Author: Audrey Driscoll

Writer, gardener, lapsed cataloguer, and author of the Herbert West Series.

Hubby Buns May 2020

Pandemic Ponderings

Because I’m retired and living in fortunate circumstances, I haven’t been directly affected by the pandemic. The worst effect has been the weekly grocery shop and having to cancel a week long holiday planned for the end of March. Boo-hoo.

But reading and hearing about what’s happening in the rest of the country and around the world has made me think about things. For what it’s worth, here are some of those thoughts…

  • The speed and magnitude of the lockdowns, quarantines, closures, and other measures was amazing. Maybe this will show us how to change in order to slow climate change, which is potentially a bigger threat than Covid-19.
  • The pandemic has held up a mirror to our values. In Canada, and maybe other countries, the most severe outbreaks have been in long term care homes, prisons, and meat plants. Quite different situations, but with some things in common — people in close quarters and/or workers who are poorly paid. Care home workers are kept to part time by their for-profit employers and therefore must work in more than one facility to make a decent living. Meat plant workers live in crowded conditions because they can’t afford better accommodation. Guess what happens.
  • Grocery shopping has become an improvisational absurdist play. People wearing masks dart around following arrows on the floor. If they meet someone else in an aisle, they recoil in horror, but can’t turn around without going in the wrong direction.
  • Every evening at 7 p.m., I grab whatever pot is in the dish drainer and a wooden spoon. I go out on my back porch and bang the spoon against the pot for several seconds. Then I do the same thing on the front porch. A cacophony of jingling, rapping, and banging resounds through the neighbourhood. No howling, although sometimes I hear a dog barking along. It feels like the right thing to do, but from another angle, it’s absurd.
  • Before the pandemic, most people were using reusable shopping bags. Now those bags are forbidden. Most stores here supply paper or single-use plastic bags. Paper bags are way less functional because they lack handles and get soggy if wet. But at least they really are biodegradable.
  • Vast amounts of PPE (personal protective equipment) are being used and discarded worldwide. Much of that stuff contains plastic. I don’t know how it’s disposed of, but I think incineration would be the best way, especially if it could generate energy. But I suspect the stuff gets landfilled, along with all the single-use plastic bags everyone’s using again. Masks have been washing up on beaches. Not good. On the other hand, fossil fuel consumption is way down.
  • When I read or write fiction now, I have to keep reminding myself it’s okay for those fictitious characters to go out and get close to one another.
  • I keep hearing that people are dreaming more. Some think this is Mother Nature sending us messages. I think it’s because people who are working from home or no longer working don’t have to hit the ground running any more. They can wake up slowly, which means they remember their dreams. Dreams are slippery things, quickly lost in the transition from sleep to waking.
  • Opening things up will be more complicated than shutting down was. By now, the people in charge may be getting decision fatigue. Let’s hope they don’t mess up.
  • The role of the car is being questioned. Does commuting make sense any more? Will people keep working from home, at least part of the time?
  • Even after restaurants, gyms, and spas reopen, are people really going to rush out and patronize them? Some may prefer to wait for the vaccine. Many of these businesses may disappear forever.
  • What if there is no vaccine, though? We may return to the situation that prevailed when “the plague” was an ever-present threat, like war and famine. (Or flood and fire.) In any case, there will be other viruses and therefore other pandemics.
  • Wearing masks when you have any kind of respiratory illness will become a normal practice. Designer fashion masks are probably available already.
  • On September 11th, 2001, when I arrived at work and heard that both the World Trade Center towers had collapsed, the first thing I thought was This will change the world. What’s happening now will change it even more.
  • People in the future will probably look at the late 20th century and the first couple of decades of the 21st as a lost golden age.

What about you, fellow bloggers? How are you weathering the pandemic? Are you looking forward to things going back to normal, or wondering if they ever will?

Image from Pixabay

Featured image: Hubby Buns baked May 2nd, 2020

Pet dandelion with campion and lemon balm, with mullein (Verbascum chaixii) and white arabis on far side of path

Self-Inflicted Weeds

Most gardeners complain about weeds. It’s been said that there are no weeds, only plants in the wrong places. There may be something to that. Take the dandelion in the image at the top of the post. It’s been in that spot for several years. I cut out the flowers that have bloomed to keep them from producing seeds and otherwise leave it be. It’s sort of like keeping a wild animal as a pet.

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
Pet dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

More seriously weedy are several plants I would never have introduced to this garden now that I’ve come to know them. Once established, they spread and colonize, often invading other plants to the point both have to be dug up in order to remove the invader.

Two I’m doing battle with right now are Italian arum and periwinkle (Vinca minor, two different varieties). I planted them because they were praised and recommended by reputable garden writers.

The late Henry Mitchell was keen on the Italian arum (Arum italicum), and since he was a good writer, I was infected with his enthusiasm for the plant. Okay, my original specimen was grown from seeds I collected near a bike path, so maybe it’s an unruly type. Mitchell, I recall, mentioned a variety called “Marmoratum,” which apparently was granted an Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.

I would like to bestow an Invasive Plant Curse on the arum, because it has made itself a pest here. It spreads both by seeds — which are one of its most attractive features — and underground bulblets. The older the plant, the deeper it roots, making it almost impossible to remove without major digging and disruption. And its flowers are unremarkable, apart from smelling like rotting meat (a quality common to the arum family).

Arum italicum foliage
Italian arum foliage

So, Mr. Mitchell, were you aware of these problems with the arum and chose not to reveal them, or was yours better-behaved?

A plant with similar faults is the bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta or H. hispanica or maybe a hybrid of the two, H. × massartiana). It’s the much-praised denizen of the springtime woodland. I didn’t plant them; they were already established when I started gardening here. In bloom, it’s quite pretty, but it spreads even faster than the arum, and like it has lush, dense foliage that weighs down or shades any smaller plants nearby. Both bluebells and arum go dormant for the summer, but in spring, where these plants grow thickly, others get shaded or crowded out.

Bluebells, probably Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica
Bluebells

The bulbs of arums and bluebells are a foot or more below the soil surface, so digging them out is a challenge. In spots where they’ve wedged themselves in among other plants, it means major disturbance. The optimal times for transplanting or dividing perennials and bulbs vary, so one is bound to be doing this operation at non-optimal times for some things. Besides, in my garden it’s tough, unpleasant work, because there will inevitably be tree roots to deal with.

I’m going to experiment with cutting off the top growth of arums and bluebells in specific areas. In theory, this will eventually do them in.

Periwinkle is often recommended as a groundcover for “problem areas” such as dry shade. That’s why I planted it here. Unfortunately, I chose the unimproved basic type of Vinca minor. It has covered the ground altogether too well. It’s evergreen, so few other herbaceous plants can compete with a thick mat of it. Even the yellow and green variegated type has revved up in recent years and wound its way around irises and other perennials.

Corsican hellebore and variegated vinca, green and yellow with pale purple flowers
Variegated periwinkle covering the ground

Fortunately, periwinkle can be uprooted quite easily, working from the edge of a patch inward to the more established parts. It pays to keep an eye out for a resurgence, though. Missed bits or roots that haven’t been extracted will make a comeback.

Forget-me-not (Myosotis) is another of my self-inflicted weeds. It’s a case of too much of a good thing. In full spring bloom, it creates a blue mist of tiny flowers. What’s not to love? Its habit of abundant self-seeding, that’s what. The dense crop of seedlings that results can out-compete less aggressive plants. Individual plants are short-lived and easy to pull up, but it’s important to remove most of them as soon as bloom starts to fade, leaving only a few to develop seeds.

Forget-me-nots, Myosotis
Forget-me-nots are impossible to forget when they seed themselves abundantly.

Random self-seeding is also responsible for a surprisingly large number of unintended hellebores in some of my beds and borders. Now, I like hellebores, and they do well here, but I don’t want them in the wrong places (they are fair-sized plants with “presence”) or glommed up against other plants that need their fair share of space, nutrients, and water. Moreover, not all of the volunteers have attractive blooms; some of them are murky mixtures of purple and green. Which means I’m going to dig some of them up and send them to the big compost heap in the sky.

The difference between a garden and plants growing in a state of nature is that the latter is a winner-take-all brawl and the garden has a referee — the weary gardener, who decides what is a weed and what isn’t.

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale. closeup of flower
Dandelion. Too beautiful to be a weed?
Crowd and separate individual

Being an Introvert

The internet is full of reassurances that it’s okay to be an introvert — but here are ten ways to make yourself look like an extrovert. Because that’s what you must do if you want to succeed in life. And anyway, it’s good for you to get out of your comfort zone.

That was then. Things are different now.

Now that so many are having to self-isolate and work from home, introverts have the edge. It’s the extroverts who are feeling uneasy and having to resort to special techniques to ease their anxiety.

I almost wrote a mocking list of tips to help extroverts to get over their feelings of deprivation for the company of others, but then I remembered that many have no choice about being cut off right now. In “normal” times, we introverts have to do some faking performing in certain areas of our lives, but at the end of the day we can return to our preferred environments. Self-isolated or quarantined extroverts right now don’t have a choice. I acknowledge all that, but here’s my list of…

Un-serious Tips for Isolated Extroverts

Simulate your preferred environment. Gather all pets, stuffies, and dolls into a small room. Crank up the music. Add crowd noise using another device. Dance up a storm.

Find non-human crowds. Seek out places frequented by flocks of noisy crows, gulls, or starlings. Parking lot? Garbage dump? Bring bird seed or french fries. Pretend the birds are humans. Mingle.

Hug a tree. (This is a real thing. Read more here.)

Do some role-playing. (A workshop facilitator’s favourite.) Play all the roles. In costume. Make a video you can watch later. Or replay that argument you lost, this time remembering the killer line.

If all else fails, fake it ’til you make it. Gradually extend the times you’re alone in a quiet room. Eventually you may get used to it and stop wanting to scream. And hey — getting outside your comfort zone is good for you!

A Few Serious Thoughts

Until I learned that extroverts draw energy from being with other people, while introverts experience an energy drain in those situations, I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I wasn’t trying hard enough. I had a bad attitude. If I didn’t fix myself, I’d be a failure in life.

In recent years, books by authors such as Susan Cain, Laurie Helgoe, and Marti Olsen Laney have changed introversion from a pathology to an almost okay personality trait. Almost okay, still. In North America, at least, extrovert qualities are expected of those who want success in life, especially working life.

Is it possible to be successful — however one measures success — as an introvert, rather than a pseudo-extrovert? It depends. If you make the right choices and acquire skills that permit you to work mostly alone and earn enough to live decently, the answer is “Yes.” But not everyone can do that.

Some people, myself included, make the choice to apply for jobs in supervisory or managerial positions because those jobs pay better. Team players are valued more than lone wolves. Even we introverts can fake our way through a job interview. Unfortunately, by taking jobs that don’t suit our personalities, we may be setting ourselves up for a harder time at work than if we were extroverts. And if we don’t fit our jobs comfortably, we’re shortchanging the people we work for and with. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who found her true calling after retirement from a “real” job. I’ve also discovered that if there’s something I really want to achieve, and the only way I can do it is by looking like an extrovert, I’ll gladly fake and perform. For a while, anyway.

At least I’m no longer a closet introvert. And right now, we intros are having our moment.

Flock of birds with one flying away
Can you spot the intro-bird?

Are any of you introverts? How has that influenced your life? And how are you dealing with our Covid19-constricted world?

Images by Alexas Fotos and TeeFarm from Pixabay.

Five Free Days on the Kindle

I’ve read the first book, Miira, and enjoyed it. You can read my review on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2538922383

Meeka's Mind

Starting Monday the 20th of April, the Innerscape Omnibus will be free on Amazon. The free period ends on April the 24th, so expect to be annoyed with constant reminders until them. 🙂

Please share with anyone who’s stuck at home and likes sci-fi. And reading, of course! At almost 1000 pages, the Omnibus should keep all but the fastest readers occupied for quite a while.

At this point, I’m thinking of unpublishing the Omnibus once the 90 day KDP exclusive period is over, so please grab a free copy on Monday! Or Tuesday. Or Wednesday…

cheers
Meeks

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Part of back garden April 2020

More Garden Sights

I’ve been busy in the garden lately, but I managed to take these photos.

Heuchera and white Arabis
Heuchera “Timeless Orange” and white Arabis
Labrador violet (Viola labradorica)
Labrador violet. The purple flowers and hint of red in the leaves are a delightful combination.
Cedar bench and potted Hellebores and Hostas
The cedar stump bench near the pond — a familiar sight I keep returning to. Hellebore “Pirouette” in final bloom stage.
White camellia
White camellia visiting from my neighbour’s garden.
Tomato seedlings ready for potting on
Tomato seedlings ready to pot up.
Tomato seedlings potted on
Now potted up!

Gorgeous weather here — sunny and temperatures of 15+ C (60s in degrees F). Wishing everyone a Happy Easter weekend!

Full Moon Thoughts

This month’s full moon is a special one, known as a “super moon.” As it rises, it will be the closest to Earth at any time this year and 20% brighter than a normal full moon. It’s worth paying attention to it just for that reason.

But of course things on Earth are unusual in other ways now. Many people feel confused and constricted. All the more reason to step out the door or stick your head out the window and look at the moon.

I’ve heard there’s less human-produced light in urban areas, as many businesses and venues are closed. That means stars are easier to see. Even the International Space Station can be seen easily if you know when and where to look.

But the main reason to look at the moon right now is because it’s the same moon in the same sky for all of us, no matter where we are or in what situation. Something worth thinking about.

Photo by Peter de Vink from Pexels

Two books by Richardson Wright

Two Old Gardening Books and Mr. Grahame’s Little Joke

Specifically, The Gardener’s Bed-Book and The Gardener’s Day Book, both by Richardson Wright (1887-1961), originally published in 1929 and 1938 respectively, the decade between the stock market crash and the start of World War II. Like many books about gardening, they are based on the calendar, with a short essay for every day of the year and a longer one at the end of each month. They reminded me of blog posts. I found myself wanting to press a “Like” button and write comments!

Most of the essays, as expected, are about gardening. Each one is followed by a timely tip, such as when to order seeds, plants, or bulbs, and dates by which various tasks should be done. The basics of gardening haven’t changed that much in centuries, so I could relate to Wright’s thoughts about different plants and musings on gardening as pastime and passion. Despite being written almost a century ago, many of the daily tips are surprisingly apt. I’ll have to pay more attention to some of them.

It’s a different story when it comes to pest control. The differences between then and now are substantial. Toxic chemicals were all the rage then, such as Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate and slaked lime), Semesan (organomercury compounds), and Black Leaf 40 (nicotine sulphate). Next to advice to apply arsenate of lead to cabbages was a pencilled note — “Good Lord!” — I must have made the first time I read the book.

Wright’s attitudes and phraseology are of their time, and a few of his remarks are offensive by today’s standards, but there aren’t enough of those to make the book a complete turn-off. Some of his observations on “modern society,” like outrageously fast speeds on highways, seem a bit quaint. One essay includes an observation that Americans drink standing up rather than sitting down, gulping rather than sipping. He associates this habit with early death and suggests sitting down and savouring wine or beer. This sounds a lot like the recent “slow food” trend. The pleasures of food and wine are mentioned regularly, and there are even a few recipes.

I was amused by instructions such as “Check up on the the gardener to see if he has sharpened all edge tools,” and references to a “lawn boy.” Clearly, Wright was among the privileged folks who lived well during the Depression, although he could not afford to install a swimming pool due to “the wind that blew down Wall Street.” Frequent references to hot beds and cold frames made me wonder if these have been replaced by greenhouses, polytunnels, and similar structures.

I haven’t been able to find out much more about Richardson Wright besides his role as editor of House and Garden magazine. He appears to have been a respected figure, both as a promoter of gardening and as a writer, but as yet lacks a Wikipedia entry. In the preface to the Bed-Book, Allen Lacy describes him as “…a congenial soul with a good sense of humor and a well-furnished mind and the manners of a gentleman…” Wright’s garden was in the Silvermine area of Connecticut, a place he called “Sun House.” It must have been quite large, with space for luxuries such as nursery beds and those desirable features of great gardens, stone walls.

Dipping into these books is rather like a visit to a past time. Not that far back, though. I was surprised to read that cars had radios in the 1930s, and it appears that a certain type of book was called a “murder mystery” even in that pre-World War II era. Altogether, Mr. Wright’s books provided a pleasant and interesting diversion, just as they were intended to do almost a century ago.

I can’t remember when or where I bought these books. They’re reprints, not originals, published in 1989. A price of $23.95 appears on the jackets, but I don’t think I would have paid that much, so they probably came from a used bookstore. I recently rediscovered them with considerable delight. They’re chunky little books, about seven inches tall by five wide and more than an inch thick, a comfortable size for the bedside table.

Spines of two books by Richardson Wright

A Light-Bulb Moment

In the Day Book, Mr. Wright’s advice for March 30th is “Roll and rake the lawn.” This got me wondering why anyone would do that (aside from preparing an area for seeding a new lawn). Surely it’s the opposite of aerating, which one is now advised to do, with machines that remove small cores of soil and presumably let in air. Might frost-heaved areas need rolling? Or maybe mole runs? Indeed, on April 13th, one is advised to oil the mole traps. I’ve never lived in a place with moles, so have no experience of their activities.

Then I remembered something from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, a favourite book of mine in past years. In the chapter titled “Dulce Domum,” Mole remembers the old home from which he departed in the middle of spring cleaning to seek wider horizons. When he and Rat revisit the place months later, Rat has a job of it to convince Mole that it’s really a nice little house and not a shabby, decrepit dump. Anyway, it seems Mole owns a lawn roller, because he doesn’t care for “animals” kicking up his lawn into little mounds. It’s taken me almost 60 years to discover and appreciate that little joke on Mr. Grahame’s part.

The garden roller at Hoveton Hall gardens, Hoveton, Norfolk
“A garden-seat stood on one side of the door, and on the other, a roller; for the Mole … could not stand having his ground kicked up by other animals into little runs that ended in earth-heaps.” (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Northmetpit dedicated to the public domain.)

The Niggling Urge to Rewrite

I’m not referring to a work in progress here. Rewrites are standard procedure for new pieces of writing.

I’m talking about rewriting a published novel.

Have you ever read one of your own books years after it was published and thought how much better you would write it now? Have you ever agreed with a critical review pointing out fixable flaws in one of your books?

Have you ever thought about such a rewrite? Either tightening up the prose or stripping the book down to its basic concepts and embodying them in new words?

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

Soon it will be ten years since I published my first novel, The Friendship of Mortals. Twenty years since I started writing it. It was inspired by, and mostly based on, a story by H.P. Lovecraft called “Herbert West, Reanimator.”

Every now and then, I think about how I would write that book if I were starting fresh right now. I even have an opening scene sketched out in my mind.

Rewritten, the book would be shorter and edgier. Herbert would be more gritty and less charming. Charles would be less willing to go along with Herbert’s schemes and would need to be persuaded by something harsher than friendship. Alma would take a more active role and not get sidelined to the edge of the plot. A clash of motives would produce more conflict and tension.

I’d have to do a sh*tload of research into the criminal world of Boston and environs in the 1910s, and the way people talked and behaved at that time. (The trouble with being realistic is you have to find out what was real at the time and in the place in question. You can’t just make stuff up and hope it passes the plausibility test.)

Or I could ditch the early 20th century setting and make it a contemporary story, dragging in technology and present-day problems and issues. Except that doesn’t excite me at all. Plus I’d have to do a different sh*tload of research — about medical schools and biochemistry, among other things. Tedious, heavy, and full of opportunities to screw up.

If I did the work and did it well, I think I would produce a better book than the existing one. But do I want to? And what if Version 2 wasn’t any better than The Original? Most likely it wouldn’t be Version 2 at all, but an entirely different work.

There definitely would be no sequel, never mind a four-book series, because the ending would be quite different. In fact, the ending would be really interesting.

I’ve always said all I need to write a story or even a full length novel is a good beginning and a good (as in satisfying) ending. Hmm…

Fellow writers, have you ever rewritten one of your books, or at least thought about it? Do you think it’s better to perfect improve an existing book or to keep creating new ones?

By the way, The Friendship of Mortals is available for free at Smashwords during the Authors Give Back event until April 20, 2020. Description and details HERE.

Blue hyacinths

Spring Sights 2020

To my surprise, I forgot to schedule the post I had intended for today (March 22nd). I’ll schedule it for next week, and in the meantime, here are some photos from my garden taken on the first day of spring.

Rhubarb emerging
Rhubarb leaves. Wrinkly when young, smoothing out as they mature.
Erythronium oregonum, Fawn lily
Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) and Chionodoxa lucilae
Daffodil, white and yellow
Daffodil (variety unknown)
Sedge, Carex and garden ornament
Huge clump of sedge (Carex morrowii) and garden ornament
Hellebore "Ruby Wine"
Hellebore “Ruby Wine”
Hellebore, white with purple spots
This hellebore was a nice surprise. It’s a seedling from one of my old plants, which are mostly pink and purple.

I was about to say something about the garden being a welcome diversion in these days of staying at home and “social distancing,” but that would be inaccurate. The truth is I prefer messing about in the garden to most kinds of socializing.

Fellow bloggers, how are you coping with whatever virus-avoiding situation you’re in? Are you reading, watching, or maybe even writing? Is anyone getting bored?

Books: Supplies for the Brain

So maybe you’re quarantined, or in voluntary isolation, or just stretching your social distance to the walls of your own house. Everything is closed or closing, even your local library.

Sure, you have a tottering TBR pile, but it can’t hurt to add a few more books to it. You don’t want to run out of reading material in this time of uncertainty!

frog on toilet
Plenty of TP and something to read!

All my books are either free or half-price at the Smashwords store through Sunday, March 22nd. Use the Coupon Code LH52T when checking out.

More about the books here and here.

And of course, for us writers, it’s a great time to write!