models for your protagonists or villains.  Note down the names of shops you pass or descriptions of the beautiful or derelict buildings you see.  This notebook will become very valuable for the times you sit down to write.  You should go through your notebooks (plural, they should accumulate) regularly for details and conversation that you can turn into stories or that can be filed in on a recipe card in a filing box marked “ideas”.

Always begin your writing sessions with some timed free writing.  Set an egg time for ten minutes and write until the timer rings.  You must begin writing immediately, even if you are only writing your own name and continue writing non-stop until the buzzer goes, or if all goes as planned you will get so enthralled with what you are writing you will continue until it is done.

These bits of advice are not new to writers, but they are well used for a good reason.  They usually work. However, if you are still stuck there are many other ways to prod your imagination into action. Those ways are the topic of my next blog.

Write A Contract For Your Inner Critic

As the chairperson of a local Writers’ group, the Valley Writers’ Guild, I volunteered to be the first speaker at our January meeting.  It will be the first time we have met in the library and so I wanted to address a topic of common concern to writers.  The frustrating experience of writer’s block is certainly one every writer has from time to time.  The problem stems from self-doubt and sensitivity to the inner critic hovering around as soon as a writer applies the seat of his or her pants to the seat of the office chair.  The inner critic is rather like a nasty tiny black devil sitting on the shoulder and making snide comments each time a writer tries to make a mark on the blank screen (or paper) on the desk.  Nothing will come of the session if this menace is not promptly put in its place.  After all, you, the writer, are in charge.  Don’t allow this dictator take command.  It’s a case for disciplining your inner discourager.

I propose, instead of suffering through this misery, that you, the writer in question, make a strict contract with your self-doubt (aka the “editor”).  I think that is very important that you actually write this contract up and post it above your desk.  As a matter of fact, print it out on a bright colour like lime green and frame it so that it is prominently in your line of vision.  This is so that every time you feel attacked by self doubt you can re-read the “riot act” to your editor.

Okay, now what should this contract say?

First of all make a statement of your intentions:

eg: I will write for at least an hour every day, no matter what.

or  I will write a short story (skit, chapter, article, song or poem) each week.

Then write the following rules for the Editor:

1.   Acknowledge and affirm that you are a Writer!  This is very important because otherwise spending time in this activity will just be a waste of time.  You need to acknowledge that you are a legitimate writer because a) you write, b) every writer has doubts c) no one has the right to criticize your ambition and d) you need to be patient with the learning curve of your skills.

2. The Editor is only helpful after the first draft is finished.  This is crucial to the writing process.  Anything judged before it is any more than an idea is still in the raw state, like crude ore before the refining process.  You need to allow yourself time to actually mine the ore (more about this process in a later blog).  Therefore judgement before this process is completed is grossly unfair and for your purposes not allowed.

3.  The Editor is not allowed to set foot in your head space until he or she is called upon to do so.

You must have control and so you must agree to be incommunicado until “editing day”.  Editing day is a day you choose either at the end of each week or the end of each month (your choice) when you review the material you have written and decide what to do with it.  You should never edit anything too soon after writing it unless you are on a tight schedule for a deadline.  Time gives the Editor in your head an opportunity to see what is written with fresh eyes.

4. Anything said to you by the Editor is invalid unless you accept it.  This is very important for your self esteem.  Any criticisms that insult your own intelligence such as :  “this is stupid tripe”, “this is just garbage” or “your writing sucks” should not be given any credence.  They are simply unhelpful.  Only specific criticism such as “that’s a dangling participle”, “don’t use that double negative” or “this is redundancy” should be heeded.

5.  Post your successes rather than your rejections (no matter how minor they seem).  Self-encouragement feeds your confidence.  Confidence defeats writer’s block.  The more confidence you have the more submissions you will make.  The more submissions you make the greater chance you have for successful publication.

6.  You have the right to “fire” the Editor without notice.  This may happen on a daily or weekly basis until you have learn to apply the Editor gag whenever necessary.  If you need a second opinion after a decent interval of time you might consider a different pair of friendly eyes.  Choose this person carefully.  It should be someone who’s opinion you trust , someone who will only offer helpful criticism and frank tactful advice.  Getting input from a group of writers who are experienced in critiquing each others work will be immensely therapeutic.  In that way you are able to weigh the overall criticism of your work by noting the commonality of their comments.

This is the contract you need to make with the Editor and when he or she starts whispering or screaming in your ear simply refer to the posted contract.

You are now empowered to write as much “junk” or “garbage” as necessary until you find the gold, your “voice” as a writer.

Welcome to My World

You have probably come to my page because you are a writer or an artist or just curious.  Please pull up a chair and just relax, because as a rule I’m somewhat laid back.  I tend to be an optimist about people, time and life in general.  At the moment, snow is piled in great heaps outside our door, but under that snow is another spring, summer, and fall.  I love the sparkle of winter, though I’m not so keen about the temperature.  Brr!  As the years go on, the speed at which the next season arrives seems to be much faster, so I just bundle up and drink the hot chocolate while time marches on.

As a writer, I enjoy reading short stories as well as novels.  I presently edit and publish a local magazine called “s.m.i.l.e.” for the residents of seniors’ homes, nursing homes and hospice patients.  Through the magazine I have learned to write articles as well as short stories and the feed back we get from the readers is so far enthusiastic.  We also include humour, puzzles, and poetry.  I like putting all the elements together with photos and art to make an attractive page and a interesting read.  Our magazine is completely filled with volunteered contributions and I send it in PDF format wherever it needs to go.  This way the institutions and groups are able to print up as many copies as they need at the time.

I also write monologue, skits and plays, mostly, but not wholly, for church.  And I have begun to write

hymns and songs in the past few years.  I want to share some of my writing, art and spirit in this blog and hopefully make it interesting enough to get you writing back.  What do you think ?