The best laid plans…

Yes, I know. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything.

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. I know that better than most. You never know when the bus is headed your way. When lightening will strike. Or the rogue cell has started replicating. I’m holding out for this being a mere bump in the road.

Here was my plan about three months back: I was enjoying a busy time at my seasonal job at the garden centre, in the glass house, spending sunny, warm days planting green things while a  bitterly cold and overlong winter raged out of doors. Evenings and days off, I was happily honing the sketches for the next children’s book – an alphabet of the West Coast – which fostered a daily mental stroll through the Pacific rainforest and along coastal beaches. Once the gardening season wound down, I  planned to ramp up to full-time studio hours to finish the illustrations, ending up just in time to jet out to Kelowna for a wedding and then off to Turkey for dig season. And then – who knew? – perhaps on to Europe this year? That was the plan.

Instead? The Zincirli dig season was cancelled due to the current Syrian situation. Disappointing, but that opened up an opportunity to join girlfriends for a week on Prince Edward Island in July. It also meant that I could stay longer in Kelowna once the book was done. I would be home to keep a vegetable garden for the first time in years and finally plant the new perennial bed that I had begun preparing two years ago, repaint the front of the house and stain the back deck…the revised plan kept expanding.

The latest plan, though, has me not going anywhere – not Turkey, not Kelowna, not Europe –  not for a while and that will be after a trip to hospital. I’m scheduled for neurosurgery.

Neurosurgery. I kind of like the sound of it, if not the reality. No, a surgeon is not going to root around in my skull a là Dr. McDreamy in Grey’s Anatomy; he’s going to give my spinal cord a little more room. If you want all the technical details, it’s a posterior cervical decompression with instrumented fusion. Look it up! It’s quite an amazing procedure, really –  if it’s not your spine, that is.

How did all this come about? I started noticing some bothersome symptoms last spring – numbness and tingling in my fingers and a feeling that I might faint when I tipped my head back to look up or reach above my head. It wasn’t constant, so I mostly ignored it. I concluded that I probably needed physiotherapy, that it might be related to previous issues with carpal tunnel syndrome and so I shelved it until I had more time – which was never, of course. The tingling got worse, affecting my arms and, sometimes, legs. My daughter remarked that I was walking funny and truthfully, I was feeling unusually clumsy. So I stopped procrastinating and saw a doctor – who immediately sent me on to a neurologist who then sent me on to a neurosurgeon. Arthritic bone and herniated disks in my neck are pinching my spinal cord – due in part to aging, in part to genetics and in part to some mythical injury that both neurologists are convinced I must have experienced somewhere along the line. The surgery will relieve the pressure and reverse most of the symptoms; I may be left with a bit of numbness in my fingertips.

The current plan? I’ve left the garden centre, the book is on hold and I will have surgery next week and settle in for some recovery time. Kelowna was inside the recovery window, so I had to give that up. Prince Edward Island will be comfortably outside the projected recovery and still on the agenda. The garden hasn’t been planted. The perennials will have to wait and so will the front porch repainting. The back deck hasn’t been stained, but has been fitted up with new patio furniture to create a cosy recovery nest. I’ve loaded up my e-reader and there is still time to round up some interesting plant material to sketch while I laze in healing comfort. Perhaps those of you nearby will drop in during the month of June to laze with me? I may even manage a blog entry or two with all that time for rest and reflection.

That’s the plan.


Follow the bouncing ball…

…And that would be the ball that I dropped in not posting here for over a month.

I went into this enterprise primarily to extend the informal ‘newsletter’ I’d been sending out to friends and family while I was on the dig in Turkey. Over the  summer, I decided that I would just keep on once I got home. There are always so many ideas bouncing around in my head. Mentally, I am constantly writing a script for each day’s events and passing inspirations, so I should have plenty of material, right?

Except that I am home – and that means that I have fallen right back into my bad habit: procrastinating. Mind you, I don’t accomplish that by doing nothing – au contraire!  I procrastinate by engaging in a multitude of diverse activities – cleaning out the workshop, sorting through old files, re-organizing drawers, arranging my linen closet and – okay – catching up on Downton Abbey episodes. These are all things which need doing and are worthy of attention (have you seen Downton Abbey?) but don’t exactly fall into the category of “pressing.” In that category, there is an equally diverse assortment of things that need doing: the last of the Zincirli drawings, a conference presentation, a commissioned painting, a book…and posting on this blog.

I have puzzled for years over this procrastination thing. It seems to be a critical part of the creative process. I used “the” process not “my” process, because I have heard so many artists – authors, musicians, song-writers – and scientists and academics complain about this same thing. It is a scientifically established phenomenon: see this article at  Somehow, distraction is necessary to the creative act; it is while engaged in something else – something routine or relaxing or menial – that our minds are freed to untangle the problems we’re wrestling with, to sort through the mess of thoughts and re-assemble them in a different order, creating a path to something new.

I’ve noticed too, that for me procrastination is also about control. Instead of giving in to the pressure of a mounting stack of unaccomplished tasks, I respond by insisting that I do have time to bake this batch of cookies or kick through the leaves on this local trail. I also realize that it’s easier for me to stay on task when a structure is imposed on my day; hence, I’m better at juggling tasks on the dig or when I’m working part-time. In the initial stages of a project I enjoy the illusion that I have all the time I need. Somewhere along the time line though, control will mean getting down to work before a deadline becomes impossible – so structure will be imposed by my delay.

I used to beat myself up over this – but years ago my husband took me to task. He told me that he’d watched me work through this with each book I had illustrated. Yes, he told me, you are always impatient with yourself for not being able to start a project, but nonetheless, you are already at work on it. When it all comes together in your head, when you are ready, you will immerse yourself and nothing will interrupt you; everything else will cease to exist. The ‘everything else’ he referred to was sometimes, I confess, my family.

So I’ve learned to enjoy the scattered, seeming-to-accomplish-nothing time, because I know that it’s part of preparing to enter the tunnel – the hours, days and weeks ahead when my day will be consumed with the project before me and I risk turning into a hermit. I have a new children’s book project on my table – and I was fortunate to spend a week on Vancouver Island recently with the author. Debbie toured me around the wild west coast – beach-combing and hiking and enjoying the breath-taking scenery. My head is filled with ancient emerald forests and crashing surf, tangled luxuriant foliage and multi-coloured tide pools and a million possibilities for paintings. Now, I’m at home tidying my house, my garden, my life – akin to an expectant mother’s nesting activity – while I sort through the mental images crowding my brain. When it’s done – when the information is assembled and the space is cleared, when I’m ready – I’ll sit down in the studio.

While Downton Abbey may cease to distract me then, you might occasionally find me pouring over ads for British Columbia real estate. Have you seen the Canadian west coast?

West Coast Beach