Garden: word to the wise

If the soil in your garden is clay, do not wait until the sun has shone on it for two weeks to dig a vegetable bed. Also, pay no attention to those people who say you should never work with wet clay soil. As I’ve learned, it’s the only time you CAN work with it. Yeesh.

(Note for future me: heat fires clay. You knew that.)

little lizard

Here’s a lizard I rescued from a water bucket. I thought he was a goner, but he perked up after a moment in the sun and scampered off (after posing for a photo). That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. It’s crunch-time with work and I didn’t schedule posts for this week (or last week, oops) so we’ll see how much, if any, blogging I can manage.

There’s also that thing where the more that grows in the garden, the more I want to grow, or maybe it’s the more I do grow, which means this is the season to question everything. To blog or not to blog? To care or not to care? I said I would, and I will, but I’m not sure my current blogging format is working out for me. We’ll see how we get on as the season passes.

Garden: nature close up

No garden last week. All I did was pull up some grass, fuss over the seedlings, and watch some gladdies pop up in places I’d forgotten I’d put them. Dis, however, took it upon himself to show me how to use the macros on our camera. The first two photos are his, and the last two are mine. I love shots like this. I love the little details. I love the intricacies of the natural world.





Wildcard: three links, three insights

Three links caught my eye this week. The first was You’re Not As Busy As You Say You Are, which caused the immediate reaction of Oh, really? But I read the article and in the end I did find some things of interest, such as the idea of ‘contaminated time’:

To be deep in the overwhelm requires not just doing too many things in one 24-hour period but doing so many different kinds of things that they all blend into each other and a day has no sense of distinct phases. Researchers call it “contaminated time,” and apparently women are more susceptible to it than men, because they have a harder time shutting down the tape that runs in their heads about what needs to get done that day.

How about the tape that runs about what needs to get done this year? This month? Are you a list-writer? I sure am. My lists get buried under lists, and yet I still think I need to keep all of that stuff in my head, all the time. Garden lists, shopping lists, work lists, critter lists… Do you wear busy like a badge?

The art of busyness is to convey genuine alarm at the pace of your life and a helpless resignation, as if someone else is setting the clock, and yet simultaneously make it clear that you are completely on top of your game. These are not exactly humble brags. They are more like fretful brags, and they are increasingly becoming the idiom of our age.

I thought maybe sometimes I do wear my busy like a badge, even though I certainly don’t mean to. But here is where it really hit home for me:

Busyness is a virtue, so people are terrified of hearing they may have empty time, as Tim Kreider wrote in “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” It’s the equivalent of being told that you’re redundant or obsolete.

In the age of the internet, if we aren’t out there all the time, on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or take your pick, as far as the online world is concerned, we are obsolete. Poof! Gone. It’s a funny old world. Maybe this has played a part in our love affair with overwhelm. I’m going to start boasting about the long, slow days, the days in the garden, the hours daydreaming, long walks with the dog. I’m going to make sure I have those kinds of days and appreciate them when I do.

The next article that caught my attention was A Personalized Approach to Productivity — one for the writers among us.

This is the kind of advice often given to writers: early morning writing hours, daily word or page counts, stringent deadlines. It reminds me of nothing so much as the myriad diets I’ve been on over the years: the enforced exercise, obsessive point or calorie counting, weekly weight goals.

We all know what happens with most diets: we fail at them. And as we fail, we feel even worse about ourselves than we did when we began.

This is such a healthy article I couldn’t help but share it. There are so many articles on the internet about how a writer should work: Ten Habits of Geniuses; One Hundred Rules of Writing; Sit Down and Write; The Daily Routines of Famous Writers; etc. What about how each individual writer should work? Never mind what Hemingway did. What works best for you?

One of the reasons it took me seven years to write my last novel, for example, is because of a number of catastrophic events: my mother’s house was destroyed in a hurricane, several people I loved died, I had some health issues to fight through. During those times, my self-opinion was pretty low. I called myself every name I mentioned earlier in this post. But I can see it now for what it was: I was overwhelmed and barely holding it together enough to keep my paying jobs. I think it’s okay that I didn’t get much writing done during that time. I’d love to be a sacred vessel for my art, unperturbed by mundane afflictions, but I’m not. I’m human. And while my humanity is vital to my work, it also sometimes makes it impossible to get it done.

The Two Fridas, 1939 by Frida Kahlo

The Two Fridas, 1939, by Frida Kahlo

The last article isn’t the kind of thing I normally read: 30 questions to ask yourself before you die. I’ve spent a lifetime asking myself questions — it gets exhausting after a while — but if we stop questioning, then what? I’d rather be exhausted than bored.

Grab your journal. Turn this into a self-inquiry practice. You will be surprised at all the subterranean world that comes out of you.

To live a creative life is to be full of questions, and it is to dig deep within ourselves for answers that may never come. The artist has to know how she sees the world before she can paint that world on a canvas. The writer has to know what lies in the deep recesses of the heart before she can create a living, breathing character. The musician has to know what sound sings of joy and sorrow. This particular set of questions is well-matched to those of us on a creative journey.

My epitaph shall read: send chocolate.

Studio: Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss

In the studio this week I’m mostly here at the computer (but still not online very much), working on this wonderful collection of poetry by Theodora Goss. It seems fair to add this and the other books I will talk about to the ‘Books I Love’ category as well as the ‘In the Studio’ category. I’m allowed to love the books I publish, right? I’d better be, otherwise what’s the point? I am certainly allowed to love books I haven’t.

Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss

Working with Dora has been a real pleasure. She is understanding of my delays and, best of all, she appreciates that when it comes to prepping a book for publication, I tend to work backwards. I always work backwards when it’s poetry. I layout the books first, before I edit a word, because it’s much easier for me to get a sense of flow (and to spot typos) when the work is there on the page, just as it will be in print. How poetry looks on the page matters. How anything looks on the page matters, of course, but poetry in particular should not be impeded by its layout.

Working with Dora’s poetry has also been a pleasure. She has arranged the poems by seasons: Spring Songs; Summer Songs; Autumn Songs; Winter Songs. Here is a sample of one of the season’s title pages:

Summer Songs

Songs for Ophelia by Theodora GossIf you follow Dora on Facebook, you’ll have been treated to some samples of the poems being published in Songs for Ophelia. What I will tell you here is that the collection is full of witches, willows, wizards, swans and ravens and bears and naiads and nightmoths and much, much more. In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora GossWe will be releasing Songs for Ophelia as part of a matched set of books, the other being the reprint of In the Forest of Forgetting. You’ll be able to buy them individually, too. The idea was that the two together would look spectacular on a shelf, and they will, especially with their covers graced by these images by artist Virginia Lee.

Now let me mention one other book by Dora, one that appeals to me both as a reader and as a book artist. The Thorn and the Blossom is an accordion book as well as a being a sort of variant of the tête-bêche style of binding. Here is the blurb for The Thorn and the Blossom:

One enchanting romance. Two lovers keeping secrets. And a uniquely crafted book that binds their stories forever.

When Evelyn Morgan walked into the village bookstore, she didn’t know she would meet the love of her life. When Brendan Thorne handed her a medieval romance, he didn’t know it would change the course of his future. It was almost as if they were the cursed lovers in the old book itself . . .

The Thorn and the Blossom is a remarkable literary artifact: You can open the book in either direction to decide whether you’ll first read Brendan’s, or Evelyn’s account of the mysterious love affair. Choose a side, read it like a regular novel—and when you get to the end, you’ll find yourself at a whole new beginning.

The Thorn and the Blossom

What’s not to love about this?

We don’t yet have an official release date for Songs for Ophelia as we’re still waiting for some things to come in, but I’m aiming for June (and that’s not an April Fool’s joke — I mean it!). We’ll also release this as an ebook for those of you who prefer digital editions. I’ll post more information here as I have it.

Garden: a slow week

When Dis and I moved here, one of our goals was to reach some degree of self-sufficiency. Growing our own food is, for me, the most important part of that goal. I may not be very good at growing things in France, but every year that passes here I learn more about this climate, the soil, which plants need what nutrients, and how to work with the seasons which is probably the most difficult bit, considering that none of them are very reliable. Some weeks I learn by digging and weeding and fussing over every little seedling. Other weeks, like this past week, I learn by sitting back and watching nature take care of her own business. These aren’t the kinds of lessons I can or need to put into words, but if I had to, I would say the best lesson she teaches is patience.

What I saw last week was the peas sprouting,


the cherry tree budding,


the violets dancing,

happy violets

the hedgerows whitening,


and flowers pushing up through the leaves.

no idea

One thing nature can’t tell me is what names we humans have given things. I encounter a lot of life here that I’ve never seen (or noticed) in the wilds before. Sometimes I manage to figure it out with Google’s help, and sometimes mum says “oh, that’s so and so.” Well, mum is on holiday and my google-fu has failed me with this one. Do any of you know what it is?

Elsa’s Diary

Maman and I went to the river this week. I had to stop and snuffle everything on the way…


because that’s what I do. And then, by the water, maman let me off the lead. She says my recall is excellent. To me, it’s just a game.


I had my first swim at the river! First I went one way…

river dog

and then I went the other.

under the bridge

Then I had a good shake and soaked maman, and went back in for more.

more please

Wildcard: the amazing art of Daniel Essig

This wildcard is going to be short and sweet, just enough to introduce you to the work of Daniel Essig, a veritable king of book art and a source of much inspiration.

Using a fourth-century binding known as Ethiopian-style Coptic, he creates mixed-media book structures that incorporate unusual woods, handmade paper, found objects, fossils, and mica.

Centipede Book by Daniel Essig

Centipede Book by Daniel Essig

Sobek by Daniel Essig

Sobek by Daniel Essig

Sacred Geometry-Carduelis by Daniel Essig

Sacred Geometry-Carduelis by Daniel Essig

Daniel’s work opens up a world of possibilities. It’s the kind of art that makes me rethink my own, that makes me want to stretch farther and learn so much more about this craft I love.

Studio: saying no

A high wind has been put up me by recent events, by an epic cautionary tale unfolding, by the speed at which time is passing, by my need to condense and simplify and get back to art-making basics. In the studio this week I am cleaning up the last of winter’s messes, as well as cleaning up the studio itself before diving into the next bookbinding project. During this cleaning spree, I found the notebook I was using for Papaveria projects way back in 2006. It contains sketches for book ideas, measurements, and the occasional scrawl about my thoughts on the process of bringing Papaveria to life and keeping it alive. My last entry reads, “Why am I always so behind?” It’s nice to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Ha! No, it’s not really nice at all.

the lull

Day: the lull before the next storm.

I was a classic example of a woman who took on too much, a woman who could not say no when it came to taking on new projects or expanding pre-existing ones. This went on for years. It went on even when my life was in the chaos of England — it went on during the immigration years even though if I’d stopped and taken a serious look at my life, I’d have realised just how impossible that word yes was. This went on until 2011, when even though it made me feel terrible, I began to say no whether I wanted to or not. I wrote about this yes/no thing here, in The Gates are Shut. I can’t even remember what my list of projects looked like in 2011, but I do know it was three times the size it is now. So there has been progress, if not enough. I really thought, back then, that I’d have that particular list clear by now. I don’t, but at this moment it does look like I will have what’s left of that list wrapped up by the end of this year — as long as I keep saying no.

evening at the desk

Evening: wine, paperwork, Game of Thrones.

Now that I have learned to say no, I almost enjoy it. Saying no to project B means I have more time to work on project A, which means eventually I’ll have time to work on project C, which is usually my own project (my own art, my own writing, etc.). My projects are always last on the list, or at least that’s how it was until sometime in 2012 when I realised that saying no to myself is just as unhealthy as saying yes to everyone else. These days I sneak in a little time for painting, a little time for designing books I want to bind, a little time for dreaming about paper-making and eco-dying and making my own clothes. These are projects D, even lower on the list than project C, but I like to have personal long-term projects floating (even if I never actually get around to them).

Conjuration of the Wise

Conjuration of the Wise, detail. A project I finally got around to finishing.

There are a lot of theories about why we have such a hard time saying no. It’s something that appears to affect women more than it does men, but for me that’s too binary a way of looking at it. It would probably be closer to the truth to say that certain personality types have more trouble with the word no than others. I prefer the time theory, in that we always think we’ll magically have more time to accomplish things in the future than we do now. Maybe realising how very precious time is, and how very little we actually have of it, has played a factor in my learning to say no. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for it, because it has taught me how much to appreciate those moments when I can say yes.