I’m working on a project that is inspired by a letter my mother wrote about one of her experiences during the Second World War.The Nazis invaded and occupied The Netherlands in 1940; my mother was sixteen at the time. The occupation lasted five long years and the Dutch population suffered more than the average person knows. Throughout her lifetime, my mother rarely talked about those years, and when she did she glossed over details of what life was really like then. So when she handed me the letter a few years before her death, it was like she was giving me a gift.
At the time, my life was quite full and preoccupying–three teenagers to raise, a masters thesis to write, a studio of students to teach–so I filed it away, thinking the story she wrote about would be a great novel to write some day. And I promptly forgot about it.
Now, many years later, I was struggling to find a writing project and my mother’s gift called to me. But her letter, like her stories while she was alive, was vague and lacked many details. As a fiction writer, this shouldn’t present a problem. I’m writing fiction after all. I love making up characters and details, filling in gaps with made-up stories. Yet, within my storytelling, I want to remain true to my mother’s tale by presenting life as it truly was during that horrific time.
Until I started my research, my knowledge of the Nazi occupation of Holland was very limited. What I have discovered through books and writings by people who lived in Holland during those years is nothing short of sobering. Understanding what my parents and their families and friends lived through has given me some insight into the people they were in later years. I regret not being able to talk to them now, wanting not only to learn, but to simply listen and hug them.
Friends ask me how my book is coming, knowing I’ve embarked on a new project. It’s difficult to answer that question since I have yet to write the first word of chapter one. Research has taken my writing time these past months, but it is laying the foundation for a story that I hope my mother would be pleased I wrote. My head has been filling up with characters and settings. Soon they will find their way onto a page.
Yesterday I was chopping vegetables for dinner, focusing on the task at hand, although my mind was working through a problem in the novel I’m writing, and I was humming along with Van Morrison who happened to be singing from my playlist. I was in a kind of multi-tasking scenario.
The air outside was warm and breezy, so I had the door open to our patio, and the birds were singing along with Van Morrison too.
So there I was chopping carrots and I happened to look up. The late afternoon sun shone on the patio furniture outside and illuminated the blue waters of the Great Sound. I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be alive, to be living where I do, to have a life where I can look up from chopping vegetables and see this. I had to put my knife down and step outside, breathe in the air, feel the sun on my face, and stare at that azure water.
Those few minutes in my day made me realize that I need to look up to see the view more often. We all do. Sometimes we get so focused on the tasks at hand, or lose ourselves on the Internet, or get caught up in the day to day detritus of our lives, that we forget to take time to experience the world around us.
So I challenge you. Right now. Stop what you’re doing and look up to see the view. Do you see something interesting?
We’re almost through September. Summer is definitely over, and if you’re like me, September feels like a New Years month, even more than January first. I guess that feeling stems from school days, when you stock up on new supplies, start a new class schedule with new teachers. Now, even though it’s been a long time since I had anything to do with a September school start, I still feel like September offers a fresh start with a clean slate.
My summer was a very hectic and full one, and I fell behind in most of my author tasks and art projects. My novel-in-progress gathered dust while my paints dried up in the cupboard and my camera sat unused in its case. To complicate things, we moved house in the middle of August. So this September really did represent a fresh start for me, with everything in a new place and a new spot to write.
However before I could settle myself and get back to my writing, I needed to organize my workspace. When my environment isn’t in order, I don’t feel calm enough to be creative. I know that creativity sometimes comes from chaos, but that’s not the way I work. My imagination only gets fired up when my world and my life is organized. “A place for everything and everything in its place” calms me and gets my creative juices to flow.
Can you guess what I’ve been doing this September? After spending the past month and a half settling our new home and my new workspace, I finally feel that my world is in order and I can focus on being an author again. I’m excited to get back to work on my novel.
See that post-it note graphic? I had one like it stuck to my desktop monitor for several weeks, after a friend informed me that the style of my website was passé and that I should update it to keep up with the times. Did you know that there is a fashion to websites? I didn’t, and have happily kept my website looking the same for several years.
But I took my friend’s advice to heart, and redesigned it to be a clean, clutter-free site. I’ve been working on it all last week, and am very pleased with its new look. Drop by and let me know what you think: www.sylviamay.com
Mondays always get a bum rap. Monday means the weekend is over, the work week starts, the alarm goes, life gets crazy.
I actually like Mondays. It’s a clean slate each time, the first day of another week filled with activities, accomplishments, even adventures.
Perhaps that sentiment comes from the fact that I am basically retired. Oh yes, I write, but I do that on my own schedule (sometimes I don’t even do it at all!). It occurs to me that I didn’t always love Mondays when I was a busy mom, when I worked full-time, when our family calendar was over-filled with activities and commitments.
One thing I do know is that Mondays are always better when I go to bed on Sunday night feeling organized and on top of things. Usually I spend an hour or so each Sunday planning out my week, preparing whatever needs to be prepared (in my teaching days it was the week’s curriculum), organizing to-do lists, plotting out my schedule. After doing this I feel in control of whatever the week might throw at me.
So here I am this Monday morning, sitting at my desk with my to-do list beside me, feeling very motivated and on top of things. I will glow with a sense of accomplishment each time I cross something off that list. This feeling will last throughout my day, because on Mondays I can do anything.
Tuesday, however, is a whole other story…
Gratitude seems to be a buzzword these days. Whatever you read, wherever you go, people talk about how practising gratitude can have untold benefits and change your life.
Practising gratitude involves taking time to notice and reflect upon the things that you’re thankful for. According to scientific studies, incorporating this into your daily life will have you experiencing more positive emotions, express more compassion and kindness, and even sleep better.
This doesn’t surprise me as I have always believed that appreciating one’s advantages is a value one must insert into one’s daily life, and appreciation can’t help but life one’s mood. The trouble is that when challenges crop up, I tend to forget to focus on the positives and feel overwhelmed by the things I am not thankful for.
Recently I read “The Gratitude Diaries” by Janice Kaplan, and as a result I have begun my own Gratitude Diary. Every day I write down three things (sometimes more) for which I am grateful. I don’t just focus on the big things, although often I do, but I try to take notice of the many small positive details in my day.
And you know what? I am noticing positives all the time, not just when I write them down. I feel better and more enthusiastic every day, because I do have a lot to be thankful for.
Can you imagine a world filled with people who reflected continuously on things in their lives they were thankful for? What positive energy there would be all around us!
Weather is probably the topic most talked about (well, other than Trump these days). Everyone is affected by it, and everyone has something to say about it. If one is at a loss for topics of conversation, one inevitably turns to weather. (Can you guess why I’m writing about weather today…)
Today I woke up to drizzly rain, grey clouds covering blue sky, and a headache. I don’t know why, but when the sky is grey my mood is grey. It doesn’t matter that I feel blessed in so many facets of my life, atmospheric pressure presses my mood down. Because I work from home, the temptation is to spend the day curled up in my comfy chair with a cup of tea and read or watch a movie or surf the Internet. But when I give in to that, the hours pass by unproductively and guilt eats away at me because I’m wasting my day.
So what do I do instead? Well, this morning I started with a FaceTime chat with my sister, then with my daughter and granddaughter. I tidied the house, did a yoga practise, paid some bills, and wrote three pages on my current work-in-progress. Do I feel better? Well, it’s still raining outside and my grey mood isn’t completely lifted, but I do feel satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. And my headache is gone too. So I guess I do feel better.
…maybe now I’ll curl up with a cup of tea and my book. Just for a little while…