Meditation on Writing

Every morning, after I’ve been for my walk, I sit with a cup of tea and read my meditation for that day from a book I bought over 20 years ago – 365 Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao .  The one I read today seems very apt for those of us who love the process of writing, so I’d like to share it with you.

WRITER

She withdrew into herself,
First writing just for one,
Then touching thousands.
She incarnated ghosts, hurt and joy
Into paper-and-ink stories of wonder.

One author said, “I can get rid of anything by writing about it,” meaning that the process of exernalizaton could liberate the pain in his soul. That realization produced a delicious dichotomy: to free himself, or to hold on to both joys and tortures by remaining silent about them.

Writers write because they must: They need to express something from deep within themselves. They hear voices that others do not. They listen urgently, and they must communicate what they hear.

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The Mirror Moment – James Scott Bell

My first introduction to the importance of the midpoint of a story was in a workshop given by Michael HaugeHe described it as The Point of No Return, both in the external plot and the internal development of the character.  Internally, it’s the moment when the character realises he’s closer – fractionally – to the person s/he will be at the end of the story than s/he was at the beginning. Externally, it’s the moment when the story has to go forward in a particular direction. There’s no going back.

For example, in the movie Dante’s Peak, the midpoint combines both these moments in a very clever scene. In the external plot, we’re told that the sign the volcano will definitely blow is when sulphur gets into the water system. In the internal plot, since his girlfriend was killed several years ago, the Pierce Brosnan character has been unable – or unwilling – to become involved in another relationship. At the exact midpoint of the movie, Pierce Brosnan returns from a date with the Linda Hamilton character. It’s his first date since his girlfriend died, showing that he’s finally willing to take a second chance on love. They’re about to share a kiss when her young son comes downstairs and asks for a glass of water. When they turn on the tap, the water is tainted by sulphur.  We now know the volcano must blow.

Open Pride and Prejudice about half-way through and you’ll find the scene where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth in the most pompous fashion. Of course she turns him down and tells him exactly why she’s rejecting him, particularly for his treatment of Mr. Wickham. The next day, having taken her comments to heart, Darcy returns and gives Elizabeth a letter, acknowledging his pride and putting her right on Wickham.  Reflecting on the letter and her own prejudice in the next chapter, she admits, ‘Till this moment, I never knew myself.’  (In fact, when I opened my copy of P&P from my university days, I discovered I had underlined those lines and written – moral climax of book.)

James Scott Bell calls this Midpoint in the internal story The Mirror Moment. The moment (not a scene) when: The character is forced to look at himself. As if in a mirror, only it’s a reflection of who he is at that moment in time. Who am I? What have I become? What do I have to do to regain my humanity? Sometimes, it’s the character looking at the odds. How can I possibly win? It looks like I’m going to die—physically or spiritually. Now what am I supposed to do?

Sometimes, James Scott Bell says, it can be a moment when he actually looks in a mirror and sees – really sees – himself.

This mirror moment can also been illustrated in movies – sometimes literally. I’ve just been watching a great 3 part series on movie music called Sound of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies.  In it, composer David Arnold talks about the challenge of writing the music for the reboot of the James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig. He describes the first in the series, Casino Royale, as an ‘origin’ tale of how Bond becomes the spy we know and love.  Because of that, he decided he couldn’t use the famous John Barry theme in full until the final scene, but would use snippets throughout to show Bond’s development into the character we have come to know.

And one of these scenes was when Bond, in his first tailored tux, looks at himself in the mirror. I mentioned this to some of my writing friends and wondered if there was any chance the scene happened in the middle of the film. My friend, screenwriter Carol Mulholland, pulled the script off the internet. Taking into consideration scenes that were never shown, the mirror scene happens… at the midpoint of the script.

So, there you have it.  In a book or in a movie, the mirror moment can, literally, be the moment when the character sees himself as who he is – or is becoming – in a mirror.

 

Mary Edith Huggins

My mum was born 100 years ago,  March 15th, 1916, in Dudley Drive, Glasgow, the eldest daughter of Percy Huggins and Harriet Davenport.

Mum left school when she was 14 and went to work as a shop assistant.  She also loved playing tennis, and it was at a ‘tennis dance’ that she met my dad.

They were married on August 15th, 1938 and moved down to Coventry where my dad had a job in Britain’s burgeoning motor industry.

But it wasn’t long until she returned to Scotland. Sensing war was on the horizon, my dad had joined the army reserves in November 1938 and was called up at the beginning of September 1939. Alone in Coventry with no family nearby, my dad drove my very – very – pregnant mother up to Glasgow, where she gave birth to my brother a few weeks later on September 16th.  Apparently it was touch and go for a while, the doctor not sure if he could save both my mother and my brother… but he did.

And then my mum became one of the quiet, unsung heroines of the war; one of the millions of women who didn’t earn any medals, who was never feted in the mess, but who just ‘got on with it’, coping alone for four years when her husband was overseas, queueing up to buy her weekly rations, carrying pails of cold water up three flights of stairs to wash her baby’s dirty nappies, waiting alone by my brother’s bedside as he fought meningitis, then as now a killer disease, in the days before antibiotics.

I still miss mum a lot. Having suffered rheumatic fever twice, her heartbeat might have wildly erratic (irregularly irregular might have been the medical description!) but she was strong and courageous with just a touch of whimsy in how she viewed life.  I remember dancing with her around the kitchen, her waking me up to look at the moon, standing beside me one dark stormy winter’s morning watching my brother cycle off to work and telling me that the rain running down the windows was heaven’s tears because he had to go out to work in such weather.  I remember getting up at seven in the morning to drive down to Dumbarton Road to buy rolls fresh out of the baker’s oven for breakfast before going to school.

I remember, too, taking mum on a holiday to Hawaii, watching her lie back on the sand as she enjoyed the sun. Remember her courage when, in her eighties, on a very turbulent flight from Glasgow to London, she helped the people seated next to her by handing out sick bags and making sure they were okay.

But one memory sticks out really clearly which to me, exemplified her willingness to have a go at life.  My mum was one of those people who had a talent for looking after people and for making her surroundings really lovely. Whether it was the way she served the food on a plate or adjusted a piece of furniture, she had one of those eyes (my sister has it too) of making something/anything look really good.  Widowed in her early 60s, she took in a lodger for a while, but when they left she decided she would get herself a job – her first real job since she’d been married.  Dressed up in her ocelot fur coat and knocking ten years off her 76 years, she interviewed for a job as a housekeeper/driver in London.  A few weeks later found her driving around London in her employer’s jag on roads even I would be scared to drive on.  But she took it all in her stride.  That generation of women, the quiet unsung heroines of the war, they had gumption.

I miss you mum. Every day. You’re never far from my thoughts.  On this special day I will, as I do every on anniversary of your birthday, light a candle for you and thank you for being my mum.

Spring

 

I’m in the process of moving house. Unpacking one of my boxes today, I came upon a journal I kept waaay back when I was 20 years of age. Inside was a poem called ‘Spring’. Given today’s glorious Calgary weather and the excitement of a new home, it seemed fitting to share it with you here.

 

 

SPRING – by Diana Cranstoun

The dawn
Of the world
Is beginning

A time
To start afresh
To forget
The failure
And sadness
Of yesterday

A time
When life
Promises
Hope

The trees blossom
The flowers bloom
And the sun
Yawns its greeting
To the world.

Ross Ainslie

As an emigrant from Scotland, and with Burns Night almost upon us (January 25th), it can be all too easy to get caught up in twee images of Scotland and its music.  You know what I mean – pipers marching through the glens, kilts a-swinging, belting out Scotland the Brave.

And while there is definitely a place for all that, my visit back to Scotland for The Perthshire Amber Festival last October, really opened my eyes to the vibrant contemporary Folk Scene that currently exists in Scotland. Especially in the world of piping, where I was introduced to the music of Ross Ainslie.

What can I say apart from – What a musician! With his tattoos, long hair and ripped jeans, he is definitely not your traditional image of a piper.

Unfortunately, none on the photos I took at his concert turned out, but here’s a wonderful clip of him performing from Youtube. Check it out. The energy of the music is intoxicating and exciting.

But Ainslie can also play beautiful, mellow and traditional.  Below, you can hear him playing on my most favourite song, Caledonia.  (at 2mins 46secs and 4 mins 22secs.)

 

Swimming Cows

Visiting a museum in Dunkeld, Scotland, a few months ago, I came across the term ‘swimming cows’ for the first time.

Back in the day, droving cattle from the Highlands down to the markets in Crieff and Falkirk was huge business and the major source of income in the Highlands. From Crieff, the cattle were herded south to England, where their meat was in great demand.  At the peak of the industry, 100,000 cattle left the Highlands every year. The droving way of life only fell into decline with the arrival of the railroads in the mid-19th Century.

But what has this to do with ‘swimming cows’?  In the days before bridges were available – or their tolls affordable – the cattle had to be swum across rivers. If the lead cow could be persuaded into the water, the herd would follow. But occasionally, if his herd balked at crossing a particular river, the drover might hire a local ‘swimming cow’ to lead the cattle safely across. This ‘swimming cow’ would then be returned home to await being called on by another herd.

Even in this day and age, cattle are still swum across rivers or seas to fresh pastures. I came across this article about a farmer in Skye who swims his herd across the water to fresh pastures every year.  Now in his 80s, he used to swim alongside them, but now accompanies the herd in a row-boat.

And if you’re wondering what happened to the drovers when their industry collapsed, many travelled to America and became cowboys on the famous Cowboy Trails.

If you’re interested in learning more, please check out this documentary of a modern-day recreation of a drove from the Isle of Skye to Crieff.

Happy New Year!

It’s been a helluva year.  I’ve experienced incredible highs – the birth of a granddaughter and grandson – and bitter lows – the ultimate betrayal by the man I believed had been my soulmate for thirty-seven years.

But a New Year offers us all hope.  And for those of you who have also suffered pain and loss this year, here are some words of wisdom from one of my favourite movies, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it.  Only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.

To all of you who are part of my life, whether family, friends, acquaintances, or through this blog, I wish you health, happiness and the love of family and friends in 2016.

And just in case you’re worried this blog is going to descend into more grief in 2016, don’t worry.  My first blog of the New Year will be about the history of swimming cows.  Yes, that’s right, swimming cows!