Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Madness of Art

"We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."

- Henry James

I think Mr. James hit the nail on the head. Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Writing Green for Earth Day

"We need the tonic of wildness...We can never have enough of nature..." -Henry David Thoreau

In honor of Earth Day, I've decided to do a mini-intro on creating a Writer's Haven outside. Last spring and summer--right after I started working at the garden center for the Day Job--I decided to make the most of my balcony patio, and it turned out to be one of the most inspiring things I could have done for myself. From May to September I spent almost every single morning out there with my laptop, writing in the early morning stillness, while the sun crept over the trees to the east and turned everything around me to liquid gold. I couldn't have asked for a better Muse.

You don't have to have a yard to do this; a patio, porch, or even a small window-alcove will do. The trick is simply finding a sunny spot that you can call your own for at least a few hours of each day. If you are lucky enough to have a yard, I'd recommend staking off a corner for yourself (Land-Run style) and informing those you live with that this will be your personal Writing Haven, and that they shouldn't trespass unless they want to be eaten by rabid garden gnomes. (This way you ensure your privacy, and privacy is half the trick here.)

Okay! Found your space? Now you'll need to collect a few things. No need to go buy expensive stuff. The beauty of this kind of area is that it is natural, and seems to have grown out of nothing in order to invite you in. So dig through what you have and be creative--or else visit your local thrift store for some cheap solutions.

Things you'll need:
1.) A desk or table to work at. The smaller the better. (Since you're outside, this should not be anything too nice. If you have a small patio table, great; but an old, waterproofed card table would work just as well. I once made a desk by decoupaging an old shower door and lying it flat over two end-tables. Be creative!)

2.) A chair to sit on. (Again, this will be exposed to the elements, so nothing you wouldn't want rained on. Iron works well, but so do disposable old wooden chairs from the thrift store.)

3.) Some pots and trellises. (Secondhand shops tend to have tons of these--or things that work just as well. One thing you'll want to do is to create height, since you'll need the illusion that you're hidden in a remote forest or secret garden. Trellises and plant-stands work marvelously for this.)

Excellent! Now you're settled and ready to go, you'll be needing your plants. The smaller the space, the fewer plants you'll need, but the idea is to close yourself in. If you're working from a patio or porch, everything will be in pots, and probably will need to take at least partial shade. In any case, try to situate yourself into a corner; that way, you've got half your walls taken care of. Here are some ideas of plants that have worked for me:

- Morning Glory vines (These come from seed packets usually, and are excellent climbers. You can plant them below a trellis, and they'll climb up and create a lovely screen. And they'll eventually bloom in the morning!)
- Moonflowers (The night-time cousin to the Morning Glory, these fragrant flowers bloom at dusk through the night. They are climbers as well.)
- Caladiums (Like small elephant ears, these guys like shade, and can create a cool sort of mini-wall. They come in a variety of colors, and grow easily.)
- Bougainvilleas (So pretty! Their pink flowers look almost like origami pods, and the leaves are brilliant green in the sun. They can be wild and leggy in a hanging basket, or trained up a trellis.)
- Purple Heart (A little purple annual which grows like mad. The stalks eventually produce tiny pink flowers.)
- Sweet Potato Vine (Lime green or purple, this is another furious grower. Trails and vines all over the place.)
- Gardenia (Produces gorgeous, extremely fragrant flowers. Morning sun only.)

Some other options:
- Vegetables and herbs (Add green with culinary benefits!)
- Mandevillas (Beautiful climbing annual with colorful flowers)
- Roses (Add fragrance)
- Clematis (Another gorgeous climber)

(Here are a few of my pots this year. Lots of herbs!)

Of course, these are just ideas. Pick the things that you like best; the things that will be most inspiring to your writing self. (Check out these two links for even more ideas: Window Box Gardens; and Food in Small Spaces.) You can even theme your mini-haven to attract hummingbirds and butterflies! Once you have all your plants, situate them (in pots or in the ground) around your desk/table, and watch them grow! And then retreat there with your laptop or notebook and pen as often as you want, and be inspired. Personally, I prefer dawn and dusk.

Sunset is known as the witching hour--but sunrise... Ah, once you get up to write at sunrise, you'll have a hard time ever going back.

What do you think? Anyone else like to write in Nature? Plants or environments you find particularly inspiring? Do share!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Death by Computer Screen

Once upon a time, somewhere in the wide world, someone signed me up for Women's Health Magazine.

I still haven't the foggiest idea who.

But nevertheless, the magazine comes to my mailbox once a month, and once a month I sit down at the table with a bowl of something expressly unhealthy, and thumb through it. I'm usually mildly interested in what I find, and sometimes even inspired by it--though heaven forbid I should ever be so inspired as to forfeit my frozen pizza addiction.

This month, though, was different. This month I came face to face with my fate.

And that was this: I am bound to die at a young age, but mercifully live the whole of my short life free of Type-2 Diabetes.

Because, according to Women's Health, there is "approximately a 25 percent decrease in the risk of developing Type-2 Diabetes if you drink three or four cups of coffee each day".

*Loud, whooping cheer*

And yet.

I learned that I shouldn't get too excited.

Because I soon discovered that there is an "18 percent increase in your risk of early death from heart disease for each hour you typically spend in front of a computer every day".

Now, assuming Women's Health really knows its stuff, I'm not the only one who's doomed. Writers across the world had better be saying their farewells, because 18 percent per hour is a pretty heavy sentence for anyone who has ever written more than 50,000 words. (I'm wondering how that adds up. Would that be 36 percent for every two hours? Or does the math translate differently? I've never been much of a numbers girl.)

I suppose I should be dying any minute now. And probably, so should you. But at least we'll die with the freedom to eat sugar.

In other news, Ophelia's eyes are getting distinctly more crossed. Not that it makes her any less lovable, but it is increasingly difficult to tell what direction she's looking. Canine corrective lenses?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Queries are Acts of Insanity

Why, I wonder, do I query in the time I've set aside specifically to work on the new MS? Why, when I have told myself firmly that I will wait until the 27th, when I have learned the results of the ABNA semifinalists selection?

And yet, the last time this happened, said queried agent requested a partial. Therefore, I have to wonder: is Insanity the best frame of mind to query from?

Now, for instance. I've just sent out another. Not because I couldn't wait--though feeling restrained from forward motion does take its toll--but rather because I felt irresistibly compelled, just like last time, to query this specific agent, and query her NOW. Reasonably, I know I'm not really losing my mind, but sometimes, irrationally, I begin to doubt.

Do other people query from clear-headed states? From the coolness of a well-trained mind, and taut self-control? Or do other writers suffer this same compulsive habit, much like a dieter lunging for a doughnut at the precise moment they had planned to be getting on the treadmill?

I've now lost an hour of planned writing. Planned treadmilling. But I'm done with doughnuts for now. Definitely until after the 27th. I'd better go refill the coffee cup and get down to business.