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Sunday, May 22, 2005

I'M LEAVIN' ON A JET PLANE...

"The untented Kosmos my abode,
I pass, a willful stranger
My mistress still the open road
And the bright eyes of danger." Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894 - Ibid "Youth and Love"

The bags are packed. Everything is in order. I went for a delicious massage today and tomorrow I'll get my hair done. Then, by Monday evening we're off on another big adventure!

If you want to keep track of the journey, you'll have to log onto my travel blog:
http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com

First stop, London, then Wales, then onto Greece by May 30. I wont be back until the end of June.
So this is my last "Writer's Life" blog unless the Muse speaks to me urgently to pass on some writer's news. Of course when I get back, I'll continue writing here.

It's been a wild, (somewhat hair-raising) weekend what with the 'almost' loss of my bank cards, and all the last-minute preparations. Last night was a get-together with friends for dinner and later for dancing at the L.Q. -- an early birthday celebration for my friend Suzaki and me, as I'll be in Athens for my birthday and hers. I have this amazing group of friends (old and brand new) who are so supportive, generous and thoughtful. And there we were last night, the gang of us all having such great fun that I was actually asked by a young woman who we were and did we all work together? I guess the thing is at the L.Q. we are kind of the 'in crowd'.

So, before I sign off here, Scott has tagged me, and here's my response:
Total # of books I own? Probably close to 200. A large majority of them are history/research books and books about writing. Some of them are literary magzines.

The last book I bought? Steven Pressfield's "Gates of Fire". Ever since a friend gave me his
"Virtues of War" for my birthday last year, I have become a fan of Pressfield's historical fiction writing and I've read most of what he's written. "Gates of Fire" will be my reading material while I travel. (And yes, I've been to Sparta twice!)

The last book I read? One of the women in my travel writing class loaned me a book by an amazing Czech writer, Josef Skvorecky, "The Swell Season", and I am absolutely captivated by his writing. I've heard his "When Eve Was Naked" is excellent. Mr. Skvorecky now lives in Canada and he's written a great many books and won the Governor General's Award for literature.

Five books that mean a lot ot me? The Tao te Ching, by Lao-tzu. (And along with that,
The I Ching, which I consult regularly.
Robin Lane Fox's "Alexander the Great" one of the best books for researching Alexander.
Plutarch's "Lives of Alexander" and absolutely anything by Mary Renault, in particular
"Fire From Heaven", "The Persian Boy" and "The Mask of Apollo".
And, anything by Steven Pressfield, my current favorite. "Tides of War" was fascinating, and so was "Last of the Amazons."

Okay, that's probably more than five. And there are others, of course.
So, now it's your turn Di, Ozbuoy, Martha, Sam...consider yourself tagged!
(That means you have list yours on your blog site.)

"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." Lao-tzu 604-531 B.C.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

AN ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER

he "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!" Thomas Ken 1637-1711 "Doxology" 1709

Sometimes things happen and you know, for sure, that there are angels looking after you. At least, someone...some unseen Power...Perhaps, in this case, it could even have been Hermes, the traveler's God.

I was out at a friend's last night, and on my way home I stopped by the L.Q. to see what was happening. Immediately, I was invited to a seat at the bar and got into the conversation and music and fun. There was an interesting French man who gave up his seat to me, and later we got into a fascinating literary and intellectual conversation. And my Greek friend was also there, an Athenian, who greeted me warmly, remembering that I'm leaving Monday for Europe. "Agapi mou! Koukla mou!" he said, giving me a big warm hug.

We were having such a great time dancing, then I went to get my purse (which was hanging on the chair under my jacket) and discovered it was unzipped and OH HORRORS! My wallet was missing! MY BANK CARDS! Without them there'd be no holiday for me as I need the debit cards to access my money, some of which won't be deposited til after I'm away. And this weekend is a bank holiday so there would be no chance of me getting them replaced til next Tuesday. (I leave Monday night!)

I was in total shock, numb, but strangely calm, as if it wasn't really happening. I just stood there slowly freaking out, devastated. Then I happened to look down and saw that near my stool in the corner was a black back-pack. Something made me reach down and there, on top of it, was my wallet! All the money, even the coins, were gone (not much more than $15) but the bank cards were still there! Thank God!

A couple of the kind gentleman who were nearby (including the French man) offered to pay for my drinks. Everyone was as relieved as me that I'd found the wallet with the cards intact.
I'm pretty sure I knew who did it ... a young stranger who was standing right next to where my stool was and who had earlier picked a push -and-shove fight with one of the guys. He kept staring at me funny afterwards, in a suspicious way. Of course you can't out-and-out accuse a person unless you catch them in the act, but if I see him there again I will keep my eye on him. AND, I will not be carrying my cards with me when I go out tonight.

I was still shocked when I woke up this morning, and went straight to check for the cards. Yes, they were indeed there! So again (and at least a thousand times) I've thanked God for having that angel watch over me. Now I'm going to be more than cautious. Especially when I'm on the road!

"All's well that ends well; still the fine's the crown; What e'er the course, the end is the renown."
William Shakespeare 1564- 1616 "Twelfth-Night"

Thursday, May 19, 2005

THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MAKE IT ALL WORTHWHILE

"The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions - the little soon forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling." Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 - 1834
" The Friend. The Improvisatore " (1828)

This is the last week of my Spring classes and I'm always a bit sorry when they end. But today I had a beautiful card from one of the people in my novel class that made me feel so good. "It was my first creative writing class, and you and the other amazing students inspired me to keep on trying!" It's little tributes like this that make everything so worthwhile.

Lately I've had so many kind words of praise said to me, and I appreciate this so much.
When I won the trip to Malaysia everyone said "You deserve it!" Wow! I feel so honoured.

It's been another hectic week, winding up the lessons and trying to get everything in order before I leave on my trip. Once again, there's been no time to sit down and write, although this afternoon I printed out the last pages of Part IV so I can see what needs to be added to polish it off. I don't know if I'll meet my goal -- to finish the last chapter of this part it before I leave on Monday -- but I'll try to at least get a little bit more written. I meant to write yesterday, but had to rush around on errands all morning and felt exhausted by the afternoon, in no state to solve the problems of Macedonia and Athens.

Last night was the last "Prompting the Muse" class, and although there were only a few women left in the group, it was an excellent evening of some good writing. Later I went to my favorite haunt, the L.Q., to relax and hear some jazz. Two of my gentlemen friends were waiting for me: my Havana Buddy and the Babylonian, and later Cliffy the dancer came to join us. My Havana Buddy said he'd come especially because he knew he wouldn't see me again before I leave. How thoughtful. And the Babylonian walked me home afterwards. (Earlier in the week I'd done some editing for him. Unfortunately I'll miss the performance he's directing next month. He produces these amazing shows combining art, dance, music, and the spoken word, based on the Sumerian myths of ANU the sun god.)

This morning was the last Memoir's group and we had our usual pot-luck lunch and fond farewells. Then I met awhile with a young writer who is eager to help out with the writer's club.
Now, I'm at home relaxing awhile before leaving for my last Travel writing class (which tonight is travel photography and always a lot of fun!)

So the week is almost over and between a lunch date tomorrow with my travel companion and family members, helping out with the screening of writer's club contest entries on Saturday, dinner with friends and out to celebrate Saturday night, who knows if I will get the time and energy to do any work on the novel.

But I feel good, especially after that thoughtful message I received in the mail today. It has been a job well done, another successful session of writing classes completed. Now I can rest, enjoy my holidays, and somewhere along the road in my travels, hope to find the Muse.

"A novel is a mirror that strolls along a highway. Now it reflects the blue of the skies, now the mud puddles underfoot." Stendhal (Henri Beyle) 1783-1842 "Le Rouge e le Noir" 1830

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

BACK ON TRACK

"It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly a scream pierced the air...Good writing takes enormous concentration." Charles Monroe Schulz Peanuts, 1988.

I love "Peanuts", especially the ones where Charlie Brown is at his typewriter writing. I've got quite a collection of these little gems now. And the quote from above "Good writing takes enormous concentration" is so true!

Today I'm more or less back on track except I had so many little chores to tend to I didn't really get any time to write. One week from today I'll be on a plane flying to London.
So I have to do those mundane chores like dusting, vacuuming, and tidying the apartment.
It wasn't quite as time consuming or difficult as I'd expected though and I did manage to get a great deal done today.

Tonight my Scribbler's critique group came for our weekly meeting and I read the last part of the Athens chapter furthering the political intrigue in my novel. I appreciate the excellent critiques from my writing peers, and was relieved and pleased to get lots of accolades from this particularly difficult piece of writing.
It makes all those hours of sweating it out at the keyboard worthwhile. Now I feel encouraged enough to get back into it again and try to get a little more done before I leave.

Although I've been busy with other stuff, I haven't been entirely neglecting my writing . For one thing, I'm the receiver for the entrants of a one-page prose/poetry contest so I have to read and record each piece that comes through my mail-box. Saturday will be the screening day to choose 10 of each category for the final judging. Friday night I have a board meeting for the poetry collective, and yesterday I spent some time editing and rewriting a director's blurb for my friend, the Babylonian, to go in the program for the show he's directing next month (ANU, which is conceived from the story of the Sumerian sun god and combines spoken word, art, dance and music.) And...for the rest of the week in between I'll be teaching my last classes.

If I can get just another little bit of my novel done this week I'll be happy. While I'm away I will make more "Shadow" notes, random writings, get ideas for travel stories, and hope that the Muse speaks to me about my Sappho play.

"Some writers take to drink, others take to audiences."
Gore Vidal (Interview in Paris Review 1981.)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A BIT OF R&R

"If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing."
Herodotus 485-425 "Histories" bk II ch 173


Last week was so hectic for me, no time at all to do any serious writing although I did take time to make a few queries regarding some travel articles I'd sent out. I got called in for three shifts at the daycare, which I appreciated, as every cent counts now toward my living expenses and trip fund. One more week and I'm away!

So after a busy week -- all work and no time for play, I decided to make this a party weekend.
A little rest and relaxation were definitely needed! I worked for several hours Friday at the daycare, (when I'd thought it would be a writing day) and Friday late afternoon my good friend Rosie came to spend the night after hauling all her belongings from the Interior to one of the nearby towns where she'll be managing a neighbourhood pub for the summer. We spent a lovely time over dinner catching up on news then went out dancing to the Latin Quarter. As usual met up with several friends there and had a great time.

Saturday morning Rosie and I met my travel partner, Ingrid, for brunch to talk about last-minute plans for our trip. Later, I'd arranged to introduce my Havana Buddies to my son Steve as they have his CD and play it on their radio shows. So off we went to the Cottage Bistro for the Sat. afternoon jam (hosted by Steve and his Westcoast Blues Review) where we met up with two more of my long-time girlfriends, Jude & Cheryl, and later Rosie joined us too. A great time was had by all, many jugs of beer, good food, a bit of dancing to the Blues. I enjoy going to hear my son play and also the other musicians who I know. You can catch a bit of their music and band news on their website: http://members.shaw.ca/westcoastblues
After a rousing afternoon at the jam, Jude drove me out to the 'burbs where I met up with my pal Suzaki.

I spent the night at her place, which is right on the edge of a woods and a river. She made a delicious dinner, we drank a lot of good wine, danced salsa and talked the night away. This morning we went for a river walk and she showed me the tiny baby salmon that have hatched in the spawning pools. I just got home awhile ago. Rosie was still here packing up and heading out to the country. Now I have to regroup and organize myself for the coming week.

"Tomorrow I purpose to regulate my room."
Samuel Johnson 1709-1784 "Prayers and Meditations" 1785.

I've got one week left and then I'm off another great adventure! This means I have to put my house in order for the young lady who's coming to house-sit. I hope I get time to do a bit more work on my novel. Tomorrow night is my writer's critique group (at my place) and I'll read the rest of the Athens chapter to them. I have so little left to do for Part IV and would love to finish it before I go. But it depends if I get any more daycare calls. My classes wind up this week too, which means I'm teaching three nights and Thursday morning. And Friday is a board meeting for the poetry collective. So although I am not able to spend all my time writing, I am still involved in writing-related activities.

Sometimes I write on another blog site as well, "Conversations With Myself"
at http://ruthakik.blogspot.com Just daily chit-chat.

And when I go away I'm going to set up a new blog spot specifically for my travel adventures. I'll post the address as soon as I get it started.

For now, I must clear up the clutter, sort out my belongings, take a good look at what I need to work on next for my novel, and then I can relax.

"We hold the period of youth sacred to education, and the period of maturity, when the physical forces begin to flag, equally sacred to ease and agreeable relaxation."
Edward Bellamy 1850- 1898 "Looking Backward, 2000-1887" ch 6



Thursday, May 12, 2005

MY OTHER LIFE

"Age does not make us children, as they say,
It only finds us true children still." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749- 1832
Faust (1808-1832) The First Part. Prelude on the Stage.

There's another side to my life besides writing. Being a Gemini I have various personas, and one of them (for over 30 years) has been as a daycare supervisor. I came into this profession, after my marriage ended and I had to find word again. For seven years, after leaving my newspaper profession, I had been a stay-at-home-Mom. Suddenly I was left adrift with two kids to support. Encouraged by my former work colleagues at the newspaper, I reapplied to get back into my old position of new librarian. Unfortunately, a new rule had come into being: you had to have a library science degree. And a degree in journalism. My seven years experience, starting from my apprenticeship as 'copy runner' (intern) in the editorial dept. to news librarian (in the 'morgue') in charge of crime and bio files didn't count for dick. I had to find a new career.

For awhile I worked in an office. But my creative mind is not cut out for the mundane chores of filing, typing and especially doing invoices. I was working in a trucking firm and it nearly drove me to distraction. Meanwhile, I had chosen a new career in Early Childhood Education, because during my stay-at-home life I'd run a little nursery school at my home. (Since my daughter was too shy to go and play with other kids, I figured I'd organize them.)

It took me two years of night school to complete the courses and get licensed and when I did get a job in a daycare the pay was rock-bottom. But at least it was more interesting and challenging than office work. If I had known then, what the reality was: that there were no benefits, the pay would always be ridiculously low, and in the end all you get is a kick in the head after all the years spent dealing with other people's children and problems, I'd probably have chosen a different career. But what? All I ever wanted to do was to be a writer.

Over thirty years later, daycare supervisor still my other profession. However, I gave up full-time work 12 years ago in favour of allowing myself more time for writing and travel. I've never regretted it. In fact, I should have 'retired' several years ago, but economics keeps me going. And perhaps the fact I'm a child at heart and love being with the kidlets is another incentive.

So this week, again, I am spending time with the children. The only centre I work at now is an under 3's and the little ones are so adorable it's hard to resist them. I am also very fond of my work colleagues. We are like a family. And I am a kind of surrogate grandma there which is OK with me.

I'm only working about 10% of my time in the daycare now. The rest is writing time, either at my own work or teaching. And that makes me happy. But it's also fun to be with the little ones once in awhile.

Today I indulged myself with some of the perks of being a travel writer when I was invited on a media tour of a cruise ship. How posh! And very interesting -- sponspored by Health Canada to demonstrate the health and safety regulations aboard ship. The morning ended with a delicious gourmet meal. And although the ship never left the dock, it gave me a new incentive to plan for an Alaskan cruise one of these days. Maybe when I'm 75!

Tomorrow, in between my Memoir class and my Travel Writing class, I'm working another four hour shift at the daycare. A long day, but it's sure to be rewarding. The little folk are hard to resist!

"Suffer the little children to come until me, and forbid them not; for of such is the Kingdom of God." The Holy Bible. Matthew 10:14


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

PROCRASTINATION

"Procrastination is the thief of time." Edward Young 1683-1765

OK, I titled this with that nasty word. PROCRASTINATION. One of the enemies of every writer.
Something that we all must overcome. And it ain't easy!

I could win awards for procrastinating. Once I let myself stray off my routines, it takes me days to get back on again. I'm a master at finding other things to do. Distractions surround me. I lose all sense of discipline. Actually, the truth is I've been very busy with other tasks, which include teaching classes (writing classes), so I'm not too far off track. But finding time to get myself back into the world of my novel after I've been away from it a few days, requires some concentration.

I keep a calander up on the wall beside my computer. I mark on it every bit of time each day I spend on writing or writing related activities. This is one way I have of helping me stay focused. If I start seeing too many blanks, I know I've got to get back into the routine again.
Going away for a weekend like I did when I went to the island with my writer's group, got me off my routines for a few days. By this past weekend I hadn't spent much time on my novel and I knew I had to get back into it or I'd never finish the chapter I had been so diligently working on. But I kept finding things to distract me, procrastinations...little tasks like cleaning drawers or sorting out papers, doing crosswords, (even writing blogs!)
Til finally I knew I had to buckle down. So I did. And once I got back into Alexander's world again, I forgot all those other things there were to do and made myself stay at the computer (stop checking e-mail, wait til late at night to read friend's blogs, limit the number of solitaire games and crosswords I do -- which I usually like to do just to quiet my mind.)
And, this afternoon I finished another chapter of my novel. Tomorrow I will begin the next.
Maybe by the time I leave for my vacation I'll have completed another part and will be that much closer to the end.

"Lost time is never found again" Benjamin Franklin 1706--1790

Each month, on my calendar, I make three small goals for myself. This month's goals are:
Finish Part IV of Shadow
Send out more travel articles
Write more travel articles

So far (and it's only May 9) I've come one big step closer to finishing Part IV. I've sent out a couple more travel articles. (Today I learned that one I'd sent a few months ago is going to be published soon, and another editor requested I resend her a story about Marrakech.)
I spent some of my writing time today sending out queries about stories I'd marketed 2 months ago. Last Thursday I wrote a new article and Saturday I did some research for it on the internet so I can add to it and get it sent off.

Sometimes you have to let yourself spend a bit of time procrastinating. The trick is to know when to stop and get down to business. And once you do, it's surprising how much you can accomplish!

"Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend."
Theophrastus 278 BC ( from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers bk V, sec 40)




Saturday, May 07, 2005

MORE THEATRE AND TRAVEL WRITING

"Let us sacrifice to the Muses."
(from Plutarch, The Banquet of the Seven Wise Men) Solon, 638-559 BC

Another week has wound down, and it has been full of writing activities as well as a little pleasure. Yesterday the travel writers held a coffee-workshop downtown at the Art Gallery Cafe. Nothing like a deadline to get the creative gears in motion! I have so many travel stories as yet unwritten, because I've been focusing mostly on my novel. So I dug some notes out of the pile of 'to-do's' and put together a short article, mainly so I'd have something to take along with me.

I visited the O'Keefe Ranch last summer and was quite impressed with this little piece of B.C. heritage, so I'd made some notes and from these I wrote a quick little piece and took it along in it's virgin form, to be workshopped. There were five of us, and everyone had brought something new to read. I must say I felt appologetic about my attempt as it seemed 'flat' compared to how I usually write. But squeezing a story into 500 words ain't easy!
At any rate, everyone thought it was great, although we all agreed it needed some colouring up. So today I got on the internet and found a few m ore details that I can add to it.
One good thing about these travel writer's workshops is that we exchange markets as well as critiques so I came home with a list of possibilities. Besides that, it was a lovely afternoon out on the patio exchanging news and chit-chat with people of like mind. Of course there were a lot of congratulations for my Big Win too, and some suggestions and advice about Malaysia from a couple of the women who have been there. (All good!)

In the evening I attended another of the new play reading series. This time a play by an Aboriginal woman playwright, Is There Bingo In Heaven which was delightfully funny as well as poignant. (I used to live with a bingo freak so I got quite a chuckle out of it.)
I saw other friends at the play as well, and afterwards headed back to my 'Hood to my favourite hangout, the LQ. Lots of friends there too, and everyone all excited for me about my Big Win. "You really deserve it," they all said. Which made me feel pretty good.

At the workshop in the afternoon we'd been talking about all these publications that don't pay us for our writing. Sometimes you have to 'prostitute' yourself just to get something in print for experience sake, but it always chokes me up when you get a big piece, that you've slaved over for weeks, published and find out the publication doesn't pay. OK, my Coal Mines story is out there at a few other plaes, one of them in England, so hopefully it will eventually make me a few dollars. And I've just submitted it to an anthology. But, in the meantime, I feel that my Big Win has kind of 'paid' for all those unpaid articles and the FAM trips I've missed out on. So yes, I guess I really did 'deserve' it.

Well, the day ended happily and I came home feeling satisfied and somewhat elated from all the accolades. Today I'm going to a friend's book signing (children's lit); and tomorrow night another play reading, this time it's Michael Ondaaje's Coming Through Slaughter which I've heard is very good.

"True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy to pomp and noise: it arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one's self; and, in the next, from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions." Joseph Addison, 1672-1719

Friday, May 06, 2005

REWARDS

"The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it."
Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882

It's been a busy week since I got back from the island. No time to do my own writing. But there's been some rewards in it and a very big surprise!

One of the things I find most rewarding about being a writing instructor, is not only the interesting, talented people you meet, but taking on the role of 'mentor' to up-and-coming young writers. I had this kind of experience this week when I went to a local school and did a presentation for a program called "Off the Page." This is a special program involving B.C. writers who are chosen by the Federation to participate. It's the second time I've been selected and to me, this is a reward and a great honour.

This year I went to a grade seven class. The teacher requested I do something with an Egyptian theme, as the children have been studying Egypt. It happens that part of my novel is set in Egypt (Alexander the Great founded Alexandria; the famous Cleopatra is a descendant of the Macedonian royalty.) I had several objects including the carcass of a real scarab beetle to take for 'show and tell'. And I read to them from my novel Shadow of the Lion, a scene with the little son of Alexander and some Egyptian children. I talked to the class about how I did my research, my own interest in Egyptian history, including several visits to the British Museum to look at the Egyptian display (a room full of mummies!). I handed out photocopies of a picture of Cleopatra and her cartouche and also Alexander's cartouche.

As the teacher had requested I do a writing exercise with the class, I copied a fascinating Egytpian painting of a family on a fowling expedition in which they were using a retriever cat. Yes, a cat that retrieved birds. How novel! I asked the children to write a story about the picture.

The children were told by the teacher that they could plan their story by 'webbing' the plot or any way they wanted. I was quite impressed at how much about writing they knew. I had explained to them that I started writing historical fiction while in grade seven. Back then there was little or no encouragement for young writers like me. Things have certainly changed, and these children produced some excellent stories.

It was an enriching experience for me to be there to share my knowlege as a writer with the children, just as it has been for me teaching the night school adult classes. I have met some excellent people in my classes, and some wonderfully talented writers. What I can share with them, the encouragement I can give, is rewarding to me as well as helpful to them.

"Tell the boys I've got the Luck with me now."
Francis Brett Harte 1836-1902 "The Luck of Roaring Camp" 1868

Then, midweek, comes the Big Reward! When I got home yesterday afternoon there was a message from one of my travel writer friends. I thought it was about a workshop meeting we're having tomorrow. Instead, she said to me: "Pack your bags. You're going to Malaysia!"
I could hardly believe my ears. She told me then, that I had won an all expense paid trip to Malaysia, courtesy of Malaysian tourism and the Travel Writer's Association. I was completely flabbergasted! Several months ago there had been a Travel Writer's gala and one of the sponsors was Malaysian Tourism. The door prize, this trip, was won by another travel writer but after a few weeks it was announced he couldn't accept the prize so there was to be a redraw. I completely forgot my name was in the hat. So it was a total surprise to me yesterday when I was told I had won. This is my reward for all the FAM trips I've missed out on, the stories I've had published that paid little or no money, and all my hard work at my classes and with my own writing. Because this destination is one I've longingly looked over brochures about knowing I could never afford to go there on my shoestring budget. So now I am getting an all-expense paid trip, first class, and I can go any time within a year so it gives me lots of time to research it and orient myself.

These little unexpected blessings are my rewards for which am I truly grateful!
It makes all the hours sitting behind the computer and teaching classes worthwhile.
And I know there's more good things to come.

Even if I didn't get time to work on my novel this week, I still feel I've accomplished a lot. And the weekend's coming up with more play readings and social events. Somewhere in there I will try to get sometime else written...more of my novel and perhaps a new travel article to take to the workshop tomorow afternoon.

"...we find at the end of a perfect day
The soul of a friend we've made." Carrie Jacobs Bond 1862 - 1946

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

TREADING THE BOARDS

"Players and the painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of."
William Butler Yeats 1865- 1939 "The Circus Animal's Desertion, II st 3

I've always loved the theatre and in my youth used to imaging becoming an actor. I did act, for awhile, and wrote plays, beginning when I was about 8 years old. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I had a major play successful produced. Since then I've been trying (in vain, so far) to get at least another reading of it as the dramature suggested if I did, I'd have no trouble publishing.

I started writing another play a couple of years ago, set it aside, then last Fall was invited into a playwright's workshop at the Playwright's Centre. This was a huge thrill and I was delighted to be included. There were six of us under the mentorship of the director of the Centre. I put aside my novel and concentrated on my play, House of the Muses, which is about the lyric poet Sappho. Unfortunately, it was a big disappointment when I didn't get the enthusiastic critiques I'm used to getting for my novel, so I decided to set the play script aside for awhile and take a new look at it later. Besides, I needed to get my novel finished.

This week there is a week-long festival of new play readings at the Centre. I attended one last night and it was great schmoozing with the theatre folk. I met up with two women actor friends and saw two of the playwrights who had been in my workshop group. Neither of them have finished their plays, so it made me feel like less of a 'failure'. I also spoke to the director who I was pleased to see again. I came away, after watching the reading of the new play, with some good insights into the things I can do to improve my own script. And I am hoping to attend a few more readings later in the week. It's all by 'donation' so it is a really excellent chance to see some wonderful new plays being presented. (And I will continue dreaming that one of these days my play will be read at one of the festivals.)

One of my destinations this June is to return to the island of Lefkada and take the boat trip around Cape Doukas to Sappho's Leap, the cliff where the poet reputedly committed suicide. It was on the beach below this cliff that I first conceived the idea for House of the Muses.
So I'm hoping that when I return there it will conjur the Muse and I will get some fresh ideas about how to stage it. My problem was, as a historical novel writer, I am used to including lots of information and what I need to do for a historically-based stage play, is to narrow down the focus and concentrate on only a specific aspect of the poet's life. I am considering using mostly monologues and trying to figure out which characters are necessary to the story.
I'm sure it will all come to me eventually. It's a great idea for a play and I've had some enthusiastic response to the early work. It wasn't my writing that was critiqued 'negatively', but the content of the story (too much and too large a cast). So it's just a matter of paring it down. I'll get it. I know I will. And hopefully will see it staged one day!

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players..." William Shakespeare "As You Like It"

Monday, May 02, 2005

HAIKU IN A JAPANESE GARDEN: A Romantic Springtime Retreat

"An old pond-
A frog leaping in -
The sound of water." Matsuo Basho 1644-1694

This weekend my writer's group, The Scribblers, had one of our bi-annual retreats to one of the lovely Gulf Islands. We've been doing this for over ten years, always to the same lodge and the same two units. It's something that makes our critique group unique. We are very much a 'family' and spend the weekend having fun, doing writing exercises, hiking, and enjoying each other's company in a relaxed atmosphere. Each time, we have a different theme. This time it was Romantic Springtime.

You can read more of the details of our weekend on my other blog http://ruthakik.blogspot.com "Conversations With Myself". Here, I want to tell about one of the most lovely things we did this weekend, and that was a visit to a Japanese Garden, built by the islanders as a memorial to the Japanese farmers who once resided there and were interned during the Second World War. We'd been there last Fall and decided to return this Spring, in particular to write some haiku.

It was a beautiful sunny day. The garden was glorious with flowers: rhododendrums, azaleas, magnolias, tulips, and many other flowers and flowering shrubs. We wandered around the garden and stopped to write. Some of the members had never written haiku before and it was amazing to find how many verses were written during our visit to that inspiring, serene place.

Here's some of mine:
Through the cedar gate
a winding path, tall fir trees.
Birds' welcoming song.

Pink cherry blossoms
float among the lily pads.
The stone heron waits.

The wild strawberries
blooming, pink among green leaves.
Bees search for pollen.

There were a number of magical moments during the weekend, which enhanced one of the writing exercises : to write a magical realism story.
The first evening, on our midnight walk, a late-rising gibbous moon, the sky brilliant with stars, Suzaki showing us the various constellations: a bright meteorite with a long silver tail streaked across the heavens.
"A poem is a meteor." Wallace Stevens 1879-1955 "Opus Posthumous 1957. Adagio"
Down at the beach, the phosphorous in the water glimmered like tiny stars. And off-shore, we could hear the barking of the sea-lions on the reef. Our Dora loves calling to them, and amazingly they answer her call!

We spotted various eagles soaring during our hikes; saw a playful little otter diving for his lunch; startled a number of deer along the roadways. (The island deer are quite tame!) Suzaki is the bird-watcher and added a number of species to her list.

I love the forest at this time of year with all the little mayflowers blooming like tiny stars among the salal and bracken, and the bright yellow broom blazing among the new green leaves.

"Pause and hear the sound
of the waterfall splashing.
Sun dapples the pond."

"Willow dips her leaves.
Reflections of trees on pond.
Waterfall gurgling."

Saturday night we dressed up in our 'romantic' gowns, ate a delicious gourmet dinner, afterwards read selections of romantic poetry and listened to romantic music.

Sunday we always go to what we call "The Circle Tree", which is in an arbutus grove up on the mountainside. The tree has grown into a circle, so you can sit on the curve of its trunk. In the grove is an old stump, and inside a small secret hole we have hidden a cache of messages, written over the years and stored in film cannisters. This is our 'time capsule' of Scribbler's notes. We drink a toast of wine to the Muses and the Forest Spirits, and toss the dregs into the earth, a ritual we've been practicing for all the times we've been coming to the island.

"Clear cascades!
Into the waves scatter
Blue pine needles." Basho

In the afternoon we had a reading of the magical reaslism stories. At first people weren't sure about how they'd write one, but it was amazing to hear the results. Everyone agreed it was a great idea, a new challenge, and a new genre to explore.

These retreats are what make our critique group special. This time there were ten of us (7 women, 3 men). We are a 'family' of writers. We are special.

"Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine --
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine."
Edgar Allan Poe 1809 - 1849 "To One in Paradise." 1834. St 1.