52and40/25 Regenerative Circuits

 

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The hardest bit of writing for me isn’t finding ideas or receiving rejections. Both of those are plentiful for me at this stage.  Both of those are great teachers too – to be appreciated and understood just as the nice, easy bits are.

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For me, the hardest bit’s waiting for feedback.  The no-woman’s land of yay or nay.

The Isle of Maybe.

I’m a feedback junkie – reacting to feedback is my fuel for the next thing.

I guess I need to cultivate a better relationship with my own feedback, for the between bits.

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More on #52and40 here.

Writes and Wrongs

 

Until recently, whatever writing works I’ve had in progress were allowed to swim around my mind as they pleased.  From poetry to commentary to short stories and – the biggie – the possible first novel, I’m usually working on between 5 and 12 pieces at any one time.  Some months I finish several pieces and get to submitting – a great feeling.  Other months it’s just a case of nurturing, editing and thinking.  Every month though?  Ideas and inspiration everywhere.  Up character details crop in the fridge when I’m making a shopping list.  Over scenes go with my gaze when I’m staring at hills and listening to a podcast.  Down it’ll all go on a page when there’s opportunity.  And when there wasn’t opportunity?  Those ideas and inspirations kind of bottlenecked in a holding pen that became increasingly cramped.  Whenever I could, I’d lift out my clearest thoughts and liberate them in emails to myself so my inbox could be a holding pen too, perhaps a safer one in terms of things not getting lost.  Then it became impossible to deny that my inbox was becoming a mind boggling place to rock up in, too.  Ideas and inspiration everywhere are great but were they becoming too abundant?

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All in all, the confusion of real world and fictitious worlds was becoming at best distracting and at worst, confusingly destructive.

At around the same time I noticed the failing holding pens, I finished a 5 month series of workshops for writers with big works in progress at Edinburgh University.  Lead by writing tuition supremo Helen Lamb, myself and another eleven students attempted to further nurture stories into the world.  Feedback was the order of the day.  A lot of the feedback that changed my work came from listening to other writers consider and adapt their work.  It was an incredibly valuable process but my lack of mental organisation lead to something of a creative meltdown when the workshops ended; the feedback pushed more ideas into the holding pens with the consequence of  my brain starting to forget everything I needed to remember to run my real world, i.e., the shopping list, kids’ schedules,  getting to the dentist, etc.

Then, much worse than the forgetting of fairy liquid or fillings, my writing started to suffer.  I’d sit down to type and find the conduit thoughts normally came through blocked.  Coffee and music coaxed a few paragraphs onto the page here and there but cognitive disorder made it hard to tell if they were any good or not.  Cue much deleting, restarting and a whole load of Word documents being saved with bizarre titles and not a lot of content.  More holding pens, damnit.  More doing of a thing that was clear in its intent to not yield good results.  An invite to insanity, some say.

This was a terrifying situation to have arrived at after going through the long process of establishing a consistent writing habit over the last two years.  The part of my brain that likes to catastrophise was whispering this was the beginning of the end.  ‘See?  You can’t handle it when the pace picks up’, it said, showing itself to be a callous little bastard with no vision, once again.

The part of my brain that believes everything’s possible kicked in about a fortnight later, thank fuck.  ‘You can do this’, it said, and, ‘you just have no idea how, yet’.  I had a little weep fuelled by relief and terror, picked myself up and asked for wisdom from more experienced writer friends about how they’d schooled their thoughts on world-building into forward moving productivity.

How had they dealt with creating worlds within a world?

With regards the novel there was a strong consensus in the advice: partition time for writing and world creation and stick to a plan as much as possible.  For short stories, the feel was to let them happen as you work and worry less about what comes and goes – they always work out in the end (or hit the bin with rare regret) – this tallies with my experience too, hurrah.  The rest of the time?  Be in the real world.  Stop taking the imagined world everywhere – keep it the fuck out of the fridge, especially; give yourself some headspace that isn’t a holding pen for anything, otherwise you’ll drown in your spiralling imagination and hold off new ideas from entering.  The truths of creativity are riddled with paradoxes, I find.

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I initially thought methods around disciplined partitioning were unrealistic for my messy, non-linear brain and kicked against them a bit.  I’m a difficult mum, wife and friend, at those times of frowny adult-tantrumming.  Pity those who encounter me when I’m not in flow.  But, like any muscle used repeatedly, I’ve found the energy within getting stronger for a more disciplined course, with practice.  I’ve stopped the hotch-potch method I was engaged in before of skipping from one part of the novel to another, sending ripples of change in every which direction that were hard to keep track of.  Now, instead, I’m making extensive notes in a planning spreadsheet to stop impulse from wreaking havoc.  I ultimately still don’t know if it’ll end in a book but, by fuck, I’m keeping on with the keeping on and definitely learning in the process.

So far, touch wood, the new method’s working.  When I sit down to write the novel now there’s a new energy – the story’s evolving according to a plan and still offers room for  spontaneity of the unreckless variety.  In the name of Clearing40 clarity and minimalist joy, I’ve taken things a step further, too. For at least a while I’ve called a stop to feedback and discussing the novel in detail while it and my process are shape-shifting.  This might sound counter-intuitive but the meltdown’s reminded me how easily influenced I am and that this plasticity is simultaneously a good and bad thing.  Yet, with 5 months of feedback from twelve folk in the bag for that particular piece of work, I feel confident in thinking I’ve more than enough to chew on already.

There comes a point when, like with all things involving change, from haircuts to house moves to what to make for tea, I think we have to draw a line and own the process; sit with all the contributions, stop subconsciously taking suggestions and move forward making the thing into our own thing.  Then…?  Hello, cathartic relief and onward journey.  Mistakes will be made, sure, but I find them more constructive in motion than stasis.

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52and40/17 Woman Down

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I’ve wondered who this guy is a lot.

Turns out he’s Everyman.  He’s Joe Public, apparently, the work of German artist Stephan Balkenhol.

And yet….

There are more women than men in Edinburgh (and Scotland).  How about a sculpture of the city’s Everywoman, instead?  Or perhaps alongside?

According to population data, she’d be between 16 and 29, living in a flat with a council-tax banding between A and C and as likely to be single as she would to be married.  Her life expectancy would be longer than Joe’s, too.

So where is she?

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More on #52and40 here and on Twitter.

 

52and40/10 Air In Your Hair

I’ve never seen a Scottish Autumn and Winter as beautiful, so far, as what 2016’s given.

The beauty in these seasons is going a long, gentle way to keeping breathing through the humanity shitstorm we’ve seen happen around the world this year.  It’s easier to believe we’re not all doomed when nature’s on its best behaviour.

As my own shield and sword, I’ve added focus to health and work ethic. These things help my locus of control  stay internal so fear doesn’t breed with downtime to create mischief.

Everything else is weather.

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More info on #52and40 here.

Of Mice and Men

Internalised misogyny’s kinda like the rat who lived in our back garden. Every now and then it poked its head out of a small hole in the dry stane dyke and scared the living shit out of me (but thrilled the dog).

For soooooooo long I believed the rat was simply a large mouse.  Then, faced with faecal evidence to the contrary, I spent some time simply telling myself the rat was a large mouse and willing away  memories of the enormo-shits by the bird feed in the shed.  Denial can be a really handy part of adjusting to an unpleasant reality, can’t it?

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I did not want the rat to be as big a problem as it was – so I simplified it away and mentally minimised it to make it easier to think about.  La la la la la la.

Meantime, the rat had babies and I grew unable to continue deluding myself that the big pink semi-ropes intermittently hanging out the wee wall in the garden were anything other than rat tails.  Then, the sight of a rat climbing the 7ft clematis trellis turned out to be a moment even Instagram filters & wine couldn’t soften.

We are now minus a shed and a rat colony.  We found out the rats were living under the decrepit, old, rotting shed (very low air miles to the bird food) so it was time for the lot to go.

I’ve talked a lot about the rat now and not so much about internalised misogyny, haven’t I?  If you’d like to read me talking about internalised misogyny for reals, I’m chuffed as a rat in a slop bucket to say you can do just that on Bella Caledonia this festive season.

Slainte!

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52and40/1 The Importance of Good Lighting

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Autumn has arrived and keeps inviting summer back onto the stage for another bow and enthusiastic applause.  My thoughts are turning to putting the garden to bed for winter and revving up for draft 2 of my big writing project; editing workshops await (yay!)

We moseyed with friends in Glasgow at the weekend, lightly hungover and wondering what aliens would make of museums.  Subjectivity’s a theme I keep coming back to when considering what’s gross or what’s fascinating, necessary or enlightening.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my milestone birthday. Nothing to fear here, at forty.

Read more about 52and40 here.

We Need To Talk About Clearing

Well, I do.

In this year of turning to salute and wink at my forties as the fresh new chapter, I’ve been telling you about all the metaphysical things I’ve cleared and neglecting to tell you about all the literal stuff that’s been leaving the bodily grasp, too.

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So, in order of colossal effort to nae bother, this year I/we have;

  1. cleared out the garage
  2. cleared out the lean-to-porch-cum-boot room
  3. had two chimneys removed
  4. cleared out 80% of my crafting hoard
  5. shredded ca. four tons of historical paperwork (possibly less)
  6. Cleared the crap from the edges of the garden left by the old owner – piles of tiles, slabs, mounds of chuckies and, bizarrely, planks of wood woven into the hedges.  It’s so good to see these areas breathing now.
  7. Unsubscribed the email lists which collectively overwhelm me with ads, reminders and useless brain noise.  Newsflash: the information you actually need always gets to you.  Bonus: an uncluttered inbox is a thing of calm and productivity.

When I see it like that it doesn’t look like enough but alongside normal life it has felt like being in the domestic trenches, at times.

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In getting rid of material schizz I have realised – with an often fascinated, semi-detached cringe – a lot of the stuff I held onto was soaked with trauma.  Thinking back on that now – as recent as it is – I’m gobsmacked. What a thing to do.

Marie Kondo is right (and I’m going to swearily paraphrase here) – if you don’t hold something and feel joy, WHY the ever loving fuck are you keeping it?  In my case I think I’ve been hanging onto some things as evidence of my side of the story.  That realisation has lead me to really explore why I often live with a sense of waiting to be put on emotional trial.  It’s a weird burden  I see many women bear – this sense of being emotionally responsible for so much, absorbing shame and responsibility as if we were a mop and they were a spill, then never carefully freeing ourselves from the added weight.  I’m a firm believer that men and women are not very different creatures at all but I also follow that idea closely with acknowledgement of the social contexts of gender causing us to move through the world quite differently.  It’s not uncommon for us to place our feet, often unquestioningly,in the familiar prints of people who came before us and then to wonder how we got to destinations we’d have preferred to avoid.

The more I talk to friends the more stunned I am about what women in particular have gone through and are living with and surviving, often without expert support that would be justified a million times over, were case notes written up.  For all that’s good and joyful, we really should question where our ideas and the stuff in our homes comes from and whether we feel truly at ease and joyful holding any of them.

Two events which really feed #Clearing40 thoughts for me are emptying my Mum’s house after her death and, years later, working in a charity shop and processing other people’s old things.  Both experiences rammed home the reality that stuff is stuff – nothing more and nothing less.  We imbue all sorts of meaning into a thing and then there it is, in some stranger’s hands, cleansed of the past previously projected onto it.  What a gift.

We collect, I think, to document our journey or weight our value and we inadvertently give ourselves a lot of things to dust along the way.  As the time in front of me seems to move more quickly I repeatedly assess whether I want to be doing or dusting and, by fuck, I am so much more compelled to laughs, or the top of a mountain, or to sit and write than I am to get down and sweaty with the Dyson or feel guilty at the sight of an old rucksack and the myriad difficult memories it stirs.  I think that particularly for those of us who’ve lived through trauma, we need to make our homes an easy place to be – a place where we smile frequently and don’t reinforce things that drag our energy down.  In short, we need to maximise joy.  Because we deserve it too.  Everyone does.

I totally understand why people who’ve retired are increasingly downsizing and ditching, swapping older houses for new builds with light, clean-lines furniture and one minimal ornament. I didn’t get it before.  I thought they were mad, these people hemorrhaging stuff and deciding radical things like their one good colander is more relevant than their 3 shitey ones.  Now, simpler living beckons me seductively closer each year. I get high on seeing space where once there was clutter.

In short, here’s the  quantum metaphysical maths;

Space = Time and Light.

Time and Light = Possibilities.

Possibilities = Joy.

Can’t argue with science, right?