Living the Dream: The Phases of Building IKEA Furniture

Since I’m taking a short break from the writing to help a friend move into his new house, I’ve decided to write something a little different. Here is how I see the process of building IKEA furniture:

Denial:

It begins when you see the furniture set up in the store. “It can’t be THAT hard to put together,” you say to yourself as you sit on the already constructed model in the dream-like show room. “What could possibly go wrong?” Even as you begin to unpack the many pieces and that familiar sense of foreboding bubbles to the surface, you push it back down. The cartoon directions are cute! The furniture has a funny name! It can’t be that bad…

Anger:

It’s been hours. Your living room now looks like a battleground riddled with the corpses of torn cardboard, oddly named screws and some directions that make no sense. A vague feeling of hatred for that little stick dude rises to the surface as you peer bemusedly at the directions one more time.

“Why don’t they make non- Allen key screws?!? What’s up with those directions?”

Welcome to anger-ville, population you.

Bargaining:

“Oh, —–.” and other variations. Insert any and all of your favorite expletives here, because in this phase they are plentiful. Usually occurring after you have built your furniture backwards, lost that all important screws and/or have fully assembled said furniture without a crucial piece, you beg the furniture to “just work dammit!”

Depression:

Dammit, it didn’t work. Maybe you insulted its mama one too many times, because now it looks like something made by Picasso’s brain-damaged brother.
“This is never going to look like furniture,” you moan, sinking to the floor. In the depths of furniture building depression, THE DREAM seems pretty far away.

Acceptance:

Congratulations! At some point, you have to pick yourself up off of the floor and do your best (or worst).

Your furniture may or may not look like what it did in the store, but you can sit on it/store your stuff in it and now it is time to accept the fact that it is what it is. Good job, friend, go and have a beer.

It’s Not the End of the World, You Know

Whenever I am worried about something, my mother says “it’s not like it’s the end of the world, you know.” Throughout the years, there have been many things that have warranted this reaction and today wasn’t really an exception.

Except maybe it was–if you believe in the whole Mayan Apocalypse debacle. But let me explain first. I am terrified of the dentist. As a child, I had a dentist who the kids called “Wild man Bill,” because he looked like a mad scientist and he frequently shrieked at anyone who would listen. The guy was like the boogeyman of dentists.

Since then, I’ve avoided the dentist as much as possible. Until this morning, when I had a jolt of pain in my tooth. To make a long and embarrassingly panic-ridden tale of childish fear short, I went to the dentist.
The dentist turned out to be really great. I joked, she drilled, we had some laughs and more importantly–it wasn’t the end of the world.
It was while sitting in the dentist’s chair that my mother’s words came back to me”…it’s not like it’s the end of the world…”

Here is a thought: even if you are facing something that scares you, it’s probably going to be okay. I think that after a certain point, we just have to accept that even if the world ended, we’d handle it and move on.

Sending Good Thoughts into the Universe

I once had a yoga teacher who, in the middle of some funny head stand would postulate on the mysteries of the universe.  The yoga studio was above some storefronts, but once you were up the rickety, colourful stairs it was a whole different world.  It was dimly lit and sweet smelling.  Every corner of the room was piled high with crocheted afghans and yoga mats.

My mother and I were the only customers who seemed to visit.  I’m not really sure why–it was a fabulous spot.  Although I live too far away to visit now (does it even exist anymore?), I think about the yoga lady (whose name I have forgotten) sometimes.  It was something that she said to me on the last day we visited:

“You have to send good thoughts out there into the universe and good things will come back to you.”

Okay, I know it sounds a little strange, but I think that there is value in thinking this way.  If you focus your energy on positive things then it is easier to do what you need or want to do.  So in the spirit of the season and the mysterious yoga lady, I’m sending lots of good thoughts into the universe.

I’m trusting that in return, I won’t get underpants in my stocking this year.  But who knows? It’s up to the universe to decide.

Finding Stories in the Cemetery

Cemetery in New Zealand

Cemetery in New Zealand

 

 

There are a lot of different ways that I find inspiration.  I’m curious to know whether the ways that I find stories are similar (or completely weird) in relation to other writers.  I mean, I like to visit coffee shops and people watch at malls, on busses and planes…  It’s better than sitting in my office all day with the walls that are currently covered in post-it notes (literally floor to ceiling).

One place in particular that I have been interested in is the cemetery.  Maybe it’s because I’m currently writing a ghost story of sorts.  But it could also be the fact that there is something quiet and calming about the cemetery.  In the peace there is a silence like no other.  But most importantly, there are so many interesting names on the tombstones; I like to walk down the rows and imagine what the people were like.  What sorts of stories would they have to tell?

So my question is this: where do you find inspiration for stories?  What is the strangest place you have found inspiration?

The Road Not Taken: Plotting Excitement

Foot Path in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The roads in Iceland look more like winding, gravel foot paths than, well, roads.  Amidst the moon-like lava rock there are plenty of places to wander off the track and fall into a hole (or something like that); this is why they tell you to stay on the main roads and don’t go off the path.   So when we began driving around the outskirts of Reykjavik, we were being careful, but also we didn’t really expect to get into trouble in the city.

Wrong.

It had been a few hours already when we saw the lighthouse in the distance.  Letting our curiosity be our guides, we started driving towards it.  It was a pretty drive—the water was on our left and the puffins were out fishing.  In the distance, was an island with unusual looking houses on it.  Transfixed by the mystery of the lighthouse, we wound along various roads, trying to find a way to the pier where it stood.  And slowly there started to be some unusual sights for a road: suddenly we were much closer to the water than we had been and now instead of grass on one side there was grass on two sides.  A team of soccer players jogged by.  One of them gave us a strange look, which I think roughly translates into “look at those morons on the walking path.” A moment later, we saw a sign depicting a car with a big red “X” through it followed by a little stick person walking.

Being that we were in the middle of a park, there was no place to go but forwards.  So we did.  We got a lot of weird looks, but we laughed like crazy when we finally got back to the road.  That’s the thing with straying from the path.  Sometimes, you have to step away from your plans—or outline—and follow that mystery, because you never know what great story will emerge from the adventure. Sometimes, the best discoveries when writing come from following the unexpected twists in our imaginations.

The Best Nanaimo Bar Recipe Ever OR the Layer Dilemma

Nanaimo Bars

Since it is getting closer to Christmas, I thought I’d share a favourite Christmas square recipe with you.  It’s a recipe that I found once on the City of Nanaimo website and then adapted.  The recipe has a purpose though, too.  Nanaimo Bars have layers, and they’re a bit finicky to make.  Writing a novel is nothing like making Nanaimo Bars—you can easily make them in an hour or so—but it’s those layers that I keep thinking about.  So I have a question for you: how do you successfully add in layers of complexity to a story without going too far?

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer


½ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup sugar

5 tbsp. cocoa

1 egg beaten

1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs

1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. (Or just use two pots one big, one little.  Fill the big one with water and put the little one in so that it floats…we’re not fancy in my kitchen).  Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan.

Second Layer


½ cup unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream

2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder

2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Note: I usually double the recipe for the second layer to get more cream filling.

Third Layer


4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
–Or a bag of chocolate chips works too

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator (make sure the chocolate isn’t scalding or it will melt the cream).