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Billions and Billions ...

Going through bookmarks (in your web browser) that have been collected and organized and reorganized over the course of six or seven years seems a thankless task. That is, until you come across those random little gems that you know darn well weren't easy to find and still give you pleasure or tweak a spark of interest. Those bookmarks are the reason I don't just go all Dalek on them, squawking "EXTERMINATE" as I do a mass delete of every single one.

For me, it's definitely worth taking the time to go through and pare them down until the only ones I have left are the ones that:

a) still give me pleasure
b) relate to something current in my life

In some cases - and I especially found this with my writing bookmarks - I would get down to two or even three bookmarks from different sources but that all provided essentially the same information. What's a girl to do?

Pick the prettiest one, of course!

Seriously, when it gets down to a situation like that, you've got to have criteria to help you narrow it down, and if I can get the same information from a page that is visually appealing and maybe even fun to look at rather than one that's hard on my eyes or kind of, well, boring ... Easiest. Choice. Ever.

In other news, I nearly finished knitting the second glove of a pair but had to frog it back to the beginning because, for some reason still unknown to me, it had my wrist - to say nothing of my hand - in a grip worthy of a boa constrictor; I've read 1 out of 45 books from a self-made list supplemental to my everyday reading, for a project I'm working on - this one was SARK's Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper; and dancing even remotely like the dancers in this video still gives me happy tingles, over two years later.

Honouring the Tools of the Trade

I have an almost-sorta-not-really cold right now, and I'm using it as an excuse to linger over my morning coffee and browse Pinterest, poke around on Ravelry and reflect on how things have been the last few weeks. One of the things that is tickling me the most right now ~ and bear with me on this ~ is that I have stopped biting my nails. It's a habit that developed for reasons too embarassing to admit, and I am ecstatic to break it.

Okay, I will admit it: I knew someone else who, at the time, was close to me and had been biting their nails forEVER, and I decided to take it upon myself to start biting my nails and then, you know, stop. To show them that, um, yeah, totally possible to stop!

The joke was on me. That habit plagued me for ten years.

(And by the way, I'm not in touch with that person any more, for reasons unrelated to nailbiting, so I can't sashay up to them and say, "SEE? I told you it was possible!!!")

But anyway, I'm not telling you this to gross you out. I wanted to talk about why I stopped. I mean, yeah, there are good and legitimate reasons like it's unhygenic and affects the integrity of your nails over the course of time. And I am grateful for those reasons. But when you're sitting there, staring at your hands, feeling the urge to nibble away just one more time ... those relatively far-off consequences don't do much to curb your enthusiasm.

Here's the kicker: I do a lot with my hands. I write. Knit. Bake. Cook. Dance. Crochet. Read. The activities I do with my hands mean a lot to me, and yet I've gotten incredibly adapt over the years at hiding. When I take someone's hand to dance with them, I cringe as their finger accidentally brushes over a ragged cuticle. When I show someone my latest pair of fingerless gloves, I nonchalantly curl my fingers under. And when I offer a plate of baked goods, I hope they're staring at the jam oozing from between the cookie layers rather than at ... you guessed it! My hands.

Now, a lot of this was probably me being overzealous but, in any case, I was tired of hiding. My hands do good work, and this is how I repay them? By being ashamed of them?

So ... I stopped.

I'm on day four of Rescue Mission: Victoria's Nails, and I can't help smiling every time I look down at my hands. They're not pristine, they're still a little funky, but they're getting better, and you know what? To me, they're beautiful. And that makes this so, so worth it.

Bosom Buddy Recipes

The book that currently has me staying up so late that I wake up bleary is Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. Each chapter, or vignette, is rarely more than a few pages long, not including the recipe(s) that end each section, and so I find myself saying, “Just one more ...” And then there’s the fact that I always want to EAT after reading A Homemade Life, even if I’m not hungry. Molly is wacky and witty, and wowzer, does she ever have a knack for talking about food! Take, for example, this depiction of her father’s stewed prunes:

“[T]he prunes hardly counted as dried fruits anymore; they were now soft, silky pockets of juice. When you scooped one up, it would slump wearily on the spoon, as though it had been woken up too early. Its skin would yield to the tooth with a gentle, dainty pop, and underneath, the flesh was lip-lickingly sweet, winey, and complex.” (A Homemade Life, trade paperback, page 48)

If you need more convincing, go and investigate Molly’s blog Orangette. Otherwise, go find that book! If you are a lover of food or memoirs or Paris, you won’t regret it.

But, fun as it is to chat up books of awesomeness, that’s not all I wanted to say today. What I did want to talk about is this.

You know those moments when you read a book, be it fiction or non-fiction, and you say, “Yes! I understand their sentiments exactly! I could have written this bit!” Yeah. I’ve had a few of those moments with A Homemade Life, but few more keen than this:

“I have this funny thing about recipes. When I find one that I like, I have a hard time trying others. ... I’m loyal and sentimental and possibly even boring. When something clicks with me, I want to keep it around.” (page 171)

Yes! Me! Oh, oh, pick me!

There are several recipes that fall into this category for me. One in particular stands out, and that is the "short" scones I’ve been making ever since reading Judith Ryan Hendricks’ Bread Alone in my mid-teens. The first time I made them, likely at midnight, likely when I was stressed beyond belief about something I can’t remember anymore, I knew we were soulmates. Cutting the butter in by hand, feeling the dough come together until I felt the powdery, pea-sized lumps under my fingers, kneading in the citrus-soaked cranberries, and then keeping a careful eye on the array of misshapen triangles in the depths of the oven ... they had my full attention.

Not gonna lie, the scones were delicious. But by the time they came out of the oven, they had done the work I needed them to. The tension had drained out of my body and I was just about ready for bed.

For days afterwards, the supply of scones on the counter slowly diminished until, at long last, they were gone. And I think I made another batch. Not because I needed to but because I wanted to. Remember the conversation we had the other day about product versus process? These scones are (almost) all about the process for me. They are my Holy Grail of baked goods. So even though I make other scones, from other recipes, and maybe even tinker with those recipes a little, this one ain’t gonna change. It has soothed me through too many midnight/2 AM/3 PM baking sessions for that.

As of this morning, I read the final pages of A Homemade Life, and feel like I have just finished an extremely satisfying meal of everything I love to eat with a few pleasant surprises thrown in. And, yes, it's made me rather hungry! Time to rummage in the kitchen ... I think there are some caramelized onions and feta just begging to be thrown into an omelette.

What's your bosom buddy, forever friends recipe? Do you dare tweak it or do you keep it just as it is?

Process or Product?

One of the questions that comes up from time to time among knitters - and, come to think of it, anyone who creates something - is whether you're about the process or the product. Is it the zen of the yarn slipping from finger to needle that gives you pleasure, or is it just a means to a cozy end? I've been wondering about this lately, especially as I went on a knitting/crocheting binge in December and early January, only to come to a screeching halt.

When I write, I find a happy medium. I think I have to, to stick with it. Going on adventures with my characters, putting them through dire straits and seeing exactly how banged up they are upon emerging, and getting them out of messes when they've suffered enough ... that's what keeps me up into the wee hours of the morning, tapping away on the keyboard until my eyes are like saucers. But when it's not going so well, when the words just don't want to come, it's the thought of reaching the finish line that makes me sit down and eke out just enough to keep myself in the writerly loop.

When I knit, though, (or crochet, but let's keep things simple) much as I think the act of knitting is pretty cool, I don't feel that kind of meditative feeling. Having something to do while I watch TV or chat with friends is awesome, but it's because I like productivity. It's when I sew in the last end on a finished project, or pick it up gingerly after blocking it and letting it dry, that a warm, tingly sense of satisfaction crawls down my spine.

Beginning of February, and I'm picking up the needles again. Maybe someday, I'll discover that feeling that goes with the act of knitting itself, but for now, seeing the look on someone's face when I hand them something they've been craving or something I just knew would suit them - owl mittens, or a Jayne hat, or a felted turquoise purse - that's enough to keep me knitting for a long, long time to come.

(Knitting in Public, December 2011)

What about you, knitters, writers and crafters? Are you about the process, the product or both?

The Road Ahead

When life knocks me sideways, there's a few things I rely on to set me back on the right path. Solving pages of algebra equations is one of them. And sometimes, if it's a real hard knock, I do some soul-searching. Am I still on the road I want to be on, or did I take a left turn somewhere? And if I did take a left turn, was it serendipitous or calamitous?

Whether I've wound up someplace I don't want to return to or a beautiful oasis I might never have otherwise discovered, I've always learned something along the way, something I can take with me. And sometimes, that hard knock gives me just the kick in the pants I need to re-evaluate who I am, where I'm going, what I'm doing. Even as the shock is subsiding, the energy is vibrating, and it can take you over, or you can use it to create or discover something totally, passionately, unabashedly you.

And when the dust settles, and you're emerging out the other side, you might just be able to say to yourself, "Hey, I know you're exhausted, but orange you glad you did it?" And you might roll your eyes, or you might chuckle at your inner toddler, but the answer might just be, "Yes!"

And then, without skipping a beat:

"What's next?"

(Cemetery Path, October 2011)

Getting to the End

I made a committment this year to participate in jonowrimo, a writing challenge from September 14th to December 1st. Being about three-fifths through the rough draft of a WIP, my goals are as follows:

- outline the last two-fifths
- write the last two-fifths
- move forward with editing (depending how soon I finish the rough draft, I may only have time for a set-aside period, or I might be able to get going on the actual editing - we shall see!)

Last night I took care of task number one - yay! My hands were sore by the end because I kept stretching them over my head and clenching them - the events of the final scenes were stressing me out (I am muchly attached to these characters and have a love/hate relationship with sending them into dire straits).

Three Things I Learned Whilst Outlining:

1. If you can't figure out what your main character would do next, think about what your antagonist would do next, and the road ahead tends to unfog

2. Looking at the closing scenes of books like Maggie Stiefvater's Linger is not only entertaining but sometimes groundbreaking

3. The Torchwood soundtrack works miracles (no pun intended, to those who watch it)

I probably could have spaced out the outline between yesterday and today, but I got to the point where it was like, Why? I did almost get to the point where it felt like my brain was going to spark, fizz, and burn out, but there are a few things I do to combat that ...

Victoria's Ways to (hopefully) Avoid Writerly Burnout:

1. Watch beautiful music videos with a totally different tone than what you're writing. This was one of my choices last night.

2. Declutter - productively, not just moving stuff from place to place

3. Read something rich in detail - for me, this was Peter Ackroyd's London. I will talk about my love for this book another time, but let's just say when you've been caught up in little but plot-character-plot-character, this book drops you smack in the middle of London and reminds you, Oh, right - this is why I was setting it in the Victorian era! That's the feel I want to capture!

4. Knit - preferably a project you love

5. Read a good book - not something that will aid your WIP, not something to read as a writer (although sometimes it's hard not to do that) but something you just really want to read

How do you avoid burning out after an intense WIP session?

Stubborness DOES Equal Progress!

The Cat of Doom - eet is complete! With a little sticktuitiveness, Bryan Adams and chocolate chips, I settled into a chair this evening and didn't get up until it was done.

Minus getting up for the chocolate chips. And scissors. And the power cord for my laptop ...

The Cat of Doom is the critter on the left. My right. I think.

A couple more details still to be done (eyes, whiskers, etc.) but this was the brunt of the work right here. Months of stressing and eet is complete in one evening! Bah.

Truth be told, my nickname for this project is no reflection on the pattern or the wool or anything other than myself. It was ridiculously fun to work on when I finally got to it.

Other crafty accomplishments achieved recently ... I totally finished one of the Rose wristwarmers, just in time for autumn's (near) arrival:

Pretty Picture!Collapse )

And also finished the torso and one sleeve of a baby sweater. (No pictures for now.)

Some of these projects have been hanging on me for so long, it feels so good to get them done! Now to keep on keeping on ...


Harry, a History

Harry, a History: the True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon is the answer to many a Potter fan's hazy memories. No matter how much fun you had or how many midnight releases you attended, chances are likely some of the best times have slipped your mind by now. This book, written by Melissa Anelli [webmistress of one of Harry Potter's most fabulous fansites, the Leaky Cauldron], is a must-read for almost any fan.

Those who are looking for an inside look to J.K. Rowling's writing process will be disappointed, although there are a few allusions to that side of the fence. Rather this is a true story about the remarkable team [publishing professionals and others besides] who took a chance on Harry Potter; the fans who pushed its popularity to the brink; and the worldwide developments that nudged it right over. If you didn't realize exactly how much the growing net of the Web helped build this nurturing, ultra-connected and sometimes rabid fandom, Harry, a History makes it clear: this was a collaborative effort to global extremes.

If you weren't into the fanfiction or conference buzz, there's something here for you, too, especially if you reside or have any interest in the publishing world. Anelli has done her research, combining words and numbers to paint the picture of a remarkable publishing journey for each of the books in turn. For example, the midnight release, now so ubiquitous to the Potter world, came about only from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire onwards.

Melissa's own personal journey, both as a fan and a journalist, also provide inspiration and food for thought, and the part where she describes exactly what made her cry upon reading Deathly Hallows - provoking a reflection on the past seven years of her life - made me not just tear up for her, but for myself: for the lessons I learned from Harry Potter, the times of awesomeness it provided, and the journey I've taken since I was introduced to the series by a next-door neighbour, around the time Goblet of Fire came out in 2000. For books one to six, I was younger than the main characters. By the release of Deathly Hallows, I was seventeen, and felt like I had taken the journey with Harry, Ron and Hermione. Reading Harry, a History reminded me of that feeling in the best possible way.

As I mentioned earlier, this will probably not be the book for you if you're looking for a major behind-the-scenes scoop on your favourite characters or the writing process: rather, it's about the people who made the series happen, not least of all J.K. Rowling, who makes several memorable appearances throughout this book, some of which are incredibly candid. But if you read the books and enjoyed them, I think there's something to be said for reading Harry, a History, even if all you do is flip through it until your gaze lands on something that intrigues you.

I can practically guarantee that it will.

Plans for Today

Beyond the obligatory, here are my plans for today [I'm putting them down here in hopes that the accountability factor will help me cross them off!]:

- play tennis
- research article for Calliope
- sew beads onto mitten for owl eyes
- cook something from a new-to-me recipe
- tidy the mess scattered across my room [more on this later]
- read a bunch of Wuthering Heights
- read a bunch of Bloodhound (Tamora Pierce)
- write for at least fifteen minutes

And maybe a few other things, but that's all I'll put for now. I'll be back later to see how I did!

How about you? What are your plans for the day?

On the Other Side of the Door

As in most things in life, when it comes to the link between clutter and productivity, people are split: some say tackling the mounds of paper is just another way to put off the writing, so shove it in a box and get down to the real work.

I belong to the other camp. Clearing clutter - not sweeping it under the bed but actually sorting it into piles and tackling them [aka shredding, filing, donating, et cetera] - is one of the only fail-safe methods I have for getting out of a writing-rut [particularly when that rut involves not writing at all]. And it doesn't just have to be paper. The other day, I took on two projects of seemingly small size but really of massive proportion as far as:

a) one of them was a collection of random objects of doom - in other words, the objects you stuff in a drawer or, you know, a jar that you decorated for a friend's birthday party because you don't know where the heck else to put them, and this bugs you because that drawer could be put to better use and that jar is special and what if you want to use one of those random objects but you can't find them in the mess?

b) both had been on my mind for a loooooooong time

These projects were the Jar of Randomness and the Sewing Tin. Behold the before pictures:

Note the old batteries, Yu-Gi-Oh! card, arcade tokens ... oh, and the pins scattered at the bottom of the sewing tin. Sad pincushion. Lonely pincushion.

I forced myself to deal with everything. The tokens are still in the jar, but are essentially the only things in the jar. The card is with my other gaming stuff. You couldn't see it in the picture, but there were a few buttons [all the same] buried at the bottom of the jar, and those are actually what led me to organizing the sewing tin.

Now, the after picture of the tin:

Pincushion = HappyHappyJoyJoy!

That's a small portion of the organizing I've been doing lately, but they're good examples. I don't think it's a coincidence that I am now high on writing joy. I haven't felt this gung-ho about writing in a long time. I've returned my attention to freelancing, where I'm currently working on a cover letter and outline for Calliope, and I'm going to take part in Laurie Halse Anderson's Write Fifteen Minutes a Day challenge, albeit with a slightly belated start date.

Do you see a link between clutter and writing? What side of the fence do you fall on? Or do you trot back and forth through the garden gate?