I'm not larking around while I'm here in Savannah GA avoiding winter in Minnesota. I'm actually working hard, harder than I have in many years. I'm two chapters away from finishing my book. Details to follow this summer. Publishers don't like you to divulge too much too soon.
Everyday I open the laptop and try to make 1000 coherent words. Most days I get to 800 before my brain gives out. Some days I exceed the goal. I keep chipping away. I tell myself it's like 50 feature articles. it's like 60 columns. No matter how I try to break it down, the final count looms large in my mind and haunts my sleep.
My little rental is tucked in the bowels of an old historical building and feels like something of a sensory-deprivation chamber. So most of this word-making happens at the coffee shop on Bull Street right off of Chippewa Square. The corner building is decorated in a "Friends-ian" style. Lots of broken-in wing chairs and a few sofas. If I'm lucky I get this old blue loveseat where my mojo seems to reside. I spread out my notes and perch my cup of tea nearby and I'm off to the word races.
As I write two students from SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) discuss the video game they are creating. They are all beards and man-buns, noserings and necklaces, but these guys are so far over my head as they plot this class project.
If you seek distraction there's a revolving fashion show that never disappoints. There's the girl with blue and white hair and Mad Hatter attire. Her top hat is pinned with brooches and clocks and she leans on a jeweled staff. Her friend wears lots of red brocade and spider-webby leggings. However their chatter is nowhere near as sophisticated as their look.
There's the guy who has diet coke and chocolate cake with his old school book every single day. Coffee shop culture, where everyone is glued to the screens, talking about their day, their drama. There's always a "loud-talker", a clutch of girls sketching and texting. We all sit alone but together.
At home I need perfect silence but for some reason the buzz in the background here helps the words flow like a river until it puddles around 4pm. I see how JK Rowling did it. Here it's cozy, the light is right, you can count on someone to watch your stuff without worry when you need the bathroom. What better office could you hope for? I must remember to give a shout to this blue sofa and the baristas in the "Acknowledgements" section of my book.
It’s that time of year when garden writers have slowed down, if not altogether halted their horticultural pursuits while at the same time they are feverishly working upon the writing aspect of their dual-aspect professions. That’s where I stand right now. Well, actually I’m sitting, under a blanket and my warm laptop working in my winter home away from home. Isn’t it funny how you adapt to being cold again so soon?
It’s too soon to talk about plants down here in the south, a few camellias are blooming here and there braving the chilly weather but that’s about it. My southern garden writer-friends are in garden-planning mode already but I know not to even think about that for several more months.
In between knocking out columns and stories I’ve been thinking about a quote by Hermann Hesse I saw recently.
"Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity."
Considering the events of this past year, past weeks, you can’t help but feel helpless about the threats facing journalists as they cover the big issues abroad. Even for a writer it’s hard to imagine. Here I sit tapping away about flowers, bees, trees and the like. It’s not like anyone will take issue, well not much, with what I write. I write without worry of being gruesomely murdered or tortured or flogged for speaking my mind.
I am in awe of the people who head off to far-flung places seeking to share the truth about global events with the rest of the world. I grew up idolizing those people who brought us the news while risking their lives, journalists in khaki and cameras slung around their necks trudging through deserts and jungles both urban and wild. And to this day they still merit my awe and admiration. I just thought I’d say that, because thanks to freedom of the press, I can.
How does gift giving go in your house? Do you ask your friends and family what they want for the holidays and then dutifully fulfill that order? Do you use it as simply a guideline? Or do you go completely free-range and get them something you think they might need or want without regard to their request?
I came from the “be glad for whatever you got” type of family. Presents were well meaning and thoughtful, but rarely expensive or expected. After all my mom and dad weren't’t that far removed from the days of getting excited over an orange in their stockings, if that. I’ve always been way more into the food, the tree, the lights and the togetherness. I don’t think I would have dared to actually ask for something specific once I was past the Santa stage.
Because of this, I don’t think I’ve ever been very good at giving gifts. I think I’ve probably given horrible gifts because I don’t place so much stock in the idea and didn't’t realize how much importance people place on them.
I married into a family that gives great thought to the practicality and desirability of their gifts. In fact, they anguish over it. But I was still taken aback when they asked me what I wanted for Christmas. When I told them I liked to be surprised they were also taken aback. At first they thought I was just being difficult. I was sincere. I think gifts should be just that, give me whatever you want, I will be grateful. I will appreciate it.
And as it became apparent I was a hopeless holiday shopper, my hustle-bustle loving husband has become the primary Christmas shopper. He starts worrying about it early in October and usually pulls out all the stops. In the spirit of Clark Griswold he truly wants everyone to have something fabulous, useful or both; the latest technology or timesaving device or even plane tickets. I usually know what he’s getting me ahead of time and it’s always very nice and needed. Once his family got to know what I liked, those things became my default present every year. I appreciate these gifts but just once I’d like to pull off the paper and find something unexpected, whether it’s weird or wonderful, interesting or inexpensive.
I understand the reason behind gift registries and practicality but is there anyone else who finds the idea of ordering specific gifts a little disheartening?
The garden's asleep. It's time to take care of the gardener.
I try to wear sunscreen. I really do. But for the past few years when I know I'm going to spend serious time in the garden (more than a quick pass-through grabbing a berry or bloom) I tend to just cover up rather than slather. Long pants, shirt with sleeves and gloves, maybe a hat. It's not a style statement but it saves my skin so to speak.
I grew up on Southern California beaches and earned every wrinkle and freckle I have the honest way. But now that smorgasbord of skin oddities is a constant source of worry. I go and get something taken off every now and then, but this week I decided to go and get all checked out. If you garden, you should go too. It's easy to lose yourself in the garden and also lose track of how much time you put in with the sun beating down while you play.
It's easy to put it off. As in, oh god I'll have to shave my legs. I ruminated all night about the potential time bombs that might be ticking on my skin's surface. I was dreading the possibility of some slice and dice procedures but got lucky with just a few squirts from the ice cannister instead. And now I can use that energy for planning next year's garden instead of worrying about whether I have skin cancer.
Get an appointment. With lots of people busy out shopping and partying I bet there's an available opening just right for your schedule. Get the full body scan. It's not that bad. It's one less New Year's resolution you'll have to make come January 1.