Taking Risks

Our local NaNoWriMo group is engaged on a new venture: we decided to take things a step further and form a Critique Group. A week ago we had our first meeting, and we decided that every month, everyone would submit few pages of their work, and we’d all read it and give each other feedback. Sounds great, right?

Now, in the week since, two of our group members have put up posts on their blogs, saying basically the same thing, namely how scary it is to stick out your neck and hand over your work to someone else to criticise. And the reaction I had to both their posts was nothing so much as, “You feel that way, too?”

See, in the group, we’re all very self-assured, poised, and articulate; we have things to say and opinions to state; we’re writers; we’re cool. But, as it turns out, when we go home and look over our material for something to send to everyone, we want to pull in our little snail antennae and cower in our shells, quietly whimpering. Because sending our stuff out there into the world is risky!

So as I was sitting here this morning thinking about this, beside me on the kitchen floor played out a little drama: Louis the Now-Very-Large Kitten was stalking a stinkbug. (Don’t ask me what the stinkbug was doing in my kitchen in January. Maybe it hitched a ride into the house on a piece of firewood on which it was trying to overwinter?)img_20170123_085236161

Now Louis is the kind of cat who, whatever else you can say about him, is not a tim’rous wee beastie. He’s curious. And persistent. The bottle caps and walnuts in the shell that he has slain number in the dozens, and the corpses are accumulated in the corners of the living room and under the kitchen stove drawer. So when there was this new and very interesting black little thing moving about the kitchen floor all on its own, Louis was mesmerised. He stared at it. He put out a paw and batted it. He stared at it some more, and batted at it some more – and so on.img_20170123_085107300

After quite a while of this, he decided on a different approach: he tried to take a bite. And the inevitable happened: the stinkbug sprayed.

Well! Louis jerked back. He made faces. Pt pt pt pt! he tried to spit the icky taste out of his mouth. He climbed on a cardboard box to get the high-ground advantage over this unexpectedly dangerous thing, squinting down at it with eyes that were obviously stinging with stinkbug juice. He blinked and blinked again, went pt pt! a few more times – and then he went right after the bug again. More cautiously this time – he stayed well back for a few minutes, stalking it from a distance – but he kept at it. He crawled between the potted plants, flipped over the patio door mat to find it – he wasn’t going let that funny black thing get away from him. Even though it squirted icky stuff in his face, Louis was determined to get that bug. He took a risk – he got burned – and he went right back to risk again.img_20170123_094659458

How very metaphorical, isn’t it? Louis the Cat and the Stinkbug. Now, I’m not saying that us writers are stinkbugs – uh, no. But that large orange-and-white fuzzball was rather inspiring this morning. He exuberantly takes risks, gets results that sting, then goes right on risking.img_20170123_091837762

So even if getting feedback on your stories can sometimes sting (and sometimes stink, as well), it’s worth going back to risk it again. And the good thing is that as writers we know we all feel the same – sharing our work is scary. But we do it anyway.

Life, the Universe, Stink Bugs and Writers. I think Louis would say that the exhilaration of the hunt is worth the sting.

Fly Specks

crystals (2) We’ve been having interesting weather this past week. It’s been unseasonably cold – we’ve had highs of -1°C, which is not normal for this time of year – but to make up for it, it’s been brilliantly sunny. The winds have whipped most of the leaves off the trees now, so the light falls through the bare branches, and the brightness is dazzling.

My house faces east, across a small valley, and my spot at the kitchen table looks out through the windows. So this time of year, when the sun comes up over the hills – around 8:30 AM – it hits me full in the face where I sit reading my emails and flipping through my Facebook page. It’s glorious.

But the last few days, it has also illuminated, in full splendour, the specks of fly shit on my kitchen window. That’s right – fly specks, all over the glass. With the amount of canning and food processing we do in the summer and into the fall, the kitchen is usually swarming with fruit flies throughout late August and September. (Important fact I learned in the FoodSafe class I took recently: one of the signs of a fly infestation in the kitchen is that there are a lot of flies. Yup. Aren’t you glad I shared that with you? Now you don’t have to take the class.) And when there’s a lot of fruit flies, they crawl all over the windows. And while they do so, they do – their business. Defecate. Poop. Yes. Now, fortunately, fruit flies being of a rather miniscule persuasion, the little specks they leave behind are also really tiny. No worse than the tiny speckles you get on your bathroom mirror when you stand too close while rinsing your toothbrush. Really, they’re no big deal.

Now, this morning, my daughter decided to take action. She took arms against a sea of troubles (well, okay, she grabbed a bottle of window cleaner and a wad of paper towels), and by opposing, ended them (aka cleaned the fly specks off the windows). And while she was at it, I took down the crystals we have hanging on those windows, and took the glass bottles and ornaments off the window sill, and washed them too.

crystals (3)And here is the thing: as soon as we hung the sparkling-clean crystals back on the window, the kitchen was dancing with rainbows. The little sculpture I have sitting on the window sill over the sink, which is really just an assortment of prisms, a clear acrylic rod, and a cobalt blue marble, stacked for random reflections, suddenly once again threw razor-sharp patterns of light across the window sill.

I had not even noticed how the rainbows and the prism patterns had become dulled. It was only tiny fly specks, wasn’t it? Tiny little translucent-white spots, no big deal. But once they were washed off, the world took on a new sparkle.

crystals (1)I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the metaphor to you – you’re bright enough to catch it without needing the fly specks washed off your glasses first. Tiny spots of fly dirt – the flies that produced it long gone to fruit fly heaven – dulling the brilliant sun’s reflection. A wad of paper towel and a bottle of window cleaner, and the sparkle is back in the world.

Life, the Universe, and Fly Specks. A lesson on a sunny morning.