“Make Good Art” – Neil Gaiman

This morning I watched Neil Gaiman’s speech “Make Good Art”. I’d recommend this video to everyone, not just people who consider themselves “artists”. After all, we’ve all been artists at some point in our lives and in various fashions. The child forced to participate in a school art class is an artist. The adult picking out their outfit for the day is an artist.

Neil said he doesn’t think of himself as having a career because that would have implied he had a career plan, and he never did. Rather, he had a “bucket list” of what he wanted to do: “write an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, and write an episode of Doctor Who“. He says he didn’t have a career, he just moved to the next thing on the list.

When we were in grade one, we didn’t think about everything we should have accomplished by grade three. We accepted the grade we were in at the moment, and then we moved to the next grade. That’s what Neil’s list reminded me of: feeling content with our present developmental stage rather than beating ourselves up for not being bigger and better.

Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed balancing a few projects: working on revise and resubmits from publishers, writing an adult novel through a grant process, compiling ideas for self-help sites that asked me to contribute, and beginning work on a technical writing contract I recently picked up. Now I recognize it’s all a journey, and I don’t need to do everything at once–I can simply make my way down the list.

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Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

The other night I watched the documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. While it didn’t make me want to give away all my belongings, I enjoyed it for what it was: a reminder on the benefits of living a simpler life. While perhaps the message has been delivered before, I still found new insights to take away.

I’d never heard of the term “fast fashion”. For those who haven’t either, it’s cheap and trendy clothing meant to be worn for a week or two before being discarded for the next best thing. The footage of dumptrucks throwing away piles and piles of clothes made me sick to my stomach.

I identified with the criticism of buying furniture just to fill up a new house, though I couldn’t help but think the documentary favoured those who could afford large homes and had the disposable income to waste furnishing underutilized rooms. How many people have 3000+ square foot homes that this is even an issue?

Still, a lot of us are fortunate and do hold onto or hoard items that other people might put to good use. Again, it’s a good reminder to not let these items sit in your closet. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Also by sharing items, we all do our part to reduce the strain on our overflowing landfills.

Perhaps what stuck with me most about the film was that “The Minimalists” come from difficult backgrounds (abusive fathers and crack addict/alcoholic mothers), so they grew up with the drive to become wealthy only to realize it wasn’t bringing them the happiness they expected. One man spoke of selling five year olds cellphones to make 50K a year. Life is a learning process and it can take us years to find the right path, but it’s so important to never stop searching and to choose the one that feels right in your bones.

If you haven’t seen this documentary yet, give it a watch and let me know your thoughts!

Finding time to write

I’m at my dining room table, looking out the window at the tiny birds toddling across my front lawn, the swing hanging from its pine tree softly swinging in the breeze, and the sun-soaked flowers in the neighbour’s garden. This has been my writing view for the past month.

Every Friday, I write.

It’s so nice to have this weekly ritual, this precious time to sit down and do what I love. In fact, carving out this time is a necessity in our crazy busy household! Owen and Max’s current game is to take all the pillows off the couch, stack them up into a tower, and then hurtle themselves off it and onto the next couch. Max just turned 16 months.

But on Fridays, the house is quiet. Trenton drops the kids off at daycare on his way to work, and I gather up all my writing essentials—coffee, laptop, breakfast, COFFEE—and make my way into the dining room, where I might sit down and immediately feel inspired, or I might spend a half hour trying to find the right music playlist.

Some days, I easily write 2500 words. Some days the people walking past distract me and I let them distract me. I used to think I had to push myself to write a certain number of words a day (Stephen King aims for 1000), but now I recognize some days are more productive than others, and that’s okay.

When I first started writing, I used to force myself to sit and write when I wasn’t in the mood, and the result was I got very little done. Now I give myself permission to relax. I find that if I give myself that break, the words will come more easily the next day. And when they do, I put the kids down and madly type whatever idea was percolating while I was driving to a friend’s for a play date, or riding the train at the amusement park, or changing a poonami.

Fridays are for writing, but the writing process isn’t just about getting words down. It’s about letting creativity flow—giving your imagination the time and space to allow creativity to flow.

I’m so thankful that I have this time every week to dedicate to my writing and to myself, and I highly recommend all writers give themselves this gift. We all live hectic lives with jobs, family, and other commitments, which means we don’t find as much time as we’d like to write.

TGIF everyone! I hope you find time to do what you love this week.

Missing kitty returns!

Have you ever had a pet go missing for over 24 hours?

On Saturday night Tex didn’t come home. After calling for him and doing a walk around the block, we decided to call it a night–after all it’s summer and who doesn’t like staying out late in the summer?

Trenton and I both checked the doors periodically throughout the night, but Tex wasn’t there. We awoke in the morning and expected to see him waiting on the front stoop, but still nothing. The panic didn’t set in, however, until we got back from the pool around 2 p.m. and his little furry butt didn’t run down the front walk to greet us.

For anyone who hasn’t picked up on how much I love my cats, I love my cats. I don’t worry as much about Jet because she has street smarts and doesn’t warm up to just anyone. Tex, on the other hand, has bonfires with our new neighbours, climbs into the mailman’s car for a visit, and follows us on walks around the block. He’s too friendly for his own good (which is what we love about him)!

There has been a heat wave for the past week, so we started to think the worst. Was Tex lost in a new neighbourhood without food and water? Was he resting under a bush somewhere, too exhausted from the heat to drag himself home? Trapped in a neighbour’s garage?

While Trenton rode his bike around the neighbourhood calling Tex’s name, I Googled “cat missing for 24 hours”. The articles said cats who don’t return within 24 hours might be lost or trapped somewhere. If left without food and water, their chances aren’t good. The advice was to walk around the block and check under porches and in trees, knock on neighbours’ doors, and post missing cat flyers.

After Trenton searched, I searched, and then the family searched, walking the streets and calling Tex’s name. It broke my heart to hear Owen crying for his lost kitty.

To distract ourselves, we left food and water on our front step and then went for dinner in an air conditioned restaurant, but all I could think about was going home to check on Tex again. If he was there, I’d cuddle him all night and never let him outside again. From now on, he would be an indoor cat. I would appreciate and baby him like I used to before I had kids. All I wanted was to watch a movie with him in my lap, purring and looking up at me with his big cat grin.

On the drive home from dinner, I burst into tears.

But when we pulled up at the house, it happened: Tex came around the side of the house. I jumped out of the car and raced up the front walk, scooped him up in my arms. The next door neighbour opened his front door and cheered, “Huzzah, your cat came back! I was on the phone with my sister and when I saw him, I told her the cat is back and hung up.”

Tex was a bit shocked by my enthusiastic greeting, but he purred the moment I squeezed him to me. I gave him wet food and water, and then cuddled him all night like I’d dreamed about doing. In the end he was missing 27 hours and he was exhausted, but he was safe. We still don’t know where he went, but we suspect he fell asleep in the shade somewhere. I still plan to keep him inside going forward.

So for anyone who is missing a pet, I hope this gives you hope.

Here is exhausted Tex after he came home 🙂

Goodbye to Our First House

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m not great with change. I’m very sentimental and have trouble letting go of places and things that remind me of wonderful experiences!

At the end of March, we moved out of our very first house. The house we bought together just before we got married. The house we lived in when we brought both kids home from the hospital. The house that is filled with memories of friends playing croquet and beersbie in the huge backyard, as well as family staying with us from different countries.

We called it our box house.

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We were at a Superbowl party in early February (I actually had to Google which sporting event it was, how pathetic), and received a text from a realtor that someone was going to put a bid on our house. At this point it had been up for sale for five months and we’d only received one lowball offer and a bunch of helpful feedback along the lines of, “Your windows are ancient” or “Your shingles are peeling like scabs.” Then all of a sudden this realtor’s text came in saying, “My clients are super interested but you need to get out in 30 days.”

Up until then we hadn’t been that interested in selling, which is why we’d listed the house on our own rather than use a realtor. We were just testing the waters. We didn’t even have a FOR SALE sign on the front yard. So Trenton and I read the text, had some more beer, and then went home and read it again. We thought about whether we actually wanted to move.

We’d lived in our house for seven years. We LOVED our house. The only reason we were even considering selling it was because the house was in dire need of renovations. We needed to make a decision: stay or go.

As DIYers, Trenton and I had already put a lot of work into the house ourselves. We bought it in a private deal from the developer who transformed old military housing into an inner city suburb called Garrison Woods in 2001, and before us the house had been filled with renters. The grass in the backyard was burned away from dog pee and the walls and baseboards were dinged all over. We did ALL the landscaping in the backyard, including planting trees, digging gardens, painting the fence, and lowering the deck.

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We also did the following interior renovations ourselves:

  • retiled the guest bathroom, installed a new bathtub and vanity
  • retiled the ensuite, installed a new shower and vanity
  • ripped out the carpet on both staircases
  • ripped out carpet in the basement and replaced with laminate
  • painted walls, window trim, and baseboards
  • installed new shelving in closets
  • installed a stackable washer/dryer upstairs (this one I did not help with – it was all T and his dad as I watched the kiddos)
  • added crown mouldings in front entrance and replaced stippled ceiling with drywall

The people who bought our house had it professionally renovated, and last night we had an opportunity to walk through the finished product. It looks amazing. It made me happy to see our house transformed the way we knew it could be. (It also felt pretty good to see that they kept our bathroom renovations intact. Go us!)

The negotiations on the sale of our home were crazy easy. They asked for a quick possession, and we asked for close to list price. Now we live in a house that doesn’t require renovations any time soon–which will be a marriage saver with young kids–and it’s only seven blocks from our old neighbourhood, so sentimental me didn’t have to let go of all my favourite things, including the parks and river paths.

While it’s emotional to say goodbye to a house that has been your home for so long, we’re already making memories in our new home. I was a bit worried that Owen would be upset after taking the tour last night, but as we drove away he talked about how much he likes his new bedroom with the big window.

So farewell to our box house! You were good to us and we’ll cherish our memories with you always.

The dreaded synopsis with multiple characters 

After struggling to write a synopsis for my current WIP with dual POV, I came across this article and I was finally able to write a decent breakdown of the most important events. Before I was basically writing two synopses–one for each character–and there was a lot of repetition. This article helped me realize I didn’t necessarily have to list each event in the correct order and that I could cut down on the number of characters mentioned by encompassing them in their collective role, ie. “the police”.

I recommend this article to anyone struggling to write a complicated story synopsis:

How to Write a Synopsis When You Have Lots of Characters in Your Story

Gratitude and Love

Happy New Year!!! Seeing as I have been a bit MIA, it seems only fitting for one of my “new years resolutions” to be devoting more time to the blog. In the fall I made a new Instagram account for my writing: @lexbakerwrites. I also watched this amazing documentary on being grateful, which led me to create an Instagram account dedicated to posting a daily gratitude picture. It’s a private account, made entirely for myself, and it has been beyond rewarding to “find” a picture to take every day. It opens my eyes to everything I have, how privileged I am, and I am so so thankful. Which leads to my first resolution…

Resolution #1: Gratitude
Having two kids under three has its challenges–many more than my husband and I anticipated when we had the “should we have kids three years or two years apart talk”–but it is worth every exhausted and stressful moment. At the beginning of last year I was in my third trimester and super stressed out due to two terrible events that occurred in 2014–one of which will never stop hurting, but the other might turn out okay. And if it doesn’t, Trenton and I will be okay. At least we will finally have an answer and can heal. We are so lucky that through all the bad we had our first child, who is super sweet and loving and makes us laugh. Our second child arrived just when we needed him and blesses us every day with his infectious smiles. It’s impossible not to be happy around him! It melts my heart how much my sons already love each other and I know they are going to have an amazing bond. I’m also so grateful for my extended family and their invaluable love and support; my friends who were excited and happy for me after I had Max and published my book; my two black kitties for their endless snuggles; and my house in an area of the city that I love (and is super kid friendly)! Which leads to my second resolution…

Resolution #2: Love
K, this sounds super corny, but I want to open my heart to love (maybe because I just watched Love Actually and that was a direct line from the movie). I agree that “love is all around us” and we just have to look. I’m a very social person, but recently I’ve felt exhausted so I started turning down invitations with friends (this is also a symptom of having two young children), and I quickly began to feel isolated. However, the moment I decided to start seeing people again, I realized how many great people I have in my life! Thank you to all the great people, including you, the person reading this. You rock.

Hello Me, It’s You

 

My toddler is napping (for the first time in days!) and my 6 month old is demanding cuddles (nothing new here), so it’s the perfect time to dig into this review copy of Hello Me, It’s You.

A university project that took off on social media, HMIY is a book of letters written by people aged 17-24 to their 16 year old selves about their experiences with mental health issues. The aim is to reassure those who are experiencing these issues as well as to reduce stigma around them.

What a brilliant concept for a novel! Young adulthood is such a turbulent time (which is part of the reason I love writing about it), and I think it’s hard for a lot of teens to recognize whether what they’re experiencing is similar to other people their age or a sign of something more serious. This book could be invaluable to so many people.

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Thank you for the opportunity to read this!