Extended Illness + Arctic Vortex + Broken Car = CABIN FEVER

In honor of my current cabin fever, Friday, and the fact that winter is apparently here to stay, here is three minutes of Friday Fun: the Muppets singing about cabin fever in Muppet Treasure Island. Enjoy!

In case you are wondering, I’m still sick. It’s day 16 of this virus and I am ready to be well again. While I’ve been gradually getting better, last night my throat pain flared back up and I was afraid I was headed for a major relapse. This morning I am tired, but not in nearly as much pain, so I hope that means I’ll be healthy soon.

My thought for today is this: Patience is also a form of action. (Auguste Rodin)

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Considering how much sitting and lying around I’ve been doing, it’s nice to think that inactivity can count as a form of action. If waiting to get better counts as patience, then I’m an action hero.

As I’ve said, patience with myself is not my strong suit, but I’m getting lots and lots and lots of practice. For now, I’m heading back to bed.

How are you at patience and waiting? Does this quote ring true, or does it sound like a rationalization?

As an eight-time NaNoWriMo veteran, you’d think I would have all the answers when it comes to writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. Certainly, I know a lot about it and have strategies for dealing with many of the challenges involved. But here I am in the middle of my ninth year and NaNoWriMo is still teaching me new lessons.

For the first time ever, I hate the novel I’m writing. I’ve been stuck before, wondering where my unplanned story was headed, and frustrated with my feeble attempts to get the story moving again. But I have never before hated what I was doing.

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This year’s fun notebook cover hides the horrors waiting inside.

In the last week, sitting down to work on my NaNo novel has taken supreme effort and discipline. Any time I wasn’t actually on the computer, gagging out the next scene, I was dreading the moment when I would have to get on the computer and start gagging writing.

Yesterday, I hit the breaking point. I’d taken Saturday off because I hated the story too much to face it, and I needed to write something to keep from falling even further behind on my word count. (I’m determined to make the quota for the month, even if I can’t fulfill my other goal of having a complete story arc. At this point, I’ll deserve a medal just for surviving this exquisite form of torture.) So I complained to my friends via social media, I read their suggestions, and I took a hard look at what I hated about this story.

This is what I discovered:
1) My angry snotty teenage heroine was pissing me off.
2) My love-interest/hero was wimpy and letting the heroine push him around, making him completely unloveable.
3) My projected plot line was totally boring predictable.
4) My chosen genre (science fiction) was giving me trouble. I was having a hard time making things up because my inner critic kept telling me “You have to get it right, or what’s the point?”

The last problem was my biggest. The other three I could do something about*, but wrestling with my inner critic has been a life long struggle. Years ago, my critic was stronger than the rest of me and constantly paralyzed me with harsh words. Thanks to my years of NaNoWriMo participation, I’ve learned to shut my inner critic off and play on the page without reserve.

Which explains why I’m so cranky right now. I am halfway through another November, having looked forward to a month of carefree practice writing, and my critic is a cloud dumping acid rain on my picnic. I thought I had this thing licked, that I knew how to deal with my destructive inner critic. Unfortunately, defeating it is temporary at best. It comes creeping back in new forms, with new voices, and if I’m not vigilant, I get talked into the corner and shut down on the creative front.

I hate being shut down creatively. It leaves me feeling ill. And I really hate hating my own book. Fortunately, my subconscious took on my inner critic in a dream last night and argued him into submission.

The analogy my dream-self used was scientific research. Basic research is about trying things. There are no good or bad ideas, just ideas that lead to solutions, and ideas that don’t. Some ideas fail to solve the problem at hand, but instead solve a different problem in an exciting new way. (Post-It note adhesive, anyone?) You can’t find the new stuff if you aren’t willing to explore, to experiment, and to fail.

Creativity is about exploration and experimentation, too. What others think of what we’re doing doesn’t matter. No one can know for sure where a well-explored idea might lead. It could be a dead-end, with nothing new or interesting to offer. But it could open the door to a wonderful new place no one has seen before, a place rich with gifts for the visitor. All that matters is that the person doing the exploring is interested in this territory and is willing to spend time finding out what’s there. Even if nothing of use is discovered, it is not a wasted exercise. The explorer still learns from everything she does.

Today I’m feeling shored up. I have remembered that this writing exercise I am doing is an experiment, a chance for me to explore new territory and play with some ideas. They may not come to anything I am interested in pursuing, but that doesn’t matter. Anything goes. The goal is to see new things and think new thoughts. Whether they are of any value in and of themselves is a question for another day.

*My short-term solutions to my first three problems were:
1) Embarrass the little brat, plus break her ankle.
2) Give him spine and have him stand up to her.
3) Burn down the house and set the hero and heroine on the run.

Have you ever hated a project you were working on? How did you deal with it?

Last week, I posted about a book I made to commemorate a gathering of friends and where I went wrong. Here are instructions for how to make the book the right way as well as my way. The separate sets of pages make this book a great choice for group projects such as collaborations or swaps. You can also use this structure for a travel journal that you assemble after you return home.

This book was a collaboration made by my friends to celebrate my 40th birthday, back when I was still known as "Kathy"

This book was a collaboration made by my friends to celebrate my 40th birthday, back when I was still known as “Kathy”

For those who missed it, when I put my book together, I realized I’d made a mistake in measuring, and I wound up with a text block that leaned to one side. I made oversized covers and added “danglies” to fill in the space along the spine.

Party Book as seen from the top. Notice the way it leans...

Party Book as seen from the top. Notice the way it leans…

Here’s how to make the traditional version of this accordion-style book. (Notes for my funky version are at the end.)

1) Make your pages. I cut 90-lb watercolor paper into strips 4.5” x 12” to get two 4.5” x 5.5” pages with 1” left over for a glue tab.
2) Fold. Measure 1” in from one end of the paper strip, score, and fold back. With the tab folded under, line up the end of the strip with the edge of the fold. Crease. This will divide the paper into equal halves*. (If you measure instead, be careful. I didn’t account for the width of my bone folder and got unequal pages.)

Folding the page in half (the tab is underneath)

Folding the page in half (the tab is underneath)

3) Mark your tabs. With the tab to your right, use a marker or pen to draw a “this way up” arrow. Be bold; this tab will be completely covered up when the book is assembled and the arrow insures the finished book’s pages all go the right way.

One prepared section (2 pages) with well-marked tab

One prepared section (2 pages) with well-marked tab

4) Pass out the pages to your friends or decorate them yourself.
5) Glue the finished pages together. Put glue on the front of the tab and lay the next page in the book on top of it, so that the edge of the page lines up with the fold. Once all the pages are together, put the block under heavy boards or books to dry.

Gluing the decorated pages together

Gluing the decorated pages together

6) Make your book covers. Cut two pieces of mat board or heavy cardboard a little larger than your book pages.** I like 1/8” extra along the spine, top, and bottom, and ¼” extra along the front edge. Decorate the outside of the covers.
7) Glue on covers. When the text block is dry, glue the front cover to the back of the first page. Cut the tab off the last page before gluing it to the inside of the back cover. Add a ribbon tie by laying the ribbon vertically between the back cover and last page before you glue them together.
8) Dangly time! (You can add danglies to either version of this book.) Use, ribbon, fabric, paper, buttons, beads, feathers, tags, found objects, whatever you want, and make danglies – pieces that are long enough to stick out past the edge of your book cover after you attach them behind the spine edge folds of your accordion pages. In my haste (this was so much fun, I couldn’t go fast enough), I used double-stick and masking tapes. If your book will be handled much, take the time to use something more permanent, like glue.

My Birthday Book, opened out, accordion-style.

My Birthday Book, opened out, accordion-style.

*To get a funky trapezoid like mine, just make the fold between the pages consistently uneven, e.g., always fold the edge to 1/8” above the tab fold.
**The covers of my book cover the entire trapezoid. I just measured across the longest distance from spine edge to fore edge.

As a writer, I suppose it’s natural that I love paper and pens and am drawn to art forms that wind up looking like books. I’ve been fascinated by artist journals for years now and back in October, I was fortunate enough to take an art journaling workshop with Liz Kettle. I’m still feeling lost on the creative front, and this class proved to be a perfect way to shake things up.

Liz’s workshop was a wonderful opportunity to play and experiment. She generously provided us access to her huge collection of paints, inks, pencils, stamps, and stencils so that we could take them for a test drive without having to buy them ourselves. She also shared her vast experience, teaching us neat tricks, as well as unorthodox uses for very basic materials. For example, I never would have thought of rubbing water-soluble pastels directly onto a stamp. It doesn’t work for all brands, and you need to spray them with water to get a really nice transfer, but it can work. Now I’m planning on testing all the art supplies I own, to see which of them will work as “stamp pads”.

Because we were experimenting so much, most of the pages in my journals are just backgrounds. Techniques I tried included spraying the page with ink and letting it drip, scraping acrylic paint off the page with an old credit card, and writing over my own writing to make a pattern.

Ink, sprayed and dripped.

Ink, sprayed and dripped.

Acrylic paint scraped onto paper with a used credit card

Acrylic paint scraped onto paper with a used credit card

Using my handwriting to make a pattern

Using my handwriting to make a pattern

On the second day, we did some exercises to help us move beyond backgrounds. Liz had us rip imagines from magazines and then choose one to put on one of our existing backgrounds. Then we were to add more elements until we felt our collage was done.

I felt stymied. I had found an image of a white carriage horse that I liked, and I had an icy background for it, but I couldn’t seem to come up with anything else. Liz came over and asked how it was going, and I admitted I was struggling. I told her I was feeling a little sad, which just shows how comfortable I felt with her, because I wouldn’t have said that to just anyone.

Her response proved she deserved my trust. “That can happen.” She went on to point out that I was probably tired, and that my push to get ready for the workshop and the vacation I was leaving on the very next day had taken a toll. I was astonished by her understanding. Here was a true teacher. She didn’t plaster a smile on or try to make me pretend everything was OK. She validated my emotions in the moment, and could even help me see the why of my situation because she had been listening to me. I was amazed, and grateful.

Because of her insight, I put the word “Journey” on my collage. I was thinking about the coming vacation, but also about my creative journey and even the journey of life. She helped me to realize what my collage was trying express.

Journey by Kit Dunsmore

Journey by Kit Dunsmore

I came home feeling excited and inspired to work in my art journals more. I was so inspired, I packed a little kit to take with me to the mountains, and I did play in my journal while we were there. I’m grateful for what I learned, for the people I got to spend time with, and for the inspiration I came home with. For me, Liz Kettle’s workshop was an undeniable success. (You can see pictures on Liz’s blog of the class I was in here.)

Do you take workshops or classes to help you get inspired? Have you been fortunate enough to have a really good class with a great teacher?

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