Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Writing Again

After, what is it -- three years? four years? -- I am finally writing again. I am almost afraid to announce this. I might jinx it. The writing is so tender and new. 

It is easy to explain why I stopped; in fact I believe I have done so in previous posts. I moved to a new city and a new job. My new job is extremely demanding. At the end of each very long work day, I am emotionally and intellectually worn out. Words have deserted my head. I have turned instead to painting as my creative outlet. 

Waiting for me, I have one complete first draft of a novel awaiting revisions. I have a first draft of another novel two-thirds finished. I have scraps of paper with poems on them waiting to be typed up, or refined, or sent off somewhere. For a long time, probably at least four years, I have not touched any of it. 

Harder to explain is why I have returned to writing all of a sudden. I am not working on any of the works in progress that I have described above. Rather, I returned to the speculative fiction piece that I first had the idea for 25 years ago when my second child was a baby. At that time, I scratched out 20 pages longhand while the baby slept, when I was supposed to be doing a multivariate analysis of covariance on my thesis data. 

I returned to it once again several years ago and rewrote those twenty pages in preparation for a NaNoWriMo that I ended up not participating in. And now I have returned to it once again. I have made a few revisions and added a little more to the modest initial few pages, but mostly I have been writing backstory. In the 25 years that have passed, the futuristic novel has now morphed into an idea for a series. Ha! We'll see if I can get one novel down onto the pages and properly revised and polished.

So what has nudged me into starting again? I give full credit to Margaret Atwood. I have been reading her recent wonderful short story collection, Stone Mattress. Her book begins with three linked stories that feature a Dark Lady, a male poet, and a writer named Constance. Constance has created a fantasy world named Alphinland that exists in parallel with her "real" existence. Alphinland disconcertingly becomes almost more real than reality in the lives of people she knew in her early twenties when she was starting out as a writer and world builder, and whom she reconnects with late in her life.

Beautiful writing, especially about writers writing, sometimes inspires me to write. Also, it was the words "world builder." They brought my own fictional story world flooding back into my head. Fortuitously, I happened to have an empty Sunday afternoon because there is so little snow that the ski hill is closed, followed by a long airplane ride a couple of days later. Instead of reading on the plane, I wrote. I gave myself permission to work on what was dancing through my head, rather than on the revisions to the previous novel that I "should" be doing.

So there it is. Wish me luck.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Laziness and Lethargy

I am not one to write out a set of resolutions at the beginning of each new year. However, I do take time each year as the old year wanes and the new year begins to reflect on the past year and to think about what I might like to achieve in the upcoming year. When I reflect on the year that has just ended, I never fail to be astonished at the complexity and richness of my life, the lessons I've learned, and the wonderful experiences that form the highlights of that period of time. I am fortunate to have a good life.

As I think ahead to goals in the upcoming year, I think about overarching themes (e.g., make more time to pursue my art), along with some specific strategies (e.g., sign up for a painting class; buy a lightweight collapsible easel for plein air excursions; leave work an hour earlier most days). I don't look at it as a self-improvement project, but rather as a way to live mindfully, identify what kind of life I want to live, and put in place the structures and actions that will enable me to have that life. 

An odd thing that I have noticed is that it is often hard for me to get started doing things that I want to do. I understand my feelings of reluctance to get started doing things that I don't want to do, like doing a radio interview, or dealing with a difficult personnel situation at work, or preparing to present bad news in a staff meeting, or cleaning the bathroom. But what perplexes me is my reluctance to initiate something that I love to do, once I am actually doing it. I can think of many examples: going skiing, working in the garden, working on a painting, going out for a walk, working on my writing. 

Let's take the example of going skiing. The first skiing excursion of the year, I actually dread going to the hill. I think of excuses not to go, and when we head out that first time, I dawdle while getting ready so that we are always late in arriving at the hill. My boots hurt, the wind is cold, I probably have totally forgotten how to ski.....and then we start skiing down the first run, and it is fabulous! I love it. I want to ski and ski, and it is only my shaky out of shape muscles or the last run call that finally causes me to call a halt to skiing for the day. 

Looking at the example of gardening, all week long at work I will look forward to the weekend, and the chance to get out in the garden. I'll think about working the soil, and how I am going to lay out the plants, and what new approach I might take -- for example, this last year, I tried out potato bags. And then Saturday rolls around, and instead of leaping up and getting out to the garden, I sleep in, sit around drinking coffee and reading newspapers online, get distracted by indoor tasks like laundry, and suddenly it is 2:30 or 3:00 pm., and I am going out into the garden. 

Rob says that I work too hard at work so that on weekends I need some down time to rest and relax. But for me, gardening is restful and rejuvenating. I think that I am just being lazy. 

Many writers have written extensively about motivation to write, and in particular about writers' avoidance of writing. Some writers suffer writer's block. They just cannot think of what to write or get the words to flow. (Luckily for me, that has never been my problem. I always have lots of ideas, and as soon as I start writing, the words pour out onto the page.) Other writers avoid writing because of performance anxiety. They have a hurtful interior critic who tells them that they are no good, not real writers, and the act of writing becomes derailed by self doubt. Again, for me that is not the problem. Although I do sometimes doubt myself, that is not the reason I do not write. My problem is with initiation. I just don't start. 

I have the same problem with painting. I will think about a painting that is in progress. I will go down to my studio in the basement and spend twenty minutes looking at the painting and thinking about what needs to be done. I will spend hours reading art magazines or painting blogs. I will plan to do a plein air painting on the weekend. But actually taking out my paints and working on a piece doesn't happen very often. If I was not part of a weekly painting group, I fear that I would not be painting at all. And yet I love painting once I am doing it. Why can I not get started?

Laziness. Lethargy. It is easier to be passive. It is easier to read a novel than to write my own novel, to read about painters and art than to actually paint, and to daydream about the garden than to actually turn over the soil out under the hot sun. I know that I will feel far greater enjoyment and accomplishment engaging in these activities than sitting and scanning Facebook for hours on end. So I have learned all kinds of techniques to help myself get started. Once I start, I know that I will continue doing the particular activity and at the end of the day feel happy and satisfied that did. 

I know that I am not the only person who experiences this kind of motivational stumbling block. Just think of all the hours every day that many people waste watching TV, or surfing the net unproductively, or texting or using other social media. Each of these pastimes has its place in moderation. But I am curious as to why I and so many others sink into passive lethargy during most of our leisure hours, letting the good engaging activities of life pass us by.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fall Down!

The winter that I was three and a half years old, my Dad came home with two little pairs of homemade skis for me and my younger brother, who was two and a half. They were made of wood, with bear trap bindings, metal toe plates with a leather strap, green lino heel plates (the linoleum from our kitchen floor), and cables that cinched across the back of the heels. They had no metal edges nor bases. Dad waxed the wood on the bottom side to make them slide. One pair was painted red and the other pair was green. We didn't have ski boots, but wore our winter boots in the skis. At that time our winter boots were mid-calf height pile lined rubber overshoes that we pulled on over our leather shoes.

Dad started teaching us to ski. First he taught us to walk up the driveway and glide down. The driveway had a very slight incline. Then he tramped down the side hill by our house, which had a slightly steeper incline, and began teaching us to snowplow down the hill and sidestep back up. The next winter, we began taking Saturday morning ski lessons given by the Ski Club at Warren's Hill, a farmer's field just outside of town. There was no lift at Warren's Hill. We skied down and sidestepped or herringboned back up. As a founding member of the Ski Club, my Dad was one of the ski instructors. 

By the time I was six, I had a little pair of red rubber lace up ski boots (hand-me-downs from another skiing family) and my own poles with leather straps and baskets. That winter, another member of the Ski Club installed a rope tow on a hill on his farm. The annual Ski Club races were held there. I, of course, competed in the slalom and giant slalom, as did my best friend at school. We both won ribbons.

I had never skied at that hill before. It was much longer and steeper than Warren's Hill. I loved going fast down the big hill. The rope tow also was an exciting novelty, and I quickly caught the hang of it. 

In the afternoon, after all the races were done, and we had had our lunch of hotdogs and hot chocolate, we had time for free skiing. At some point, I remember skiing quickly past my Dad, who had stopped for some reason, maybe to assist my brother. I went racing down the hill, my long braids streaming out behind me. I was going really, really fast, and it was fantastic. (This is how I remember it, anyways. Perhaps I was not really going so fast or skiing as elegantly as I thought.)

Suddenly, I heard my Dad shouting my name. "Fall down!" he yelled. "Fall down!"

Why was he telling me to fall down? I saw people turning to look at me as I skied past them. I was a confident skier. I had no intention of falling down in front of everyone. That would be so embarrassing. 

As I came to the bottom of the hill, the snow became very rough and I managed to stop. Or maybe I did fall down; I no longer remember. My Dad caught up to me then, and he was angry and upset. He explained that there was a creek that went along the base of the hill, and he was afraid that I was out of control unable to stop, and that I might have ended up in the creek. I hadn't known about the creek, and I could vividly imagine falling into the freezing water. 

I remember that ski day with mixed emotions: the excitement of skiing on a bigger hill with a lift, the pride in winning the slalom race, the shame of everyone staring at me expecting me to fall down, the disappointment that my Dad did not see me as a fully competent skier, and the recognition of his love and desire to protect me from harm. 

My Dad has been gone for nearly eleven years now. I still miss him very much, especially on days like today that I spend at the ski hill. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Scene

I have started a new painting. It is a winter snow scene set in an urban park. I am working from a reference photo that I took about a year ago of the location. At this time of the year, late December, the days in Canada are very short. The light fades by four o'clock. I took the photo on an overcast day in the afternoon just as the light was waning. 

What struck me about this scene was the dramatic composition. The arched wooden bridge on the left  crosses from an island in the foreground to a land causeway (not visible) to the far side of the small lake. The bridge and a tree are reflected in a bit of open water, whereas the rest of the lake is covered in snow. I like the way the snow-covered boulders and the bridge lead the eye toward the reflections, the tree, and the horizon. 

I began by drawing the main shapes with graphite. Today, I finished sketching in the lines of the main shapes over the pencil lines with thinned yellow ochre paint. 

I don't often draw the lines in with paint, but I wanted to for this one because it is a very structural painting. The arched bridge was challenging to draw, and I did not want to lose the drawing once I started to block in the colours. As well, the stark tree and its reflection, and the jumble of boulders add complexity that I would not have felt comfortable blocking in as masses without doing the drawing first. Redrawing the lines with paint over graphite also gave me a chance to correct some drawing errors. As you can see, I have indicated some of the areas of darker values -- the trees and the shadows of the boulders. In drawing the boulders, I found it helpful to give them some three dimensional form. However, I haven't indicated the areas of darkest values, which are the bridge reflection, the wooden bridge foundation and buttress, and the far treeline. 

This painting will be challenging for me in several ways. It is the largest painting I have attempted, 20 by 30 inches. I have been trying to start working larger, but the next largest one I have done in recent years is 18 by 24 inches. I am hoping that by working larger with larger brushes, I will be less tempted to pick away at tiny details and end up overworking the painting. 

Another way in which this painting will be challenging is because of the colours in it. I usually tend to create very colourful paintings, often dominated by light values. This one will force me to work more with a grey range (blue greys and purple greys), and I know I will find it hard to make the snow values dark enough. However, the snow has to be rendered in a mid value range so that the little bit of bright sky and reflected sky will really shine.

A final challenge will be the large areas of more or less solid colour, like the snow field in the middle right, and the large snow covered rock in the bottom right. I tend to create very busy images, and often  avoid painting larger "blank" areas. Yet they are so important to frame the focus of interest. 

So you can see that I have set myself quite a task with this snow scene. 

I presently have a dilemma with how to proceed with the blocking in. Initially, I was planning to do a value underpainting in a contrasting colour. In particular, I was thinking of magenta. However, I spent a long time contemplating the photo, and went for an afternoon walk to the same location today to look at the actual scene again. Although some snow scenes have a pink undertone (and I have used pink or red violet or magenta effectively in snow scenes before), I just don't see a pink undertone in this one. 

So then I contemplated cadmium orange or cadmium red medium or Indian red or burnt sienna as possible colours for the underpainting. Or another possibility would be to block in the main colour areas and values with the local colours that I see in each major shape. I am reluctant to do this though, because that would mean putting white in the mix right in the first layer in order to make the greys. I would prefer to block it in with transparent colour and only in subsequent layers begin to add white, because pigments mixed with white become opaque, which I find can lead to a chalky or muddy look. 

Hmmm. What to do? Maybe I should do a couple of small studies with various contrasting choices of underpainting. I am usually so eager to get on with the actual painting that I skip this step. Or I could finish blocking in the values with the yellow ochre, and then lay Indian red or burnt Umber over top of the darkest darks. Or maybe I could use one of my blues to create a unifying underpainting. Hmmm. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Protagonist Problem

Although I have not been working on my works in progress recently, sometimes I think about them. I have written most of two novels (and a very sketchy beginning of a third). The first novel is at the stage of the first draft being three quarters complete. The strength of this one is in its characters, and its primary weakness is plot. I became stuck, unable to bring the themes together into a satisfying conclusion. 

With the second novel, I completed an overly long first draft a few years ago with the help of a couple of NaNoWriMo Novembers. This novel has a more complex structure and plot than the first one, essentially a coming of age story nested within a coming of age story. Although most of the story is told from the female protagonist's perspective, some of it is expressed by the antagonist (who is my favourite character in the book). As well, a third character pops in midway through, briefly, and I have realized that she is quite important to the story, as her perspective serves as a counterpoint to a core identity problem that the protagonist is struggling with. I think I need to add more of this third character's voice. 

This second novel is at the revising stage. Doing the revisions seems so daunting that, while I have written a bunch of notes on what I need to do, I haven't really begun revising. One of my first readers made an excellent observation about my protagonist. We see the protagonist in adulthood and as a child. She is a white woman/girl who is concerned about and at the same time implicated in racist attitudes and social practices. My reader asked why she is so conflicted, as she seems to be doing and saying all the right (anti-racist) things. I was unable to answer this question at the time. 

Now, a couple of years later, I have come to recognize something that I am calling the protagonist problem afflicts both of my novels. While I have been able to develop the other characters quite well and have a good sense of their motivations, perspectives, and flaws, in both novels I have somewhat of a blind spot about the protagonists. I have trouble seeing why they do what they do. I am too close to them. My blind spot about these main characters is almost like the blind spot I have about myself and that each of us has about ourselves - that inability to look at one's self and actions with any kind of objective distance. However, I want to quickly point out that neither of the protagonists is autobiographical; I am not either of them and their experiences are not mine (although I recognize that there is some of me in each of my characters and in the dilemmas that they find themselves in).

Moreover, I feel ambivalent about each of these two main characters. Neither is a hero that is easy to identify with. In the first novel, the main character feels smugly superior to the two other significant characters that she has been thrown together with, and yet also is profoundly lacking in emotional self-awareness as she grieves a death of someone close to her. 

In the second novel, the main character is likeable as a young girl, but when we see her as a woman, she has isolated herself from her family. She has become judgmental and focused on efficiency and career, and is not very effective in being able to form or sustain relationships. The trouble is, how do we care about her and the situations that she is in throughout the book if we don't like her? 

The protagonist problem is this. I am writing each of these stories primarily from the point of view of the main character. Because I am seeing the world from her point of view, I suffer the same kind of lack of insight and self awareness that the character has, or that any any first person perspective has. I as the writer lack narrative distance, and this makes it hard for me to see the main character as a fully rounded complex person. Moreover, in both novels, I have given the protagonist have some personality characteristics that might not make the protagonist particularly endearing to the reader. 

I think that when I finally go back to writing and revising these works in progress, I am going to have to find a way, as the writer, to step back from the two protagonists. By stepping back and taking a longer view, I hope to see them as the characters that they are, interacting with the other characters on the stage of their story. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Making a Life

A little bit of contemplative time can be a dangerous thing. Rob has been away for a few days, and on my own this weekend with plenty of reflective time, I find my mind turning to the "Big Questions."

Blinkered by the daily toil, drowning in a sea of busyness, I do not often pause to wonder. I just get on with the task in front of me at the moment, and attempt to manage my way through the myriad of urgent matters clamouring to be next on the agenda.

How on earth did I get here?

I am not asking how humans came to exist, or how society evolved, or from whence came my soul. Rather, in this rare moment of lifting my nose from the grindstone, I suddenly realize that I find myself in a certain job (with all its complexities), in a certain city, with a pattern of regular activities, and a particular network of family, friends, acquaintances, and work colleagues. I have been going along, year-by-year, caught up in the immediacy of decisions and details, and all the while the minutiae have added up, and altogether this has come to constitute my life.

My thoughts this morning reminded me of a New Wave band I used to listen to throughout the 1980's, and in particular, one song. I rushed to the Internet to find it, because although I have the album (remember LP's?), it is packed away somewhere in a box in the basement. The song is Once in a Lifetime, and in it, David Byrne of the Talking Heads speaks rather than sings some parts of the odd and existential lyrics.

Here is the first verse of the song, and a link to the music video:  

Talking Heads -- Once in a Lifetime

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well...How did I get here?

For me, this captures perfectly the sense of of lack of control, or dislocation I sometimes feel when I contemplate the course of my life. The following quote from an interview with David Byrne elaborates on the concept in the song:

In an interview with NPR, Byrne said: "We're largely unconscious. You know, we operate half awake or on autopilot and end up, whatever, with a house and family and job and everything else, and we haven't really stopped to ask ourselves, 'How did I get here?'" Songfacts

Most of the time, I like to believe that I have significant control over the life that I have. I have choices. I have chosen to have this job, to live in this city, to have these particular hobbies, and to spend time with this set of people. Outside of work, any given day, I have choices about how I will spend each hour of the day. At work, the job itself places many constraints on my time and attention, but still I have decisions to make and choices about how to focus my efforts. I think of the many fascinating strands of people, places, ideas, experiences, relationships, things, and creative processes that together over time make up my life. Lifting my head up out of the minutiae briefly to survey my life more broadly, it seems rich and satisfying.

And yet, so much of it is by chance, or dependent on external factors and the actions of others. Some of it I control, yes. I am fortunate to be privileged within this society in many ways, which has given me a greater breadth of choice than many citizens have. But for so much of life, people only really have control over their own responses -- to global events, societal practices, and even daily circumstances -- and quite limited ability to affect the broad sweep of events. Sometimes, the range of influence of any individual and means to engage even right in the here and now can seem woefully limited.

For example, I believe in the democratic process, so I vote. I do so knowing that my one vote contributes only in a very small way to the final decision. At various times, I have further contributed to the democratic process by holding membership in a political party, by volunteering during elections, and by donating to what I deem to be worthy causes. I read to educate myself about the issues at municipal, provincial and federal levels. In my workplace, I strive to create opportunities for consultation and collaborative decision-making. And yet, many times governments have been elected that are not the ones I would have chosen, and which I believe are making poor decisions for our country. At work, oftentimes, the committee process leads to mediocre and status quo decisions, rather than to bold innovation and making things better. Ultimately, my personal ability to make a difference is very limited and that can be so discouraging.

We are facing global warming. There is poverty across the world, including right in my community. There is war, inequality, mental illness, corporate greed, and environmental destruction. The current industrial approaches to agriculture are destroying our soil and water, killing the honey bees, limiting access to and diminishing the variety of seeds, and contaminating our food with pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and GMO's. I feel that I should be doing something about all of this, and at the same time feel helpless to make a difference.

Knowing what I know now, and if I truly had the chance to choose, would I have chosen this life that I have? But how could I have chosen it? I could never have even imagined it with all its complex twists and turns.

Do the little tasks that I toil away at truly make a difference, or should I put my efforts elsewhere? My time on earth is just a tiny little blip, and yet I feel such a sense of responsibility to live my life in a way that makes a difference. When I ask, "How did I get here?" and look at the sum of my life to date, I scrutinize my life in terms of the unknowable, the big existential question: "What is it all for?"

If the metric by which I evaluate my life, ultimately, is whether or not I have made a difference, I fear that I have fallen short. Yet what arrogance to think that I, just one small person, should have the power to effect big changes. Maybe, after all, it is the accretion of little things, moment-by-moment, day-by-day, year-by-year, that really is what is all about.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Greasing the Muffin Pan

This morning I made muffins for breakfast. I started with the tried and true basic muffin recipe out of a thirty year old Red Roses cookbook, and improvised from there. 

Rather than two cups of white flour, I switched half a cup of it for whole wheat flour. I threw in about a tablespoon of brewer's yeast, left here by a visiting friend who cooks vegetarian and whole grain foods.  I added chopped walnuts and dried currants to the dry ingredients. I had a small amount of mashed yams leftover from last night's dinner, so I added that, and also a couple of tablespoons of cooked quinoa, also left over from dinner. I mixed them up, popped them in the oven, and there was breakfast. The muffins were delicious. Rob ate five. 

One thing that I do not enjoy doing when making muffins is greasing the muffin pan. I have a lovely stoneware pan, a gift from a friend. It is large and heavy, and when I lift it down from its home in the cupboard above the refrigerator, still in its original box, I always smile and remember my friend who gave it to me. And then I sigh, put a dab of butter on some waxed paper and grease each muffin cup. Maybe the reason I don't like this part is because I always end up with greasy fingers. The butter gets into my skin and under my fingernails, and is hard to wash off. 

It seems to me that many tasks of life have a component in them that is off-putting, unpleasant, or even sometimes severely anxiety-provoking. Sometimes for me, that one component can be not just a little bump in the road, but a brick wall that is hard to get past. 

Greasing the muffin pan is a mild and almost silly example. But the fact is, if I let my aversion to greasing the pan stop me, I would never make homemade muffins. I would lose the satisfaction of making and eating them, and my family would lose the opportunity to enjoy them as well.

Here is another example. I love to ski. Every winter, it gives me great joy to ski as many weekends as I can. The last two winters, we have taken a March ski holiday with dear friends in another province, and we are planning to do the same again this March. Both times, we have had a wonderful week of skiing and spending time with our friends. 

But every morning at the skihill, when I put my ski boots on, my feet hurt. The boots cut off my circulation and squash my insteps down. Sometimes the pain is quite extreme from the pressure on my insteps, and also once I take the boots off to thaw my feet. 

I have good quality, properly fit boots with customized heat moulded inner boots. These are better boots than I ever owned before when I was younger and poorer. But unfortunately for me, I have wide feet, high arches, short strong calves, and poor circulation. I have never found any brand of boot that is actually comfortable. I have learned all kinds of tricks, like making sure my boots are warm before putting them on, wearing thin socks, buckling the boots loosely at the start of the day, and unbuckling them for each ride up the chair. Later in the day, once my body has warmed up to exercise and my feet have adjusted to the boots, the pain is minimal and my feet don't get as cold. 

Still, I know that every ski day, I will have to put up with painful feet and frozen toes for the first three or four runs. Then I'll go into the lodge and weep while defrosting my feet. After that, my feet will be fine for the rest of the day. I refuse to let a little thing like pain stop me from enjoying a wonderful day of skiing.

Here is a work related example. Like many people, I suffer from fear of public speaking. Yet, throughout the different jobs in my career, I regularly have had to speak publicly in a variety of situations. I have led meetings of the senior leaders of a large organization. I have taught small classes and classes of 250. I have been interviewed on television. I have spoken at national and international conferences. I have led a ceremonial event in a darkened theatre that seats 750. 

Every first time that I have had to speak in a new type of situation, I have become highly anxious. I have experienced sweaty palms, the feeling of almost fainting, and the sensation of hearing sound coming out of my mouth but being unable to understand the words that I am saying. I have had wordlessness come over me, when in the middle of a sentence, I suddenly have become frozen, unable to finish the sentence. With everyone's eyes upon me, the silence has seemed to go on and on. 

You would think that having experienced public speaking fright once, I would have avoided that type of situation forever after. But no, I am not that easy on myself. I have made myself do it again, and again, and again, until I have developed ease with that particular situation. And then I have signed myself up for tasks that up the ante, and require me to speak to larger or more critical audiences. 

I am not trying to torture myself. I am not trying to purposely seek out public speaking situations. It's just that if I am going to be able to my job well, I have to take the public speaking part of it in stride. As my career has progressed, the level of public speaking required also has risen. If I had taken the easy way out, I would never have learned to how to manage in public speaking situations, and I would not have learned to cope with the anxiety. The focus isn't me, but rather the instruction, the presentation, the interview, the meeting agenda, and the celebration. 

So, I guess the point I am making, which isn't especially profound, is that we grow when we don't let ourselves take the easy way out. This is the case in creative endeavours, like oil painting or writing a novel, and at work, and also in the little everyday things of life, like making muffins. 

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