When Too Much . . .

. . . is . . . well . . . too much.

In writing, there’s such a thing as going too far, or overwriting. In her book Steering the Craft, esteemed author Ursula K. Le Guin says it’s important to “slow down and leave enough white space around the words and silence around the voice.” What you leave out in those pauses, she believes, is infinitely more important than what you leave in.  And yet, there’s a balance. Leave out too much and your reader won’t understand what’s going on. Cram in too many details, particularly in action scenes, and the pace falters. The rhythm, the speed, will be off.

Visual artists know this well. White space, whether that’s literal white space around an image or the grout that fills the gaps in a mosaic, is a key principle in design and applied arts. White space separates and highlights other elements. It allows the mind to rest and reflect, to absorb the message or the image. On the other hand, there are times when words or an artistic medium like paint are overused precisely because that’s the effect the creator is going for (the recent official portrait of King Charles 111 and his big red controversy comes to mind).

Overdoing has been on my mind a lot lately. The first draft of my current WIP is overwritten (as is my tendency in a first draft), the herb bed in the garden is overplanted (I love too many plants; what can I say?) and now my poor back is suffering because I’ve overdone it on a number of levels. My back warned me, but I kept pushing through and didn’t listen. I went too far.

Now, though, too much has been . . . too much.  I’ve been forced to slow down, to pay attention to my body . . . to rest and reflect and to relearn the lesson that life, just like art, also requires some balance. I think Ursula K. Le Guin would approve.

Happy May

                                               

Today is May 1st, also known as May Day. In many places around the world, it’s also International Workers’ Day … a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of the working class. In some places, in fact, today is a national public holiday.

The ancient Celts celebrated May Day too. They called it Beltane and considered it the most important day of the year. It was celebrated with bonfires, Maypole dancing and feasting, and culminated in the crowning of a May queen.  They also considered it the beginning of summer because in the Northern Hemisphere May 1st falls halfway between our Spring equinox and the June solstice.

It’s not quite summer yet, but the tulips are in bloom, the lilacs are about to open and the garden is waking up from its winter slumber. And that’s something to celebrate. Happy May!

My April Reads

A change is as good as a rest, or at least that’s how the saying goes. I hope there’s some truth to it! We’re on the mainland babysitting our four-year-old grandson and rest is hard to come by. He’s not one for sleeping, and his inquisitive nature is in gear before dawn. That first morning, when he nudged me awake at 5:30 am and I replied that it was ‘too early,’ he snuggled in beside me and tried to engage. “What does too early even mean?” That led to a discussion (one sided) about how I squish my eyes tight in the morning “even like Mama.” So, there’s very little rest to be had, but there’s lots time for laughs and cuddles, crazy bath time routines and books. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Abroad in Japan by Chris Broad

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Books read to date in 2024: 22

All In Good Time

                                                  

I’ve written here before about being a turtle instead of a hare when it comes to producing art. Go here if you missed that blog post.  https://lauralangston.com/get-your-turtle-on/

The idea that we don’t always get instant results came to mind again recently. On this date in 1501, Michelangelo started carving the statue David . . . and he finished it three years later. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, took Michelangelo four years to paint (and speaking of churches, La Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona – one of Gaudi’s most famous works – has been under construction since 1882 and it’s still not finished).

 In my small corner of the world, I’m revising a novel I’ve been fiddling with for probably three years now. Some books come together quickly, but others don’t. I’m more accepting of that than I used to be. Maybe because I’ve been at this writing gig for decades. Maybe it’s life experience. More likely it’s a combination of both.

And as always, the garden (and nature generally) reminds me on a fairly regular basis that some things take time. For instance, I’m harvesting tomatoes right now. We have a glut of them and they’re especially sweet this year, especially fresh off the vine. But they’re also wonderful in other ways too.  I turned some into confit last week . . . it took about five hours in a very slow oven. While that was cooking, I filled the dehydrator with tomato slices. The process of getting them to sweet, dried rounds took a couple of days.  

All things in good time. Or, maybe that should read: time makes all things good.

Wild Magic

                                                          

Pure creativity is something better than necessity – it’s a gift – it’s the frosting. Our creativity is a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.’  Elizabeth Gilbert

A few weeks ago, my neighbour emailed me a picture of the clematis blooming in her back garden. It normally produces purple flowers. But this year, and for no discernable reason, the vine is awash with pink and white striped blooms too.  It is, as Elizabeth Gilbert would say, a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.

Around the same time my neighbour emailed me that picture, a writer friend emailed and said the ending she had in mind for her work in progress had taken a left turn. “The character took over and did something I never saw coming,” she said. “And the ending is so perfect it’s almost like magic.”

That’s pure creativity. Unpredictable, a little wild, and magical. It doesn’t matter whether we’re creating in the studio or at the keyboard, whether we’re in the garden or in the kitchen, there’s a kind of alchemy that happens if we listen to what we’re creating and let it have a say in what it wants to be. A touch of wild and wonderful magic that’s both humbling and awe-inspiring. And one that can bloom with beautiful results, just like my neighbour’s clematis.

My May Reads

                          

The irises are in full bloom, the Rhodos are putting on a show, and the peony buds are swollen and poised to open. Spring took its time getting here, but then it seemed to arrive almost overnight, bringing hotter-than-normal temperatures and a rush of garden-related tasks. Everything seemed to sprout at once, including the weeds. I’ve been busy pulling them out (not all of them; I love to harvest nettles for tea), spreading five yards of fish compost and getting all the seedlings into the ground. Luckily, I can work in the garden after dinner these days. Or at least I can until the mosquitos come out (they seemed to arrive overnight too!), but by the time they show up, I’m ready to come inside and pick up a good book. Here’s what I’m reading this month.  

All Signs Point to Paris by Natasha Sizlo

The Dog I Loved by Susan Wilson

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

Number of Books I’ve Read in 2023: 29

My April Reads

Spring is flirting with us this year. Today, as I write this, it’s cool and drizzly. Last week we had hail! This week, I’m only now harvesting wild nettles to eat fresh and to dry for tea, something I normally do in mid to late March. And here it is virtually the end of April. However, the forecasters are calling for a warming trend, so by the time you read this, I could be heading to the garden and leaving my books behind. In the meantime, though, here’s what I’m currently reading.

The Man Who Came and Went by Joe Stillman

Moon Gardening by Matt Jackson

The Great Reclamation by Rachel Heng

Books read to date in 2023: 24

My May Reads

May is as busy as I suspected it would be. Everyone is grumbling about the weather. It’s been cooler and wetter than normal for this time of year; records have been broken. On the upside, the flowering dogwoods have been in bloom for much longer than usual, and the flowers on the rhodos and azaleas are slow to show and lasting longer than they usually do too. But the squash and cucumber I seeded have been lost to bad weather, and the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are still languishing in the greenhouse, waiting for the temperatures to climb. It sounds like perfect reading weather. However, if I’m not writing, I’m outside dodging raindrops and working in the garden. My reward at the end of the day is a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month:

Eyes Like a Hawk by Lea Tassie

Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Books read to date in 2022: 30

Snakes and Slugs and Rabbits … Oh My!

 

A snake slithered across my foot as I walked to the greenhouse one morning last week. I felt it before I saw it, so I was a little startled when I glanced down and saw it slide off my toes and disappear under a nearby Hosta.  It made me smile. My cousins and I used to play with the garter snakes in my grandmother’s garden when we were kids, going so far as to bestow names and weave stories around them (yes, the storytelling seeds were germinating even then). So, seeing a snake in my garden brought back happy memories.

Some people hate snakes. They see them as horrifying, villainous creatures. But, for me, it’s rodents that I hate with an irrational passion. And these days, as the plants in the garden begin waking up from their winter slumber, I have a current hate on for the slugs and rabbits that are decimating the new growth. They are the current antagonists of my world.

Life is full of antagonists. Novels are too. The latter not only require antagonists, but they depend on them to drive a story forward. Without a great villain, the hero can’t shine. And the key to crafting a good antagonist or villain is making them well-rounded enough to be believable. Every villain should have at least one redeeming characteristic.

If I’m ever tempted to forget this, all I have to do is look outside. Snakes may be considered villainous to some, but they devour garden pests and even small mice.  Slugs are a great source of food for birds (thrushes love them), and they break down garden debris and turn it into nitrogen-rich fertilizer.  Wild rabbits are considered a keystone species, essential workers of a healthy ecosystem. In fact, populations are so low in the UK and parts of Europe that environmentalists are sounding the alarm and working to increase their numbers (too bad I can’t figure out a way to export mine; both my garden and my wallet would benefit). Even mice, creatures I will never tolerate anywhere close, link plants and predators in every terrestrial ecosystem.

Whatever antagonist you’re currently facing, whether it’s ravenous rabbits in the garden, a belligerent boss at work or wicked, uncooperative weather, a piece of advice: always wear shoes and watch where you step.

Happy Spring

This Sunday, March 20th, marks the spring or vernal equinox.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, that means the days are getting longer, and daylight takes over the darkness.

In many cultures, the spring equinox is observed as the start of the New Year.  It only makes sense. Birds are nesting and starting families.  Trees are leafing out.  It’s a time of rebirth, regrowth and new beginnings.

Some creative types believe that the natural rhythm of this time of year – the increasing warmth of the sun and the equal length of day and night – actually gives us more energy to create. It’s a perfect time, they say, to plant metaphorical seeds as well as real ones.  

As a gardener and a writer, I love that idea. But something I sometimes forget is that seeds need time and the right conditions to sprout. Some require a cold stretch before the warmth nudges them to shoot out, while others want only heat to emerge. Creative ideas seem to be the same. While some come on quickly, in the heat of the moment, most creative ideas require a bit of percolating before they’re ready to germinate. And then, once those ideas do sprout, they need careful tending.

Right now, I’m tending metaphorical seeds (of a book) I planted a while back. This particular story has been a struggle but I’m hoping that if I prune and shape and carefully tend it, it will flourish in the same way a plant damaged by winter wind and cold comes back. And as I do that, I’m also planting some new creative seeds to tend over the coming months.

Because who can resist the promise of new beginnings? Happy spring, everybody.