Category Archives: Me

Carnegie Libraries

When I was growing up, the biggest town in the area had a lovely library known as “The Carnegie Library”.

When I worked at the local newspaper, I would be regularly dispatched to The Carnegie Library, which held the paper’s records both on paper and on microfiche. I would first leaf through the vast albums holding old papers, and pick out a fun/odd story from the edition from 150 and 100 years ago. Then I would go into a back room, mount the film on the viewer and scroll through more recent issues for a story from 50 years before.

At the time, I just thought “Carnegie” was our library’s name. It wasn’t until I moved to a small town in Pennsylvania and discovered that its library was also a Carnegie  library that I started to get curious.

Andrew Carnegie, via wikipedia

Of course, its all about Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron and philanthropist, who funded the building of libraries all over the place and famously opined that you should spend the first third of your life on your education, the second third making as much money as quickly as possible and the last third giving as much of that money away as you can.

And today, my novel’s protagonist went and spent some time in one of those Carnegie Libraries.

Everything is material…

Being Kind To Future Julie

This morning I was working on a non-fiction project that has a real deadline and real paycheck attached.

After a couple of days of feeling under the weather it was a real joy to wake up feeling fine and energetic today.

But I did not let that fool me. I knew that there was still a real danger of me allowing myself to get derailed, stuck or caught in a loop of procrastinatoin if I wasn’t vigilant.

So I did all the things I’m supposed to do: I got dressed in clothes that are semi-professional looking; I put on my tiny, desktop humidifier with the hinoki essential oils (which Is supposed to make me smarter, but which in reality is just something I’m using to trigger my brain to understand that We Are In Work Mode); I gathered all my notes and decided to focus only in a certain slice of the project; I activated Freedom to stop me accidentally surfing Facebook; and I set a timer for 45 minutes, to create some urgency and to promise myself a break. I even made a coffee date with a friend for this afternoon, so that I knew I couldn’t catch up on any missed time, later.

Sometimes all this works, and sometimes it doesn’t,

Today I decided to try another technique I’ve seen in productivity manuals. I tried to focus on Future Julie and how happy she would be when she has a finished draft that she can let sit for a few days. I thought about how grateful Future Julie would be when not struggling under the weight of a huge amount of work, and how happy she would be that she could work on what remains, with a lightness that would not otherwise be there. I picture Future Julie finishing up a really kickass article because she wasn’t horribly stressed.

And today, at least, it  worked.

 

 

Future Julie Thanks Past Julie

[NB The Amazon links in this article are affiliate links]

Recharging The Batteries

Batteries
I love sitting alone in a room, with just my ideas and the silence and the limitless possibilities of my imagination.

But there are days when I really envy people with bosses, and other people looking over your shoulder, and all the trappings of a job, to keep you honest.

On days when I am tired, or under the weather, or when I make the mistake of looking at the news before I start work, it can be hard to force myself to switch into creative mode. Which project to work on? Let me think: which one feels the least like heavy lifting? None of them? Well, there’s no one watching, maybe I’ll just watch a clip of Colbert…and this video of some actor being interviewed, and this news show about something depressing…and how can three hours have passed?!

Recharging The Batteries

The best thing I can say about today – work wise- is that I did some recharging of the creative batteries.

[update: 7:09 pm: Success! I went out to a coffee shop and fired up the laptop. Something about only having 40 minutes stripped away all the insecurities and I added a few hundred words to my novel. More fun than that: I had my character flipping through some photographs of suspects only to discover a face she never expected to see! I hadn’t expected to see it either, and it certainly puts the cat amongst the pigeons…but not in a way that overly-complicates things. Just makes it more fun. Wheee!]

I read this interview with Ridley Scott about replacing a Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in a film that is coming out next month. The man turns 80 next month and his work ethic and excitement for what he does, leaps out of the words.

And I watched this interview with a great Gerwig, who was super-excited about doing more of her work.

The absolute best thing about the day, though, was getting to walk into town through perfect autumn weather, for a sneaky wee lunch date with my man. (Aw!)

The Antidote To The News

Whenever I let the misery of current events get to me, there is no better cure than to tune my brain to someone who is doing what they do, and doing it with love and zest and near-maniacal passion. I don’t even care what “it” is. There is something energizing and kind of sexy about anybody doing something they love.

So: What do you do to recharge your batteries?

Storyboarding

One of the reasons I write is to get the ideas out of my hamster-wheel brain and into some kind of organized form.

It’s one of the reasons I like writing non-fiction. Fiction is a blast, but non-fiction feels like solving a puzzle.

MIND MAPS AND SOMETHING MORE

When I’m in the early stages of a project, I’m a big fan of the mind-map. You know, those big spidery diagrams that allow ideas to spill out of your brain in any direction, and land, semi-bundled, on branches on the page.

Usually, that’s enough to keep me on track.

Today I was working on an article and I felt I needed something a little more structured, but I can’t get behind a simple list. Lists just feel so…linear. And un-visual. (That’s not a real thing, is it?)

I’ve been taking notes in Penultimate — the Evernote hand-writing note-taking app. I discovered, when I clicked ‘new note’, that they offer a ‘storyboard’ template, along with their ruled pages and blank pages and dotted pages and all kinds of other templates.

So I gave it a try.

And now my article is neatly divided into four sections with goofy sketches a the top to remind me what each section is meant to be about.

StoryBoarding

Now I’m thinking that might be a better way to go for my novel revision, too.

A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A REST

I’ve heard people talk about storyboards before, but I could never see how I, a non-artist, non-film-maker, could make them work for me. I’ve been around long enough to know that if I try something just because it sounds cool and new, my productivity drops off while I learn the method, then it may never be a method I need.

But sometimes I get kind of stuck and need to try something new. That was me, today.

I was faced with the prospect of being overwhelmed by a wall of notes. Creating these storyboards, complete with sketches, helped me signpost my way through them.

FORCING IT VS. FINDING IT

Sometimes forcing something new into your process slows you down. Sometimes trying something new reinvigorates your process.

Today’s experiment was a win.

Do You Know The Dashing White Sergeant?

I’m writing a story set in Scotland and I just realized it needs a ceilidh scene.

(In case you’re wondering, a ceilidh (KAY-lee) in this context is a wild dance with lots of Scottish country dancing. There are other, more sedate definitions, but this is the kind I like to go to.)

Here’s the traditional tune, with some fairly well-behaved dancers:

Here’s how the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society would like everyone to do the dance:

And here’s the kind of barely-contained confusion and chaos it usually causes, given that half the people at a ceilidh will have never danced it before, being from somewhere other than Scotland. This is not helped by the fact that most of the Scots won’t have danced it since they were last forced to, in Primary 7 PE class, where they spent most of their time trying not die from touching the hand of a member of the opposite sex, rather than committing the steps to memory.

It’s a heck of a lot of fun though.

I wish it was me, not just my protagonist, who was going to a ceilidh!

Side note: If you’re in the Aberdeen (Scotland) area, and need a good ceilidh band, I can heartily recommend Yous Dancin?

(“Yous Dancin?” being the traditional way to ask a lady to dance, in my part of Scotland. Best delivered in an off-hand, I-don’t-really-care-either-way kind of fashion. The correct response being “You askin?”, followed by “Aye, Ah’m askin” and “Then Ah’m dancin”.

Or a shrug. A shrug will do, too.)

15 Things About My Dad

15 Things About My Dad, for Father’s Day

He was in the year above (Sir) Billy Connelly at school, and only knew The Big Yin because his name was similar to that of one of my Dad’s best friends.

He and his friends, in the early 1960s, listened to a new Beatles song on (pirate) Radio Luxembourg, learned it, and played it for a Glasgow crowd before the single was officially released.

He met Neil Armstrong (several times) at the airport and told me his passport simply listed his occupation as “businessman”.

He remembers exactly where he was when he heard Kennedy was shot. It was that big a deal, for young folks in Scotland.

I am a better singer because he listened to me and said “That’s great, but how about…”

He taught me that phrasing is important.

He is a fabulous singer.

He is endlessly curious.

He married his first love, and still adores her.

I love Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Hoagie Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Buddy Holly, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, ELO, Mike Batt, Mike Oldfield, Jeff Lynne, Martin Taylor, Star Trek, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, because of him.

I believe I am writer because he read my stories, poems and lyrics, and told me they were good.

I am fascinated by scientific explanations for things because of him.

I believe it’s possible to have faith in things we can’t understand, because of him.

He taught me that stubbornly sticking to your values is so much more important than doing whatever will make you popular.

I believe I can do anything, because he believes it too.

What Kids Learn At the Middle School Drop-Off

I don’t often drive my kids to school but this week their dad was away and it rained a lot, so I took over that task.

Since I don’t do this often, I’m not as inured to the horror of the experience as their dad is. (Apparently he rants a lot less than he used to.)

As my blood pressure inched up, I tried to figure out just what was so infuriating to me about the casual flouting of the school’s rules that I witnessed every day.

Surely I wasn’t so intolerant that I couldn’t understand why someone might want to hold up the flow of traffic so they could let their precious angel go in the front door instead of the side door like they’re supposed to. I mean, what’s the big deal, right? I still have to wait behind you either way…

Here’s The Big Deal

I finally figured it out this morning.

Here’s the real reason I get so steamed up about people who ignore the principal’s repeated requests (and big, new signs) to go down THIS lane not that one, and stop at THIS point, not some random point that makes sense to you:

  • Every time you drive down the middle lane instead of going around, where we’ve been asked to drive, you show your child that the school’s principal is someone whose instructions can be ignored…by your family.
  • Every time you drop your kid off at the front door instead of the side door, you demonstrate that inconveniencing other people is ok, as long as it makes life a little more convenient...for your family.
  • Every time you double park at the gym doors and then pull out in front of me, you model to your kids that it’s OK to disregard the safety of others as long as it makes life easier...for your family.

And Here’s Why I Care

I care, because if you show your kid, day after day after day, that disobeying the school authority figures is OK for your family, that being selfish is OK for your family, that disregarding other people’s needs is OK for your family, how do you think your kid acts inside the building…with my kid?

When the teacher asks the class to be quiet, but you’ve shown your kid that the rules don’t apply to them, what do you think they do? Do you think about how that affects the education of my kid, who has trouble concentrating when the room is noisy? Does it matter if the teacher gets so frustrated that they assign them busy-work instead of teaching them the good stuff? Or if the teacher sends home a ton of homework because they couldn’t get through everything in class?

When your kid mocks my kid down for not wearing the right shoes, and upsets him, does your kid come home and worry about that? Or do they never give it a second thought, because you’ve demonstrated, day after day, that other people really don’t matter?

When your kids disobeys school rules and shoves my kid on the stairs, do they understand that the safety of others is important?Or do they complain to you about stupid rules and mean teachers and tattle-tale kids? And do you back them up?

Obey

We live in a society. Societies only work if we have rules that we all agree on and we follow them.

I’m not talking about slavish, stupid following-of-rules. If your kid is on crutches and you let them out at the front door, I’m not going to honk at you.

  • But if you just can’t wait and follow the rules because your whims are more important than the principal’s instructions, what message are you sending to your kids?
  • If you’re in such a hurry that everyone else can go hang, what behaviour are you modeling to your kids over and over again?
  • If you put others in danger to make your morning more convenient, what is wrong with you?

And, thanks to you, I am now demonstrating to my kids that it’s fine to judge people and call them names, as long as you’re behind the wheel of a car.

Sigh.

I guess we all have some work to do…

Early Morning Activism

Thing these little beauties out into the world this morning. Postcards by Marta Pelrine-Bacon.

Update: I hesitated to post this on Facebook, and I even hesitated to post it here, in my own virtual living room (knowing i would probably be allow it to be sucked into Facebook, but that fewer people would see it because: algorithms.)

But now, instead of cowering, I’m roaring.

During the election I felt things strongly and I posted them on Facebook because that is where I interact with people the most, now that I am at home, writing all day.

I was one of those people who prompted Facebook comments like “I can’t wait for the election to be over so we can get back to posting about the kids and cute kittens.”

But I can’t go back.

This is who I am.

This is why you rarely see me at neighborhood get-togethers. It’s why you don’t see me hanging out making small talk after church. It’s why I tend to turn down invitations to jewelry parties (that and the fact that I don’t wear it.)

It’s not that I don’t care about the people in my community. I do. I like a lot of them an awful lot.

But this is who I am. And this is what I want to talk about.

I very much appreciated my two years of being a bus-stop mum, after the kids switched to public school. I liked the comradeship and the forced socializing early in the morning (the requirement that I get dressed, for one, and maybe drag a comb through my hair), and the opportunity to share concerns and triumphs with other parents, maybe to help, maybe to be helped.

And I miss that.

But that’s not all I am. (It’s not all anyone is.)

I am passionate about Big Ideas. And I can’t not talk about them. 

I care a lot (head-‘splodingly) when the leaders of the richest nation on earth “decide”, in the face of scientific evidence, that climate change isn’t being affected by humanity, because it might slightly affect profits if they do.

It drives me insane when our so-called ‘leaders’ protect a broken status quo rather than looking for bold solutions to the problems we face.

It makes me want to punch things when I see people lying to support their ideology.

And I can’t shut up about it because they work for me.

My blood pressure goes through the roof every time I see a flier for pot-luck dinners and fundraisers when someone in my community gets sick.

And do you know what? I haven’t seen so many of those in recent years, since the Affordable Care Act raised premiums but required that all insurance covers stuff like, actually getting treatment when you get sick. The calls for help that I have seen, tend to be about ‘helping out with living expenses while the family deals with this’, which is still not utopia, but is better than the panicked “OMG, she’s going to be homeless and bankrupt if we don’t help right now”, like the ones I used to see.

(This is true in my physical community and even more so in my professional community of artists, who don’t have big corporations to sponsor their health-insurance for them. One house fire, one tumor, one car accident can mean DISASTER to the self-employed, underpaid writers and artists who provide all the entertainment we rely on so much to get us through the day.)

I care ALL THE TIME about war and international relations and small businesses and public transit and corporate welfare and the dignity of human life, the poor, the vulnerable, the prisoner, the refugee, the underemployed, the at-will contract worker, the person with mental health issues, the rich person who doesn’t know why they still aren’t happy, the unborn, the born, the entrepreneur; I care about how we treat our animals; truth in advertising; integrity in government; faith (yours, mine, and his right to lack it); philosophy, history, truth, truth, truth (subjective as it is, but pare away as much of the rubbish until we get as close as we can, clear-eyed about our own prejudices and privileges).

I cannot wash my hands of it all. I can’t shrug cynically and say nothing makes a difference. This doesn’t makes me better than someone who can. I’m simply stating who I am.

Are You There, Senator? It’s Me, Your Boss

Our voices ring in the ears of our elected representatives. I’ve been blessed with a mostly-tax-payer-subsidized and excellent education that trained me to research, gather information, compare and contrast, analyze and build an argument formed from the best available facts. It is a talent and a gift and I feel compelled to use it to spread truth, and battle misinformation.

I will continue to suck in information and share the best-researched, the most-thoughtful, most useful information I can. I will be eloquent when I can and pointed when I cannot. I will be opinionated and honest about my biases.

TL;DR: This executive action on the environment SUCKS and I will be screaming about it for a long time. This small-hearted, short-sighted government chaps my ass and I will be screaming about that for a long time, too. 

If you’re looking for kittens, move along.