First Novel – Completed… Finally

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Revisions and More Revisions

Iris has been uploaded to CreateSpace – my first novel will be a solid entity in a few weeks. A relief and a letdown. Saying good-bye to my characters is sad. Every morning for the past two years, my phone went off with text message: “Write 3 pages of Iris.” Most days the reminder encouraged me, but some days I’d cringe thinking about having to rewrite the same paragraph for the sixth time or trying to figure out how to make Iris a three-dimensional person (she’s a solid 2 1/2 dimensions).

Revisions and More Revisions

The pages and pages of revisions sit beside me in a pile and my 3 notebooks where I jotted down revisions, and formatting issues along with three printed versions of my cover and a partridge in a pear tree. No partridge, but an inch of dust. The next step is to put the pile (without the dust) in a folder – for safekeeping – on a shelf in my closet. I clear the floor of a stack of books that I read for inspiration and reference. Once my writing space is purged, I will be ready to rid my mind of the world of Iris and move on to my next project.

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Books for Inspiration and Reference

I have learned so much about the process of writing – in the initial stage – it is all about the idea. The real writing skill comes in the rewriting phase, which can be arduous – or more like it is arduous. But I have persevered and haven’t been struck by lightning after completing my 264 page book – a good sign.

The Process Begins Again

The notebook for my next novel sits beside me – from NaNoWrimo 2013 – waiting for me to open it as well as the computer file folder that sits on my desktop.

All systems in place to continue the process of delving into a world of my creation where anything is possible.

I have ordered two copies of my book for proofing which should arrive by March 20th. Once I have a hard copy to hold in my hands, I will see the culmination of my effort. And if I can get a few people to read it, I will have done my seemingly impossible life goal – carried out an original idea to the end and produced a book to read.

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Writing with Effort Makes Reading A Pleasure

My third NaNoWriMo (30 days to write 50,000 words) is over and I did it – a new novel is born. The 2014 National Novel Writing Month  has been my least painful writing challenge (since I still have all my hair).

Winner-2014-Square-ButtonNow I must return to completing my first novel, which was the product of the 2012 challenge. On the verge of self-publishing, I’ve re-worked that first draft for the past two years, and I’m nearly done.

  • Editing (97.8%)
  • Formatting (97.2%)
  • Front cover image (one more colour adjustment) (99.6%)
  • Back cover blurb (98.77%)
  • Ready to give it to the world? (67.3%)

Almost. Not quite. The moment of doubt rears its gnarly head. What if no one reads it? What if someone reads it and hates it? What if someone reads it and likes it? Those are the ‘what ifs’ that haunt me.

I have to put it out there or else I can’t move on.

NanoWriMo has helped me prove to myself that I am capable of completing a strange creative process that scares, thrills, bores and like a vacuum sucks every word, past experience and idea that I have ever had and blasts it onto a page. A purge of creativity that is exhausting, arduous and stimulating.

But after the initial thrill of getting the words out, the hard work of making them readable begins.

Scribbled on a file card, tucked beside my computer, is a quote by Samuel Johnson:

What is written without effort is usually read without pleasure.

I look at that quote and continue honing my final draft. I know I haven’t expended enough effort because the sentences don’t quite flow. Almost lost in my own story – a few rough edges, but I hope to have them as smooth as a shot of Don Julio Tequila.

When someone invests a significant amount of time and concentrated energy to read a book, it should be worth reading. If not, it’ll never be finished and the characters will forever be stuck on the pages, never to be heard from again.

I like my characters too much to let that happen.

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B7 Chord on the Guitar

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My guitar with pink pick

My goal is to casually take my guitar off its hook, when friends are over, and start playing a song as if it were the most natural thing to do.

I am playing the guitar – slowly. Not that I’m playing slowly – I’m learning to play at a slow pace (plucking at the guitar for six years), which at this rate will take me another 20 years to master.

If I think about it as a slow, incremental process, then I can continue – otherwise I feel overwhelmed.

I’ve mastered the major chords on the Ionian scale (just learned the name of the scale) and I know a few minor chords as well.

My goal is to make guitar playing an integral part of life.

The Slow Process of Guitar Playing

I  grab (try to) my guitar from the wall everyday and start plucking with my pink pick: E, B, G, D, A, E (Every Boy Gets Drugs And Enemas) – my acronym for remembering the strings. The more I touch the guitar, the more comfortable I feel holding it.

But after finding an old Simon and Garfunkel song book (an Easy-Play Speed Music book), I realized the B7 chord was essential to learning 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. It took all four fingers and I had to slide from an Em to the B7 practically on every word – my arm and fingers were throbbing.

There is a logic to learning to play, yet I’ve been trying to play everything at once instead of breaking songs into small playable pieces.

What does B7 Mean?

There is a complicated world of chords that I needed to figure out – specifically the seventh. I had been memorizing finger positions, but not understanding how chords were constructed.

A chord – is made up of three notes with the name coming from the lowest (base) note. Three fingers on three strings: doable.

I Googled “what makes a seventh chord?”

An excellent answer came my way: to form a seventh – you go up seven steps from the root note which in this case is a B (seven fingers not needed).

And I discovered that the space between each note is a step – a full step between whole notes and a half step between sharps or flats. For the guitar, two frets represent a step in music.

I’m getting this.

That actually makes sense and not as mind-boggling as I thought. And as I have tried to do with other skills I’m trying to master – like running and writing – small increments – one step at a time – to run a marathon, write a novel or learn the guitar.

 

 

 

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Crow vs Robin

Battle of the Birds

I’ve always thought birds were more enlightened than humans – as in, they got along with each other. But coming upon a crow pecking a small bird in the middle of the street, I was upset to see such viciousness. What was even more upsetting was seeing a robin, furiously squawking at the crow, expressing anger. I slapped together the pink running shoes in my hands while yelling “eeeyah!” The crow didn’t flinch.

Just as I was about to lunge for the crow and shake its scrawny neck, my daughter (who was walking with me) asked me why the crow was pecking the small bird. I didn’t have an answer. I hadn’t realized until later (when I checked Wikipedia) that crows ate other birds. I knew birds ate worms and mussels, but I thought that was the extent of their meat-eating menu.

Turning Point of Anger                                     

I had never seen an angry robin. In my mind, a robin was the first sign of spring and possessed a calm, peaceful energy.

Can every creature be pushed to a point of aggression? What is the breaking point?

Is it obnoxious people talking and partying on a balcony at 2am? Is it the guy who wears a grey hoodie (partially covering his face) and rides slowly past me looking shifty? Or is it being almost sideswiped by a cyclist? What pushes anyone to anger? Rage?

Bullying. I empathized with the robin. It defended itself against predators as I defended myself against unaware, inconsiderate people. I, like the robin – yelled (or squawked) to get noticed. It would be nice to be able to fly away.

Back on the street, we continued to yell and wave when the crow flew to a tree branch as if to say “I’ll take a break, but I’m not leaving.”

The black figure sat in the tree staring at us like a scene in “The Birds” (the Hitchcock movie), where birds sat on telephone wires and stared at people as if they were prey. There was a moment where I thought the crow was about to dive for my head.

The injured bird hopped/flew across the street towards a bush. The crow came back for another attack. This time I was able to scare it away. The injured bird hobbled into a shrub where it stayed. We left with the crow on a tree branch and the robin sitting across from it, watching. It was a standoff.

Peck or Be Pecked?

Survival of the fittest (or more like the biggest and the loudest) – did it always have to be that way? The robin defended the weaker bird at its peril. Maybe the crow was just hungry and we interfered with its survival. Who should survive? I wanted to believe that we made a difference. Did it matter if the small bird lived?

We walked away with the small bird in the bush. Later that afternoon, we checked for the bird, but it was gone.

Hopefully it is surviving and thriving in the wild. Like the rest of us.

 

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Is it Art?

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Graffiti on Hoarding

Walking along Nelson (just past Homer Street) in downtown Vancouver, I noticed plywood hoarding covering a building. It was hot and I was slightly disorientated, but I could have sworn the hoarded building was a new glass and concrete structure.  Was it about to be demolished? Had squatters taken over the site? No, none of the above. I looked closer.

The building is the home of the Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery. It was boarded up because it was being used as an art installation..

Oh.

Graffiti covered the hoarding. I read the words, and decided that it was a ‘stream of consciousness’ rant about the world in general – Syrian civil war, technology, and random miscellaneous phrases. The words didn’t move me. So what was the point? Was the hoarding the art or were the words the art?

The last time I saw plywood on windows was during the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot (2011) – people had written messages to the city on the boards covering the smashed windows of the Hudson’s Bay department store.

The words on the plywood after the riot were sincere and heartfelt – these words seemed boring and calculated. Even the font style was uniform – written by the same hand.

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It Looks, It looks Clear up Ahead??

But if it was an actual ‘graffiti covered hoarding’ on a building would it still be art?

Graffiti is scrubbed off most buildings, but if a curator says it is more than just ‘graffiti’ then it’s allowed to exist in the world. Not just an eyesore.

I was tempted to add a phrase to the ‘art.’ Would I have been defacing the ‘art’ or enhancing it?

I decided it was a graphically captivating display.

As a contrast to Vancouver’s clean, condo-city status, the messy graffiti made me stop and look and think. The graffiti was dull. But the overall effect caught my attention. It made me look, and I guess that’s what art is supposed to do.

So, do you think it’s art?

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Meditating on Being Organized

After writing this blog for 2 1/2 years, I have figured out what I’m trying to say as the ‘organized bohemian’. To be organized is to have a goal. To be bohemian is to enjoy the goal once it has been achieved.

Lately, I’ve been focusing on the next goal before I’ve had a chance to enjoy the accomplishment of the moment.

I have been slotting too many goals into my waking day where my ‘organized’ self is overriding my ‘bohemian’ self. I’m feeling ‘over-organized.’ An ailment that comes from running out of slots. I need to create more slots or let go of some goals.

Letting go is also a part of being organized. But letting go too much turns me into a blob not a ‘bohemian.’ Once again I am looking for the balancing point (‘sigh’). Trusting that I am organized enough to let go (without the fear of staying a blob forever) is a key concept of my philosophy as the ‘organized bohemian.’

Being Aware of Time

And to understand the value of time. To know that a few minutes of focused energy is worth a few hours of distracted energy. I now understand how much I can get done in one hour. In writing time, a focused hour is about five hundred words (which includes editing) or running an easy 10km.

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Drunken Artichokes

I’m working on this painting, slowly. In order to get it done, I break it into sections. I need to focus on each section and allot a specific amount of time. The lettering needs to be refined. My next painting session will be before I make dinner for about one half hour. In that way, I don’t get overwhelmed with refining the whole painting. Even though I don’t have a definite deadline to complete it, I feel confident that by finishing small chunks, I will be done in another month.

More Organizing leads to less Stress

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Soba Noodles

I’ve been telling people “you need to be organized” in order to lead a relaxed life.  And now I think I actually know what I’m talking about. It’s a combination of knowing where things are located, and making things accessible (where’s my paint brush?) Ingredients for a recipe (soba noodles) when you want to prepare a quick meal.

Not to be an Organized Robot

But sometimes being too organized makes me feel like a mechanical being that does without thinking. Getting too much done, makes me forget the doing. That’s when I rely on my bohemian side to remind me of the pleasure of the process!

 

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“The Bronx (is Up) and the Battery (is Down)”

“The Bronx is up and the Battery is down, New York, New York…it’s a hell of a town!”

(lyrics by Kander & Ebb).

I couldn’t resist. All I have to do is sing that one line and I always know which way is north (Bronx) and south (Battery Park). Yes, New York inspires writers of – songs, books, plays, films and now blogs.

After finally coming down from the high of running the Boston Marathon …I’m in a “New York state of mind” (can’t stop myself).

Train Trip from Boston

After a 4 ½ hour peaceful, scenic train ride –  through Massachusetts, Rhode Island (not an island!), Connecticut, and New Jersey (less scenic) – we arrived at Penn Station a few blocks from Times Square and the Carter Hotel (cheap and basic, with a good location).

Being in NY makes me…

feel as if I should be having clever thoughts – be taller, richer and more fashionable. I’ll go with the clever thoughts that will… change the world. Or at least fill a decent blog post.

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Looking up at the Empire State Building

I try to absorb the momentum that surrounds me, stare in awe at tall buildings, get jostled by the constant crowd of people, and get blinded by the yellow blur of taxis as they pass by without stopping, and…

Buy a pretzel – take a breath and head to the zoo.

The Bronx Zoo – founded in 1899.

We (my daughter & partner) took the Number 2 train north to Pelham Parkway through the Bronx. Once the train left the dark tunnel, we were met with bright sunshine and blocks of red brick apartment buildings.

Dragonfly on window at 149th Street Station

Dragonfly on window at 149th Street Station

A dragonfly stained glass window at 149th station decorated the platform area. An image of East 149th street in 1915 was superimposed on the glass. A subtle reminder of the past.

A ten minute walk from the subway station, the zoo was set in a forested area away from traffic and buildings.

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Ornate Gate at Bronx Zoo

The spaciousness of the setting felt like there was room to breath. Elegant buildings were from another century when fashionable people came for a day at the zoo. The exhibits ranged from a mechanical dinosaur safari to a butterfly-filled tropical forest. Worth the 40 minute subway ride.

Battery Park Ferry to Statue of Liberty

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Lady Liberty on the Hudson River

Of course we found ourselves in Battery Park and took the ferry over to the green lady. Sailing on the Hudson River away from the city, we gawked at the scope of the skyline. Once we landed on Liberty Island, we looked up at Lady Liberty who proudly prodded us to think about all the possibilities of life.

Nikola Tesla’s Room at the New Yorker Hotel

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Tesla holding incandescent light bulb

After taking in the usual sights, I was eager to find Nikola Tesla’s hotel for a project I was researching. I didn’t know what to expect, but I needed to make the pilgrimage to the New Yorker hotel where he lived for 30 years. It was the inspiration I needed to continue writing my story.

Passing through the grand lobby of the New Yorker with an art deco vibe, we got on the elevator and pushed the button for the 33rd floor. A brown wooden bench, beige walls and cream-colored marble floors greeted us as we stepped off. It felt as if it was the original decor when Tesla lived there from (1913-43). Room 3327 was where he slept.  My timing was great since the cleaning staff had just prepared the room and allowed me to take a look. The room was approx. 10′ x 12′ ft with a bathroom attached. Out his window was a partial view of the Empire State building. Room 3328 was his office where he spent time thinking about electricity and the ways it could be used to create an easier life for people.

He was in NY at the beginning of the 20th century at a time when innovation and motivation was high. High as the towers that were being built. Now I can almost picture Tesla getting up every morning, getting dressed in his suit (which he always wore) and going next door to his office to work.

The second draft of “Tesla’s Neighbour” is percolating in my brain and New York motivated me to continue writing it.

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