Sunday, 6 February 2011

There's more to life than books. But not much more.

I have been awoken from my writing slumber by a sense of moral outrage. I knew I was having a moment, as I started ranting on Facebook. Very unlike me, who is mostly a lurker, who likes to read about other people but not write too much themselves! So I repeat, and expand upon, some of my comments on Facebook.

It's the library situation. It is happening all over the country but in my own area, 16 out of the 34 libraries in Warwickshire are earmarked for closure. They are mostly small libraries which serve village communities.

In my view, libraries are not just about books, although reading for pleasure is the single best indicator of social mobility, according to a 2009 report by UNESCO. If our children don't read, they won't succeed in a world that is totally flooded with information. Literacy is essential.

They are about community space, where people can access information, meet, and have a quiet place to work. Libraries, the arts, young people, the elderly and children are soft targets for this government.
And in an age where it is predicted that for the first time the upcoming generation will be less socially mobile than the one before it, it is a disgrace that we are removing the opportunity for young people to have ready access to books and information services. Or in fact, anyone else for that matter....

If we allow this to happen, we will all suffer.
Philip Pullman, author, said yesterday that the impact would not be easily measured. He said:

"It's a kind of inward loss, a darkening of things, a narrowing of horizons that will gradually make us a less informed, less intelligent, less aware, less useful, less imaginative, less kindly people than we might have been."

And I absolutely and completely agree.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The madness of perfection

“Were I to await perfection, my book would never be finished” Chinese Proverb

There's no doubt about the fact that I am a perfectionist. I have always been quite driven in the things that I have done, and perfectionism has motivated me to a number of accomplishments. (none of them very useful though, unfortunately..) My perfectionism can help me in my writing too, as I constantly strive to express myself in the way in which I do in my imagination. My quest for the perfect sentence or image is ongoing. And that can be a good thing for my writing. Even now I'm thinking as I write this that I am not quite saying exactly what I want to convey and that there must be a better way...

However, one of the negative aspects of perfectionism is procrastination, and I believe I have blogged about that at least once before. (although don't ask me where because I haven't tagged all my posts like I should have....) Anxiety about creating has prevented me from writing at all. Faced with the possibility of not writing well, historically I have preferred not to try.

Julia Cameron writes about perfectionism in her book The Artist's Way. She says that, instead of being a quest for the best, perfectionism can turn into a paralysing hyper-critical state which can turn creativity into a reductionist approach that lacks passion. In her view perfectionism is '....a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough...' And that is why rejection can be so catastrophic for me at times, because my confidence is inversely proportional to my perfectionism! When I send some writing out into the world and it is rejected, I just want to give up. I ask myself why I am putting myself through it all, and it is easy to be propelled into a general low-level depression about writing. I think to myself, 'Well, if you can't do it well, then don't do it at all. Try canoeing or flower arranging instead.'

But, of course, that is exactly the wrong approach. Because, as Voltaire said,
'Perfection is attained by degrees; it requires the slow hand of time.'

I think you could substitute the word 'meaning' for 'perfection' in that Voltaire quotation and come close to what writing is about for me. It is about casting about (blindly) to try to make some meaning and find some sense of the life I have chosen and the time and place in which I am living it. I suppose that is a life's work, really. I can't see myself suddenly waking up one morning and going 'Oh!! So that's what it's all about! Well, I can relax now.' Giving up writing is not an option. But I suppose that exposing my writing to public scrutiny might well be. I guess that all depends on why I am writing in the first place; for me or for others? So maybe I should just relax and take it easy for a while. Write only for myself. Nurture my writerly self.

And I guess the following quotation is true:
'Have no fear of perfection- you'll never reach it.' Salvador Dali

That is, if there is any such thing as 'perfection'! It must be true that anything that is worth striving for happens incrementally, as a result of silted layers of trial, error, blood, sweat and tears. It is probably only in retrospect that most artists see a pattern in their work. When you are in the thick of it, it is very much a wood and trees scenario. So I suppose what I am saying is that I muddle on. That I have to. And I try to move out of my (critical) head and into creative action.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

I'm just not that into you....

I haven't been that into words recently. They can be overrated, and coming from someone who loves text and everything it does, that might sound a bit strong. But I am pretty sure my love affair with words waxes and wanes just like the changes of the natural world. Sometimes words just don't have the power for me to express my emotions, and then I look to other pleasures.

So, what have I been doing? I have been really into my music recently, and have been playing my cello until my fingers have been quite sore. And then I just wanted to be outdoors, and when the weather changed for the better I just had to get out and get soil under my fingernails. And we went walking to the Brecon Beacons with some friends. That was wonderful. As you can see from the photo above, we actually walked behind a waterfall on part of our route. It was fantastic, if slippery!

And so writing has taken a bit of a back seat. And also the other day a rejection come through for something I was (probably a bit too) fond of, and so that pushed me a little further away from the keyboard too. As much as I try to pretend I'm thick-skinned, every 'no' is a little barb.

But I know that I will fall back in love with writing again, the way I always do. Writing's like that rakish, good-for-nothing, devilishly attractive man that turns up like a bad penny, and that you just can't resist!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

This morning

It is a really lovely day here today. And I have seen some wonderful things already:

Waking up next to angelic sleeping Small Son. A flock of sparrows surfing along the hedge. A family of starlings worm-charming on the lawn. A field of yellow oilseed flowers lighting up like a beacon when the sun hits it. Explosions of blossom in every colour on almost every tree. A long-necked heron lazily flying south. The smiling face of a newly-pregnant friend. My germinated seedlings.

Have a good day.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Boss of Colour

I was just watching Modern Masters on BBC1, presented by Alistair Sooke. Tonight's episode was about the painter Henri Matisse. It told the story of his life and work, and the influence that his paintings have had on other artists, fashion and interior designers. I found it an incredibly moving programme. Matisse had so much humility, so much humanity. He strived throughout his life for artistic expression, and produced work right up until his death in his eighties. The beautiful cut-outs, like the one above that he is so famous for, were produced from his sickbed using a pair of shears.

His very last 'work', though, was not a painting. It was a chapel, designed fully by Matisse, with murals painted by him. The chapel was near Matisse's home, in Vence, and is called La Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. When Alistair Sooke, the narrator of the programme, went into the chapel, he was visibly moved. And I have to say, I felt the same. The light and serenity and peace of the place was astonishing, even seeing it on a TV screen. The photo below does not begin to do it justice; I would love to visit it some day.

If you get a chance, and you're UK based, you can watch the programme, Modern Masters, on iplayer. It's well worth a look. As the designer, Paul Smith, put it, Matisse really was the 'Boss of Colour'.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Header Photo

I've been feeling the need for a bit of a calming influence on the blog, so I dug around in my photo files and found the above for the header.

It is a place in the Pyrenees in France called Lac d'Oo. You have to get there on foot, as it is a glacial lake up in the mountains. It takes a couple of hours to walk up from the car park which is doen in the village, but it is worth the climb. It is stunningly beautiful. The lake is crystal clear glacial water, and the waterfall you can see in the photo is about 270m high. The snow line is visible, even in the heat of the summer, when we last visited. A truly magical place.

Enjoy the photo.

What a shambles!

Last night I stayed up until 2am in the hope of getting a feel for the way the election might go. But, as my eyes were closing with tiredness, we were none the wiser, as the declarations began to only trickle in. Worse than that was the steady flow of stories about the organisation of the polling stations, with people queueing for hours only to be locked out and unable to vote. I remember when I was at university, one of my tutors went to Georgia as an independent observer to oversee their election. I wonder what he is making of last night's shenanigans.

And here we are, the morning after the night before, and no-one seems to be any the wiser. The results have been highly individualised, and have not really followed any discernable pattern, with surprise results happening all over the country.

My feeling is that maybe there is a pattern. If you shade in all the constituencies in their respective political colours, the geographical results might form into the shape of a single-finger salute pointing in the direction of Westminster, in a public act of collective unconscious, the like we have never seen.

Anyway, it's looking like we might be doing this all again fairly soon, so we might stand a chance of getting it right next time. Here's hoping...