Saturday, 27 March 2010

Spring forward...

Daylight saving begins tomorrow! I love those light nights. We have escaped the doubtful Spring and forecast sleet of the UK, and have hot-footed it down to my parents' farm in South-West France. A day to recover from our long drive and tomorrow we're off to Spain to ski for a week. That's assuming the snow stays. It has been hotting up quite a bit down here and things are looking somewhat slushy. Either way, we'll hopefully get some sun and and a bit of rest and recuperation. So things are looking up.

I am so looking forward to this Easter break. I feel like I have been on a bit of a downer in recent weeks, and have lost some of my enthusiasm for life, so hopefully this time will see me right. In retrospect, I think I may have been a bit tired and a bit ill, but these things tend to creep up on you, don't they, without you realising?

Am going to try to work on a short story while I'm here, as well as do my morning pages obviously. It's hard to commit to anything more than that on holiday! So we'll see how it goes... I will post again when we are back from skiing, as will be without internet for a week. Bye for now and here's hoping nothing gets broken....

Monday, 22 March 2010

Safety First

The Roman philosopher, Tacitus, said,

'the desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.'

It was an astute observation, as the natural instinct of every person is to protect themselves, whether it is throwing up your arm against an incoming punch, or putting on a persona so you can face the world. The problem with writing is that it involves an exposure of self, an opening and revealing, to a greater or lesser extent, of the person. It is a common difficulty suffered by writers that they throw up blocks to writing, either conscious or subconscious ones, to protect themselves against the vulnerability that writing creates. So although writing is something they deeply want to do, it can be very difficult to actually allow themselves to undertake it.

I mean, really, why would anyone spill out their deepest feelings onto paper, expose their view of the world, then let other people read and criticise it?! The ego is made vulnerable by this and so tries to protect itself by using tactics to prevent you from doing it! All that stuff about not feeling good enough, not having enough time, it not being the right time, the work being rubbish, other people distracting you, being too tired/ill/lonely/happy to write. All these are diversionary tactics by your ego.

Because putting yourself out there on paper is risky, no doubt about it. So really, when people ask what you need to be a good writer, the answer has got to be - courage! And also, the presence of mind to start small and slow and work up. You have to almost creep up on your ego, nip by on the inside when it's obsessing about the size of your thighs, or something. A lot of people worry that they will never achieve their true potential (yet another ego avoidance tactic!), and of course they never will, unless they start at the bottom and work up. They, and we, only have this present moment, so there is no point worrying about achieving a goal sometime in the future or castigating ourselves for the mistakes of our past. All we can do is act now. And with any luck those small acts made in the moment will build into a bigger picture that we can understand.

But none of this is easy, and that is is why books such as The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, have been so very popular and helped so many people. Because they help you to bypass that inner critic, get a handle on your ego, and deal with the blocks that prevent so many of us from writing.

I did laugh (or was it cry?!) the other day. A friend asked how the writing was going. 'I'm a bit concerned' he said, 'because all you seem to blog about is how hard it is, and why you're not doing it!' And he was right. But it is hard, and some of the time I'm not doing it. I find it hard to maintain my confidence. I have fallen off the writing wagon, and seen it trundle off into the distance, more times than I care to remember. But I guess what is important is that every time, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep going. One way or another I keep going. And I do this because ultimately I know that writing is good for me. I am a better person if I am doing it and thinking about it. Regardless of whether I ever write anything that anyone else will read, it is very good for me. And a lot cheaper than therapy!!

So writers have to release that safety belt and take a few risks. It's frightening, but the rewards are worth it. Here's another Roman quotation to end with -

'Fortes fortuna adiuvat'
'Fortune favours the brave'

Monday, 8 March 2010

Am I fit?

My balance hasn't been so good lately. I was on the Wii Fit and The Consultant persuaded me to do the body test and sign up to the exercise programme. Apart from working our your BMI using your height, age and weight, it tested your balance as a key indicator of aging. I won't tell you exactly how old that stupid machine said I was, but it was considerably different to my biological age... I knew I shouldn't have had that glass of wine before I started...

Anyway, it got me thinking about maintaining my balancing act in other areas. I haven't been brilliant, it has to be said. I looked at my diary for the last few weeks, and it has been full. But very full of things that are just stuff. Not full of all the creative things that I swore I was going to create more time and head space for. I have been spending a lot of time at my children's school. Doing necessary things, I suppose, but not things that someone else couldn't do, if you see what I mean...

At the beginning of the year I promised myself that I wouldn't let myself get over-committed, and that I would have focus this year on my own creative work. But I haven't been very successful. One of the reasons is clearly that I find it hard to say no when I am asked to do something. On three days last week I found myself at school doing something or other. But perhaps a more truthful reason is that I find it hard to put my writing first because it does not come under the category of either wage-earning, or looking after the family, and therefore comes low down on the list of perceived priorities. The fact that if I don't write, it affects my mental health, doesn't seem to come into the equation!

So, again, I find myself readjusting, pushing back those commitments, trying to carve out time for myself, striving for balance again. It ain't easy.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

World Book Day

I spent this afternoon at school helping with a second-hand book sale, held to celebrate World Book Day. It was lovely to be able to observe the children choosing their books, right from the tinies at Kindergarten, up to the unfeasibly tall Year 6's and beyond. They were all very enthusiastic, and I had some great conversations with them about why they liked or disliked certain books. It was interesting to see what drew them to books (great covers and TV/film spin-offs!) and what put them off (old-fashioned or boring design, or 'too many words...'!!).

The little ones were funny, if predictable - the girls wanted books about fairies, princesses and horses, and the boys about diggers, cars and knights! One of the older boys bought a copy of Stevenson's 'Treasure Island'. Great classic but I wonder what he will make of it?! I did have to smile at the choices of one the teachers - she bought a whole armful of self-improvement books with titles such as 'Change your Life for the Better' and 'How to Get Rich'!! Perhaps she's decided teaching isn't for her!

All in all, it was just good to see that books still do hold excitement for children. In this technological age we're living in, we're led to believe that kids are not interested in books any more. But my experience today shows that it is simply not true. It brought back childhood memories of rummaging through the second hand book stall at any fete or fair in search of a new story to get lost in. What new worlds have been opened up today.... and all for the princely sum of 20p!