Island Blog 119 Do less and achieve more

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Oh ho ho ho and isn’t that just the easiest thing to tell someone else?

I am reading Mindfulness for Busy People by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel and learning much goodly-grounded advice on how to fly.  Although Life throws us curveballs just when we think we are on a home straight (probably mixed up two sportsfields there….) it is really possible to live in the moment as long as somebody can show us how, and not just tell us.

As a writer I know the art of ‘show not tell’ and even the most lightweight reader (no offence intended) will yawn wide if an author reads like a schoolmarm. We are adults now and have spent way too much time being told what to do and how to do it.  Adulthood begins when a child decides, not when we with saggy skin and a certain way of doing pretty much everything tell them they may now be privy to certain conversations, once whispered, or, worse, spelled out, in shady corners of the house.

So, back to reading………….well, this writer knows how essential it is to read avidly.  For me, it is a pleasure, a need, a drive because in reading other’s words I form my own, not as a copyist, although it has been known.  I have decided that, should I find an angry ‘other’ at my door, spear raised, I will tell them they might think my pinching to be a huge compliment, and not a robbery. I take on other’s wisdoms so that my own reflections on what they have to say might shape into a new form, one that works for me.  There are as many ways to think as there are thinkers, more, and we all must find that which will comfortably settle within our own lives, among our own circumstances – circumstances that will always change, sometimes drastically, sometimes in a more kindly way, but we can still learn how to ‘be’ inside each moment, each day, whatever the challenges may be.

Yesterday, or last week, or last month, life was in ‘this’ shape.  Overnight, let us say, it flips and now looks upsidedown and most precarious, leaning (just) against the props that seemed tall as the cedars of Lebanon, and now look like my old washing line poles after a force ten gale.  Let’s look at them – let’s just stand here and look at them and do nothing.  Just look.

I can joke about it, to get a laugh, but the truth is, it is the only way, and not just for me.  Whatever comes, whatever goes, it all passes.  It cannot help but pass, because life moves on, with or without us.

As a young wife and busy mother, I knew I could not hold onto control and to a great degree, I let go.  Perhaps I was lucky in that.  Perhaps feeling out of control all the time, taught me to live by my inventive wits and to consider control a disadvantage.  But, for all of us, this is possible, no matter how valuable our props might appear.  In the event of extreme disaster, like your house slipping over a cliff, this way of observing and moving on is essential. I am not saying don’t grieve, or ululate for that which is lost, but there is a time for grief and a time to get past it, and not by force.  Accepting some new truth, any new truth on our road is like letting in a new light.  It is not something anyone can memorise by rote and commit to memory.  That is for O Level maths (in my case) and it is impossible to retain that learning for long as I discovered on exam day.  No, we must ‘allow’ the understanding to lightly settle in our bones and there is no other way to do that than to simply ‘accept’ the curveballs, do what we can, if possible, to make good from disaster, and then walk peaceably onwards.

If you are intrigued, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Try it.  There is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.  If you say you are too busy to read, you fool yourself.  When you are gone, what will you be remembered for?  Being too busy?

I hope not.

Island Blog 94 The Right to Write

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As the story grows and the characters take form and substance, grow opinions and modes of behaviour, I find myself stepping back a bit.  After all, I am not really there in this game, not really walking through the doors into the rooms, not visible to any of them.  And yet, if I don’t make them move, they stand still and silent and nothing moves forward.

They are not mere puppets, though, and their world not fashioned by me.  I didn’t think them up out of nowhere, paint on their faces, line up their strings.  They came to me and said hallo and I turned to take a good look.  We decided we like each other, tentatively at first, for there are no end of opportunities for us to fall out.  Even when things appear to be swimming along, quite joco, the tables can turn a surprise on us all.

Part of being able to present, if that’s the right word, a believable character, first to the reader, and secondly to the storyline, is through intense observation of all human beings encountered.  I watch dynamics between people, study body language, the way a person shrugs when asked a hoary question, for instance.  What do her shoulders do as she shrugs, her face, how does it look?  Does she turn away in miserable defeat, or do her eyes tell me she is working up a mouthful of bullets to spit right back?  Does she have a dog/child/handbag and where is the dog/child/handbag when this dodgy question is asked?  Is she in a crowded place or on a mountain top at sunrise?  Why sunrise?  Why a crowded place?  Does she like one over the other and is she in the place that feels most comfortable, or the opposite?

These are but minutes in days of writing practice – practice in my imagination first, then lobbed into my left brain to find the potholes in the path it is choosing to go down.  I write down words, ‘how can this happen?’ questions, speak them out into an empty room or toss them into the wind that ever blows around the island shores.  I must not meddle with this process, or try to rush it, or that part of the story, perhaps the whole thing, will turn to mud, as my paintings did when I couldn’t put down the brush to wait patiently for an answer.

In life, we often don’t wait for answers, believing that it is down to us, to me, to fix this thing and right now before it irritates any more of the bejabers out of me and, besides, I can’t think straight with it fannying around my head, because I have a to-do list awaiting me……look, there it sits on the desk with hardly a tick beside any of it!

Wrong thinking.  The answer, when considering options, texture and colours for an inter-weave of characters inside a story is to stop thinking.  Of course, it isn’t possible, well, not for me, to unthink once I am in the deep fabric of a piece of writing because I am already part of the life of it and interested, fascinated, intrigued and excited to know who will do what next, and when.  But, I can push it/them/ gently behind the cogs and pistons of my brain allowing forward another thing or two to busy me a bit, and to give the story time to evolve without me.

Without me?  you cry.  But I must control it all the time.

Now let me ask you this.  If it were down to just you, or just me to control everything in our lives, would it be a good thing, do you think?

Just play back on a few bloomers in the past, when control of a thing was down to you.

The most important and critical thing to understand, is this.  Gazing wistfully at a published writer, with varying degrees of apparent success will not write your story.  Only you, only I, can write our own stories because only we can bring that texture, those colours and that melody into the light, and if you or I never turn to say hallo to an idea, a storyline, a character, it will stay forever in the shadows of regret.  We don’t need to know how to do it. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, but, as I reach out my hand in welcome, I suddenly realise that I am not alone.  It is not just me.  And so, it begins.

Island Blog 92 On Writing

On writing

As you may know, it is essential to read, especially if you are a writer.  I read avidly, even during the day sometimes, which would have had me thoroughly tutted at by Granny-at-the-gate.  Reading is for pleasure and wifeys don’t do pleasure inside of working hours which numbered, in my recollection about 22 per day.  But now I have less demands on my time by little or big people, although sometimes, just before collecting my book and settling into a chair, I do check the clock and feel a frisson of minor guilt.  It is so much easier to busy up with faffing jobs that lift the dirt or fill the larder with goodly smells, leaving the me part of me just a bit skinnier.

When I am writing, I become lost in the story, as I am now.  Nights are broken as I weave my web, and ideas come at the most inconvenient of times, when the night is dark as a cave and I know I should fight on to achieve my 6 hours of rest, but once the next idea comes, the something that might happen to someone, the how of it and its consequences gets a hold of me, then Lady Sleep leaves the room.  Over the years I have worked with various top tips.

Get up and start writing.  No thanks, its too cold downstairs.

Keep a pad beside the bed and write down your idea.  Yes I do that sometimes, if the story is just a foetus without a name, but if I am well on with the tale and the tellers of it, I can just lie there and follow the thread.  Often, almost always, a character takes me in a direction I never mapped out for them, and that aspect of story-telling has always surprised and delighted me.  It is, as if, once named on a page, each character accepts an initial structure, quite quietly it seems, until he or she decides I’ve got it all wrong and should listen to what they have to say about themselves.

Yesterday, a woman took an action I would never have expected of her, with a confidence that never came from me.  That action changed the whole course of the story and I sat back in my chair, fingers hovering over keys that had just become a jumble of confused letters.  A moment or so earlier, I knew just how to write a sentence.  I knew where he was going, what she would say, what they would do as a result.  Now I stare down at a keyboard that is singing me, not the other way around.  I have become a player in the greater game.

Some writers don’t like this state of affairs.  Some painters, musicians, song-writers too.  But for me, it is the time when I can, to a degree, let go of control, and enjoy learning about each character by listening to their guidance.  I move wholly and completely into their world.  I work to understand their feelings, often not my own, about what has happened to them.  I endeavour to find empathy with choices I would never make, have never made, although I do wonder if that bit is quite true.  If I have considered, even for one minute a choice of action not in sync with how I see myself, might that mean that I could do that thing in different circumstances?

When I am writing a story, I move into it.  I have to, or nobody would believe in it and the book would be closed and sent to a charity shop, un-read.  Good drama draws us in, involves us and we can emerge from a book feeling angry, upset or filled with a happiness that never came from the outside.  We can love a character, or hate them, wish them joys or want to punch them in the tonsils, but we can never find them dull, for if we do, we won’t bother to read on because we just don’t care.

Once I have found my characters, and, believe me, I do find them, or they find me, more truthfully.  These characters came to me in an ordinary moment when I wasn’t looking for them at all.  Two people sharing lunch in a café, and the dynamic between them.  It captivated me and the story began to tell me how it wanted to be written.  I made notes, kept looking at it as I walked, worked, cooked, cleaned and gradually the protagonists revealed themselves.  How they dress, laugh, eat.  How they love, how they live, and how they wrote their past.

Then, one day, I know it is time to begin and not long after I do, there is a knock at the door and in they all come.

Island Blog 86 A Big Stretch

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In the early hours of this morning, I wake.  It isn’t night and yet it isn’t day, not quite, although a weak light through the curtains tells me that it will be soon.  I check my clock with my little torch.  3.30 am.  In an hour, I will hear the sparrows in the creeper begin their chattering and the neighbours cockerels, sounding a little gagged from within the thin walls of their wooden huts, will begin to greet the morning.

I stretch and can feel the familiar cramp begin sort of half way down.  This time, I let it come, but it rises too high and I am forced to shift and bend my knee until it ebbs away.  I lie thinking of how I need to stretch, and not just my limbs, but my mind too.

As folk gain the weight of age, I notice many stop stretching.  We’ve done our stretching, they say.  Now we don’t do that any more.  And they begin to compress and to rust.

Although our bodies have the most wonderful capacity to repair on a day to day basis, we do have to work harder to stretch, to keep supple, but we also must understand that our repair mechanism will never be as efficient as it was when we were 30, or even 50.  And why should it?  Bodies break down, of course they do.  Not one of us can live for ever, and our own aging process is just the way it is, for us.  Some are ‘lucky’ some are not, but we all must face it and accept it with grace.

However, and I always have plenty of howevers up my sleeve, this is not the same with our minds.  These hidden computers can kick ass long after our bodies, and this is where we must sustain the stretch mechanism.  We must oil it and work it, love and cherish it, make it new every morning, no matter what.

When I face something I don’t want to tackle, I am sorely tempted to push it away.  Nobody would judge me for that, or even know, or perhaps, even care, but I would, and there’s the rub.  Is it just me who thinks that to stretch is to reach, or, at least, to try?  Not to stretch is not to know and then to wonder and then to regret.  For me, anyway.  I don’t want to waste a single moment.

As a young woman I thought I would live without effort.  I don’t mean that life was without effort, quite the opposite in fact, but I spent no time bothering about my physical or mental demise.  Nowadays, with two close friends gone too soon and too young, I understand both the fragility of life and its strength.

And its strength lies in my control to a great degree.  Not by re-action to whatever life sends me, but by action.  Not ‘waiting to see’ but watching and grabbing everything that comes along with a can-do attitude, even if, after trying, I can’t do.

I think, in answer to a recent question, this is how self-confidence grows.  Not because I am brilliant at this, or at that, but because I gave everything, every single thing, my best shot, and each time I do, I feel good about me.

And then, if I miss the target completely, I can laugh at my failure, because nobody minds and nobody remembers it.  What they remember is that I made that stretch.