Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where has all the writing gone?

I used to love writing. It was my default activity (that, and reading); everything else something I endured in order to get to the writing. I would hide my notebooks inside my hinged desk at school and write stories when I was meant to be paying attention or doing an exercise.

I spent hours in these worlds, creating unlikely and intricate story-lines. I drew maps of the places and pictures of the characters. I couldn't wait to get to work.I had two favourite writing spots. The first was on a picnic blanket spread on our lawn - I would take a drink, a snack and as many animals as I could persuade to accompany me, and lie on my stomach with one of the old brown newsprint exercise books that we bought in their hundreds for school. I filled these books with page after page of laborious biro, my fist cramping around the pen, ants crawling over the mottled pages (and leaving juicy smudges where I squished them). My other favoured writing spot was at our old Amstrad computer, exhumed specifically for my use - I would write as soon as mum would let me turn it on (with its alarming thrumming sound and shimmer of static) and I would write for hours. When I had finished a section, I would make Mum or Dad come and read it - not to critique it, but so that I could watch them experience what I had just experienced, before I printed my pages and laid them with reverence on the growing stack. I wrote with the same urgency and immersion as I read: what's going to happen next? It was as much a surprise to me as it was to the reader.

Now that I think about it, it can't have been much fun to be dragged away from work or the dishes to sit in an uncomfortable office chair and make the appropriate noises and faces while your overly-intense, socially tone-deaf daughter stared at you from behind thick glasses, chewing on a thumbnail. Rather unnerving. I was in love with my own ability to make other people see the movie inside my own head; less preoccupied with sentences than with sensation. The more words the better, really, because words were my Legos, my coloured beads, my Play-Dough. Why use one when I could use ten, and make it ten times better? I didn't share my work with anyone but my parents, and I didn't need to. Someone else living in my world made me happy but, really, I was happiest just pootling about in it myself. Every time I wrote, I experienced that mysterious 'flow' state that I read about and covet so much now. Then, it was a given. Writing equalled complete absorption; losing time, place and self. 

I don't know exactly when this changed. It felt rather like the moment when playing with your toys stops being fun, described perfectly by the always-wonderful Hyperbole and a Half:

"But as I grew older, it became harder and harder to access that expansive imaginary space that made my toys fun. I remember looking at them and feeling sort of frustrated and confused that things weren't the same. I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse's Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled.  I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience."

At university, I took creative writing classes and learned more. A lot more. I got better. I became concerned with the smaller things: word choice and order; the skeletons of sentences. The once-constant magic of writing, however, became elusive. I could repeat the same scenarios but I couldn't connect to them emotionally anymore. Reading was the only thing that continued to bring that sense of complete surrender, but reading started to make me feel frustrated and guilty because I was reading someone else's words instead of writing me own. I still wrote, but it wasn't the same. Something essential inside me was broken - impacted, blocked, stifled. Poetry was the only thing that managed to trickle through, perhaps because it was so much smaller and more fragmented. I could sneak it past myself.

Since then, I have managed to write two novels, and have them published. (Well, more than two, but the others languish in desk drawers). I have moments of that glorious flow state, when my fingers are moving across the keys but I feel like the book is happening without any interference from me, but they are so scattered and unpredictable that they almost hurt more than the dry times, because I know they'll be gone so soon. More than anything, I want to recapture my joy in the process of writing. These past two years have been tough, work-wise - I feel like I'm getting there, but it hasn't been easy. When I feel coherent enough to put the lessons I have learned into words (Lego, Play-Dough words, not university words), I'll share them here. I do know that they have to do with relinquishing control (not my strong suit), being present (ditto), being comfortable with mistakes and failure (I see a pattern here) and, perhaps most difficult of all, being comfortable with success.

"When writing is going well, it is not like pushing. It is like falling. You fall the way you do in dreams ... What joy! And yet, it's scary. For all its vast pleasure, it's scary, because falling stops, words end, and it is always just you again at your desk in your room, judgement already beginning." - Bonnie Friedman


So much YES in this.

"I craved to be submerged, to be into my novel, to be in that state when words come fast, and the character walk and talk the way characters in your dreams do - without your conscious desire. It is like snorkelling: you go under, and there is a whole secret life. You go under, and scarlet fish shimmer past, fluttering like silk, watched perhaps by a gaping blue-striped grunt with a yellow eye, or there's a barracuda, all set to lunge. Outside, you saw just the water's surface mirroring back your own choppy face and the familiar, corrugated world. Submerged, breathing through a tube, you have a strange freedom from gravity, and an awareness of beauty like a bodily hum."

"It was my very commitment to writing that kept me from it. I wanted so much for it to be that ideal, submerged experience that I put it off, saved it up. I longed for it, missed it, got bitchy about it, petulant, then again thought of it with a pang - an adored but long-gone love. What if the cherished one really isn't so beautiful after all? What if he turns out to be, upon reunion, slow, dumb, greedy, with lips that are thin and colourless - not at all as you'd remembered?

You love your work, so you don't touch it. You love your writing, so it's the very thing you must not do at all. You could not tolerate it if it didn't come out well. You could not tolerate yourself. You are thinking about the work, thinking about yourself, looking at the surface of the water, looking at the choppy face looking back."

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark

Saturday, October 04, 2014


"I have to say: Stress is particularly mind-twisting for writers. (Which automatically makes it emotion-twisting, too, since our work is our minds, and our minds become mush, and there is NOTHING less emotionally-stable in this world than a writer who CAN’T WRITE.)"

Read the rest of the article here.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fairy House

I've always had a soft spot for fairies. My first job was at a fairy shop, dressing up to run children's parties and writing a monthly newsletter. When I finished decorating my dollhouse (and I need to find another one - I'm jonesing!), I turned to fairy houses as a way to assuage my current obsession with miniatures. Craft stores sell these little cardboard houses in various sizes, so I went crazy with glue and miscellaneous bits and pieces from the floral craft section to create a tiny dwelling for a tiny winged person. 

I made the furniture pieces from a $5 flat-pack puzzle set.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back.

I climbed out of the hole a little, then slipped back down for a few weeks.

Honestly, one of the events that triggered a darker episode recently is ongoing conflict with a once-close friend. I have never been very good at not taking things personally, and difficulties with someone who is meant to be an ally (not you, Ally), and with whom I have been vulnerable, plays into my existing difficulties with self-worth. I love wholeheartedly and want to show my affection in as many ways as I can. Friends become family. This can be too much for some people, and I understand that intellectually, but the little kid inside me who wants to hold hands with her friend in the playground finds it considerably more difficult. I tend to replay all the mistakes I've made over and over in my head and think about everything I handled badly. It's that perfectionism rearing its ugly-perfect head again.  Getting the silent treatment is particularly frustrating for me, as I want to Talk About All the Things All the Time, and not getting the opportunity to do that makes me feel powerless and invisible. So that has been going on, lately, and given my ferocious lack of emotional boundaries this drama has been trickling over into some of my work time and making me doubt myself there again as well.

To combat this, I have been making more miniatures. Many, many miniatures. Tiny pretty things. So many of the things that give me joy are 'frivolous,' and sometimes I struggle with that idea. I was the ugly, nerdy, serious and shy kid for so many years, always mistaken for a boy. When I was fifteen, I dyed my hair, started wearing contact lenses instead of my thick glasses and 'came out of my shell,' as the saying goes, although it felt more like stretching your cramped limbs after fourteen hours on a long-haul flight. From being plain and aggressively sexless I became a 'girly' girl. I always was, inside, of course, but I finally claimed it. I still have trouble accepting this about myself because for so long I believed that enjoying things like clothing meant a person was vain, silly or, worst of all, shallow. I know that's not true, but the guilt is still there. So thank you for letting me share my enthusiasms with you. I am building a fairy house at the moment, and will probably inflict that on you soon.

These past couple of years have not been much fun (inside my head - externally, they have been just fine), but I feel like I am pushing through to whatever is waiting for me. Hopefully that is increased creative freedom, vulnerability, honesty and self-acceptance. I'm hoping.

I so appreciate those of you who have sent me cheering messages. Thank you.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The dollhouse living room

I picture the homeowner as some kind of animal wearing clothes, a la the Sylvanians. I haven't quite figured out exactly what she is, yet - but, let's be honest, she'll probably end up being a giant owl. Or a cat. With a tiny pet cat. Because it's my dollhouse universe and it doesn't have to be logical. On that basis, the pictures in here may well be family portraits.
  • The 'paintings' on the walls are either greeting cards or pictures cut from magazines.
  • The cabinet is another Michael's $2 special. I painted it and added wallpaper at the back of the shelves and cut-out books in front of that.
  • The hat and coat rack was an Etsy purchase, and the little handbag is a papercraft charm from a craft store.
  • The chandelier and the two chairs against the wall are wood cut-outs from Michael's that I painted.
  • The wallpaper is craft paper, and the rug is felt.
  • The 'cowhide' rug layered over the chevron one is cut from an old suede elbow patch.
  • The little letter rack was a thrift find - I actually found two of them, so I combined the tiny letters from both and used the second one upstairs in the office. 

  • I made the coffee table out of various craft-wood bits. Since then, I have taken off the gold legs and given it a white base instead, because I thought it was too high.

  • The sofa is sawn down from an unpainted craft bench to get the right proportions, and then upholstered in foam and felt. The sheepskin rug is made from craft fur, and the cushions are cut-outs backed with card.
  • The chair was $2.47 from Mayberry Miniatures. I painted it yellow (although it has since become black, and I've added cushions to the sofa and the chair).
  • The books on the coffee table are jewellery charms, and the Ferris Bueller's Day Off board game is cut from a magazine.
  • The little stools are craft wood pieces painted and covered with felt.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The dollhouse bedroom

I keep adding more and more detail to each room - so much fun. 

I wanted the bedroom to be fun and very feminine, again with a mix of new furniture and 'old' pieces that my homeowner has painted and updated.
  • I purchased an unpainted wooden cabinet and chest from Michael's (a couple of dollars each) and decorated them. I imagined the chest was her old toy chest from childhood that she painted and updated so that she could have it as a blanket box in her adult bedroom.
  • The bed is a block of wood that I covered with white felt to act as a 'mattress.' The sheets are fabric offcuts from Jo-Ann's Fabrics, again just a couple of dollars each, and the blankets are squares of craft felt. The pillows are felt and stuffing, glued together at the edges and decorated with Washi tape. I used the same tape as a stair runner.
  • The bedside table is an egg-cup turned upside down. I have since added a puffy sticker that acts as a mini iPhone.


  • The area rug is craft felt, and I made the two little sheepskin rugs out of craft fur. The fur was way too long, so I trimmed it down.
  • The mirror is from Michael's, as are the frames, which I painted. The pictures inside are cut from a magazine. I used another piece of scrapbook paper for the 'blinds.'
  • The vanity table was an Etsy purchase. The accessories on top are all buttons, except for the sunglasses - that's a vintage brooch!
  • The little books are jewellery charms.
  • The hat boxes were purchased, uncovered, from a craft store, and I covered them all in different scrapbook papers.
  • The suitcases now stacked next to the bed are actually a dimensional sticker.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The dollhouse kitchen

This has been my first attempt at decorating a dollhouse and working with miniatures, and so I am a complete newbie with a lot to learn.

I imagined that my homeowner inherited the house mortgage-free from a beloved aunt (which explains how she can afford such an enormous place on a freelancer's wage), and, because strapped for cash, has decorated the place with odds and ends from her student days, flea-market and thrift-store finds, and DIY projects (there might be a little bit of projection there, because that's a pretty accurate description of my real-life house's decor style). She makes her money as a designer, but wants to paint full-time and so has converted one room into an attic studio.

So, the kitchen. She couldn't afford to renovate it, so the appliances and the linoleum floor are original to the house. Since some of the food is wildly out of scale, I justified it by saying she buys in bulk to save money - enormous bags of coffee, a tub of margarine large enough to feed an entire school camp, and so on.
  • I bought a dollhouse kitchen set from Mayberry Miniatures - the only 'real' furniture set I purchased for the whole house. It came with a table and two chairs, a sink, a stove and a fridge. I only used the chairs, stove and fridge in here - the other items ended up in different rooms. I gave the chairs paper 'cushions.'
  • The kitchen sink and the brown wooden table were both thrift-store finds, and the rug is from Terra Toys. 
  • The linoleum and wallpaper are scrapbook papers cut to fit. 
  • Some of the accessories are Mayberry Miniatures - such as the clock, the plants, and the sacks - and some are buttons I found at craft and fabric stores. I filed off the actual button part at the back. 
  • The cabinets are ready-made craft supplies from Michael's. They cost about $2, and they come unpainted.
  • The fruit in the fruit bowl is actually a pair of vintage earrings, and the bowl itself is from a thrift store.
  • Most of the food items are New World miniatures from New Zealand - the supermarket released a line of collectibles for its customers. The breakfast items are buttons.
  • I made the plates on the wall from chequers painted white and covered with paper.
  • The little recycling station in the corner is pictures from a magazine pasted on the wall.
  • The tiny posters were also cut from a magazine - I thought she might have bought them on holiday in Scandinavia and moved them from house to house in her student days, so they have sentimental value.
  • The kitten was Not Helpful to the process.