A Time of Transition

Although it is some time since I have posted to this site, it’s for good reason.  My current employer recently decided that my role, and that of several colleagues should be made redundant.  Fortunately I saw the writing on the wall some time before the axe fell, and even then it was with a bit of notice so I have had time to start planning the next phase of my career.  It’s not even Plan B.  It’s a positive diversion to the next adventure in my working life.

This period of employment for a Utility company has just spanned seven years and I am grateful for that period of financial stability.  It came at a time when I desperately needed it and of course I have learnt a lot along the way. I now know a lot more about power generation than I did seven years ago. Increasingly though, my tolerance for  corporate bureaucracy is decreasing and so the rising operational restrictions and containment of my working day are becoming more difficult to tolerate.  I’m jumping back into self-employment.  Woo Hoo.

I won’t pretend that I don’t have moments of scaring myself silly, because I do.  Here I am launcscared childhing into a new business which will have to start generating income relatively quickly.  That won’t be the same as I am currently receiving but it still needs to provide some income.  I face a precarious retirements in coming years if I don’t make a success of this.

What I’ve been doing is planning, and learning, and thinking, and studying, and talking to anyone who would listen and brainstorming and planning again.  I have come up with my business concept, which is fluid at this stage in recognition of the fact that it will evolve during the early days.  You have no idea how difficult it is these days to come up with a name that is relevant, that feels right, that is registerable and has available .com and .com.au domain names.  I reviewed and tested over a hundred options.

Then came the logo.  I knew more definitively what I didn’t want but was hazy on what I did want.  I commissioned several people via Fiverr to come up with a design, and they each produced cookie-cutter type designs that did not resonate at all. There was one that had elements that I liked and so I took it and developed it a bit further and then got a local graphic designer to add the finishing touches. That process took quite a few weeks as well.

I have completed my business plan, and incorporated within that my 90-day plan to keep me on track.  I am now working on my website which I hope to have in a launch-able state by 1 August.  This timing is influenced a bit by the fact that my current paid employment terminates on 31 July.  I’ll be making a transition from one to the other.  I still have to design and create the reference material that I need to support the business but that’s on August’s To Do list.

August will be very busy because I am also attending the annual conference of the Romance Writers of Australia, to be held in Melbourne.  Although my first novel was published, that publisher went out of business and rights reverted to me.  I will take the opportunity to pitch the novel to other publishers at the conference.  I have also been working on the second novel, which is a sequel to the first. A chance remark about conflict between characters made me think of an additional thread that would run through the first novel and carry over in the second, not only tying them more strongly together but strengthening the plot line of the first.  I have a bit of work to do therefore in modifying ‘The Red Heart’ before the pitch. Attending the conference is a huge expense, but it is also my treat to myself after all the stress and angst that has been taking place at work for many months now. I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll post further details of the new business when I’m ready to launch.  Hopefully I’ll also be able to report that a new publisher has taken up my book.  If that doesn’t happen, I will consider self-publishing.

Travel Writing Workshop

There has to be some sort of reward for surviving a week of above 40 degree temperatures here in Adelaide, and today it was attending a travel writing workshop.  I don’t necessarily see myself taking up a new travel writing career (it pays too poorly for a start) but as always I have come away from the day impassioned and full of ideas for different writing projects.  The last workshop that I did was writing for radio and that was enthusiasm-generating as well.  Oh for the time to do it all.  Those brain storms and possibilities are all documented and at some point I will return to them and follow some up.

Not that I haven’t been writing.  My manuscript ‘The Red Heart’ is with the publisher and supposedly is undergoing an editing process as we write and the cover is also being designed.  The release date was 14 February but that date is drawing alarmingly close and I haven’t had confirmation that it will actually be made available on that date.  Hopefully soon.  In the meantime, I need to do some more work on the sequel.  I have the general plot idea but as I am just working on the first chapter there is much to be done.

I have a short story to submit to an anthology as well.  The publisher is seeking submissions on love stories, and I have just the thing in my bottom drawer, written about some of my observations from my occasional work as a marriage celebrant.  It will need some minor adaptation to suit the submission guidelines but other than that it is ready to go.

Time is one of the most precious commodities in my life, and I have come to the decision that in the middle of the year, I will reduce my working days to four per week.  This will of course mean a reduction in income but in part I will be pulling the belt tighter and in part will be developing alternative sources.  I have started a program of study that will be the springboard for the next career change – one that will ultimately allow me to be self-employed again.  More on that later.

In the meantime, young Donald and I are travelling to Japan in a couple of months and this will be an ideal time to put some travel writing ideas into practice.  We are going to attend the wedding of a young friend and are very much looking forward to the cultural experience – as well as the food, the sights, and the adventure.  I will be writing about it here of course, but will think about other avenues in the coming weeks.  It will be such an antidote to recent drab working experiences – I can hardly wait.

Summing up a life

“How long had you known him?”  That is sometimes a question that I am asked after I have delivered a eulogy.  In most cases I have not had the pleasure of meeting the deceased.  What I have done is listened carefully to his nearest and dearest as they relate to me their memories and experiences.  They laugh and they cry and relate the various anecdotes – and I listen.  Bit by bit, the picture grows.  What was his background?  Did he have a sense of humour?  What was his philosophy on life?  In this way, I interpret the essence of the man in eulogy form.  This is part of my role as a funeral celebrant.

Sometimes I do know the dearly departed, and that is why I have been asked to officiate at the ceremony.  Those eulogies are all the more poignant as I draw on my own memories, reflecting both my experiences and those of friends and relatives.  Doing a life justice is a bitter-sweet experience, but one that is so satisfying when you know you have done it well.

There are challenges of course.  How do you write a eulogy for a child who has been snatched so young?  What about the loner about whom nobody knew very much?  Sadly there are those difficult characters, who have left a raft of bitterness and bad memories behind.  There is a story behind each of those people and the challenge is in discovering it and delivering a eulogy that meets the needs of those in attendance.

These are some of the scenarios that we will discuss in our coming workshop – how to listen, what to ask, how to divine, how to write and lastly how to deliver a eulogy that leaves the mourners feeling that they have both learnt something new, and been reminded of what they knew and loved about the deceased.  They will listen, they will laugh, they will cry and they will remember.

At some point, you may be called upon to write or contribute to a eulogy. Often this will be with very little notice and in a time of much emotion and distress. This is a time to call on interview techniques, interpersonal and writing skills.

On Sunday 21st July, I am delivering a workshop on writing eulogies at the SA Writer’s Centre.  Details are available from the Centre.   In this workshop, you will learn the techniques to deliver a eulogy that will inform, delight, transfix and celebrate. You will engagingly encapsulate the lifespan of a person with your words and capture the essence of the deceased.

Reflection and Writing in Robe

One of my favourite places is Robe, in the south east of South Australia.  It is a historic coastal village that is known these days for its lobster catches, most of which are destined for foreign tables, unfortunately.

At the end of the week I will be travelling to Port Fairy in Victoria for an annual sojourn with friends and on a whim I have taken the entire week off work, and have been spending the preceding days in Robe.  Here I have been writing, and walking and thinking and meandering.  Tonight, in honour of my impending birthday, which is one of those with a zero on the end, I am taking myself to a highly recommended seafood restaurant, and dining on lobster.  This is an extravagant indulgence but this birthday won’t come around again and I think I deserve it.

Robe is approximately four hours’ drive south of Adelaide.  When making long journeys by car, I borrow a couple of talking books from the library.  Listening to the story makes the time pass more easily.  Baz Luhrman’s film ‘The Great Gatsby’ is about to be released and before seeing it I would like to re-acquaint myself with the book.  It would be great, I thought, if I could find a digital copy of the book at the library so that I would listen to it in the car.  It seemed such a positive omen for this trip therefore when there on the shelf and right in front of me was a copy of Gatsby.  It was meant to be.  I listened to most of it on the way down and was captivated by the elegance of Scott F Fitzgerald’s writing.  It is something to aspire to.

I am staying in a motel, which is a little uninspiring, but is one of the cheaper options in town.  Of course I am paying the rate that applies to two people but that is what happens when you travel on your own.  In between discovering where the best coffee in town is brewed, I have also been working on a short story which I started some years ago and at that time, reached a dead end.  I have circumnavigated that block and finished the tale, in draft form at least.  That feels good.

I have also revisited a novel, based in Robe and which I started a decade ago.  Reading now what I wrote then, I realise how laboriously written it was and how much needs to be deleted.  The story itself, not totally plotted, has merit but the telling needs much work.  At least I have developed skill to the point where I recognise bad writing when I see it, especially my own.  I will pick this story up again and try to do something with it.

The weather is too cold for swimming in the sea, or even paddling.  Great for bracing walks along the beach though.  This is the view from the Town Beach.

Looking along the Town Beach

This afternoon, having finished the draft of my story, I wandered along Long Beach instead (yes, that is what it is called).  The tide was going out and I cannot resist looking for treasures that the sea might have yielded, like a perfectly formed fan shell.  There weren’t any but  I found a shell with iridescent nacre and also a bit of wave-buffeted and encrusted green glass.

Shell and piece of glass found on Long Beach

Shell and piece of glass found on Long Beach

In a previous post on Slow Writing, I mentioned my intention to acquire a fountain pen again and to write; write letters, write in my journal (as opposed to my blog) and to write those more intimate communications.  I brought the pen with me and yesterday, sat in the window of the local library, overlooking the foreshore and brought my journal up-to-date.  Sigh.  Why would I ever go back to work???

Time to get ready for my dinner.  Along with the jeans and woollen jumpers, I packed an outfit suitable for fine dining.  I shall wash and dry my hair, pull on my stockings and apply my most sophisticated face.  I am surprised that I have reached the age that I have, but fully intend to make the most of it.  Bon appetit.

In Search of the Fountain Pen

Those who saw my previous post will have read of my lament about the disappearance of hand-written letters and my intention to resurrect a fountain pen with which to better write such epistles.

I found my beautiful gold pen, which was a prize for Letter of the Month in a magazine ( a lovely surprise at the time).  I bought a bottle of ink, no longer having one in the house or if I do, not being sure where to find it.  There was much deliberation over the colour – black, royal blue or blue-black being the only choices.  In the past I used a brown; pages in my journal from a couple of decades ago are written in this colour.  The black was too sombre and somehow the royal blue not serious enough and so I settled on the blue-black.

It was with anticipation that I unscrewed the cap and carefully rinsed the nib, drawing up some water into the reservoir and squirting through again to clean the works and clear out any dried ink that might impede the flow.  Happy with this process, and having carefully dried the nib, I inserted the pen into the ink this time and squeezed the springy metal surrounding the rubber reservoir in order to draw up a supply of ink.  Of course I got ink all over my fingers – I don’t think that I ever used a fountain pen without doing this.  I screwed the barrel back into place and was ready to go – or at least to write.

It was then I remembered one of the reasons why I had not previously persisted in using this pen.  The nib design does not allow for any variation in your stroke – no fine upward sweep followed by the downward pressure forming the stronger part of the letter.  It is writing with character.  This pen however delivered a uniform flow of ink, whether on the upward or downward stroke.

That’s OK – I can live with that.  My memory might be playing tricks on my anyway as perhaps it was only with the pen that we dipped in the inkwell when learning to write  at school that such graduations were possible.  (Although ballpoint pens became available while I was in Primary School, we were not allowed to use them and they encouraged poor handwriting.)  What I also discovered though is that the ink does not flow consistently to the nib and I remember this happening before.  It soon dries up – mid-sentence and then you have to unscrew the barrel and give the reservoir a gentle squeeze to force ink through again.  Inevitably, this results in ink blots and as yet I have not invested in a blotter. (Note to self.)

I persisted for a little while and gave up in frustration.  Today, I went to one of those stationery super stores, looking for another fountain pen but they only had a small very slim disposable specimen.  It comes pre-loaded with ink and as soon as the ink runs out, you throw the pen away.  That won’t do.  I don’t want a disposable pen that ends up in landfill.

I rummaged around in an old drawer after that and found a calligraphy pen, but unfortunately without any ink so I can’t even use that.  I just went on line and Googled Fountain Pens in my city (Adelaide) and turned up the only specialist pen shop in town.  Reviewing their website, I could see that they stocked fountain pens up to $5000 in value.  Holey Moley!  I don’t think that I will write enough for that.

There were others at the other end of the scale though and I think that one of those will be for me.  It will have to wait until I can get into the shop though as I don’t think that ordering on-line is the way to go.  You need to hold your pen and test the weight and the grip before deciding to buy.  I saw a similar pen to mine, also a Parker Pen so perhaps I might take mine into the shop as well to see if they have any suggestions for making it work satisfactorily.

With my on-line search, I also found a Fountain Pen Network, for people who sell or use fountain pens, with on-line classifieds as well – just for pens.  Fascinating.  The search continues.

Slow Writing

Most people have by now heard about the slow food movement, which seeks to counteract the fast food evolution, and to maintain traditional and regional cooking and food consumption.  I’m all for it.

What has been running through my mind lately though is a slow writing movement, if such a thing exists.  Actually, I have just done a quick Google search and see that there are a range of articles and sites on the topic, not all with the same interpretation.   I wanted to write a brief note yesterday to slip in with a payment that I was about to post and contemplated on which paper I should do this.  I have heaps of scrap paper (thanks to my endless printer output), various notepads and then some ancient quality paper notelets with matching envelopes, meant for a day when one sent hand-written letters.  Preferably with a fountain pen, but of course others writing implements are equally acceptable.

My first reaction was that I should save the notelets for ‘best’ whatever that might be.  Then I changed my mind and decided that best was now and I would combine this paper with my best handwriting and use that for my communication.

Remember handwriting classes?  If you are of my vintage, you will.  We had special books with the lines drawn in, resembling the staves on a musical score except that there were only four of them.  The top and bottom lines measured the upper and lower extremities of letters such as h or y and the two middle lines were guides for lower case letters without a riser, etc.  Each week, we practised our loops and swirls, developing our best copperplate script.  Yes, we even used pen and ink, with each desk equipped with an ink well though intially it was pencil only.

How often do you receive a letter?  I mean a proper letter – not just the mass mailout that accompanies the Christmas Card but a letter that is hand written and tells you about the life and news of the sender.  I love the feeling of opening the letterbox and finding a hand addressed envelope that indicates that perhaps there is a personal missive inside.  It is fantastic knowing that someone has actually taken the time to write in what now seems such a personal way.

I have kept many of the letters that have been sent to me over the years (proper letters I mean) and also have the letters that I wrote home to my mother during my travels and time away from home in my twenties and some other times as well.  I am so glad that she kept those.  They are a wonderful record of what I was doing, who I met, the adventures that I had and even where I was.  I can also see the evolution of my handwriting and can equate it with the person that I was at that time.

I use email all the time of course and I love the convenience and the immediacy of it.  The cheapness also.  I send many of my emails late at night when I happen to have a spare moment and when I feel that it is too late to call someone.  I am time poor and look for shortcuts and solutions that impose minimal disruption on my life.  Emails are great.  Texts not so much as I don’t have a smart phone.  Typing texts is tedious and also each small text costs me. 😦

My teenage son can hardly write, which is very sad.  Partly this is because he has dysgraphia and the physical act of converting words into written form is akin to torture for him.  He hates it and his writing looks like the standard that you might expect of an eight year old, and that is being generous.  He had minimal writing classes at school and certainly none of the lessons in cursive writing that I had.  He got through high school with a form of disjointed printing.

Young Donald sees no reason why he should try to improve his writing, as what use is handwriting anyway, and nothing that I say will convince him otherwise.  He will type or text, though the bare minimum at that.  It is sad that he will rarely know the joy of a written letter and will certainly never send any of his own.  I suspect that he is very typical of his generation.

I know that I will continue to be time-challenged, but I will try to write more letters and I have promised myself to bring the nice writing paper out from the closet and to use it.  I might even look for my fountain pen and get it in good writing condition.  Time to write hand-written letters and notes again.

Words in and out of favour

Do you find that some words resonate with you more than others?  There may be a context in which the word has been used that has an influencing memory for you, or perhaps you just don’t like the way it sounds.  Lugubrious is a word that is as mournful as its meaning and will never provide an emotional uplift.  Perhaps it suits you though when you are feeling blue.

I have been reflecting on words and have realised that for me, not all words are created equal.  Some I quite like and some I definitely do not.  It is by no means comprehensive but I have made a brief list of some that have achieved favoured status and some which have not.  I am sure that there will be words that you could add to the lists, based on your own perceptions.

Favoured words

Bespoke              The term comes from England where it originally referred to custom or tailor-made clothing.  In recent years the term has been applied to information technology and refers to custom services or products.  I would love to be able to afford bespoke clothing from a quality tailor.

Discombobulating           Throwing into a state of confusion.  I never use this word because I probably won’t remember all the syllables but it still fascinates me.  Use it and you will certainly throw your listeners or readers into a state of confusion so its very use would be discombobulating.  Perhaps I should practice it a bit.  Watch out for my next blog.

Pithy     Concise and to the point.  Should be more of it.

Recalcitrant        Marked by stubborn resistance to and defiance of authority or guidance.  As one who has never warmed to the direction of authority, this word describes how I often feel when being told what to do.  My son exhibits a significant level of juvenile recalcitrance.

Segue   seg-wey               The smooth transition from one topic to the next.  If tongue is pronounced tung, why isn’t segue pronounced seg?  Besides being applied to the transition of a discussion, I have heard it being used in relation to dancers, who make the transition from one style of dancing to another.  It has always sounded quite bizarre to me (though a graceful word) and perhaps that is why I like it.

Non-favoured words

Dude                Pretentious and sounds odd on the lips of young people.  Mostly used by kids who are searching for a sense of self and looking to portray a sense of coolness and one of the gang.  I’m not hung up about this but just notice that it does not sit comfortably on the lips of many users.

Frigid               This is a word that has become an instrument of abuse and denigration.  Of course I don’t like it.

Senescent        I am not ageing, I am senescent.  It has a soft sibilant sound but is a little too close to senile so I think that I will relegate this word to the back benches.

Synergistic          I was liaising with an architect once, whose conversation was peppered with this word and I developed an aversion to it.

Wellness             This is a word that surfaced in the last decade or two and is used extensively by the alternative health industry to promote skills and products – wellness as opposed to illness.  To me it smacks of chicanery and I will not patronise any business that promotes itself with this word.

Words themselves contain so much power.  They wound, they delight, they draw us together.  As a celebrant, I love the power of the words that I use in ceremonies, but I will leave that story for another blog.