Category Archives: StoryADay.org

The Very First Thing A Writer Should Do Each Day

Beach Inspiration by Debbie Ohi

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

It’s hard enough to find time to write. Then, when you finally do, you face the paralysis of the blank page/blinking cursor.

The most useful tool I have discovered for getting past that frozen moment of potential is to do some warm-up writing.

Morning Pages And The Truth Point

I first discovered this technique in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in the form of her morning pages.

Cameron advises you to sit down first thing every morning and write three pages’ worth of nothing in particular, just to see what come out. She lets you get several weeks into the program before asking,

Have you discovered the Truth Point yet?

And I had.

I discovered that somewhere on the second page (if I was writing longhand), my writing went from being awkward to flowing. Try it. After a page or two, you’ll find something to write about or you might just find your descriptions getting more interesting, your turn of phrase more entertaining and natural.

After writing ‘nothing’ for three pages, you’ll be able to plunge into an actual writing project and be at your best on the first line.

750Words.com

Flash forward a decade or two, and the website 750words.com offers an online version of Morning Pages, complete with somewhere to do your writing in case you don’t want to write on your blog or in a notebook that someone might find.

The host of 750words.com credits Cameron with inspiring the site, and says that 750 words is the ‘truth point’ for many people.

I have writing friends who blog first thing in the morning just as a way of warming up. Other people write letters to friends.

Tips For Warm-Up Writing

The only thing I would add is that, like 750words.com, you should be free to protect your warm-up writing. It’s not meant for display. It’s meant as warm-up. If you’re happy posting your warm-up writing to a blog or posting it off toa  friend, great. But protect yourself as much as you need to.

And no sneaking off and reading Twitter or Facebook, or your favourite author, now!

Looking for Wool To Finish a Knitting Project?

Swatching on 4mms

Knitters, crocheters, yarn-fans everywhere, this one is for you:

You’re working on a project. You’re proud that you’ve almost finished but then, the unthinkable happens. You run out of wool!

What to do? You know you’ll never find the right colour or dyelot at your local yarn store, because this project has been on the needles for years.

Ravel It

Try looking for the wool in someone else’s stash, listed on Ravelry (you are a member, aren’t you? Aren’t you?!).

Lots of people have the odd ball of yarn in their stash that they put up for sale or exchange. It’s all in the database, waiting for you to find it.

Go here and enter your yarn name.

Check the  “will trade or sell” box (this means someone has marked the yarn, in their stash, as something they’re willing to part with)

Scroll further down to make other refinements to your search. (You can even  filter it by country too, to avoid int’l shipping rates)

If you can’t find it on Ravelry, you can also look on ebay, which often has a good yarn stash, but less likelihood that someone will simply swap with you.

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

Things I learned from NaNoWriMo

Outlining doesn’t have to kill creativity

(In fact, it can free you to be more creative.)

I read a great article about a month before NaNoWriMo 1 in which a confirmed ‘Pantser’ 2 discovered the joys of partial outlining. She realised — and taught me — that you don’t have to outline everything. You get a partial outline down and then, when it starts to feel like a slog, start writing. Which is something Daniel Pinkwater told me he does, in an interview years ago, and he’s pretty successful. But somehow it took me until now to get the message. Plus she went on to say that she feels free to start outlining again, once she reaches a point in her novel when she’s slowing down.

Lightbulb!

So that’s what I did.

It occurred to me that this is exactly what I do with short stories, it’s just that with a short story it is entirely possible to hold all the outline in your head. Usually I have an idea, and a sense of where the story will end, then I start writing. Once I’ve written a few paragraphs I get a sense of what kind of story it’s going to be, the twists will occur along the way and exactly where it’s going. But there is only one plotline; there are only one or two characters that count; and only 1-2,ooo words to cram them into.

With a novel I knew I couldn’t hold everything in my head, and that thought intimidated me. Until my brilliant new friend pointed out that outlines don’t have to be complete, restrictive or done by anyone else’s method.

So I outlined my book, with lots of scenes that I knew would happen at the start and vague ‘this sort of thing happens here’ for the rest of it. Every time I got stuck, or my word count slackened, I would take a day to outline the next section. Inevitably, the next time I sat down I’d be at my day’s wordcount and beyond it, before I’d even been to the cookie jar. 3

Inspiration Comes Second

Sure, you can wander around the world looking for inspiration, but I have found 4 that it is only when I start writing that I,

  1. Start to write well 5;
  2. Become inspired;
  3. Find story ideas and bits of dialogue leaping out at me from all around.

There were days when sitting down and typing felt like — as they say in Scotland — pulling teeth. But because I was determined not to fall behind in my wordcount, I sat and wrote. Slowly. The first 300 words were torture. It took forever to reach 600. But once I was past about 750 words, things started to fly. If I could just get those first 600 words down, I knew I could reach 1667 6

I came across a great passage in Russell T. Davies’ book about writing for the new Doctor Who series. I’ll quote it again and again because it is true and simple and brilliant. He’s horrifically behind on a deadline. Everyone is waiting for him to deliver pages — the production crew, the cast, everyone — and so he’s panicking and smoking too much and going for long walks, trying to solve the problems he’s written his characters into 7

Finally at some ungodly hour, he types,

“…I couldn’t work out how to do it, where to do it, when. All day, gone. Pissed off. Then I sat down to write, with no solution, and … thought of it! Immediately. Obvious. Simple. If  I’d started sooner…ah, the only way to write is to write. For all my banging on about what to do if you’re really stuck on something, there’s nothing dumber than sitting there writing nothing at all.” 8

Get Away From The Desk

And once I had my story up and running, going out into the world was an excellent thing. Grocery shopping let me overhear how people talk to each other, or dream up solutions to plot problems. Working lunch duty at my children’s school gave my brain a break from thoughts of my characters. Walking around town gave me illustrations of buildings, cars, posters, people, smells, trees, memories.

It’s all very well trying to pay attention to these things when you’re not working on a project (and if you’re a writer then you do, you must, you can’t help yourself), but they take on a shimmering urgency when you’re deep in a work. So get out into the world.

Ration Your Reading

Of course, the first thing any aspiring writing should be doing is reading, but it has to be the right kind of reading if you’re going to read and still have time to write.

I discovered that I was limiting the amount of links I followed to fascinating articles, even from people I respect and admire. I limited the magazine reading. I scanned Facebook, rather than plunging in. I didn’t check my ‘celebrity Twitter’ list for a month and we all got along fine. I did not read the back of cereal packets, the BBC news site, blogs or forums.

I did read a little on Wikipedia to help me out of a technical jam in my novel, but I resisted clicking on all the links in the article. And I stopped at the end. I did make time to read books by authors I admire and who inspire me to sit down and write. I did watch TV shows written by writers who make me gnaw the furniture with envy at their skill. Anything else, I deemed a waste of Time I Could Be Writing.

People Can Be Surprisingly Supportive

Tell people you’re writing a novel and they 9 get really excited for you. I have friends and family who were checking in and demanding to read the book when it’s finished. And I have to say I did not expect my wonderful husband to be so enthused about the project. It inevitably meant more work for him, as he gave me time away from the kids, took care of extra loads of dishes and laundry, tidied while I wrote. But he was genuinely excited about the project and didn’t seem to resent the extra work at all. (Actually I suspect he might have been glad to have me out from under his feet some of the time. He’s terribly organized). That’s not to say he wasn’t relieved when I took back some of the household duties at the end of November. But my point is, people can surprise you with their supportiveness if you’re doing something that makes your eyes light up.

There’s tons more that I learned, (I’ve made some notes for next time) but I’m stopping now. To get back to the novel.

Shouldn’t you be writing, too?

  1. So maybe this was the first thing I learned: if you’re going to write articles about writing, a great time to post/promote them is October!
  2. One who writes by the seat of their pants, eschewing outlines
  3. Another thing I learned: don’t worry about the diet toooo much while writing. The hours sat in front of the keyboard will eat up most of my snacking time, so when I do snack, it’s not disastrous anyway.
  4. Again and again and again
  5. Duh!
  6. The number of words you need to write every day to reach 50,000 in 30 days
  7. If he truly were the heir of Douglas Adams, no doubt he would have been taking long baths too.
  8. Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who, The Writer’s Tale – The Final Chapter, BBC Books 2010. My emphasis.
  9. The good ones, the ones that matter ;)

How I Wrote A Story A Day And You Can Too

When I said I was going to write a Story A Day in May, plenty of people looked at me with *that look* in their eyes, or said thinks like,
‘Well, good luck…”.1

“Why?” was the most common question. Good question. If we’re not writing for money, then why do we write?

“How ?” was the second most common question.

I wasn’t 100% sure about the answer to either. After a month of attempting to write a story a day I do have some answers.

How To Be A Prolific Writer – Even When You Don’t Have Time

I’m not going to lie and say it was easy to find time for writing this month. In fact, I almost never ‘found’ time. I ‘made’ time.

Making time means something else had to give. Sometimes it was housework, but more often it was the relatively random consuming of information that I do. The BBC news website might have been minus a few thousand hits this month, my personal blog was updated less. The grocery shopping got more, er, targeted.

But the biggest lesson I learned about the “How” was this:

How To Write Anything

  1. Start writing.
  2. Write until it is finished.

It is one of those annoying pieces of advice that mean almost nothing until you try it.

Sitting down to write can be paralyzing. It is so much easier to get up and walk away — tell yourself you don’t have time — than it is to start writing.

I had to, so I used story prompts, memories, jokes, other people’s stories, to get me started. I put my pen on the page (quite literally) and told myself to write a sentence. Anything. One day I started by simply describing where I was sitting. It turned into a story about a homicide detective!

So, the answer to ‘how to write’ becomes quite simply:

Commit to doing it. Make time. Start writing.

(I did learn a bunch of other trick for helping with that, which I’ll be writing about soon. Why not subscribe now, so I can share that article with you when it is finished?)

Why Write?

Once I had started figuring out the ‘how’ I was amazed to discover a n amazing set of benefits in the ‘why’ column – some that I had not expected.

I found that, if I sat down and got a story started in the morning,

  • It energized me. I was more (not less) likely to take care of the laundry, the dishes, the 1001 other mundane things that we usually blame for getting in the way of our writing.
  • I became more responsible and attentive to all my obligations, from family to my business.
  • My brain was less fuzzy. I spent less time worrying about all the things I ought to be doing, and, instead, started crossing things off the list, prioritizing better than ever, in order to get back to my writing (to make time for it).
  • I paid attention to the world around me. I was doing that thing people talk about as ‘living mindfully’. I was doing it in order to gather ideas and snippets for stories, but no matter why you do it, mindfulness is acknowledged by religions, psychologists and hippies, to be A Good Thing.
  • I found I had more time to give to people, because I wasn’t constantly feeling like I ought to be doing something, or resenting the time they were taking from things I really wanted to do. I had made time for myself and my thing, and now I could take an interest in you and yours.
  • I even wrote my way out of a really foul temper one day, just by letting my characters do and say things I never would, in real life, being all well-brung up and all that.

So the sort answer to ‘why do you write?’ is just this:

It makes me a better, happier person.

As an added bonus, posting some of my stories, made some readers happy. Granted,a lot of them were related to me, but some were complete strangers.


If you have ever thought about doing one of those creative challenges like NaNoWriMo, or The Artist’s Way or any other challenge, I highly encourage you to commit to doing it. What you gain will be so much more than you sacrifice. What you learn will be so much different from what you expect.

Meanwhile, why not subscribe to the StoryADay.org mailing list, so that you’ll be among the first to know when we’re gearing up to do this all again next May?

  1. I expect if you’ve ever taken on any kind of creative assignment (not directly related to a paycheck) you know what I mean by *that look*.

Angel Eyes

I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission to save the soul of my friend Jill Brown. I’m just not sure how to do that.


With her average height and average build and, yes I’ll say it, average face, you might overlook my friend Jill but for three things:

  1. She’s 22 years old. You have to try pretty hard to look BAD at 22.
  2. Her smile. While her face, as I said, is quite average, Jill’s smile is something else. Easily earned, a full-on Jill-Brown-smile still makes you feel important, special, a little better than you suspect, deep down in the darkest corners of your heart, you actually are. And the best thing about her smile? Jill has no idea of the effect it has on people.
  3. Her voice. Even when she’s just speaking, her voice makes you think of words like “chocolatey”, “sensual” and “soothing”. She’s not doing it on purpose, but I know people who call Jill up when they’re down, just to hear her voice on the other end of the line. It’s like therapy. And when she sings? Well. Rooms fall silent; birds pause in mid-air. I’ve even seen crusty old jazz-men nod their heads and break into awed applause, and that is saying something, believe me.

Jill loves all that “Stormy Weather”, “It Had To Be You”, Harry Connick, Frank Sinatra stuff. And that’s where I come in.

I’m Annie, the good-looking friend. I’m the one who tags along and looks after Jill while she’s tracking all over the dodgiest parts of the city, searching for a jazz session. She doesn’t care if people look at her sideways as she wanders through their neighborhood. She doesn’t care about groups of guys huddled on the corner. She doesn’t even care, when we get to some hole-in-the-wall bar or other, if she gets to sing. She just wants to hang with the jazzmen and listen. She’s got this big corporate career starting up, but she’s here in a dive at 1 AM, listening to mean old men play ancient music.

The old jazz guys, crusty and cynical as can be, love her. And why not? She’s into them. She’s the youngest woman in 40 years to say anything to them other than “Want me to warm up your coffee, hun?”

It cracks me up, it really does. Anywhere else in the known universe and I’m the one the guys are swarming over. The smarter ones, of course, catch a few rays of the Jill-Brown smile and drift into her orbit, but I’m usually the big star. But not in those jazz clubs. There, I’m invisible. It’s all about the music and really, I can take it or leave it. I’m more about something electronic, with a crazy heart-beat pounding beneath it, and the guys in the jazz clubs? They can see it on my face: I’m just there to remember descriptions for the police report, if need be.

Luckily with all my years behind a bar, I’m good at picking out the trouble makers and I already keep jazz club hours, not like those drones at Jill’s fancy big pharma company. Oh, did I mention Jill’s smart? Always has been, ever since I was copying her answers in First Grade maths tests. And that’s where the trouble started.

All the way through school they brought in ‘successful’ and famous people to talk to us about how lucky we were, about how we could do anything with our lives. But what they meant by ‘anything’ was “this thing”: work hard, study hard, go to college, meet a suitable spouse, get a well-paid job – who cares what – buy a big house on a piece of land that used to be a farm, employ the farmer’s daughter to clean your big house, have two children and raise them in a day-care, join the country club, join the Kiwanis, do acts of charity so you think you won’t go to hell. Be wealthy. Be fabulous. But don’t do anything less.

As her friend I’m sad to report that Jill swallowed it all. She worked hard, she went to college, she even got the ‘suitable’ boyfriend who looks like a politician. (How does a guy manage to look like a politician at 23 years old?)

I, on the other hand, worked in bars while she worked on her schoolwork. She went off to college, I went off on a bus, worked to earn my fare, traveled, slept on train station benches, worked some more, traveled further, attended the mighty School of Life, learned to be the person I’m supposed to be and eventually found my way back here, where I discovered Jill again. She thinks she’s done everything right. She thinks she’s On Her Way. She’s going to have a productive, worthwhile life, she thinks, by discovering a drug, saving a few lives, settling down, raising some kids, doing Good Works.

For a smart girl, she sure can be dumb.

I tell her she’s kidding herself. I tell her there’s more than one way to save a life. I tell her…but who am I? Just the irresponsible friend — the only one of her friends, you’ll note, who will stay up past 9 PM and come to the seedy section of town to help keep her safe while she secretly feeds her soul with music and the ‘low’ life. Yup, they’ve brainwashed her, but good.

Tonight, though? Tonight I’m feeling good. Tonight I’m willing to bet, is going to be one of those, what do you call it? Pivot-points. Tonight I’m betting, is the night when my friend Jill starts to understand her place in this universe.

Because tonight the good Lord has listened to my prayers and sent an angel into this basement bar to lead Jill Brown to glory (hallelujah!). And if she won’t listen to me, I have to believe she’ll listen to an angel.

Especially one who’s six feet tall with a slow, shy, brilliant smile of his own.

Especially one who plays the piano like that.

Pardon me, but I’ve got to run….I think Jill’s going to find her way home just fine, without me, tonight.


Learning To Fly

Sonia hunched her shoulders against the bitter sea wind. She looked around. This place was grey above and grey below, with only hints of yellow from the crumbling sandstone walls. No greens, no browns even, and certainly nothing from the red family unless you counted the stones that capped the high perimeter wall. No-one looked out and no-one looked in.

There was the blue of the uniforms, she supposed, but even that seemed to melt into the gravel and tarmac underfoot an the grey-upon-grey of the clouds. Before she had come to this place, she hadn’t even known you could watch different layers of cloud race by each other. She had thought of “clouds scudding by” as something that happened in blue skies.

Everything was wrong here. The way they talked, the jokes they made. Even the games. Everything, calculated to make her feel like an outsider forever.

Sonia leaned against a drainpipe until she was barged aside by some kid flying “home”. Drainpipes! She’d had trees as home-base, climbing frames, grass underfoot, before. What kind of a place was this to send kids? Drainpipes and dreariness. It made some kind of sense.

Sonia trudged around the corner, out of the building’s measure of shelter, and staggered. The seagulls were heading inland in great coasting circles and the stormy blast almost picked Sonia up off her feet.

“C’mon Sonia!”

Sonia’s scowl slipped a little when she saw Paula beaming at her. Paula had been “assigned” to he on her first day. Not, perhaps, who Sonia would have chosen for a best friend but there as no denying she was a good choice to look after a new girl: unfailingly kind and sweet.

“Were’ve you been? C’mon, let’s be kites!”

“Kites?”

“Uh-huh. Kites!”

The girls at this school were full of new games that left Sonia clumsy and frustrated: skipping rhymes, hand-clapping, elastics, kick the can, hares and hounds.

“What’s kites,” she shouted into the wind, dreading the answer.

Paula grinned.

“It’s magic!” The words raced past Sonia on a gust of salty air and were gone.

Paula grinned again and reached each hand down to grasp the front corners of her blue woolen blazer. With a deft move, as if throwing a skipping rope forward over her head, she pulled her jacket up, behind her and stretch her arms up high. The upside-down coat-back caught the air, ballooned out and pulled the giggling girl backwards. Paula leaned forward at an impossible angle, letting her ‘sail’ hold her up, defying gravity.

“Come ON, Sonia. Its brilliant, so it is!”

Fumbling, Sonia struggled with her own blazer. She wriggled the bottom hem up towards her neck, her head. She gasped as icy fingers of wind wrapped themselves around her shirt-clad middle, but she kept pulling at her coat until her arms were straight overhead.

Sonia staggered backwards as a huge gust of wind caught her kite-coat. She fought it and took a step forward.

“Lean into it!”

She thought she had caught all of Paula’s words as they tumbled past.

She leaned.

She strained into the wind.

She knew she ought to be falling but the very air of this place was holding her up.

And she was laughing; wild, silent laughter, erupting from her frozen belly, escaping through her wide-open mouth, sound snatched away by the wind-friend who was letting her fly.


The Piano Man

Piano

They found him, dinner suit dripping, by the river.

He was not able to tell them his name — or perhaps it was there, amongst the screams and panic.

Back at the station they brought in linguists and translators who narrowed it down to some Russian dialect. Mira Dobleyskia, who spoke 12 languages, picked out,

“I don’t know who I am!”

They moved him from a cell to a ward.

In the day room he found the piano. He clung to it like driftwood, pouring out Rachmaninov’s heartaches as if they were his own.

The nurses began to call him “Billy”.

Broken Toys – A Story

[audio:http://www.julieduffy.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/BrokenToys.mp3|titles=Broken Toys – A Story by Julie Duffy]

This is today’s StoryADay story. I enjoyed it so much I recorded it too. You can play it above, or right-click here to save the mp3 file.

Image: emmajane

See John.

See John laugh.

See John laugh and smile.

See John laugh and smile and touch his wife Jane on the elbow.

See John laugh and smile and touch Jane on the elbow and look into Jane’s eyes.

See Jane smile.

See John walk.

See John walk around the party.

See John mingle.

There is Alice.

Alice is watching John.

See Alice frown.

Here comes Mary.

Mary walks to the bedroom.

See John watch Mary.

John and Alice look at Jane.

See Jane talk.

See Jane laugh.

Jane does not see John or Alice or Mary.

See John walk to the bedroom.

Walk John, walk.

See Alice refill her glass.

Drink Alice, drink.

Where is John?

Where is Mary?

Drink Alice, drink.

Alice sees Jane.

Alice walks to Jane.

See Alice speak.

Jane frowns.

See Jane shake her head.

See Alice lean too close.

See Jane push Alice.

Alice grabs Janes arm.

Jane and Alice walk to the bedroom.

Jane runs out of the house.

Run Jane, run.

See John run out of the house.

(Good luck, John.)

Alice is in the kitchen.

See Alice’s mascara run.

Listen! A car door slams.

A man says a bad word.

Hear the engine roar.

Mary walks to the back porch.

See Mary light a cigarette.

Smoke Mary, smoke.

Broken Toys

Image: emmajane

See John.

See John laugh.

See John laugh and smile.

See John laugh and smile and touch his wife Jane on the elbow.

See John laugh and smile and touch Jane on the elbow and look into Jane’s eyes.

See Jane smile.

See John walk.

See John walk around the party.

See John mingle.

There is Alice.

Alice is watching John.

See Alice frown.
Continue reading

Mrs Wyndham’s Meadow

There she is: Mrs Wyndham. Bent over her roses, pruning shears in one hand,s pray bottle in the other. Somewhere under the voluminous straw hat is her little quizzical smile, her eyes lined from squinting against the harsh sun. As far as anyone can tell, Mrs Wyndham lives for her flower garden. I probably know her better than most, and I would have to agree.

She never has a bad word to say, poor thing, though heaven knows she has reason. But dig, dig, dig, clip, hoe, weed, no matter what time of day you walk by. It’s a rare day when you don’t find Mrs Wyndham in her garden.

I met Mrs Wyndham five years ago, when I first moved to the neighbourhood. I walked by on a regular schedule, dragged behind my huge half-Irish-Wolfhound, half pure-mongrel, Sisyphus (I had named him after the never-ending task of talking him for walks). It suited me though. I love to be outdoors but I like to be on the move, especially in those days. If I hadn’t so urgently needed to move, I might have become a gardener sooner, myself. Perhaps that was why I admired Mrs Wyndham’s garden so much; why I always reined in the straining hound for long enough to talk to Mrs W.

“What’s new, Mrs Wyndham?” I shouted in early spring that first year, clinging on to Sis’s leash but keeping his big trampling paws away from what turned out to be her snowdrop shoots.

She raised her head and beamed at me from under a woolly hat.

“Hello, my dear,” she said, taking off a glove and brushing away a stray grey curl from her forehead. “Ah, you are just in time for the riot of spring.”

I must have looked dubious because she pointed at the brown, leaf-covered beds until I began to see yes, the snowdrops buds, the white-striped ribbons of green that would bear purple crocus flowers in a week or so, and the swordlike tips of the daffodils nosing up through the earth.

“It’s a quiet riot yet,” she said. “But just you wait.”

All through that spring Sis and I walked and walked. I was walking with a purpose — away from the misery of the past 18 months and just as importantly, away from the kitchen of my tiny cottage and the consoling pleasures of the icebox and the wine-cooler (I had insisted on keeping the wine-cooler). I had spent almost a year immobile on my tiny patio, only moving to shovel ice-cream into my mouth or lift a glass of cheap zin or, occasionally, to hurl something at a figment of my ex-husband in the overgrown shrubbery behind my tiny new home with all its unhappy, unpacked boxes.

When I had belatedly caught up with my doctor in worrying about my health, I had taken her advice and driven to the pound to pick up another lost soul, to care for. I chose the largest, most rambunctious dog my yard could contain and began to walk. I had walked through the fall and met Mrs Wyndham over her gloriously pompommed front flower beds. I had walked through snow and sleet and waved to her as she fussed with holly-and-evergreen window-boxes on her front porch. I had only ever seen Mr Wyndham once, in the fall, when he had been worshipping his championship lawn as suburban men do. I didn’t see him at all, that winter. With the lawn dormant, I guessed, there was no reason for him to be outside.

Daffodils were joined by tulips and along came the waxy greens of what would be shasta daisies, and the fuzzy circlets of strawberry leaves and still we walked.

Occasionally I was struck by the sunny strip of land down the side of the Wyndham house. Where the front of the house was a harmonious blend of deep curved flower beds and neatly trimmed lawn, the side garden always made me laugh. It looked to me like a battleground, staged and ready for the bugler’s signal. A line of shrubs and wildflowers faced off with a wide strip of manicured grass. It was early in the season yet, but even I could tell that, come high summer, Mr W would be fighting a rearguard action against creeping vines and stems gracefully drooping across his front lines.

I teased Mrs W about it once and it was the only time I ever saw her perfectly proper demeanour crack. She rolled her eyes and said, almost bitterly,

“His beloved weed! Taking up that prime spot. Look at it, my dear, a beautiful, secluded spot. You can only see into it from this angle, no other, because of those sheds and shrubs. I had it earmarked as a reading garden, with a bench and rosebushes…but the Mighty Lawn must have its place. It is neat! It is tidy! It is orderly!”

I was a little taken aback, to say the least.

“You could still put in a bench,” I ventured.

“And sit on a green carpet and stare at a blank white wall?” Mrs Wyndham seemed to regain her good humour. “No, my dear, I should feel like I was already in the nursing home!”

The red maple by the sidewalk unfurled its purple, finger-like leaves. The cherry blossoms snowed down on us, and Sisyphus learned to slow down, even sit sometimes, as we passed Mrs Wyndham’s house.

One day, Mrs Wyndham led me over to aleafy plant on the border of the sidewalk, lifted a leaf and showed me a cluster of three crysalides. I was delighted. I thought I was starting to know how those bloated, formerly-caterpillars felt. The final paperwork was signed, I had taken back my name, and my walks with the bounding houdnling were transforming me inside and out. I was no butterfly yet, but I could at last imagine a day when I might be one.

It was around that time that I had to leave for one of my two-week stints at head office. I hated to leave Sis, but it was only two weeks and then we’d be back to our pretty sweet deal where I telecommuted and Sisyphus dragged me around the neighbourhood as often as he possibly could. I stopped by to see Mrs W befoer I left, and told her my plans. I hated to think of her worryign if we didn’t bound past at least twice a day. In the end, I had a bit of trouble making myself heard over the drone of Mr W’s lawnmower.

“First cut of spring,” Mrs Wyndham shouted. “Very important, apparently!”

I waved goodbye and left her bent over the returning asters, checking for damage inflicted by the neighbourhood’s ravenous rabbits.

My doctor, who had talked me into this canine caper in the first place and who was, surprise, surprise, a big-dog lover herself, had recommended a kennel that, she assured me, dogs didn’t want to come home from. But my Sisyphus was crazed with excitement to see me, and I don’t mind telling you it felt pretty good. As I drove him home, I really felt, for the first time, as if I was going home. As soon as I got there, I resolved, I would throw out all those unhappy boxes containing parts of my former life. I wouldn’t even open them. Yes, I would start as soon as I parked the car…or maybe after a little stroll. After all, I hadn’t seen Mrs W’s garden in over two weeks, and that’s a long time in late-spring in the garden.

As I rounded the corner of the block, hanging on to my ecstatic dog for dear life, I searched the garden for a sight of the familiar canvas hat bobbing about. There was none. I tightened my grip on Sis’s leash and quickened my pace. It was so odd not to see her out front on a day like this. We drew up close to the house and Sisyphus (good dog) slowed down and began to root around near the mailbox. Mrs Wyndham was definitely not there.

I stood, a little lost and a bit disappointed. The cherry tree had leafed out in my absence, the blossoms all gone, and the shade dappled the sidewalk in a soothing kind of way.

“Oh hello, dear,” sang out a familiar voice. “You’re back, then?”

I looked around. Where could she be?

“Over here!” There was a girlish giggle in her voice, pleased at having confounded me.

I took a stop back and peered down the side of the house, skeptically.

What devastatioN! The war of turf vs. roses had been waged during my trip, adn the flowers have won a decisive victory. There sat Mrs W, perched on a sturdy wooden bench, a curving path of pavers already winding a casual path through the turned-over soil. Not a blade of grass remained.

Mrs Wyndham stood up and almost skipped from stone to stone through her new domain, towards me. A couple of bare rose bushes and a scant few shrubs poked out of the glistening brown loam in a few places.

“It’s going to be a meadow!” she said, stepping through the side gate. “I’ve always wanted to try one, but He thought it would look too messy.”

“How did you manage it?” I asked. “What did Mr. Wyndham say?”

There was a pause. Mrs W’s face was a perfect mask.

“Mr Wyndham is gone, my dear. Ran away with some hussy from the office.”

I gaped, unsure what to say, but Mrs Wyndham rattled on, quite evenly.

“I expect I shall have to get a little part-time job to keep things together. I think one of the garden centers might take me on, don’ t you?”

I was at a loss. On the one hand, I knew how completely I had fallen apart when my husband had run off. On the other hand, Mrs W was a woman of a different generation, and one who had endured a long and apparently incompatible marriage. She certainly seemed to be taking things with equanimity.

“So,” I said, for want of anything better to say. “A meadow.”

‘Well yes, dear. The wonderful thing about a meadow is that, after the first year, Nature takes care of it all. In my changed circumstances that will be a plus, don’t you think? I shall be like the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, and all that. Although I might have to learn how to operate that Weed Whacker thing come the fall, hmm?”

“But,” one thing still bothered me. “How did you manage all by yourself? All that grass?”

She looked up at me from under that wide canvas brim and smiled her little quizzical smile.

“Determination,” she said.

She looed at Sisyphus, nosing amongst her Phlox.

“Perhaps I shall get a cat,” she murmered.

It has been five years now, and nobody seems to know where Mr Wyndham went and he certainly hasn’t been in touch, not even to retrieve his car. Or his lawnmower. Poor Mrs W did have to get a job to support herself but, sure enough, Napoleon Gardens took her on and she seems to be thriving on it — her garden certainly is. All the lawn is but a distant memory now. The front yard is a network of plantings linked by paths of uneven pavers salvaged from the Napoleon Gardens reject pile, and put together in a beautiful crazy-paving web.

Sisyphus has grown up and mellowed to the point where we can stop and join Mrs W in her flourishing side meadow garden and my big silly dog will lie at my feet while we discuss seed saving or water management (oh yes, she’s sucked me in to this gardening thing. All the walking has left me quite trim enough and the bending and straining after weeds don’t bother me at all. I started a meadow garden of my own but I never could get it to take off the way Mrs W’s did. When I ask her for advice her eyes twinkle and I just know she’s hiding some secret from me.

And quite right too. She has become a bit of a native meadow expert these days, quite in demand. In fact, later this week another national magazine is coming out to shoot pictures in her garden and talk to her about her unconventional yard, especially that wonderful side meadow of hers.

When they inevitably ask her for her tricks she will, as she does with me, smile her quizzical smile and answer firmly,

“It’s amazing what you can do with determination and some really good fertilizer, my dear.”

And sometimes, but not often, I pause to wonder what Mr Wyndham would think of it all, where ever he is.