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Posts tagged ‘Writing’

Regular but Fizzier with Extra Lemons

Always the juxtaposition of being human and feeling regular human feelings along with atypical reactions to some aspects of life is uncomfortable to accommodate when I need to talk about feelings and about coping. 

Autism is still discussed as a fault; certain things are lacking – apparently… But I’m not lacking. I’ve got everything I need to be a fully-functioning human being. 

I’m not broken. I’m not wrong. I’m not so very different but I do have different needs. I am always truly heartbroken if I pick up any hint whatsoever that I may not be perceived as completely capable, trustworthy or approachable. 

True, some things trigger problematic feelings, some things take extra energy. Some things cause ill health or anxiety. Some spaces, time-scales or expectations are too tight. The choices for how to behave and when and where are too limited for me. That doesn’t make me lacking; that makes society lacking.

I am safe, I am competent, I know how to put my children first. I know what’s important, what’s fair and how to accommodate my needs around those things. I trust my instincts and I inform myself to back those up. I doubt myself hugely on a minute-by-minute basis and make sure I am getting things better as I go along. The combination of autism and others’ perceptions of what autism might cause me to fail at means I am super-vigilant. I don’t want anyone using this against me. 

I feel perhaps in the same way that our nerve endings are right at the end of our finger tips and everything we touch gives us information, that all my experiences and my emotions are on the surface too; out there, on my skin. My joy, my pain, all my senses, the heat, the cold, the tightness of a space, the pace of life, the expectations of that’s-just-how-it-is, it’s all fizzing with messages going to and from my brain with immediacy and honesty. I’m not packing away mini reactions and mini experiences throughout the day, I’m indulging in great big panoramic gasps of life all the time. Everything is fingertips on a pinhead or sandpaper or silk or kitten’s fur or ice or a burning stove. It’s a series of wonderful and not so wonderful sensations asking for my reaction. 

And yet I must often swallow those great gulps of daily life experience, I mute the “Ouch!”s and the “Slow down!”s, the “OOOH!”s and the “Aah”s and I internalise them. I sit politely pretending to listen to someone talk, all the while wondering what the hell is going off in my peripheral vision, and then I am left with huge great big full stops. I haven’t reacted enough. I haven’t dealt with all this. I lie awake at night, overstimulated, processing everything. 

I am very fizzy. I’m bubbling all the time. The way society runs itself is really rather like someone adding a spoon to an already effervescent world and stirring fast. So I regularly and sensibly give myself a break from that great big stiry thing.

I don’t see it as a bad way to be, I certainly do not see myself as abnormal. I’m human just like everyone else. I’m just extremely  human. 

And because I’m extremely human I am extremely honest. Ironically, despite the superhero clamping down on myself I do, I actually have a greater need to react with immediacy to everything going on. I want to vocalise each emotion as each experience plays out. I want to dance, to sing, to shout, I want to echo sounds that move me, I want to enthuse like an emotive wine-taster: “I’m getting lemon zest beside an ocean!” It’s all so zingy. 

The written word makes me feel safe. My counsellor is a querty keyboard; patiently waiting for me to form the words, to tell her how I feel. So I write it. I write moments of joy, flashes of anger, hours of pain, I spill, I edit, I too hear what I say and feel purged. This honesty, this purging, this sharing shows a side of me hidden from daily life in the physical world. I know how it looks to write pain on a page. I know how it can diminish you in the eyes of some. But it’s just honesty. And it feels better for saying it, making sense of it, it feels good to be honest, to pssshhhhh out a little of the carbon dioxide that makes me fizz. Life is all about feeling and sharing. 

I’m not entirely sure where I was going with this but I feel better for saying it! 😀

Backtracking

This is the first story I wrote for my writing tutor in October 2009. I hadn’t written since school but found myself longing to write again after my father died and I needed time alone in other worlds. I’ll never know whether it was his death that inspired my writing or my starting to write but looking back it feels like it was a catalyst. And having the discipline of a course to follow was just the boost I needed. I was inspired to dig out this particular story this week when a friend shared a photo of a sculpture by Penny Hardy. I’ve asked permission and Penny has kindly allowed me to use this photo here. Many thanks to her. I’ll put some links below for further interest.

You Blew Me Away by Penny Hardy

You Blew Me Away by Penny Hardy

Backtracking

Eddie sighed, feeling old, as if retiring from his job at the rail company was another nail in the coffin. He felt silly and uncomfortable wandering around a scrapyard, looking for goodness-knows-what amongst the rust and mechanical miscellany. Still, he had to prove Jan’s friends wrong – he wouldn’t be ‘getting under her feet’. So phase one of clearing his allotment was making the shed a useable space.

He’d noticed other allotment holders had chairs and tables and radios amongst the pots on their shelves. He thought he should probably have the same and that the scrapyard would be the place to look for some of these things.

Staring at the sharp, unidentifiable rust shapes and contorted bicycle jungle he scratched his head. It occurred to him that he was probably looking in the wrong place; what he was after wouldn’t be left outside in all weathers. But he continued staring up, impressed by how beautiful orange rust looked against an intensely blue summer sky.

And that’s when he noticed a hand. A metal claw of a hand, an accidental shape created by broken and twisted bicycle spokes. The hand was reaching up out of the wreck into the sky, reaching out for help. A cold bullet of shock and sadness torpedoed through his body and his memory tried to reload images from his past. He blinked them away turning towards the small office at the entrance where he would ask for help.

Under a shelter behind the office was a collection of old school desks. He ran his hand along one, feeling the varnish and remembering his own school days. This would be perfect; great for storing his sandwiches. He wouldn’t even have to go home for lunch. Eddie found a deck chair and an old radio and took them and the desk to his car then turned back for one more look. The spokes no longer looked like a hand at this angle – just a twisted mass of wiry metal. He found himself compelled to walk back to where he’d previously stood, so that he could recreate the illusion.
How wonderful that something so useless could conjure up such a powerful image:
A human shape created from junk.

And then he was in amongst the rust and spikes, pulling. Pulling out whatever he could find that was bendable, shapable. A powerful urge to have that feeling again was taking over. He could do this himself. Something that looked like old bicycle spokes could also look like a hand, so why not arms? legs? a head? He took to his car anything vaguely malleable, staining his clothes with rust and cutting his hands, until there was no room left in the car. He would come back.


‘You’re quiet this evening’ said Jan after dinner. ‘What’s going on in that head of yours?’
‘Nothing’ replied Eddie, visualising his hoard in the shed and imagining it taking shape already. He would start with the first: Hayley, the manic depressive who had leapt in front of his train in 1970. Then Mikey, the lad who ran after his ball onto the track in 1978. He would make 7 metal sculptures in all and stand them on his plot with a view of the valley and tell them all how sorry he was and how he would carry their deaths around with him for the rest of his life.

It was three months before Jan became curious. She had continued to keep the house as neat as ever, had seen her friends as much as before and was beginning to notice that Eddie’s retirement had made little difference to their marriage after all. In fact she was feeling rather neglected.



‘It was terrible’ she heard him say as she entered the shed ‘Your poor wife, John. I read all about her in the paper. Right, you can keep an eye on Mikey, while I start Gareth. At this rate I’ll have you all together by Christmas’
As he turned to move sculpture number three next to the first two he caught sight of his wife. She wasn’t moving, her face was pale, and tears flooded her eyes.
Eddie stepped forward and Jan dropped her head onto his shoulder. With their arms still by their sides, they both trembled with the release of many years’ pent up emotion and tears.
‘You don’t forget’ whispered Eddie to the top of her head. ‘How can you forget what you’ve done to people?’ He raised his head, guided Jan into his deckchair and leant himself against the school desk looking down at her, eyes feverish. ‘I read about them all afterwards. I didn’t want you to know how bad it was.’

Jan reached up and took Eddie’s hand ‘Tell me now. Tell me everything.’


End.


Many thanks to Penny for allowing her photo to be used.
Penny Hardy has a website here
: http://www.pennyhardysculpture.com/
and a facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Penny-Hardy/122465097936140?fref=ts

(I’ve noticed WordPress has just congratulated me on my blog anniversary. It’s 6 years old today so that was nice timing.)



A Chance to Shine

My modest return to Friday Flash. It seems I haven’t written and shared a flash fiction since December 2012!

This isn’t the first time I’ve given a voice to an inanimate object. A couple of years ago I wrote a very short fiction about a pair of shoes with their own opinions…


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An apple from the garden, sat atop the wooden kitchen table, all perfectly imperfect.
Alone in the half-light from the cookerhood lamps, it proudly glowed: its contours more strongly rounded by its halo, the two small, black bruises and the – as yet negliable – newly forming wrinkles hidden by the shadows.

‘Paint me,’ it whispered. ‘I’m still beautiful. Paint me before I die.’

A woman entered the room, switched on a single light bulb, remembered the apple she had rescued from the ground in the morning, and smiled now at how its middle seemed noble and self-possessed like a robin’s. She saw the asymmetrical left-lean of the stalk, the elliptical shadow pool, and the way the reflection from the light bulb beamed out midway where the red and yellow colouring met. There was something really palatable – comforting almost – about the form of an apple.

She remembered drawing and painting apples in school. Hadn’t she been quite good at still life? For the briefest moment she wondered if she would like to sit and draw this apple now. But it was late, and anyway what would it achieve? She didn’t have time for unproductive things like drawing and painting.

‘Paint me. I’m dying.’

‘Where’s Cézanne when you need him?’ the woman asked the apple, pressing her lips together in compunction, as she turned out the lights, shut the door and followed the stairs to bed.

The forlorn apple’s previously tight, satiny skin turned sticky and soft in the dark, warm kitchen. It had tried its best but it hadn’t managed to inspire her.

Maybe the stories it had heard on the tree about humans being creative and appreciating nature the way no other animal could hadn’t been true after all.



Anxiety Disorder: trying to stop blaming myself

shutterstock_130900154 I haven’t written a blog post for a while. I regularly long to write and blog and blurt out my thoughts but I can’t settle long enough or often enough to organise my words. Being an anxious person does weird things to my brain: it clouds my judgement and reorders my thoughts, it plays lists of Other Things I Should Be Doing so loudly in my head I can’t concentrate or relax; it makes the outside world a challenging cacophony against my interior thoughts and leaves me running in circles and chewing my nails, often achieving little or nothing.

As a writer, it is assumed I should and do read a lot, right?
Wrong.
I can’t even settle for half an hour with a good book. I lust after books, I buy books, I line them up on shelves, I take them to bed with me at night, but I rarely get past the first few pages. I can’t seem to stop the feelings of guilt for relaxing, as if relaxing is not only impossible but somehow not allowed. It seems I should be constantly dodging bullets or chasing chickens or watching for wolves. I said to a friend recently that in the past I would have been the one to stay awake all night and listen out for danger. It’s like there’s an alert button that will not switch off.

Anxiety also messes with my routines and cuts my connections to the things that make me feel whole. I can commit to great swathes of different activities but then suddenly I find I am not managing anything. It’s a rather rocky path to travel along, my life. I look back and see I have been stumbling on things for a while and dropping things along the way. It’s hard to go back and pick things up when you haven’t done them for a while. Leaving things or ignoring things and hoping I can feel like dealing with them in the future is a terrible habit of mine – it’s a coping mechanism I guess, but one of the false coping mechanisms that we anxious people use when we believe can’t actually deal with things at all. It’s strange how we know that in reality we will feel better when we have dealt with things that are causing us to worry, but instead we try to block them. My memory also suffers a lot because of my difficulty remaining calm. I think so much of my brain deals with being anxious that I don’t always process or store information efficiently.

There’s a popular mantra theme I see all the time on the Internet: Face your fears; Do one thing every day that scares you; Feel the fear and do it anyway -as if we will somehow feel better if we have done something truly terrifying. One thing I find important to stress as an anxious person is that we are doing things all the time that absolutely terrify us and it is exhausting! We are not skydiving or white-water rafting or making speeches to huge gatherings, but we may as well be. Just being moderately normal kicks out so much adrenalin I get a dry mouth, palpitations, migraines, insomnia, digestive problems, alcohol cravings, bad reactions to sugar and caffeine, tearfulness, shaking arms, chest pains, shallow breathing and exhaustion: exhaustion like you wouldn’t believe. I can’t possibly entertain the thought of deliberately looking for something scary that will make me feel fulfilled somehow! Crazy.

My introverted behaviour and longing to be at or close to home must give a false impression of how I am. I must seem quiet, unadventurous and perhaps a little dull. How contrary that is to the way I feel: I am easily bored, I love new stuff and am always planning new projects. But the problem with anxiety is that it can blow up at any time and the excitement of imagining, dreaming, organising and planning can switch to the panic of loss of control and fear of disaster, or feelings of being overwhelmed or unable to cope. Failure is always at my shoulder. Often the anxiety tells me to stop everything because I am getting it all wrong and I’ll never be a success at anything I’m trying to do.

Some days I allow myself to do nice or pleasant things (or just not awful, mundane things ) but most days I don’t. Many days I am simply tough on myself all day and will only allow myself to do what I think will serve others; some days I am punished by the extreme exhaustion and other physical symptoms of having pushed myself through a stressful situation. I can refocus for a while – particularly while out walking and paying attention to things around me, or while watching a gripping film, but it never leaves me. I am never completely calm.

Anxiety is not a new thing for me. It’s newly diagnosed and newly accepted, but it’s a chronic part of who I am. It’s something I have always had inside me. I think through genes I was born anxious but it was intensified by stressful situations as a very young child, and has been triggered by other things that have happened as I’ve got older. I also had anxious parents and it’s bound to have affected me. I am anxious through and through: mentally, physically and emotionally. I don’t feel it’s something I can step out of or get over through a course of CBT or drugs. I feel in my case it’s about recognising, accepting and managing.

The most important thing that has happened to me in the last year is being forced to recognise there is a problem and talk to a doctor about my symptoms. Not everyone likes a label, and perhaps not everything can or should be labelled, but I needed to blame something else rather than myself for the days that have been so dark and frightening I simply couldn’t cope with getting out of bed or leaving the house or being around other people. Blaming myself for everything over the years has certainly increased my anxiety and the fear that I look merely useless or lazy or thoughtless or unreliable has brought me incredible distress. In fact the impact I perceive I am having on others brings me the greatest distress.

Everything starts in my head with “You’re not going to cope with this situation”, and then that either escalates to a point where I duck out of the situation in which I have decided I will not cope or I force myself into it and I find I am in a “You’re not coping with this situation” kind of hell. This is always followed by “You didn’t cope with that situation. You are a failure”. The failure plays again and again in my head, making me feel hot and sick and restless.

Now that I can call that situation “Anxiety” and not just me being useless, I can begin to take back a little control. The anxiety still kicks in before the reason, but I can often recognise it now and decide if I’m strong enough to fight it, and I have spotted little tricks to fend off some of the physical symptoms, sometimes. Sometimes I’m just done in and nothing works but I am armed with knowledge and understanding of myself and my disorder now. I still can’t always make a division between what I just don’t want to do and what I would like do to if I were less anxious, but I can stop blaming myself.

It’s hard to tell people you suffer with anxiety. Play it down and it just sounds like you’re being lame and will usually lead to people telling you to “stop being silly”, “you have nothing to worry about”, “you’ll feel better once you’ve done it”. I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt better after doing something I was afraid of – because it hasn’t happened. I have never felt better after doing something that scared me – because the fear ruined everything. I don’t blame people – no one can know what it’s like to constantly live with too much adrenalin unless it’s happening to them.
But stress the importance of the anxiety and the serious impact it’s having on your life and you feel the stigma of a mental health problem begin to emerge; people avoid you or suggest things you should do, or helpfully imply that you would be better off on drugs.

Here’s what I want to say to people:
I suffer with a chronic anxiety disorder. I don’t want you to do anything or say anything, I don’t want you to pity me or avoid me. It’s not who I am but it affects how I can act, and I’m dealing with it in the best way I know how. For me everyday life is like a lot of tangled threads, and simple things are not easy to order or contain. I need you to know and to accept it because I see how keeping it hidden has made me more anxious about the way I might be judged and that really really hasn’t helped.

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A Farewell to Plates

(not to be confused with pilates – I never did that)
platespinning
When we’re walking the dog along the beach, I often pick up a stone or a pebble and turn it over, hidden, in my left hand. I prefer an imperfect, partially-worn pebble, still with edges, crevices and knobbles. I absent-mindedly assess its contours with my fingertips and become accustomed with how it feels and what to expect with each turn. There’s comfort in the familiarity of the rhythm, and it’s a nice simple thing to do while my conscious brain thinks it’s really engaged in walking, taking in the view, and perhaps discussing the family or the shop or something trivial with my husband. My other hand is usually in charge of carrying my camera, and that’s where all the responsibility lies.
But today I saw two pebbles of a similar size that both looked like they would be nice to hold. I picked them up and held them together, tumbling them over each other. It didn’t seem as simple or as pleasant as turning only one. The pebbles bumped together and destroyed each other’s rhythm, and they grated as grains of sand scratched as they turned. It wasn’t long before I could tell them apart though and had noticed one was sharper than the other. I became more aware of what I was doing and started to think about it. What if there were three pebbles in my hand?
I picked up another one and held the three together. As I moved them around, the tumbling became jumbled and random. I had less control. But I could soon make out three different stones by feel: one was the smoothest, one was the sharpest and one was neither the smoothest nor the sharpest – it was just there. I now had to think about why it was individual and how to identify it. It was a little smaller, I eventually decided.
But what about four or five stones in the hand – all of a similar size, all supposedly taking up as much room in my hand and all hopefully getting a fair number of tumbles?

Well I tried it. And it certainly wasn’t comforting or simple. It wasn’t rhythmical or easy to keep tabs on each stone and the enjoyment of predicting the feel or a surface on each turn and being rewarded by being right had completely gone.

There was just too much going on

Each pebble, on its own, one at a time: fine. But in the time it takes to walk across the beach I don’t have time to play some 5-pebble swapping trick. Besides, I have too much else to think of, and worrying about whether each pebble has had a juggle in my hand is quite frankly bordering on the obsessive. So… just how many pebbles is healthy?

Okay. I’ll be honest now: the pebbles are just a catalyst. I’ve also been thinking about pies and plates his week.
“How many pies is it healthy for me to have my fingers in?” I’ve been asking myself.
And:

“Is it sensible to have several plates spinning if I can’t keep up with them all, am not enjoying the chaos, and which plates would be missed if I just concentrated on one or two?”

Feeling a bit chaotic and plate-spinny coincided with a recent period of low-confidence and bad health – mentally and physically. I’m sure they’re all connected in some way but not necessarily completely related to one another. It’s like Velcro balls: all separate but cause havoc when they’re all stuck together

On Tuesday I was on the brink of writing a farewell blog post. My paid-for domain name expires on 1st July and I’m not planning to pay to renew it. I thought I could write a swift goodbye and leave it there for 3 weeks until it disappears. Blogging takes up time. It’s occasionally caused me arguments which have led to bad feelings and those bad feelings have never left me. Because my blog was initially set up as a creative and communicative writing outlet, I felt as if I was failing on the communication side of things. It’s one thing to have your comments challenged in casual conversation, it’s another to have them challenged when you’ve thought about them long and hard and spent time writing them. It begins to feel like unpaid political journalism. I’m not in that area because I’m not mentally up to it. I would focus on the negative and the conflict and allow it to ruin everything. It’s an unavoidable part of low self-esteem. Besides, I may write mildly subversive thoughts occasionally but I’m never offensive or prejudiced. I would say I simply bounce thoughts around in a benign way. In my fiction and creative writing, I particularly don’t like receiving creative feedback when I haven’t asked for it. If my writing doesn’t work for someone, I’d rather they quietly ducked out rather than telling me I’ve done something wrong (when their “wrong” can equal a different taste rather than any kind of accuracy or breaking of rules). I found myself telling my sister on the phone recently I wanted to pour stuff out but not deal with the consequences. If I’m going to have to read scathing literary reviews about my work on a weekly basis, I’d like to be a. published, b. paid for it and c. for the person to have jolly good reason for their comments and they way they are delivered. Creativity (for me) can’t be constantly interrupted by criticism. No one sits outside my window when I play the flute, yelling, “I don’t think Vivaldi meant for it to be played that slow!” And I rarely get people telling me on blipfoto that my photos could be better – which is amazing because they could always be better! I’m doing it again: focussing on the negative!

And then there’s the peace, the guilt and the time involved in writing.

Writing does great things for me but it doesn’t make me feel like a good person. I feel inconvenient. I want solitude while my thoughts and words arrange themselves, and any interruption destroys everything. EVERY THING, I TELL YOU!! The trouble is the interruptions are usually unavoidable and my responsibility. I can escape the rage and frustration of interruption and the guilt of being inconvenient if I don’t write, right?

I quietly made up my mind to stop writing and slowly began to let it slip out.
Then three things happened in amazingly quick succession just as I was planning my final blog post that stopped me:
1. Someone whose opinion I value very highly said something complimentary about my blog posts
2. Someone else who follows me on Twitter didn’t know I blogged asked to see my blog and said that after reading my tweets – they would be interested in reading longer versions of my tweets
3. My mother came over for a visit and I didn’t get a chance to go near the computer that afternoon.

The farewell blog post never happened.

I realised the crisis in confidence had been a bigger part of the decision to stop writing than I had been admitting to myself. I don’t actually want to stop writing. And I don’t want to say I’m not a writer. I just want life to be easier. Easier on my terms. I want to sleep better, I want to have more energy, I want to stop having days of nothing but brain fog, I want to be able to do everything I want to do and everything other people want me to do. I want to be brilliant, amazing and the world’s best multi-tasker. But most of all I want to stop being disappointed with myself and I thought I would be better company and more efficient if I stopped writing.
But I haven’t been.
And I haven’t really stopped. I’ve been writing in my head. I do it regularly. I can’t stop. And I can’t make myself be more efficient or organise my time better. I just can’t. I’ll write a list and then feel ill all day, or I’ll plan to make bread and then end up planting potatoes. I cannot put aside a time to write, a time to play the flute, a time for walk, a time to take photos. I simply can’t.

I’ve tried again and again and again and I fail over and over and I hate myself for failing.

So I’ve looked at my plates, my pies and my pebbles. I’ve stopped spinning the plates, I’ve taken out my fingers and licked off the gravy (yum, pies…), and I’ve put the pebbles on the desk (<- that one's literal). There are too many needless plates and I’m getting rid of them. There are nice plates but I don’t need them so they will have to go. There are other plates I have no idea why I’m still trying to keep up. Social conditioning I guess.

Well. No more spinning. I don’t need to be something. I don’t need to prove anything. I need to survive. When I’m anxious, when there’s a lot going on, when ill health or exhaustion strikes I won’t write and I know I can’t write. I won’t be committing to anything at all any time soon, and I won’t be thinking of it as something I need to fit in somewhere like a task that grates against everything else going on. I’m just going to take each day as it comes, and try to stop taking any notice of people who like to provide endless lists of how bloody marvellous they’ve been, or people who are totally conventional and have no idea how it feels to be me. This is how I have to live because this is who I am.

What else can I do?

Besides: stuff it all. Who said there are any rules about anything, anyway?

So. Erm. Yeah. What’s the conclusion?

I’ve simplified my blog and it stays. For now. But I’m not paying to keep a paid-for domain, so it’ll just be any old WordPress blog soon. And I’ve removed the “About” page because I can’t keep up with who I am/was/might think I am sometimes. It keeps changing anyway.

Whatever.

Box of plates anyone?

(There really are pebbles from the beach in front of me)



Stories and Seeds

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I’m not writing recently. (Well. I’m writing a blipfoto journal every day, but usually that’s pretty crap.) My anxiety and self-deprecation/punishment/what you will put their foot (feet?) down on the time taken to be creative. It’s not on to spend a long time doing things in your head or at a computer that generate no obvious signs of physical production. You can’t eat words and stories. Apparently. Or something like that. I’m not entirely sure of the reasons: all I know is the other day I said “I’ve forgotten how to write” but I’m quite sure that’s not exactly true. I’m just not allowing myself to write. Or rather: some part of my persona is not allowing me to write. Anyway, that’s enough colons.

My thoughts and stories and flashes of inspiration are like seeds on a frozen, stoney ground in winter. They might be goers. They might be interesting. They may have potential. Given a chance they may flourish, but in these conditions they don’t stand a chance.

Instead I am gardening. I’m not currently seeing anything worth celebrating and – as a self-hating, forehead slapping, perfectionist – I’m not impressed with my progress, but at least some of it can, and will, be eaten. 

I hope. 
(The jury’s out on how much of it the 8-year-old will eat. The slugs will probably eat more)

 

Gardening is like writing:

 If it goes well, your heart lurches with satisfaction as you sit sipping tea, enjoying the beautiful new thing as it takes on a life of its own.

 

If it goes badly, you lie awake at night calling yourself a twat for wasting the day and then you wait for tomorrow so you can put it right or start again.

 

Both give you backache and solitude, and require patience, staying power and biscuits.

 

(I took that photo a year ago. I knew I’d find a use for it some day) 

Let that creativity out, missus!!

CreativityMy title for this post was to be Aspiring Human, but I’ve just found “Let that creativity out, missus!!” as a comment, from a very dear friend*, on yesterday’s Blipfoto journal entry which seems just as apt and has the added benefit of being slightly catchier.

Both titles get to the heart of how I feel about the intertwining of life and creativity.
Let me explain…

Rewind to 2009 when I rediscovered the achingly wonderful way writing made me feel, signed up for Open University courses, and joined Twitter in my quest to find ways to immerse myself in “writeriness”. I followed as many people as I could who had the words “writer” or “author” in their Twitter bios or usernames. I looked for writing hashtags, writing quotes and mantras, writing retweets, writing blogs. I wanted to be in Writer World, I wanted to talk Writer, be Writer, think Writer, live Writer. I wanted to share writing chat, get a feel for life as a writer and completely overturn the “something’s missing from my life” non-writery existence I had lived previously.

Now, that’s all well and good and has probably worked for many, but what I found was the language in Writer World made assumptions about a way to be a writer. I felt as if until one was published or successful in some other conventional way, one had to call oneself “Aspiring Writer”, and – importantly – always be striving for something. There is always a feeling of needing to make it, to get somewhere – be that winning competitions, awards, publication, or employment of some kind. However good anything I wrote might be, however Writery I felt – even if I wrote for hours every day and some days did very little else, I still felt the pressure to conform to a load of assumptions. I could post things on my blog, I could take part in things, I could have tens – sometimes hundreds – of people reading what I had written, but I would always be “up-and-coming” or “aspiring”. Not even the tag “amateur writer” would be applied to me. Always part way there until someone slapped a success sticker on me.

In the same way that society now expects singers and musicians to strive for fame, recording contracts and TV appearances to become “performers” of what they do to endorse it in some way, writer seems to have come to mean

• Book(s)
• Novel(s).
• Publication.
• Recognition.
• Income.
• Employment.

(I’ve just remembered the person who inspired the title of this blogpost doesn’t like bullet points!**)

Being a writer didn’t mean writing a novel in the past. Writers wrote – simple as that. And the novel is a relatively new concept that some writers probably shouldn’t even be striving to achieve. There was once no such thing as a novel. That’s just one area. There are so many other ways to be a writer.

And what happened to the definition of being “successful” at something simply meaning “to do it well”?
What happened to talents being enjoyed for what they are? Where is the stress-free enjoyment of merely creating?

Write
What I found for myself by immersing myself in writer language was that I gradually began to realise that it was not the talk around writing and writers and publication that I am interested in: it is what people write about that interests me most. I observe society and people, I am affected by what I witness, and I see myself as someone who organises concepts and thoughts into words, and a person who makes up stories, and not as someone who is striving for something. It’s the human part of people that I like best and that doesn’t come from only talking to other writers about writing. I now have a new, smaller Twitter account where I follow people because I like what they say about the world. My favourite people are often good human beings first and foremost. To be successful and/or talented is never enough for me. It shouldn’t be enough for anyone in my opinion.

Of course there are writers who write to get published, who write to win competitions, who are good at these things, enjoy these things and succeed at these things – I know many of them and admire not only their writing but I admire them as people. Some I consider good friends, so I am not writing this to take that away from them or to belittle their struggles or hard work. I also know people who write to earn money to put food on the table and so of course that is incredibly important and worthwhile, not to mention jolly successful if they manage to achieve that even in some small way.
No. I am simply trying to remind myself and anyone who reads this that the raw creativity contained in the whole of the art world – in paintings, drawings, sculptures, poems, musical compositions and performances, stories, scribblings on the backs of envelopes, blogposts, theories, low-budget films and whole host of other areas of creativity are what make a person an artist, a writer, a creative person, or whatever. Assuming that “making it” or being successful in any field requires some kind of conventional quantifying or recognition can be crippling to the person who puts themselves in that mindset, not to mention insulting to those who do not. Why should we be striving to fit our art into someone else’s narrow definition of what is good or successful anyway?

It is the actual process of being creative that is so important to me. The choosing and arranging of words or music to form a picture or an emotion: the releasing of musical notes from my voice, or from my flute, or through my fingertips; the selecting and joining together of words to experiment with ways of pinning down imaginative thoughts. I see this too in the sketches our daughter draws for no purpose on earth other than she feels the need to do it. I take photographs because I like to see a scene framed or the way the light takes a different picture from the picture my eyes took. Those things – all those things are worth something. There’s no need to put a price on everything, a deal on everything, seek employment or other monetary recognition in something merely because we enjoy it. I don’t play music or sing in order to perform for others, I don’t take photos in order to put them in an exhibition, and I’ve realised I don’t have to write with a novel in mind.

People are employed as musicians, as writers, as artists, sure. But that’s only one way. It’s not the way to call yourself any of those things or to sanction what you do. Besides, I think we should strive to be the best, caring, thoughtful human being we can first and foremost and that will automatically put a stamp of authority on what we do. After all it is the human condition that makes art accessible and emotive.

Of course there are creative plans – projects with an end goal: things with a purpose, which must be finished. But that’s not the definition of creativity, or creative success.
If we become appreciated for what we do, that’s not when we made it. We made it when we were being creative.

Do you want to know what’s annoyed the crap out of me, whilst writing this blog post? It’s that an image search for “creativity” I did to find a picture to go with what I’m writing, threw up so many pictures of business people in suits – as if to say creativity is about business ideas. And you’d be amazed how frequently the words “leader”, “innovation”, “teamwork”, “target” and “success” came up. What?! Why?!

AGH!

It’s not that I don’t think art should have a purpose. I just think its purpose has become confused and a lot of people are scared away from writing because they assume it has to go somewhere, but it doesn’t have to go anywhere. It’s incredibly sad that many people are put off creative arts because they don’t see how they could be successful at them. Expectation can be disabling – I should know, but writing is a process all in itself, and a damned fine one too – just like all the other arts.

Our youngest child making experimental noises on the piano - just because it's good fun

Our youngest child making experimental noises on the piano – just because it’s good fun


*Thank you, Sarah
**Sorry, Sarah



Words

Noelcandle

Three years ago, when I was in the early stages of realising I was still in love with the writing I enjoyed as a girl, I found I was being visited by imaginary old people, shy children, desperate people, and people with no voice. The first 2 stories I wrote for my new creative writing tutor were about older people, struggling with hidden sadness.

I’m always attracted to the forgotten people: those suffering in silence, those who stand apart in some way or for some reason, those who experience great hardship, those who are misunderstood or unfairly judged.
I am drawn to stories about people with some kind of barrier, or those who might be made to feel they don’t belong in some way, even people who are criticised for seemingly behaving badly. Let’s hear the reasons for these, I think. There’s a story behind every one.

Fiction not only gives a voice to these forgotten people – it draws our attention to them and makes us see what we did not see. It pulls out and exposes the reasons for behaviour; focuses on the insides not the surface appearance, peels back the layers of image – for I feel it is image that so often distracts us in real and everyday life.

Whether reading or listening to fiction (I love to listen to stories and drama), we use our eyes and ears to see and hear words not pictures. Yes, pictures and appearances are what we conjure up from descriptions in writing, but they don’t remain ever-present when we are focussing on the story, or the conversation, or the voice. It’s not like TV and films and face-to-face discussion. In stories you have to pay deep, deep attention. You can have your eyes closed.

You can deliberately avoid distracting with appearances in writing. We might want a reader to focus on the words: “He touched me. I didn’t want him to touch me,” for instance, and not on the character’s bright red lipstick, short skirt or the way she holds herself. Perhaps, we don’t want this to be about sexuality, we want it to be about attitudes. Or you can time when you allow a description to be made available to a reader, so they may look inwardly at their own preconceptions or how others judge on appearance. You can make less of skin colour, or accent, or disability. You can then surprise your reader when another character makes something of them.
When a writer talks to you, it is not his or her face you see, or the way she tucks her hair behind her ear, or the way his black eyes burn a hole in your resolve – it is his or her words. The words captivate you or repel you. It’s all about whether you like what they are saying and not what they look like.

And because of this the forgotten people can talk, and we can see their insides, their guts, we can hear what they would tell us if we stopped making too fast assumptions.

That second story I wrote for my tutor, three years ago, was a story about a grandmother called Pat who struggled with Christmas every year, but braved it for the sake of her family. The family were so wrapped up in their own lives and needs they saw nothing but Gran and not the woman with needs of her own. I found that I wanted to show how the loudest characters were not always the strongest and that looks often hide a multitude of emotions but also that a deliberate gesture may not be done from the heart.

There is a lot of beauty hidden behind a poor image. And we need to be reminded where to find beauty.

The writer is not beautiful. The writer’s words are beautiful.

Merry Christmas. I hope you get to eat and drink well. After all – it’s what’s inside that counts 😉

Forty Quid and Some Fruit

A flash fiction

There’s something about having nothing that makes you feel … well, both heavy and light all at the same time.
There seems no point looking forward or back, ‘cause every time you do you feel sad and kinda hopeless. Life like this just goes on and on and on, and when you see no end to it, no better days ahead, it makes you want to top yerself. But there’s a lot of point in living in the moment. Why not smoke? Why not drink? Why not eat sausage and chips? Small pleasures. Simple things.

My health? My future?
I’m not expecting anything to be honest.

So, I stop the fags and buy some fruit?… What then? I sit here and fiddle with me orange peelings and cry about tomorrow? No. I share a fag with a mate over a cuppa tea and we get a few things off our chest. We can’t do much for each other but we’ve still got that.

And do I tell Benjy he can’t get bladdered with the lads after work on Friday so he saves a few quid? What then? His whole working week is about Friday and his friends. He couldn’t get through it if he didn’t have his Fridays. The rest of the week is bloody miserable for him. You know they don’t even pay him properly because he’s officially still training? What a load of bollocks.

Anyway… What have we got then? Forty quid and some fruit? That can’t get us a car, a new place to live. The fridge is knackered, the cooker is knackered. Megan needs a new bed. There is no future just by depriving ourselves further.

I was looking over this fella’s shoulder on the bus the other day – reading ‘is paper. Some woman had written how people who drink and smoke should pay more for healthcare. I laughed out loud, I did. The man turned and stared at me like I was mad.
I was mad to be honest. “Healthcare”?! Most people I know don’t even bother with doctors no more. We just wait until we keel over with liver damage or breathing difficulties. What’s the point of being told we ain’t living right, huh? “Yeah, sorry, doc, I lost me Waitrose loyalty card and haven’t been eating my pomegranates recently.”
It’d be funny if wasn’t so bleedin’ tragic. You know I know some people who’s not even registered with a doctor?

I think if I did have forty quid and some fruit I’d make a big bowl of punch and have a party. Share a little bit of happiness. We never seem to have any fun these days.

What gives?

All the written and unwritten rules and opinions and expectations of motherhood, womanhood, modern families, modern society; all the said and unsaid guilt, failures and struggles fill my head.

The pushing and pulling of instinct, need, duty, emotional sacrifice.

Sacrifice.

Why should daily life feel like a sacrifice?

Why are there so many different versions of me that they just don’t fit?
They simply don’t fit.
Yet there isn’t one I want to leave behind.

One day one gives. Another day another one gives. The housewife returns again and again: “Back by popular demand…”
Some versions leave for months or years at a time.
The reader puts her book away. The musician ceases playing – the sensitive types that think they won’t be missed.

There’s one I couldn’t leave behind if I tried – and I have tried – she’s the one that causes the most trouble: the solitary, quiet, thinking version.

Her need for quiet is deafening. Shhhh… Her withdrawal is suffocating.

She doesn’t give. She takes me with her.

“Not when all is said and done,” she says. “Now,” she says. “The time is now.”

She rips me away from the other versions of myself until I scream and let go.

I can’t help it.



But then I’m up, I’m breathing; I’m gasping for air!



She’s the only one that saw I was drowning.



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