Monday, 28 January 2013

Writer's Block

I have been having a hard time coming up with blog topics of late.  Part of the reason is that I have a lot to worry about and that crowds out the mental resources needed to come up with decent subjects.  I also have a difficult time dealing with multiple tasks on a given day and making dinner and doing laundry take precedence over writing.  Anyway, this particular path is a little too well worn.

I've worked for years in the Canadian public service and writing is a daily requirement.  Usually, subjects are foisted on you by management or circumstances, so coming up with a topic isn't usually a problem.  Notwithstanding this, I do remember a couple of times where I just couldn't figure out how to approach some assigned issue and had my drafts returned with comments from my supervisors wondering what the hell I was doing.  I have many professional shortcomings but my ability to write a decent briefing note or policy paper or report or speech have seldom been called into question, so these criticisms sometimes stung.  Nevertheless, at some point we all face that imposing brick wall that is writer's block.

The internet and the library have a glut of resources for helping people climb the wall.  Some of the suggestions are stupid:  talk to a monkey (i.e. explain what you really want to say to a stuffed animal).  I prefer the practical brass tack approaches.  One suggestion that pops up repeatedly is set a regular time of day to write and set a a minimum nimber of words to write and commit yourself.  Another fun way to work yourself out of a creative funk is to do some writing exercises.  Years ago, my wife bought a book entitled Room to Write, by Boni Goldberg.  She proposes a number of short exercises to inspire writing or to help youhone your writing skills.  For example, one exercise encourages you to write about your kitchen as if you were a detective, another suggests writing about your hair.  All very interesting and potentially helpful.  We'll see.

Many people write, either as a sideline or as an integral part of their jobs.  I'm curious to know how others overcome their blocks.  Would love to hear form you.

Sunday, 20 January 2013


Anxiety and depression suck.  I live my life with my stomach in knots, with a hollow feeling deep in my chest.  Part of what I have been dealing with for the past ten years, and probably longer, has been crushing anxiety.  I scratch my head a bit at how this has arisen.  I managed to make my way through university, graduating with distinction from university (achieved not through native intelligence, but through a lot of work), and doing quite well in grad school.  I have been a diligent public servant earning performance reviews that ranged from good to great - always volunteering to work on the most challenging files.  I was a little high-strung and moody maybe, but very much functioning.

Now, though, if I have to do the dishes and shovel snow on the same day I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders.  I feel like I am constantly, and not very successfully, treading water, only managing to get my head above water for a brief gasp of air before getting hit again and again by wave after wave.  This drains me physically and emotionally leaving little for anything else.

With my wife sick and a young daughter who I want to have a normal and happy childhood, not one that is dominated by her mother's and father's illnesses, I feel like I'm letting my family down, which in turn makes me feel worse.

This all sounds fairly self-pitying, and I suppose it is.  I don't often speak of all this because I don't like to be perceived as a whiner, but I want people who are suffering from the same type of thing to know they are not alone, to hang in there.  I want others to know that people suffering from depression and anxiety may seem self-indulgent and lazy, but these afflictions are as debilitating as any physical ailment.  Indeed, humanity is blessed with the ability of abstract thought.  We take for granted our ability to control our thoughts, but depression and anxiety work to distort our views of ourselves and of the world.  For those reasons, depression and anxiety seem the greatest betrayals of ourselves and we seem powerless to change that.

Sometimes I despair that I will never feel happy again, but I deeply hope that I will and that's what keeps me going.  I also know I have little choice.  My family needs me and that, maybe more than naything, keeps me putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how hard that may be to do.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Welsh Love Spoons

Carved spoons are a tradition in many cultures but the Welsh, for whatever reason, are particularly well known for their mastery of the craft.  Wooden spoons were originally carved for purely utilitarian reason, but somewhere along the line more decorative versions came onto the scene.  The specific history of love spoons is somewhat lost to time and many theories abound about how they emerged including that young men used them to demonstrate their manual skills to the women they were trying to woo or carving them was a simple inexpensive way for rural men to spend time between growing seasons.  My own feeling is that carved spoons were probably to young men before the industrial revolution what mixed tapes were to my generation:  a thoughtful and romantic token of affection.

Whatever their romantic origins,  they are today often carved to mark a wide range of special occasions - retirements, births, anniversaries and graduations to name a few.  In fact, I have started a semi-tradition by carving my daughter a spoon for Christmas - not every Christmas mind you, but I have managed three over the past five years or so.  She is a grateful recipient and I hope they continue to be special mementos of my love for her.  I hope to expand the tradition to include my wife Kate and to encompass more milestones for both of them.  Below are some pictures of my efforts.


I have two very good books on the subject of carving spoons which have guideed me, Celtic Carved Lovespoons by Sharon Lintley and Clive Griffin, and Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons, by David Western.

This is the first spoon I carved for the Bean.  Pattern from Lintley and Griffin.

This was my second effort.  Pattern from Western.

This was the spoon I gave to the Bean this Christmas, also from Western.