52and40/28 Ties That Bind

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Months ago, husband and I scoured our west coast map for unseen places, zoning in on Glenelg.  We went last week, exhilarated by the drive over The Ratagan Pass which had us whooping, awe-filled and delighted about the backseat being uncharacteristically empty so nobody was chucking up.

It was a flying visit, but a great place for orientation with Skye as the Arnisdale shore’s just 600m across the water.  Glenelg’s history’s fascinating – and prescient.  We’ll be back in future to bag the ferry crossing and drive up to Elgol (and whoop more).

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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.

52and40/24 Galaxy Formation

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I grew up thinking I had an un-mathematic brain.  Yet as I’ve aged I’ve discovered my brain’s just fine with mathematics.   Science too.  Whaddya know till you retry?

Viewing an often chaotic world through an organised lens can be comforting.  I’ve found maths and science have overlap with understanding human behaviour, too.  This week, with help, I’m considering fractals;

‘Fractals are infinitely complex patterns… […] …self-similar across different scales. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos.  Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals.’

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52and40/23 The Selfsame Well

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A friend died recently.  She was my writing teacher first (and my first writing teacher).

I can trace roads from everything I’ve had published in the last two years to Helen, her guidance at every way-marker.  Even with this map I’m disorientated; floundering in comprehending such a special woman being gone.

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In grief, all roads lead inevitably to my Mum.  Every funeral a little her funeral, too.  Profound losses only comforted by the extreme gratitude for having shared some of the world with extraordinary people’s smiles and stories.

Joy and sorrow, innit?

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Read all about #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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52and40/16 The Out-Crowd

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Things I didn’t know last month;

  1. There are jellyfish all round the coast of Denmark – my husband got stung every other summer as a kid playing in the viking sea.
  1. The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art was originally built as a mansion for William Cunninghame in 1778, for £10,000. Cunninghame was a Tobacco Lord who benefited hugely from trade winds, the hideousness of the triangular slave trade and the connections of his prosperous merchant family.
  1. For the worse or better, it only takes two people to start a movement.

 

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Read more about #52and40 here.

So Many Mugs, So Little Time

I’ve been a whirling dervish of clearing productivity.  I’ve been thinking of the future and where we might be in five years time when, in all likelihood, the kids will be doing a lot more of their own things and none of us will need to live near school anymore.  I’ve also been thinking about not getting too fixated on the future as well, lest I forget that actually, today’s the day we’re guaranteed so the happiness of now is much more important than perceived ideas of what might yet come.  Tricky, isn’t it?  You don’t want to take actions which scupper future choices but equally, a life lived in fear of hindsight is hellishly restrictive.

Anxiety  about trying to control known and unknown variables kicking your arse as you move forward is never a great progress companion, I’ve found.  As with most things, maybe the best approach is just to find a balance between planning and the now and maintain that as joyfully as possible, deleting unnecessary positivity-sucking-crap wherever it lurks and factoring generous margins for spontaneity into adaptable plans for the longer term.

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One thing I am sure about for the future, however, is I want to own less.  My first ten years of coupledom & parenthood had a definite theme of accumulation.  By contrast, these last ten have moved onto a mind trajectory of simplification.  That said, god knows we’ve individually and unitedly self sabotaged along the way  – a new dog the size of a small horse, anyone?  Old house at the very outer reaches of our budget to renovate rather than new house to simply enjoy and branch out from?  Oh yes.  Hello to you, contradictions.

An upside I didn’t see coming a few years back and have found out through daftness, I guess, is necessity really is the mother of invention.   Too skint to buy a garden trellis that would mean more flowers to look at in summer?  That’s a thought that lead me to up-cycle an old bunk bed step ladder I found behind a shed.  Neither the looking nor the thought would have happened without the need.  With cash for the trellis I’d have gone to the garden centre and bought one with decidedly less quirk.  I know which trellis feels more like me.

[Side bonus: one less thing for landfill, too.] 

   Creativity’s like blowing into a Fairy liquid bubble cluster with a straw – each breath pops more bubbles up, sometimes huge, sometimes small.  All that’s required is energy, space,  inclination and wonder; the willingness and the audaciously human playfulness to still see a bubble and all its irridescent, cheap-as-chips-lustre as wonderful.  If you can do that in the face of a world telling you to be serious, scared and reactive I say you’re winning because it certainly makes me feel like I am.

But back to the clearing.  In the last seven days I’ve battled and won in the following cupboards;

  • Ovenware.  Turns out that as we are not bakers we do not need 5 loaf tins, 16 muffin trays or 42 different shaped cake tins.  Revelations!
  • Mugs – two varieties, only one of which was in a cupboard.  Firstly, the corporate logo emblazoned type of coffee mug husband brings home from work promos and sticks in the cupboard till they’re all jostling like a cuppy version of a coin spilling machine at an arcade.  Secondly, the facial type of mug.  I’ve pretty much removed myself from Instagram for now – my feed suddenly seemed to become more faces than places and things and, lovely as faces are, it was the places and things that hooked me and inspired good work.  So, for the moment I’ve jettisoned the app and am pondering what (if anything) needs to come back.  While I ponder it’s probably also responsible to note the time gifted back from temporarily ditching a social media app: by my reckoning it’s between 60 and 90 minutes in 24hrs and this feels good.  Of all the commodities in my life, it’s time I adore and lust after the most so I’ve no excuse for wasting it. 

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      • Aprons.  For all the ‘we are not bakers’ reasons stated above.  The kitchen hooks are dancing in the space and Mount Washmore will shrink as we focus on filthying just one apron, rather than a five-a-side football team of them.  Hurrah!
      • Books, CDs and DVDs.  Cheerie bye, redundant media and word collections.  I’ve downloaded two apps that are helping me with this – Music Magpie and We Buy Books.  The thought that I can transform stuff into cash as well as space is a handy motivator.  Also, I like playing shoppies with the scanning in barcodes malarky.
      • Craft stuff.  Yes, more of it.  It seems I’m letting this collection go bit by tiny bit; jam jar of google eyes by jam jar of polystyrene eggs.  What can I tell you?  I’m shedding an old skin scale by scale, some months.  There’s yet more to go. I’m sorry.
      • Games we don’t play.  Like most of the above they’re on their way to a local charity shop.  Farewell Cluedo & KerPlunk, time for you to go off and give other folk a shot of yourself and your luck based shenanigans.

       

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      Behold the Letting Go of Never-Used-Shite

      As well as thoughts of the future and how I can’t be arsed cleaning stuff in the meantime, I’ve been super inspired by two programmes on Netflix, first off The Minimalist’s documentary is fricking ace.  Its message is basically, live a deliberate life.  That’s a phrase that just oozes appeal, freedom and sense to me because it reminds me succinctly not to get caught up in stuff – metaphysical or literal – that isn’t teaching me, aiding me or making me smile.  Secondly, The Happy Movie, another documentary about how our accumulating behaviours mostly go haywire and can wreck things we thought they’d create.  Both programmes are truly excellent brain fodder and left me totally uplifted and ready to chuck more, invent more and buy less.

      There’d be no light without dark too though, would there?  In case you’re hating me for being a smug, swotty Kim & Aggie-esque-clear-minded-bastard, know that I epically failed in the pared back Xmas department. Not only did I buy MORE decorations I also bought more cheap plasticky shit for stocking fillers.  Watch this space for how ace I am for clearing them out sometime in 2017 when they’re tripping me up all over bedroom floors and never being used anyway (#anotherkindofmug).  I’ve also bought a ton more books as I’ve managed to finally get my reading mojo on and, if they’re shit, I can sell them all afterwards on one of the above named apps too – HA!

      So there you are, confessions and achievements done.  I’ll leave you with this (possibly paraphrased) quote from The Minimalists, because I thought it so staggeringly brilliant, ‘Use things, love people. Not the other way round’.

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