Random acts of poetry

Random Acts of Poetry Day was apparently the 3rd of October. I didn’t know about it until the following day, but it seems to me that it’s even more fitting to celebrate Random Acts of Poetry Day on some other, random, day. And since I’m feeling random today, here is a poem for you all. 

Chaos Theory:
Sammy Sandoval meets Sargent Shriver and Edward Lorenz in a young brain on a narrow footpath after dark.

The base beat
of Sammy’s accordion
faded into the night
like a heartbeat
after a long run.

Silence
save for the tap of rubber sole on packed earth,
the trill of the tropical screech owl,
the whisper of moth wings.

Those tiny wingbeats,
creating a tornado,
not on the other side of the world,
But here.
Inside.
Peeling back the roof to expose the beams,
rearranging the furniture,
toppling trees across the path,
hurling the neighbour’s car into my kitchen,
shattering mirrors,
slamming the door to the past.

And the folded bellows
of the future
breathed in and out,
humming in my ears,
masking the click
of the lock behind.

Take Risks. Chase the Truth. Repeat.

Author John Marsden, speaking at the National Writers Forum

I spent the weekend at the National Writers Forum, where I had opportunities to meet lots of other writers and attend sessions on many aspects of the craft and business of putting words on paper to be read by others.

One of the highlights for me was a keynote address by John Marsden, author of Tomorrow When the World Began and many other popular young adult books.

Marsden had many words of wisdom for writers, but two things in particular I thought were actually great advice for life in general, not just for writing.

Marsden encouraged us to take risks, to not write the mundane, the predictable.

Should we not also take risks in life in general? Not the stupid kind like robbing banks or snorting cocaine, but risks that force us to grow. I think about some of the risks I’ve taken in life—serving in the Peace Corps, moving to New Zealand, starting my own business, closing my business in order to write. Every one of those risks taken has caused me grief—emotional, financial, physical—and every one of those experiences has forced me to grow and learn and improve myself.

Even small risks are important to take. For me, going to an event like the writers forum is a terrifying proposition. As an introvert, I have to force myself to attend. I have to plan what I will say to people, come up with a list of questions I can ask well in advance of the event. It takes enormous energy for me to mix and mingle with strangers, and I have to take time out sometimes—take a walk, sit in a quiet corner, or retreat to a toilet stall. This past weekend, the effort took its toll—I slept poorly and have returned emotionally shattered and with a head cold. But I learned a lot and made contacts with other writers. Once I catch up on sleep and the head cold clears, I’ll be a better writer for having gone.

So, where should risk taking be leading us?

Marsden touched on this, too. He said great writing chases the truth but doesn’t reach it.

And a great life chases the truth, recognising we will never reach it, and will always be learning and growing.

Take risks. Chase the truth. Repeat.

Still Life with Insects

I’ve written and discarded half a dozen blog posts over the past week. Nothing seems to be quite right. Out of ideas, I resorted to the book of 500 writing prompts I created for my daughter. A random stab at the non-fiction section of the book brought me to the question: What objects tell the story of your life?

I tried to encapsulate everything in four objects:

The fiddle: made by a neighbour in Panama, given to me for my birthday by my husband. The fiddle not only tells the story of our years living and working among the incredible, resourceful people of Panama, but also tells the story of my lifelong interest in learning to play the violin…an interest which always ended up being pushed aside for other interests. Because I’m interested in learning so many things, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

The beetle puppet represents my insatiable curiosity about arthropods, and how that curiosity has bled into my other interests. Peanut butter jars full of bugs on my dresser when I was a kid led to the entomology degree, which led to teaching about insects at Penn State University, and then starting the Bugmobile. And the puppet is only one of many insect-themed and inspired artistic projects I’ve done over the years, as art and science mingle in my brain.

The gardening gloves speak of my weeding addiction and my love of growing food. The gloves are never more than a month or two old, because I wear through them in that time. I think that says it all about gardening for me.

The rock represents adventure, the natural world, and the wild places I have visited and lived in. Like me, the rock has traveled far and has been changed by the stresses it has experienced along the way.

Good Things Take Time

I’ve had a fascination with reflective fabrics for a while. The amazing reflective fabrics being manufactured today have so many creative possibilities that I itch to get my hands on some of them. Unfortunately, most aren’t available here.

Recently I managed to get my hands on some reflective fabric tape, and designed a new jacket with the tape in mind.

But first I had to turn the tape into piping.

Then I made a few test seams with the piping and the wind-block fleece I’d chosen for the jacket. I found the combination of fabric and piping was singularly unforgiving—the fabric stretched too much, and the seam had to be sewn perfectly to look good. Even the slightest sloppiness caused it to look awful.

That meant hand basting the piping to one side of the seam first, and then hand basting the seam together before sewing it on the machine.

Then each seam needed topstitching to make the most of that precise seam.

The upshot is that every seam on this jacket (to which I added seams for style purposes) has to be sewn five times (two of those times by hand through four layers of quite tough fabric).

What was I thinking?!

I’ll admit that by the time I’d managed the first seam (having had to rip it out twice because it wasn’t perfect), I was nearly ready to scrap the project.

Then I looked at the gorgeous seam I’d just finished.

When I finally do complete this garment, it’s going to be lovely. I’ve chosen fabric I know will look good for a decade or more of hard use. Its reflective piping will give me a measure of safety for the nighttime walks I enjoy. It will be warm, windproof and nearly waterproof. Yes, it will take me quite a bit longer than I’d hoped to make. But, as they say, good things take time.

Throwback Thursday: A Journey with Sammy Sandoval

Home sweet home

I started writing a post about the winter weather we’re experiencing this week, but it was as grey and dull as the sky.

Then my husband played a song by Sammy and Sandra Sandoval, and I was transported back 25 years and 11,000 kilometres to the tropical heat and sun of Panama in 1993, where we served in the Peace Corps.

Like all our neighbours in the province of Coclé, my husband and I loved Sammy and Sandra Sandoval. They would play in the little villages sometimes, and we’d go see them whenever we could. Their music was loud and joyful, and we’d walk hours to pack into a crowded room and dance to it.

But what I remember most is the silent walk home from the first of those dances. Leaving the noise and sweat of the dance hall, we stepped into the dark night of the campo. No lights, no roads, just a packed clay footpath and the sound of music receding behind us.

That walk was magical. I don’t know if the buzz was from the music, the beer (Cold beer! What a luxury!), or the faint glint of moonlight off the palm trees. Most likely, it was from the blessed silence and the recognition that, in walking an hour and a half to dance Panamanian tipico, we’d stepped irrevocably out of our previous lives.

Navigating our way home on a familiar path lit only by moonlight, we traveled much further than the few kilometres of hilly mountain terrain between the dance hall and our house. In that short space, we traversed a one-way path that left our past lives behind. Yes, we’d already made many steps along that path before, but that night was the moment I knew we could never go back. The magic of that moment is that I never heard the door click shut behind us; I only saw the landscape open out in front.

Home Fires Burning

Cat enjoying a good book by the fire.

I woke yesterday morning shivering under the summer quilt on the bed after a restless night listening to icy rain on the roof.

Time to switch to winter mode, I suppose.

I lit the first fire of the season.

It wasn’t long before the cat joined me by the fire. Then my daughter, then my husband, then my son…Nothing like a hearth to draw everyone together.

I think about the angst over today’s youth, separated from face-to-face interactions by their devices, and I think that perhaps what we all need are small, poorly insulated houses heated by inefficient wood burners. In a big, centrally heated house, it’s easy for everyone to retreat to their own rooms—shut the door, pull out the phone and troll the internet. But in our house, the only comfortable room in the winter is the 3×4 m living room. A teen who retreats to their room and shuts the door pretty quickly returns to warm up by the fire.

Yes, we may all sit here doing our own thing, but by gathering around the fire together, we share what we’re doing with each other. Someone might share a good line from the book they’re reading, or show a dumb cat video they thought was funny, or ask for help on a maths problem. Simply by virtue of proximity, we connect in other ways.

I will admit that on winter mornings, crawling out of a warm bed into the freezing air to light the fire, I dream of luxuries like heat pumps. And sometimes it would be really nice to have some space to myself, rather than do my knitting cheek-by-jowl with a teenager practicing a new juggling trick. But on the whole, I suspect the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. We humans are hardwired to sit around the fire talking to one another. Our ways of relating to one another, passing on wisdom and culture, and finding our place in a community evolved around the fire.

So, again this winter, I will keep the home fires burning.

Welcome 2018

The new year is here, and I feel I should declare some resolution to go with it.

But the truth is, I don’t wait for the new year to make resolutions. If I feel a need to work harder, change my life, eat less chocolate (heaven forbid!), or whatever in order to be a better person, I just do it, as soon as I realise I need to. New year or old, it doesn’t matter. Why wait to improve your life or yourself?

And so I come to the new year with a list of to-dos that has little to do with it being 2018 instead of 2017. Oh, there are some big-ticket items there that might be construed as ‘resolutions’, but they’re really just the next step in a progression, and their appearance on my list has nothing to do with the change of year.

So, whether you’ve made resolutions or not, may your new year be full of growth and personal improvement. May you strive to spread love and happiness wherever you go and in whatever you do. If we all do that, think what a fabulous year it will be!

A-Z of Thankfulness–#3

Here’s the final instalment, posted on Christmas day, I hope you all find much to be thankful for today and every day.

Sunshine—The counterpoint to rain, and just as necessary for the garden. It’s also critical for my mental health, and I try to make the most of our sunny days.

Teeth—Where would we be without them? I wish I had appreciated them earlier in life and taken better care of them when I was a teen.

Ukuleles—Who can resist smiling while listening to ukulele music?

Vision—Not just my eyesight, though I appreciate that a great deal, but also the ability to look ahead at what could be. I’ve relied on vision the past twelve years, building a business, and then closing it to become a writer. Many days, that vision has been the only thing getting me out of bed in the morning.

Water—I have not truly experienced a lack of water—not as many people in the world have—but after losing our well in the 2010 earthquake, and experiencing a few years of drought, I have an appreciation for the ease with which I obtain water. I am thankful to have access to clean, safe water.

Xenophilia—The love of the unknown. I love the fact we humans don’t understand everything. I love the fact that in my backyard, there may be insects that have yet to be described by science. I love the fact there are discoveries to be made every day. I love that our world is populated by weird and wonderful life.

Yellow admirals—These butterflies, and all the native insects and spiders in my yard are a source of great pleasure to me. They help me tolerate the weeds, because they rely upon many of them for food and shelter.

Zucchini—How many ways can you eat zucchini? I don’t know, but I love them all. I always plant too many zucchini, and I end up wondering what on earth I’m going to do with them, but they are a wonderful summer staple in our kitchen.

A-Z of Thankfulness–#2

Jumper cables—They bring out the best in everyone. How many times have I stood by my car, cables in hand, and had strangers happy to help? How many times have I had the pleasure of pulling out my cables to help someone else? Wonderful things, those jumper cables.

Knitting needles—My nemesis. I hate them, and I have conquered them. How rewarding is that?

L2—The collective term I use for my children, both of whom have names beginning with L. They have grown into fine young people who I am proud to own up to. I take no responsibility for that—they’ve always been the best kids ever.

Mountains—They make New Zealand what it is. Every time I look west to see their changing faces, I smile.

Nettles—Okay, I’m weird, but nettles growing lush in the garden over winter tell me my soil is rich and fertile. They harbour the caterpillars of beautiful butterflies, and they remind me that things can be useful and irritating at the same time.

Ocean—A critical part of the Earth’s life support system, a source of food, moderator of our weather, a wild and mysterious frontier…and a wonderful place to play on a hot summer day.

Peas, Pumpkins, and Potatoes—Of all the vegetables I grow, these are perhaps the most important. Productive, tasty, and easy to store, they are year-round ingredients in our dinners.

Quiet—There is beauty in silence. I appreciate that every morning when I head out to tend to the animals at 5.30. It’s such a peaceful silent time of day, that even when I don’t really have to get up that early, I’m eager to do so.

Rain—We never get enough of it here, and I’m always thankful when it arrives to water my thirsty garden.

A-Z of Thankfulness–#1

I saw another blogger doing this a few weeks ago and liked the idea. I thought it would be a good set of posts for the holiday season.

Here’s the first instalment—A to I.

Apples—It seems a silly thing to be thankful for, but I eat at least one apple a day. They are my go-to snack. Having lived in the tropics for two years, where apples don’t grow, I am thankful to live in a place where excellent apples are produced and available year-round.

Bees—I’d have no garden if it weren’t for the bees pollinating all my fruit and vegetables. I try to show my thanks by planting flowers they like and managing the garden to maximise nectar throughout the year.

Cat—He’s a real pain in the rear a lot of the time, waking me at four in the morning, getting fur on everything, using furniture as scratching posts. But I appreciate his hunting abilities. This spring was looking bad for rabbits—they seemed to be everywhere, and I was worried they’d cause havoc in the garden and paddocks—but the cat seems to have a particular fondness for rabbit. He seems to have dealt handily with the rabbit problem, saving me a great deal of trouble.

Desk—A space of my own to work. I appreciate this most when I have to spend a few days working in the library, elbow to elbow with strangers, and without my reference books, my porch, and my view.

Earthquakes—I know, it’s a weird thing to be thankful for, but the devastating 2010/2011 earthquakes set into motion a series of events that led to my kids being enrolled in an incredibly supportive school, and to a friendship I value a great deal.

Friends and Family are the obvious answers here, and for the obvious reasons.

Gardening—I am thankful to be able to produce most of our food for the year. I get great pleasure out of gardening, watching the plants grow, and eating the excellent produce I’m able to grow.

Home—Not just a house, but a home. A community in which I feel comfortable. A place I feel I belong. I am blessed to have been welcomed so warmly into this country and this community.

Ian—My best friend, who has stuck by me for over 25 years and is father to my children. If I had nothing but him, it would be enough.