Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pretty Little Projects All in a Row

In addition to my interests in creative writing and photography, I got involved in the fabric arts about 14 years ago.  Each time I found a fabric or pattern or thread or tool that I liked, I bought it.  Each cashier, without fail, asked, "What are you making?"

"I don't know yet," I'd say.  "This is just for my stash," until one day when a cashier looked at me with anger in her eyes and said, "I wish I had the luxury of stocking up on supplies before I start a project.  I usually have to wait for some spare change just to buy what I need to finish a project."

I winced at her suggestion that I was being insensitive to the plights of others, but then realized that while some of us are short on money, others are short on time, and my lack of free time was the cause of me being a consumer, but not making much progress in the project completion department.  I could have told this lady that the fact that she even is able to complete projects is something she has that I don't.  I suspect that I probably would have traded the money I was making from my 60 to 80 hour a week job for the free time she was given working in a job part-time.

I have this lovely, colorful fabric stash piled on a plastic shelving unit, and every day I look longingly at it as I pass by it between chores.  I think about designing and piecing together my next project, but then remember that king-sized monstrosity lying on my bedroom floor waiting to be finished.  Years ago I started piecing together a Storm-at-Sea bed quilt for our king-sized bed, only to discover that it was too large to quilt in my industrial quilt rack with my long-arm sewing machine.  The only alternative was to quilt it by hand.  Quickly tying the layers together wouldn't do.  I had to hand-stitch swirly wave-like motions to fit the Storm-at-Sea theme.

I have this huge oval quilting frame to hold the fabric taut, and it takes about two hours to fill one frame.  I love the quilt and consider it one of my best efforts, but the act of hand-stitching bores me to death.  I can only do the same repetitive movement for so long until I have to move on to something else.  As a result, I can't seem to finish the quilt.

I'm very much in the same place with my current novel.  I'm happy with all aspects of the work, but it is a monstrosity.  The book is going to be much longer than the average novel, and when I look ahead to all the character development and plot that still needs to be recorded, I feel overwhelmed.  My mind begins wandering to the possibilities of starting a new novel, but I stop myself and insist that I must stick to my current project, follow it through to the very end, before starting anything new.  I must exercise self-discipline -- rein in that monkey mind.

It's easy to get caught in this trap towards the completion of a major project, because I've already written the book in my head, but to sit down and actually get it on paper feels tedious and repetitive.  I think all authors probably have wished, at one time or another, to be able to hook up a mind reader to their head and just let the book appear in an electronic format on a computer screen, skipping past that whole bothersome part of moving one's fingers across a keyboard.  But writing is hard work, and it requires time.

Until such a luxurious device is invented, I will continue pushing back thoughts of new projects until my monsters are complete and take on a life of their own.  I want my little Frankensteins to leave the nest and serve their purposes of keeping us warm on cold nights and entertaining readers, but the time just isn't quite ripe.  Whether one stitch in front of the other or one word in front of the other, I plod on.  If we keep going in the correct direction, we will eventually cross the finish line, but if we veer off course... well, that's a risk we take.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Another Long Overdue Update

Since moving in May, I have only had a few hours of quiet time to work on my current novel.  Getting settled is more difficult than it might seem.  I've been caught up in a flurry of activity ranging from dealing with home repairs to sorting through mountains of paperwork that somehow manage to wind up on my desk each day.  My file cabinets are bulging and my paper shredder is over-heated after my attempt to clear enough space on my desk to begin a novel writing routine.

The house we moved out of has not sold yet, and trying to get contractors to make repairs and fix that place up turned into a rat's nest of problems, disappointments, and miscommunications.  The process ended up taking way more time and money than originally estimated as more problems were uncovered along the way, and I lost a buyer for the house after having it in escrow for a month.  Then everything started breaking down in our new house, and the barn I had built for my horses went way over budget thanks to the permit process.  Unfortunately, this means that we've had more than our fair share of expenses over a very short period of time, and I will have to start looking for work outside the home, limiting the time I will have to write.

Knowing what I know now about the moving process and the real estate market, I would never move again if I could help it.  It's very disruptive to say the least, and you have to rely on so many different people to do their parts or you suffer the consequences.  With each week, I just keep telling myself, "If I could just get past this next thing, then I can start a daily routine and concentrate on writing my novel again," but then there's another thing after the next thing, and if you open your eyes wide enough, you see things that need your attention stretched out to and beyond the horizon, and then you start losing hope.  You discover that you've become a slave to your new life circumstances, and that old life you had where you were able to do what you love is gone.

I've been posting on one of my blogs regularly, because that's something mindless that I can do while people and voices swirl around me, and alarms go off telling me to feed the dogs and give one dog her insulin shot.  I can write a blog post while eating my breakfast or lunch, in between feeding the horses, doing laundry, washing dishes, mopping and scrubbing floors, answering the phone and the door, and paying bills.  Writing a novel requires complete concentration, though -- no multitasking, no bells ringing, no buzzers buzzing, no chores hanging over your head.

I've come to the realization that until my life drastically changes, I'll never be at that point again.  There is always someone trying to contact me and always something that needs my immediate attention.  I guess that's why writers need retreats.  Yesterday alone I had four unexpected people show up on my doorstep.  The interruptions are relentless.

I'm scared to contact any people or businesses, because somehow every simple phone call has to turn into dozens of phone calls and text messages and emails and letters coming through at all hours of the day and night.  Our society's obsession with repetitive communications is out of control.  Do I really need five reminders that my prescription is ready or that I have a medical appointment coming up?  Really?  Is this necessary?

My goal is to get my new life on auto-pilot, so my time can be freed up to do what I love.  The first step is to move everything to paperless, which I have been doing over the past year, but I keep discovering that paperless is never 100% paperless, because as soon as you switch something to paperless, you receive all these papers confirming that you were the one who switched to paperless, and anytime that any status is altered in the slightest, you receive a notification on paper.  Then there are all these other people in the world who are making decisions that affect me, and I have to be notified via more paper and fill out reams of legal forms so that they are clear on where I stand on the matter. 

After flying over Oregon years ago and seeing bald patches of land in the mountains where trees were cut down in clumps, I don't like seeing paper or wood wasted.  I don't like seeing any of our natural resources wasted.  Despite passing away one year and four months ago, my mother's mail has followed me through three different addresses, even though I did not notify the senders of my new addresses.  I'm fed up with having to throw out stacks of paper every day that keeps getting mailed to someone who is no longer alive, so I write notes back to these people asking them to remove her from their mailing lists.  I use their return address envelopes and their letters to save on paper, but I occasionally have to foot the bill for a stamp.  That's not exactly how I like to spend my time, but if it saves a few resources in the end, perhaps it is worth it.

Beyond going paperless, the next step will be to block out all the uninvited communications that take me by surprise and monopolize my time.  Those who know me well will learn that I am no longer answering my door or my phone when I am working.  Those who don't know me will learn that it is a waste of their time to try to get in touch with me, because I won't respond.

The biggest challenge is finding solutions that work to stave off the various problems that I face living in a completely different environment -- problems I could not have foreseen and do not have enough experience with to know how to handle.   I moved from a Nevada valley at a 5,000-foot elevation just below a snow-capped mountain range to the Arizona desert.  Over the 20-some years I lived in the mountains, I figured out ways to deal with ice and snow and high winds.  The only animals that were a nuisance were skunk, deer, bears and mountain lions, most of which were only encountered on rare occasions. 

Now I find myself crossing paths with desert wildlife every time I walk outside, and so many of these creatures are either destructive or dangerous.  We're sharing our space with scorpions, rattlesnakes, poisonous lizards, tarantulas, hoards of rabbits, rats, coyotes, termites, and more holes in the ground than your ankles can tolerate rolling in.  People say not to worry about the rattlesnakes, because they don't strike unless you try to pick them up or step on them.  The silly thing about that statement is that those people don't know how easy it is to accidentally step on a rattlesnake when your yard is infested with them and you spend a lot of time outdoors doing barn chores.  All you have to do is walk.  There are so many sticks on the ground that your eyes can't differentiate between sticks and snakes.  I set up optometry appointments for all of us after a couple of near misses.

We haven't been bit, but we do spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to avoid getting bit or stung or having our house, vehicles and landscaping destroyed by critters.  It's an ongoing battle.  I know the best thing I can do is to clear my yards of any debris, rocks, sticks, weeds, bushes, etc., but until the temperatures drop below 100 degrees, that's not going to happen.  It seems that on a weekly basis dead hikers are being found out in the desert.  People don't last long in this heat.

So, that's where I'm at, and unfortunately, the speed at which I write my next novel depends upon my availability.  I'm hoping everything will just fall into place soon... I say as my phone starts ringing at 8:00 in the morning.