#WordlessWednesday: Apples

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16 October 2019 · 10:55

#WordlessWednesday: Teabag Tags

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#Inktober and the Myth of Talent

I let myself be inspired by some friends on Instagram to participate in #Inktober: an ink drawing every day for the month of October, prompts provided. (What is it with October that lends itself so well to this “hashtag-something-tober” thing? #socktober, #inktober… For some reason we never do that with April or June. #sockril – hmm, yeah, maybe that’s why.)

I’m already late starting on #Inktober, so I definitely won’t do the “every day” thing, but regardless, it’s just for fun anyway. I do a little sketch, with a fountain pen with royal blue ink (i.e. ordinary German elementary school kids’ writing ink), and use my newly impulse-purchased waterbrush to blend it. And then I post it. 

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And boy, am I glad I didn’t actually look up the hashtag before I posted! Some people on there are ridiculously talented (like this, or this, or this). My little five- or ten-minute sketches look – urgh, so amateurish (I did a drawing of a wonky Lego brick for the prompt “build”, for crying out loud!). I don’t have that kind of talent, obviously. Had I looked at those highly accomplished drawings before I started, I never would have dared.

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But then – “talent”. What is talent, anyway?

The standard interpretation of the word is usually something like “ability”. “You’re so talented” means “You’re so good at this.” And I, for one, used to think that “talent” is inborn – you’ve either got it or you don’t. People like Mozart and Van Gogh and Goethe have it, and people like me don’t.

But I’m starting to think that that idea is nothing short of a myth.

I’m sure you know the story that Jesus tells of a man who goes travelling. He calls his employees and hands out some talents to them – five to one, two to another, one to the third. The first one does business with his five talents and earns five more; the second one makes two more talents; but the third guy just takes his talent, digs a hole in the ground and buries it. When the boss comes back, the first two guys give him back the talents with all the extra they earned, and he’s pleased with them, but when the third guy comes along with his freshly dug up dirt-covered bundle of unused talent, the boss is not impressed. “You could at least have put it in the bank,” he says, “then it would have earned some interest!”

Of course, the “talent” this story talks about was something a bit different than what we think of when we hear the word – it was a measure of weight and therefore of currency, i.e. weight of silver; Jesus is talking about money (and a great big whack of it, by all accounts). But as with any good story, there is more than one way to look at it. And in this case, you can take the word “talent” literally in its modern sense, and come to some interesting conclusions.

The worker who was given five talents went and used them, and at the end he’s got five more talents. The guy that only got one and was miffed because he got shortchanged never used his talent – he stuck it in the ground, left it to tarnish, didn’t do anything with it, and in the end, nothing came of it.

And that’s the thing about “talent” – yes, some are given more of it than others (some a lot more – see above re. Mozart, Van Gogh, Goethe etc.), but in the end, what matters is whether you use what you’ve got. I’ve heard it said that ability is 10% talent, 90% effort. Even the ones with big talent – the five lumps of silver – still need to put in the time practising it for the talent to grow. And even the ones with small talent can grow their gift by using it.

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Back to #Inktober, if I had seen the “talented” people’s posts first, I might have let myself be scared off. But that’s nonsense – it’s exactly contrary to what this event is meant for. It’s not a venue for showing off your gifts, but your efforts, which is meant to help you grow what you have. Whether that’s big or small doesn’t matter; what matters is doing it.

And anybody can do it. Well, okay, most people. You don’t think you’re one of them, at least where art is concerned? All right, there’s actually a test to see if you have what it takes. You didn’t know that? There is! You want to take it? Okay, here goes: 

First you need some equipment. Find a pencil and a piece of paper. Any paper will do – the back of an envelope or a grocery receipt, if you can’t find anything else. If you don’t have a pencil, use a pen or a marker.

Put the paper on a flat surface. Take the pencil in your dominant hand.

Put the tip of the pencil to the paper.

Now write your name.

Got that? Done it? 

Take a close look. Did you write your name? Yes? Not your next door neighbour’s name? Or your first-grade teacher’s poodle’s grandmother’s name?

Fantastic! Congratulations!

You have made purposeful marks on paper. Therefore, I can now tell you without a shadow of a doubt that you can learn to draw, and you are qualified to practise your gifts. You can even join #Inktober if you wish. 

Yes, okay, I’m being just a tad tongue-in-cheek here. But only a tad. You see, people have told me I’m talented. They’ve even said it about my #Inktober posts (yeah, I know). But it’s really a learned skill. Some twenty-five years ago, I started taking art lessons, after someone told me that you don’t go to art school because you’re good at art, but because you want to become good at art. That comment revolutionised my thinking, and allowed me to go after the dream I had of being able to paint. I took lessons, read library books*, watched videos, spent countless hours hanging out on sites like wetcanvas.com, generally obsessed on art, and this is where I ended up.

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And that’s why I’m being somewhat facetious about this “talent” thing. Don’t let yourself be scared off by the myth of “talent”. Do you want to draw, paint, write**, play the tin whistle, dance ballet in a tutu? Go for it!

It doesn’t matter how big the talent is that we’ve been handed, what matters is what we do with it. That way, even a small talent can grow into something big. And when it does – when a talent of any size grows up into something – it’s a joy to behold. Even if that “something” is only someone having fun with pen and ink on an October morning.

Life, the Universe, Inktober and Talent. What could you be having fun with today?

*My two favourite books for learning art were Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brainand Rudy De Reyna’s How to Draw What You See. I’m glad to see they’re both still in print; they’re well worth it.

**If drawing isn’t your thing, and you’re more into, say, writing, I have one word for you: NaNoWriMoIt’s coming up – just three more weeks!

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#WordlessWednesday: #Socktober

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Filed under photography, this and that, Wordless Wednesday

Catching Up (“All the World’s a Stage” etc.)

Yes, I know. It’s been a while since I put up a proper post.  It’s been such a busy spring and summer, with all those summery things like harvest, and trying to keep up with the garden (I didn’t), and food processing, and several major family events/travel opportunities. (As I said on Twitter a while back: while having your family living a long ways away can be a pain in the rear, visiting them does make for good #amtravelling occasions).

I’ve been back home for almost a month now, but it took me several weeks to feel I’d “arrived home” again. I landed, and hit the ground running – well, stumbling-staggering-falling-on-my-nose, more like. But eventually, I got caught up on the jobs that were waiting for me, processed another couple of boxes of peaches (and fended off the clouds of fruit flies that inevitably moved in with them), did a massive grocery run to refill the depleted freezer, wrote a new chapter of my latest WIP for my critique group, and so on and so forth – in short, sort of settled back into normal life, whatever that means.

But it’s been a lovely summer – so many great memories. If you’re connected with me on social media (Instagram, Twitter or Facebook), you’ll have seen some of the pictures of our adventures (yes, Steve was there all along, too). I just got the newsletter from the Globe Theatre in London – yes, “Shakespeare’s Globe” – and in my mind I was right back there, standing in the yard with the other groundlings, watching Pericles

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In fact, we went to the Globe twice, the Travelling-Companion-Offspring and I, on our three-day stop in London on our way to the aforementioned family event. We’d met with my friend Helen Jones – you know, the writer! – and had lunch at a pub just a few steps over from the Globe. Then we traipsed through the pouring rain over to the afternoon performance of A Comedy of Errors. When we booked the tickets before our trip, I was being wimpy and didn’t think I wanted to stand on my feet for two hours, watching the show. So we’d shelled out big £££ for the privilege of having seats, under cover, while the groundlings (standing-room tickets) in the open yard had the rain dumping down on them (many of them had on cheap rain ponchos from the gift shop that said things like “Hey, Ho, the wind and the rain” on the back). It was a wonderful performance. There’s something to be said for watching Shakespeare the way it was meant to be played, on a stage jutting out into the open yard, no curtain, no fancy scene backdrops – just the actors doing their thing, and doing it so very well indeed.

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Then the next day, I got to hang out with my wonderful friend Louise (E. L.) Bates, who came up from Cambridge for the day. We went to the Victoria & Albert Museum; then had a lovely tea, with scones and everything, in a tea room across from the British Museum; then on our way back to King’s Cross Station took a detour and found Bloomsbury Publishing (which took a bit of hunting, as their premises don’t look any different from any of the other houses in the square), and took selfies in front of their door. Yeah, well, writers, you know. No, we don’t fancy ourselves J. K. Rowling, but hey, we had fun. (Louise being from the States originally, and me from Canada, we tend to spend a lot of time going “We can’t believe we’re doing this! In London! Eeep!”)

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I dropped off Louise at King’s Cross, and met up with the Offspring again, and we looked at each other and said, “Should we go back to the Globe?” The groundling tickets only cost £5… So, yes, we went back. The tube train we went on got stuck (some accident on the line), so we pulled up Google Maps on our phones and figured out what other route to take (the Circle Line, getting out at Southwark), and we arrived at the Globe ten minutes after the performance had already started – but it didn’t matter. We paid our £5, snuck in the side door, and stood under the warm, darkening summer sky not ten feet away from the edge of the stage, letting the company take us away to Tyre and Tarsus and Pentapolis… I forgot about my aching feet, forgot about the sandwich I had in my backpack (there hadn’t been time to eat supper before the show), forgot about being jet-lagged and exhausted. This 400-year-old play, in a replica of a 400-year-old theatre, has as much power to move as it did when it was first written and performed.

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The next day we went to see Buckingham Palace, just because I wanted to be able to say I’ve seen it. Okay, now I’ve seen it. It’s BIG (bigger than it looks in books and TV shows), and the crowds of tourists milling around in front of it were very touristy. Well, rocks and glass houses, dontcha know, so, enough about that.

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And then it was already time to head out to Gatwick Airport for the next phase of our journey, which involved family, and friends, and cake and bread and cheese and meat and Sauerkraut and shopping and cider and scrubbing bathroom tiles and riding a tandem bike around Munich and celebrating and conversations and coffee and cooking and… In short, all those things that a family visit usually entails.

And after three weeks of that, back on the plane, and a head-first dive back into our everyday Canadian lives…

SCENE: Western Canada, a living room.

AMO, sitting on couch with laptop computer. Enter stage left, STEVE, a small stuffed bear.

STEVE: Why dost thou waffle on incessantly?

AMO: ‘Tis needful, small and fluffy animal.

Yon readers, waiting there with bated breath

For great effusions of my warbling wit

These many moons have been deprived.

I must…

STEVE: Oh, whatever.

Yeah, I don’t think the Bard had to contend with a Steve in his life. But the bear has a point – I think this is enough for now. So here’s me, exit stage left, pursued by a bear.

Life, the Universe, and a Summer full of Living and Travels and Shakespeare. All the world’s a stage…

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Death in a Brownstone

Brownstone - OFFENWANGER - Cover A. Bergloff

What if …

… there were seven brothers living in New York, and they took in a cousin of theirs who was having trouble with her stepmother …

… you just might end up with …

Death in a Brownstone!

… which is a fairy tale adaptation of mine that just got published in Enchanted Conversation Magazine’s August issue!

Here’s a taster:

There’s always one thing in a man’s life that he shudders to think of. If it hadn’t been for Milo, this would have been mine.

Milo is the little brother of Albert Zwergmann—him and me went to grade school together—and he was a klutz from the time he was little. He’d trip over rocks, he’d trip over the end of the teeter-totter, he’d trip over other kids’ book satchels or their legs—even the ones that weren’t stuck out on purpose—and if, by a miracle, there weren’t any of those around, he’d trip over his own big feet. During his first grade, almost every other day Albert had to pick him up out of the dirt, dust him off, wipe his nose, and send him home to Mama.

Well, Mama Zwergmann ain’t around anymore, and Milo is no longer a little klutz on the playground. Matter of fact, he’s six feet two and has broader shoulders than even Rufus, who’s the biggest of all the Zwergmann brothers. But he’s still a klutz—except when he gets his hands on some precious stones. Then all of a sudden he’s the most skilled of the lot. For almost a dozen years now, he’s done all the original design work for the business, and Zwergmann’s Jewelers has become a byword for the rings, bracelets, and fancy cuff links they put on the market.

Albert’s still the one who has to pick people up out of the dirt, though. That’s how they ended up with her—Whitney, I mean. She was their cousin. One day, Albert tells me, there she was, sitting on their front room sofa, looking like something the cat dragged in…

To keep reading, head on over to Enchanted Conversation Magazine!

 

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Introducing: STAR BRIGHT!!

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You didn’t think it was ever going to happen, did you? Well, it finally did! May I introduce (drummmm rollllllll):

STAR BRIGHT!

That’s right, Book 4 in The Septimus Series is now out for your reading pleasure!

What’s it about, you wonder? Well, there’s this guy called Jamie, and…

Be careful what you wish for on a star – you just might get it!

Jamie has no idea what he wants to do with his life, but being thrown into a whole other world is NOT on the list of options. Living in a magical medieval realm looks so much easier in a video game…

Fortunately, he meets Cat, who has been in this exact predicament herself, and Daarshan, a curiously clumsy guy who helps him navigate his new surroundings. Will they find a way to send Jamie back home? And just what is that mystery surrounding Daar?

Here’s a little preview of some of the first chapter:

CHAPTER 1

“Here, try some of this,” Kaden said, rattling a small plastic pill bottle at Jamie.

“What is it?” Jamie drained the mug he was holding and plopped it on the sales counter. Coke tasted weird when you drank it from a coffee cup—or maybe it was the combination of the tequila with the dregs of the rum bottle they had dumped in that gave it that odd flavour; Jamie wasn’t really sure. The tequila was all gone now too.

[…]

The cat purred, and he leaned into Jamie’s hand so hard he pushed it right into a stack of display boxes, toppling them over.

One of them fell on its side, the lid popping off. A couple of blue stones rolled out onto the counter. Yes, two—there were definitely two. Jamie only had to make a little bit of an effort to focus his eyes to see that there were two, not four, or maybe even si-six. The cat batted at them with his paw. They were round and smooth, a deep blue with a white pattern like a star in the centre. “Those are cool,” Jamie said, [and he] divided what was left of the coke between his mug and Kaden’s tumbler.

[…]

He morosely stared into his mug; the coke had only filled it a third of the way. “Is there anything to top this up with?”

“Lemme see,” Kaden said. He was rummaging around under the counter, and now emerged somewhat unsteadily. “Score! Check it out!” He triumphantly held up a turquoise glass bottle. […]

“Ah.” Jamie nodded. … The room started to wave up and down at the edge of his vision. He tipped his head back and forth, and the effect intensified. Pretty crazy. “So, what’s in that there thing?” he said, pointing his mug at the little pill bottle sitting beside the cash register.

“Oh, yeah, that,” Kaden said, “‘s just some pills. I think those things can give you a pretty wild trip; …” He popped the top off the pill container and shook two bright red tablets out onto his hand. “So, you up for this?” He tantalisingly waved his palm under Jamie’s nose.

“Not without something to wash it down,” said Jamie. He twisted the cap off the gin bottle, splashed a generous portion into his mug, and some into Kaden’s tumbler. Only a bit of it spilled on the counter. Not much at all. Probably no more than half a cup.

“You take the red pill,” Kaden intoned, “you stay in Wonderland…”

Jamie grabbed one of the pills from Kaden’s hand and stuck it into his mouth. “C’mon, you too!” he said around the tablet on his tongue.

Kaden followed suit, then raised his glass.

“…and I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes!” they chanted in unison, clinking their cups together. They dumped the drinks down their throats, stared at each other for a moment and then burst into giggles.

“But what if I wanted the blue pill?” Jamie said. His head was spinning a bit—was that from the pill?

“S-sorry,” Kaden said, “n-no can do. You c-c-could try the s-st-stones, they’re b-bl-blue.” His eyes rolled back in his head, and he crashed to the floor behind the counter.

Jamie tried to lean over the counter to check if Kaden was okay, but then thought better of it. Too much spinning.

The cat, from his perch on the side counter, gave Jamie an inscrutable look, then reached out his paw and gently tapped the two blue stones, making them roll in Jamie’s direction.

Jamie looked at them. They seemed to almost give off a bit of a pulsing light. Blink, blink, blink… Kaden might have a point.

“But they’re stones, Crookshanks,” Jamie said, “not pills! You can’t swallow stones, nope, no siree.” He put down his empty mug and picked up the stones, one in each hand. He held them in front of his eyes—yes, he could still keep them in focus, yup, uh-huh—then held them out to the cat. … “Or maybe, maybe they’re magic, and you have to say a spell to make them work? Might be worth a shot.” The cat blinked, and Jamie made a face. “Yeah, you’re right—I don’t actually know any spells.” He stared at the stones whose white stars were twinkling at him from their shiny blue depths. And then he had an idea.

“Star light, star bright,” he chanted,

“First star I see tonight,

“I wish I may, I wish I might

“Have the wish I wish tonight!”

He giggled. Wishing. You had to make a wish. So he did, and then he moved the two stones in his fingers towards each other. Closer, closer, closer—and they touched.

Everything around Jamie started to swirl—a giant counterclockwise dance of blue light and colour whirled around him. He lost track of which way he was facing, of left and right and up and down, and then he no longer knew where he was at all.

What? Swirling blue light? Where have we heard that one before? Is he going to end up in …

But no, no spoilers. If you want to find out, get yourself over to your favourite ebook vendor and grab a copy! The paperback won’t be far behind; it’s already available on the US and European Amazon stores, and Amazon.ca should come online within a few days.

And that’s Life, the Universe, and STAR BRIGHT!

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