Open Pages

Oh, the array of documents that sit with open doors across the top of my laptop screen! It’s like a messy kitchen waiting to be organized so the main meal’s cooking can take place.

These tabs have piled up over the past few weeks, and I long to address them all to the point that I can willingly close a bunch of them.

Here are the members of the queue before me:

1. The Wix home page of a friend’s website for his editing business.

2. My own Wix attempt in draft mode, inspired by my friend’s site.

3. An article on how to name one’s editing and proofreading business.

4. An article on how to start an editing and proofreading business.

5. A video on how to do alternating cast-on for double rib (knitting). Because I have a knitting pattern for making a winter headband, but I’m daunted by a cast-on process I’ve never tried.

6. An article on how to write a great memoir. Its first point is on how to write a premise in one sentence.

7. An article on how to structure a premise for stronger stories.

8. An article on how to build a compelling narrative arc for your memoir.

9. An article on vignettes, scenes, and dialogues.

10. An article on what everyone ought to do to create vivid characters.

11. “Alaska Book”. This is one of dozens of Google Docs I have that are part of the memoir on which I am working. I hope Google Docs never crashes.

12. “Excavator in the Pond”, a Google Doc. This is one of the stories in my memoir.

13. “Boots in the Mudroom”, another Google Doc, and another story in the memoir.

14. “Milk in the Snow”, still another Google Doc for the memoir. I name them simply. This is for my own quick reference. They might end up with new titles, they might be amalgamated into other chapters, and they might even be axed in the end.

There. That helped me purge a bit from my mind, just seeing it all written out.

I’d like to read all the articles and close their windows so I can feel like the groceries and the dishes are put away and I can start cooking up a new mess in my actual writing.

Can anyone relate to having multiple documents open on their computer, and the relief that comes from closing several of them?

All These Kids

One of few photos I have of my old house in Alaska

I never used to like kids. They annoyed me. For several months when I was 14 to 15 and super-selfish, my parents took care of a baby for a friend of theirs who had to be away in a hospital for cancer treatment. I mostly hid in my room with music cranked on the stereo I’d bought with my own earnings, to get away from the noise.

When any kids less than a few years younger than me tried to talk to me, I’d ignore them and walk quickly away. I know, how rude, eh?

Then, when I was 23, I met some amazing children who changed my outlook. They were so down-to-earth and enjoyable. One of them, a boy who was seven, always asked me to take him for rides on a Honda 4-wheeler, on the southeast Alaskan homestead of the folks on whose land we were living. We’d ride along in silence, find a beautiful spot to park, and wander around and talk and laugh. Sometimes we’d fish for spawned-out pink salmon off the edge of a wooden bridge over a creek.

My little friend and his older brother adored their baby sister. Their mother, an OB-GYN nurse with chestnut hair that reached past her waist, with whom I loved sitting and talking while gathering information for my own eventual motherhood, was soon to have another baby sister for them.

Within the year, I got married (albeit to a man who wasn’t lifetime material — see the long story here) and had my first child. We had moved into our own place, in a little house (24′ x 32′) we built for ourselves at the back of a gravel pit. We didn’t own the government land on which the house was situated, but we were there via a permit to be the caretakers of the business. As part of the permission, the house had to be moveable, and so it was built on skids (big logs laid on the ground) to later tow away.

Our nearest neighbours were 3.5 miles down old logging roads with nothing but forest between us. The other neighbours, on whose land we had been living prior to this, were 5 miles away and across a river that had no bridge. We had no phone but a VHF marine radio, we heated the house with wood, we pumped water uphill from a well with a Honda pump, and our electricity was from a 7-kilowatt Lister diesel generator we’d run for about six hours a day – just long enough to keep the fridge items cold and the freezer items frozen.

It was lonely out there, especially when the man of the house had gone out on the tugboat to deliver gravel or to do commercial fishing for the same boss. My motto soon became, “I have no friends, and so I will just have to make my own.”

My second baby was born within 17 months of my first. Then a couple years later my third was born. These children were a lot of work, yes, but they were and continue to be my dearest friends. Four more children later, and I’m a mother of seven now.

Not only are there my own children, though, but some of their friends have also become my friends. Some refer to me as “Mom 2”. I am honoured.

Here we are in December. Holiday time allows for more of my kids to be home. The oldest four are out working in other areas, but they come home when they get extra days off, sometimes with their respective partners whom I also love. With more people in the house, it is warm and pleasant, but oh so busy! The younger kids stop their usual activities when their beloved older siblings come home, so excited are they.

There is less time for blogging with all the family around, but I am going to keep trying to squeeze in a word or two or seven hundred when able. Like right now (word count: 695!), when most are sleeping-in on a Saturday morning and one has gone across the road to play with a friend.


Day 4 of Just Write – Writing Advice From A Friend

Yesterday’s sunrise – nothing to do with my blog entry

“Tell them something they need someone to say for them.”

Today’s entry in my Just Write Challenge is on advice given to me by a longtime friend and writing mentor, via a messaging conversation. Perhaps some can relate to my frustration, and some can gain from his response:

ME: Can you believe I am STILL not done my Alaska book? It hovers over me constantly, like a fog — sometimes thicker, sometimes barely perceptible, but always there.

I keep thinking, “I should message [my friend] and tell him about my frustration in this regard.”

I don’t know why. Maybe because I know that you are interested in the book.

The more well-written books I read, the more I become aware of my shortcomings as a writer. It is a daunting task, to compile all the stories in an interesting-to-read manner. They are all interesting to me, but I want them to be interesting to the reader, too, lest they put the book down unfinished, as I do with so many books that bore me.
Over the past week or so, I’ve got it in my mind to start (again!) another book, that being the story of how I met [the ex], the process I went through with him as he tore me down, and how I finally escaped.
I’ve been urged to write that book many times by many people, but the thing is, I feel like it’s only interesting to those who know me. And I’ve seen so many biography type books on people who’ve been through abuse, to the point that I don’t like reading them at all.
Buuuut, maybe I will write it anyway.
And the thing that’s been going through my mind about it is that maybe I should write it from a third-person point of view, rather than me me me. That’s another thing with which I struggle in my books: it’s only ME. I’m not a famous person. I feel uncomfortable focusing on me. Maybe if I do it in third-person, I won’t feel quite that way

FRIEND: I use third person, for exactly that reason. As I hinted before, I think Dostoevsky is doing that much of the time — telling his own story.

I’ve been reading my second Fyodor Dostoevsky novel. His narrative is the best I have encountered, and I marvel that I have that opinion merely through a translation.

How much better in the original Russian?

So, it must be the story he has to tell.

In both novels, he tells of some of the same characters: A horrible man who cruelly whips and beats a horse to death. A poor college student who gets a theological paper published and becomes greatly elevated in social rank as a result. A busybody housewife of the unearned upper class.

I have no doubt that these are real people and events from his own life — powerful, iconic (for him) stories and characters. Those icons give us glimpses into his, the author’s, heart, mind, and soul.

Dostoevsky has a huge heart, a supple mind, and a beautiful soul.

I got bored in the first few chapters of the second novel, but I pressed on because I cared about what he wanted to share about hearts, minds, and souls — especially his own.

You, too, see humanity in those terms. You have beauty inside and out. You, too, have a faith that overcomes all.

Let the reader care about you, and they’ll read. Tell them something they need someone to say for them. Tell them, also, what they need to know, but probably do not realize.

They’ll keep turning pages.

ME: Thank you. I think I shall print out what you just wrote about Dostoevsky and keep it on top of my desk to refer to for encouragement. I have another such printout from [another friend]. My desk is becoming cluttered. I need to fix that.

FRIEND: In that way God has of making a point, [a mutual friend] just sent me a little story. She sent it, she wrote, because I had encouraged her to write stories that give the reader glimpses into her.

So she did, writing to her sister, and copied it to me, separately.

It was a perfect example.

Yes, it is more interesting to me, because I love you two, but any reader is going to love you two. Let them.

I am grateful for friends. I hope someday I actually finish both of those books. They might be of interest and of help to someone.

Day 3 of Just Write: Letter Writing

I used to write a lot of letters. It started when I was five, living in Vancouver, BC, writing to my friend who lived an hour’s drive away. Her parents and mine were buddies, but we didn’t get to see each other as often as we’d have liked.

When I was nine, we moved to within a five-minute walk of my friend’s house, so I didn’t write to her anymore (except for a few weeks when our parents forbade us to hang out on account of us all causing too much trouble when together. We were such brats, we wrote our own addresses on the envelopes so the post office would do a “return to sender”, so each other could receive the letters without us using a stamp.)

In my new town, I wrote to my old friends in Vancouver. That was in the mid-1970s.

When I was eleven, my class at school started doing a penpal program with a school in Vancouver. That was fun! We all had a meetup one day, which was also fun.

I started putting penpal ads in a free ad paper in my late teens in the mid 1980s. I got to know a lot of people around the world through that. One penpal I remember was a boy from Malawi, Africa. When he saw a photo of me I’d sent, he expressed shock over ladies wearing pants. Apparently, at least at that time, in his country, the females all wore dresses or skirts.

When I moved to the wilderness of Alaska, I kept writing to my penpals, plus I began writing to family and friends back home in BC.

This Bible verse often came to mind when I got a letter:

“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” (Proverbs 25:25)

Around 1992, I found out about a magazine called Women’s Circle. There was a penpal section. I sent in a free ad. Several months later, when it got published, I was inundated with replies, Many people were fascinated with Alaska and wanted to know someone who lived there. I had to get really choosy about who I’d answer as there were literally hundreds of letters each month.

In 1997, I got my first email account. (I still have that one, but I rarely use it as Hotmail isn’t as appealing as Gmail.) By then, I had three children, and my letter writing became less and less due to time constraints. Plus, email was quicker.

Now, with seven kids, I rarely write pen-and-paper letters, though I fondly regard the memories of having done so for all those years. I still have a lot of old letters from my worldwide friends. My sister has all the letters I wrote to her when I lived in Alaska. I got to borrow them once, and it was fun poking through to reread the things I told her.

While I was sorting through my mother’s boxes of papers this past summer (she left her earthly body in May 2018, and I look forward to seeing her again with Jesus, whom she also knows), I came across a paper called “How To Write A Letter To A Friend”. I thought, “Wow, I like this! The writer sounds so much like me.” And I finally realized it was indeed written by me in the mid-1990s. I copied it below.

And I wonder about other people, what their letter-writing experiences are like, and if they still do much, if any, today, with email being so much quicker. Any thoughts? Do share!

How To Write A Letter To A Friend

First step: just do it!

Get out a pen and paper. Or, if you have a computer, turn it on and log in to your word processing program. Have a typewriter? You know what to do!

If you have a letter from the person to whom you want to write, you’ve got a step ahead right there. Has it been several months since you received it and you still haven’t answered? Better hurry – they may be thinking you no longer care about them. Open it up, lay it out in front of you, and reread it. Even if you just read it yesterday, this step is still helpful, as it reminds you of the questions they asked. Never leave a question unanswered.

Starting from scratch…

If you don’t have a letter from the person, no problem. Do you ever think of them when you hear a certain song? Let that be a starting point. Grab your writing implements and make a few notes. It could start out like, “Hi! I’m just listening to Pam Tillis sing ‘Blue Rose Is’ and it reminded me of you. Remember when we were line dancing to that song back and Jenny’s wedding and…”

Okay, so maybe you haven’t heard a song lately that reminds you of your friend. Maybe something else makes you think of them, or you can drum up a memory and go from there.

Don’t have time to write? Sure you do. If you care about someone, time can be found or made. How about those nights when you can’t sleep. Get up for fifteen minutes and write a one-pager.

You don’t need to schedule a whole hour and finish the letter in one fell swoop. Add to it as time allows. A sentence or two here, a paragraph there, and maybe you’ll even get carried away and tell your life’s history in a mini-novel. Any of these are fine. If that letter is headed for a friend, they will read it with relish. And maybe even mustard and a bun, if it’s long enough.

Across the miles…

When you move too far away to see your friends regularly, and you can’t afford long-distance phone charges, write a letter. And keep those letters going back and forth.

When a friend moves away from you, all the more reason do you have to write to them, especially if they’ve moved to a place where they know few, if any, people, they need your encouragement. They need to know you haven’t forgotten them. You are likely still in their minds. Maybe you don’t think of them as much as they think of you, since you still have others in your network of family and friends to occupy your thoughts. That friend is now living in a faraway place and is probably lonely. Even if they aren’t lonely, and even if they are gregarious people who make new friends easily, they are still attached to you, and they just might long to hear from you.

“Old friends are like gold
New friends are like silver…”

(That’s the gist of a poem I read on a Celestial Seasonings tea box.)

And old friends are also like a big apple tree – full of fruit that’s taken years to establish: the fruit of memories. New friendships are like sprouts in spring – exciting to discover, yet easily killed if not nurtured. Neglect them, and they die. Give your friendship the sunshine as well as the rain. Share your joys and sorrows, a little or a lot, depending how much you want that plant to grow.

Don’t get so busy that you neglect to keep in touch with a friend. Even a short note is better than losing something that could bring you a lifetime of joy.


A Positive Spin

mt timothy road

A photo that has nothing to do with the blog entry: a road near home, as seen from the passenger seat of our truck

Looking back at my recent blog entries, I realize there have been mostly negative ones. Me complaining. Me whining. Me seemingly teetering on the precipice between life and death, or at least that’s how it feels to me when I’m there. Me, me, me…

The thing is, the times I feel most like blogging are when I’m struggling, feeling alone, and needing a place to vent. During buoyant times, I’m too busy enjoying the moments to do more than imagine how I’d write about them.  Thinking about this, I do consider that maybe I should include a few more happy posts. Maybe that will happen.

Although it must look like all I do is complain, more often than not I don’t blog about my struggles. I keep them to myself, or I talk to the One who already knows about them while the song “Where Could I Go But To The Lord” wafts through my mind.

I appreciate the writing of others in their angst, showing a heartbeat to the person behind the text. Maybe there are people who appreciate mine. Like validation. The “I hear ya, bruh” type thing that we sometimes need.

So, there’s a bit of a positive spin on my negativity.

I’ll leave you with my favorite version of the song I mentioned above – Where Could I Go But To The Lord as recorded by Emmylou Harris. This is how it runs through my head, ever since I bought the cassette tape in Petersburg, Alaska’s hardware section of Hammer & Wikan in the early 1990s.

Canada Geese On Thin Ice

These are just a couple of Canada geese on the ice at a little lake near my home. Oops, one of them “had to go”.

This couple – and I’ve heard that Canada geese mate for life – were walking around on the thin ice of Watson Lake in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, Canada. How lovely it’d be to have a better quality camera to capture their beauty!

It’s always a joy for me to see the Canada geese. Their return each spring gives me comfort.

I had friends back in the Alaskan wilderness who raised some Canada geese. They’d had domestic geese, and someone found some wild Canada goose eggs. They gave them to the domestics, who laid on them till they hatched out. Those Canada geese were the best guard-geese. They’d honk and hiss at us whenever we approached the property.

I’m not sure if it is legal to take Canada goose eggs, so if you read this and get the idea to try it at home, please look into it for yourself first.

That same lake a month ago was frozen so thick, snowmobiles rode all over it

Alaskan Wilderness Living

There seems to be a growing interest in the idea of living in the wilderness.

“Off-grid”, as it’s been oft-dubbed, and, in particular, living off the grid in Alaska, has become fascinating. There are books to read about it, documentaries to watch, and movies to see, though when I started my journey to get there, I found very little to prepare me.

For most of the 1990s, I lived in the wilderness of Alaska, far from neighbours. The hand-written journals I kept are the basis for books I am writing to share the adventure.

Did you note my Canadian spelling of “neighbours”? Yes, I’m Canadian – born and raised in British Columbia, where I live again, yet somehow I got temporarily transplanted to a life outside of civilization.

British Columbia has just as much beauty and ruggedness as Alaska, yet its mention doesn’t elicit the questions and awe that come when one says they lived in Alaska. I wonder why that is.

It is a slow process getting the book finished, though. Being the mother of seven children who currently range in age from 10 to 26, with varying levels of needing my attention, I don’t get a lot of time to focus on bringing the memories to life in the form of written words. Blogging helps get the creative wording flowing, though, so you might see more of me around while I’ve got my computer on for the book project.

I didn’t have a great camera back then, so I hope my writing will describe things sufficiently.

Remember Bligh Reef

On March 24, 1989, thirty years and two days ago, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

It was that tragic event, with its devastating effects on the water, the ocean life, the land and its wildlife, and the people of the region, that brought me to Alaska.

I was but a caretaker for a science lab anchored in a protected bay off of the very remote Knight Island. The closest town, Cordova, was an hour’s float-plane flight away, or eight hours by boat. Had the marine biologists returned to the lab, which was a six bedroom house built onto a barge, before spring melted the bay enough for them to get in by boat, I would have also been their cook.

If I’d had more camera film during the five winter months I spent so far from civilization, I might not be writing a book that details it and the adventures involved.

There’s a lot of information online about the 30-year anniversary of that worst oil spill in history. I will leave you with one link for an article about it, and a video from twenty years ago:

Article: 30 Years Since Bligh Reef Disaster

Video: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill 10 Year Update from 20 Years Ago

Exxon Valdez – Remember

On March 24, 1989, thirty years and two days ago, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

It was that tragic event, with its devastating effects on the water, the ocean life, the land and its wildlife, and the people of the region, that brought me to Alaska.

I was but a caretaker for a science lab anchored in a protected bay off of the very remote Knight Island. The closest town, Cordova, was an hour’s float-plane flight away, or eight hours by boat. Had the marine biologists returned to the lab, which was a six bedroom house built onto a barge, before spring melted the bay enough for them to get in by boat, I would have also been their cook.

If I’d had more camera film during the five winter months I spent so far from civilization, I might not be writing a book that details it and the adventures involved.

There’s a lot of information online about the 30-year anniversary of that worst oil spill in history. I will leave you with one link for an article about it, and a video from twenty years ago:

Article: 30 Years Since Bligh Reef Disaster

Video: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill 10 Year Update from 20 Years Ago

Memoir: real names?

I am working on turning several years worth of journals, which I wrote while living in remote parts of Alaska during the 1990s, into a book. Or maybe a series of books. A lot of detailed stories keep begging to be told, aside from the notes of daily life that differ from the average day in civilization.

One fact that I can’t hide in my writing is that I was not in a good relationship. I don’t want that to be the focus of the book, but it is a theme that cannot be denied as the stories unfold.

I am not out to make anyone look bad, though some people manage to do that themselves whether I talk about it or not, and they should have thought about their behaviour before acting that way around me, knowing that I like to write.

I think of these words from an author of whom I am not a fan but it’s a good quote:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” (Anne Lamotte in “Bird By Bird”)

Still, there are legalities.

There is also morality. Regardless of whether or not it is legal to mention people by their real name and use the real locations where they still live as part of the stories I experienced, I ask myself if I want to invite the possibility of curious people trying to find their home to see the places about which they read in my books.

Other things I could say, but they are best kept for talking to a lawyer before publishing.

Meanwhile, I found this article to be helpful: Memoir: Do I Use Their Real Names?

Hopefully, I’ve not done enough stupid stuff to end up in someone else’s book. Then again, isn’t all publicity good publicity?