Where Is Your Home?

Source: purpleshadow13.hubpages.com

Source: purpleshadow13.hubpages.com

Everyone has ideal work and home environments, places where they can be their most productive and authentic. I wonder where these preferences come from. Is it an attempt to recreate a childhood home where one felt safe and loved, is it just a matter of convenience and lifestyle or is it a link to the way our ancestors lived that is stored in our DNA that makes one person hanker for city life and another for the quiet of the country?

As an introvert, I’ve spent most of my life trying to fit into an extrovert world. I tried to convince myself living in an apartment in a big city was what I wanted and working in a government office was the thing to do. Then I got older and wiser and just plain tired of trying to be something and someone I wasn’t.

If I had just listened to my child self and followed what made her happy, I would have saved myself a great deal of time, grief and moving expenses. Children always know their preferences especially when they are young enough not to care about what society says.

I’ve always preferred a forest, and not a forest view but being amongst the trees, down in the understory. As a preschooler, I would head outside and straight for the hedgerow that divided our property from the neighbour’s. I would spend hours tucked underneath the branches where it was cool and dark making up stories about magical animals and places. Once I started attending school, every recess I would scoot down to a small dell where a poplar forest stood. I loved that tiny green palace with its shimmering leaves that shivered with the slightest breeze breaking the sunlight into moving sculptures of dark and light.

It wasn’t until my forties when I would finally own a property that was nestled in the trees and for five years I lived in my dream environment. Even on the brightest, hottest days of summer I could find a cool, dark spot of shade where my light-sensitive eyes could enjoy looking at the sunny day from a comfortable perspective.

When it comes to work environment, a softly lit, quiet room with the sound of the rain outside is when I feel the most energized and productive. A sunny day does the opposite for me; I just want to find shade and read all afternoon or have a long afternoon nap. Give me an overcast stormy day, soft glowing yellow light and even better a fire roaring on the hearth and I’m a very happy camper.

kitchen fire

I am also a morning person, a very early morning person. Before sunrise, I take my coffee outside no matter what time of year. I go outside to experience the brief moment when the night creatures have all gone to bed and the day beings haven’t gotten up yet. The silence that exists is like the earth holding its breath and it feels as if all things are possible in that fleeting period of absolute silence.

So, I prefer the sun dappled shade of a forest and my home needs to reflect a sense of calm, warmth and dreaminess. I contemplated why I hold such preferences and I think I unconsciously try to recreate in the external world what my internal one looks and feels like.

My imagination and inspiration live in a place of shadows where characters and stories emerge from the half-light of a flickering candle flame, where the brooding clouds create a blank slate for my characters to act out their stories. And the in between places of my mind are where I catch glimpses of another world that ask to be placed on the page.

candlelight window

So what is your ideal place to live; the stark beauty of a desert, the vastness of an ocean view, a cottage in the forest, the open vistas of a prairie, or the exotic flora of a jungle? And what environment allows you to feel most comfortable, the hum and buzz of a city, the quiet of the country or something in between?

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Chesterfield of Dreams

AfricanvioletIt’s been a month of soaring temperatures and oppressive heat.  Even with the blinds closed and several fans running, my apartment is sweltering.  The only solution is to head outside in search of shade and the faint hope of catching a breeze.

My apartment opens onto a covered patio so finding shade wasn’t a problem but the available seating left a great deal to be desired. But that’s where my sister, the Garage Sale Guru, the Diva of Dumpster Diving came to my rescue.

She’d recently plucked a rather sad-looking bamboo and wicker sofa from someone’s front lawn.  Don’t worry, she didn’t steal it, the owners had stuck a free sign on it before my sister scooped it up and shoved it in the back of her truck.

Its coat of glossy black paint was peeling off, there were no cushions and a few of the wicker wraps on the back and arms had started to unravel. I gave it a good cleaning and fixed the broken pieces.  As for cushions, we snagged them for under forty dollars, sixty percent off, as the store was already putting out its back to school merchandise (this was in July).

At first I labeled this wonderful piece of furniture the Couch of Procrastination because as soon as I’d settle into it, time would disappear and I would find myself daydreaming while watching the bees dance with the flowers in the back yard.

Couch

 

But the word procrastination conjured up feeling of guilt; that in sitting in this wonderful space I was somehow being lazy.  I was wasting time when there were more important things that needed my attention; laundry, housecleaning, this month’s blog, hitting my daily word count on my current novel.

Then I remembered a quote from Socrates, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”  Somehow I’d forgotten the value of being instead of constantly doing. Its only when you are really clear on what is important in your life, what fulfills you, can you lead a meaningful life.  And the only way to figure that out is to be.  Be with yourself, and your thoughts and your fears. When you dig deeper that is when the real richness of your life can come forward.

Now more than ever, we need to disconnect with the digital world and step out of the rush of modern society.  When you aren’t distracting yourself with tweets, Facebook updates and pinning images on Pinterest or rushing about to-and-from work or dashing out to do some retail therapy, something wondrous creeps in. Silence.

And once the silence has established itself it allows you to finally hear that still quiet voice of your authentic self.

There is a reason why even cloistered monks and nuns set time aside for silent prayer and meditation.  Only in quiet contemplation can one begin to know God, or Buddha or the intelligent consciousness of the Universe.  Without that sacred space of silence, we who live in the secular world can lose our centre and get way off track in our quick-fix, instant gratification society.  Our purpose for being gets lost under the barrage of advertising, consumerism and distraction.

If you build it he will come.

Or in my case if you arrange some second-hand furniture unexpected magic may happen.  And to ensure that this little corner of the patio nurtures the alchemy of the soul I’ve imposed a few rules; no iPods, portable DVD players or cellphones allowed and the laptop comes out only when I need it for writing.

What is allowed are books, journals, sketch books, cold drinks, fresh flowers, something delicious to eat, and a soft pillow in case the urge to have a nap overtakes me.

It really is an adult play space were daydreaming, reading, lounging, napping and reconnecting with family and friends are fostered.

Couch Collage

So I encourage you, while we still have a few weeks of lazy summer days left, to find an outdoor spot and install your own Chesterfield of Dreams. It doesn’t even have to be a sofa, perhaps a hammock is more your style or a chaise lounge.  And if you don’t have the furniture already and dumpster diving isn’t your thing even a blanket and some pillows arranged under the spreading arms of a tree would be just fine.  Whatever appeals to you.  If you set up your spot for reflection without delay, I promise you, you too will begin to experience the magic of being.

chickentext

Building My Home on Solid Ground

brokenhouseblogpxRecently, I watched best-selling author of The Signature Of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow-up presentation on TED talks called Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating.

In this seven minutes talk, she provides examples of the pitfalls of pursuing a creative life and a sure-fire remedy to keep on track and maintain your equilibrium during the inevitable ups and downs.

She explains why both success and failure can wreak havoc on your life:

“For most of your life, you live out your existence here in the middle of the chain of human experience where everything is normal and reassuring and regular, but failure catapults you abruptly way out over here into the blinding darkness of disappointment. Success catapults you just as abruptly but just as far way out over here into the equally blinding glare of fame and recognition and praise.”

The solution to both of these extremes, Elizabeth states is:

“. . . you’ve got to find your way back home again as swiftly and smoothly as you can, and if you’re wondering what your home is, here’s a hint: Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself.”

“You’ve got to identify the best, worthiest thing you love most, and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it.  So addiction and infatuation don’t count because we all know that those are not safe places.”

I would add that along with addiction and unbalanced relationships another unsafe place to build your home is people pleasing. It’s just as destructive to the body and soul as any street drug out there.

I came to be the consummate people pleaser as a way for a child of five to keep myself safe and protected while growing up in an abusive home. It made sense as a little girl with no protection to adopt this strategy, it was the only tool at my disposal that would secure a small measure of safety.

Focusing on pleasing others meant I was constantly putting my energy into someone else’s dreams, needs and desires. In essence willingly giving away my power and energy in the hopes of securing love, security, safety.  This destruction of the soul is very seductive because I could convince myself that I was being noble, helpful, a good girl, a great partner whenever I would drop what was important to me to please others but at the core of it, this behaviour in an adult is a cop-out because I could always use it as an excuse to never fully invest in myself and thus never really have to fail or succeed.

So a strategy that kept me safe as a child morphed into the most unsafe place on which to build my own dreams of being a writer. I had placed my home, my desire and dreams on an ever shifting trash heap of pain and unloveableness.  What is more, I willing kept abandoning work on my own house of dreams (usually when I just started laying the foundation) to put all my time and effort into building someone else’s.

So I recently moved my home onto safer ground with a clearer understanding of how to set boundaries in a loving way and to refocus my attention on myself.

dreamcottage

This process of reclaiming who I am at times can be both exhilarating and frightening but I am determined now that I have found a safe place to begin building my home, I will not budge.  And when old habits crop up and I am tempted to abandon my writing to give energy to someone else in an unhealthy way I will do as my favourite author suggests:

“And if you should someday, somehow get vaulted out of your home by either great failure or great success, then you job is to fight your way back to that home, the only way that it has ever been done, by putting your head down and performing with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from you next.”

Thank you Elizabeth.

Writing Space: Letting in the Light

I’ve never had a dedicated writing studio.  I write wherever I can find a little space and a little solitude.  But I do dream of one day having a writing space where creative magic is nurtured by the beauty of the space and it is decorated with a dash of childlike whimsy.

The place I’m currently renting is a basement apartment that I share with my sister and three very demanding cats. But I am lucky enough that my bedroom can accommodate my bedroom furniture and my small writing table.

It is an entry-level basement which means we are blessed with full-sized windows and my room has two that look out into the back garden and the mountains beyond. The only downside is that I write in the mornings and the windows face east. It was impossible to write with the blinds up as the sun was directly in my face. The simple solution would be to keep the metal blinds closed when I write, or it would be if I didn’t have three cats.

If you’ve ever owned even one cat you will understand the futility of trying to keep them out of any room they decide they want to hang out in and a closed door is a definite invitation to bat at it like a pugilist or as my one cat does, throw his whole body at it making it rattle in its frame.

It’s enough of a challenge to write while you have a cat walking across the keyboard (cats can be such critics of the written word) or draped over your forearms as one of them is doing now as I write this.  But my feline companions also think closed Venetians are the best cat toys in the world.

After spending several months pulling cats out of bent and twisted louvers or having to reinstall the blind because they pulled it off the window I resorted to taping up thick blotting paper on the panes while leaving the blinds pulled up.

That inexpensive solution did the trick, the sun was off my face and the cats ignored the windows.  But after two years, the tape I used to secure the paper had dried up and the paper has curled with age.

I wanted something a bit less utilitarian than paper and tinfoil screamed white trash, so I decided to install frosted privacy film on the windows. I was going to choose something simple, maybe with a bit of texture but when I went to the hardware store and looked at the choices, I did an unexpected thing.

Along with frosted textures and understated designs there were two patterns that I can only describe as faux stained glass. One featured magnolias, the other clematis and both bordered on the tacky end of the design esthetic. But there was something about them, their vibrant colours and as a gardener I can’t help but love flowers.  My first choice, the simple frosted white ones suddenly looked institutional.

I bought the stained glass flowered window film, one of each pattern. This choice shocked me and my sister too as she said “Really, that’s not what I thought you would have picked.”

But now that I’ve installed them I know why I made those choices and why they are perfect for my room. They may be fake stained glass but they transformed the space in which I write into a sacred space of creativity. The quality of light that now streams in, in the morning makes the room feel magical and a little bit whimsical.  In fact, a perfect place to write.

Window Collage

Ebook Giveaway: The Still Life of Hannah Morgan

My contemporary romance, The Still Life of Hannah Morgan, is now available as an ebook edition. To celebrate the release I’m giving away five copies of the ebook.

Along with the romantic elements of the story, my novel explores creative passion and what it takes to make that passion a reality especially when those around you say it’s not possible. In keeping with this theme, I’d love to hear what your passion is whether it is baking the perfect cake, writing a novel, growing flowers, painting, cooking a nourishing meal, decorating your home or knitting a sweater.

To enter the ebook giveaway simply tell me what your passion is in the comments section of this blog along with your email address {janesmith(at)gmail(dot)com} so that I can send the winners the link and download code. Winners will be selected at random using random.org. The giveaway closes midnight PT Monday September 22, 2013. I look forward to reading your comments.

The Still Life of Hannah Morgan

Blurb

“The longer you choose to play it safe, the more miserable your life will become.  The universe rewards risk my dear; you know what you need to do.”

Hannah Morgan’s life is at a standstill.  Her dreams of becoming an artist vanished with the sudden death of her grandmother and mentor.  To appease her distant and disapproving mother, Hannah gets a respectable job at a high-end day spa.

Instead of painting masterpieces, Hannah spends her days painting nails and giving facials to wealthy women.  Her dreams for the future have become a hideous nightmare.  And, it just keeps getting worse.  She catches her boyfriend cheating, loses her job and has to watch from the sidelines as her best friend Jasmine Blue goes after her own dreams of owning her own salon.

When she meets Aaron, a working artist, Hannah finds a kindred spirit.  And, to her surprise, she finds the courage to follow her dreams.

When circumstances beyond her control threaten to destroy both her relationship with Aaron and her dreams of a bright future, Hannah fears her mother was right; that some dreams aren’t meant to come true.

Contest is open from September 08 to September 22, 2013.

 

Congratulations Barb for winning a free ebook of The Still Life of Hannah Morgan.