Do You Really Mean Me?

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Studio30 Plus - A Community of Writers

You know that thing people do when they’re not entirely sure if someone is talking to them or someone else, they look over their shoulder?  I’ve been doing that a lot the last few weeks.  Probably mixed with a bit of rabbit-caught-in-headlights too.  You can’t seriously mean me?  OK, you are.  Panic, doubt, worry.

Losing one’s inner Voice should be a good thing but actually it’s slightly unnerving.  Sure, I’m not feeling guilty all the time over everything (which in itself is kind of weird, partly because I can’t remember before the Voice, it’s been so long) but now I feel guilty that I’m not feeling guilty.  Am I being insincere?  Am I being uncaring?  Am I being selfish?  I’m not sure, surely I should feel terrible when someone goes out of their way for me or does me a favour?  I don’t know.  How do ‘normal’ people react and feel in these situations?  I don’t know!

I feel a little lost at times, almost as if I’ve lost something as important as my compass or even my conscience.  The ground beneath my feet isn’t quite where it used to be.  And that’s going to take some adjusting to.  A lot of adjusting to.  Have you ever had a heavy load taken off you?  You go all wobbly for a bit, it almost feels like you’re still carrying it sometimes.  That’s what I’m like at the moment, unburdened but very unsteady.

But I think that I was living with an impossibly heavy burden because life and relationships are going so much better now that I’m not dragged down, swamped in paranoid guilt all the time.  That kind of guilt, that level of guilt is crippling and it’s not sustainable.  Although I seem to have been carrying it for most of the last two decades.  It destroys your life and you.

Without it, I’m having to get to know myself all over again.  The survival skills that have kept me alive all these years are turning into positive qualities, when I have the confidence to trust them and myself.  I’m probably even coming across as outgoing.  That’s weird, very weird.

Guilt has held me back too long.

Now I need to try to find a life without it.  I’m still a little wobbly.

I’m working on accepting compliments American-style, that is graciously.  Instead of guiltily and self-deprecatingly.

I’m having to dare, to dare believe in myself and my talents (still questioning whether I have any though!), to dare to dream.

If the present isn’t a burden and the past can be forgotten then the future is possible.  I haven’t believed in a future for a very, very long time.  It’s a little scary.  So I’m just going to take it one day at a time.

So when I received an email asking me to guest post on a proper writers community blog, I did look behind to see if they did really mean me.  Maybe they got the wrong email address or something?  No, it was me, they’re talking to me.  Cue rabbit-in-headlights.  I can’t do that!  I’m not good enough!

OK, deep breath.  Accept graciously.  Be accepted.  Panic.  What on earth can this little idiosyncratic waffler contribute?

More panic.

Decide to ignore it for time being.

Post idea slowly forms in head, doesn’t really want to be written down though because I’m probably blocking.

Deadline comes up rapidly.

Have to write post.

Why is that posts are never as good as when they were first drafted in your foggy head at some unsociable hour?

I get husband to proof the post, it would be mortifying if there’s a mistake in this one.  This one post that introduces me to a world of proper writers.

Submit post.

Wait for post to appear.

Realise that with all the different time zones available, I actually don’t know when it’s going to appear.

Spend day anxiously checking website, fretting all the while.

Post appears.

Freak out.

Then grin.

I did it!

I have written my first ever guest post, it’s over at Studio30 Plus.  Let me know what you think.

It’s been quite a journey.

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Keeping It Real

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Storm Break

Photography is often used to capture an exact moment in time with almost scientific accuracy whereas an artist usually spends more time, carefully choosing and applying each brush stroke, one at a time, perfecting his own interpretation of the subject.  Whilst the artist is arguably least bound by reality, it is photography that misleads and even deceives more often.

Story telling is about weaving a delicate fabric held together by the finest of threads, so gossamer thin that it is almost an illusion.  But what happens when you hold your finished cloth up to the light?  Will you find mistakes that tell of haste or incompetence or worst yet, holes?  Such is the story teller’s art, he has to weave those threads with precision and skill so that the whole cloth when finished not only holds together but is harmonious and beautiful in design.

That cloth, or story, has to be believable, its reality has to be tangible, even if it is the reality of another world (because even fantasy has its own reality).  But how does a story-teller or writer create reality?  Is it by the talented application of brush strokes that may be layers deep or is it by writing from their own concrete reality, capturing a world frame by frame, frozen in a snapshot of words?

I’m not sure myself, I’d hazard that perhaps the best results are achieved when both the scientific and artistic are developed within one piece, accuracy but with personal interpretation.  ‘Artistic license’ may have its moments but so does precision.

So how do you write from reality?  After all, reality is a perception.  Each man’s normal is only his own so both reality and normal are fallible.  Believing in your own normal can give you a very restricted world view and reality is just what you have experienced.  Can you write of anything other than your own experience?  Should you even try?

I doubt my ability to write because of my limited reality, I know and readily admit that my normal is most likely no one else’s.   On the spectrum of human activity, my experience is narrow.  So what should or can I write of?

Perhaps it would be easier to fall back on stereotypes and clichés as an easy access route to story telling.  But it’s hard to engage with two-dimensional, stamped-out characters parading their wares on the stage of a cardboard cut-out paper theatre.  It’s not what I want to read.  It’s not what I want to write.

My biggest difficulty is that I like to keep it safe.  I dread conflict in the real world and in the fictional.  I’m loathed to write it, living out each tense moment word by word, or worse still, embarrassing moment.  I get anxious and stressed out thinking about conflict, about confrontation, sick to the stomach when I see it played out in front of me whether through words or on a screen.

But readers want conflict!  Conflict engages your readers!

Really?  Is that the reality?  It isn’t mine.

I want stories where everything ends up good or right, I want those happily-ever-afters.  Those are the stories that I crave and seek out, what I prefer to read.  So what do I write?  Fairytales of prudish maidens skipping through some bucolic pastoral idyll?

Nauseatingly twee.

Even for me.

It just isn’t me either, much as I love daisies.

So I guess that most readers probably aren’t looking for that kind of story either.  Certainly not today, not anymore.  The heavily moralistic tales went out a good century ago.

As much as I want the words that I read (and possibly write) to be a soft, snuggly duvet that hides and cushions me from the uglier aspects of reality, I have to admit that even my favourite, oft read books, novels, stories (however you choose to style them) have their own moments of loss, of pain, of fear, of conflict, of embarrassment.  Why?  Because good books, novels, stories (however you choose to style them) are about life and even allegories can’t escape the rain clouds.

I have to be prepared to face up to the rain clouds in my own stories.  They will exist but I will have to trust that they won’t be quite so out as control as the metaphorical and literal storms of my own life and hopefully I can be the master of these storms that I will let pass through just as in real life.  If it takes a little rain to make love grow, well, then I guess that’s true for stories too.  They need a little rain to help them blossom, maybe even flourish.

It seems that it all comes down to confidence again.  I need to trust myself, my abilities and my words.  I have to believe in the worlds that I spin with my pen or keys because if I don’t believe in them, who will?

More Words

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The technology that we use for communication may have radically changed and advanced during my lifetime but we still facing the perpetual problem of what to say.  How to you know what to say when?  Is it easy to come up with something to talk about or to make conversation for you?

I don’t find it easy.  I’m virtually a social phobic but my stubborn streak prevents me letting it take over my life, I have a certain pride in keeping appearances and putting a brave face on things.  I hate to talk, I never know what to say, I agonise over saying the wrong thing, I get so easily embarrassed.  But I try not to ever let it show.   My so-called coping strategies mean that I can often even come across as being a good conversationalist.  I’ve learnt to draw people out because I hate talking about myself, I’ve learnt how to put people at ease because I know how I’m feeling myself, there are so many ways that my challenges actually put me to an advantage.

But I still struggle.

I still worry about making an idiot of myself.

That holds me back.

Especially when I’m writing, I fear making mistakes.  The kind of mistakes that everyone else will see immediately but you can never see yourself, no matter how many times you proof your words.  I’m paranoid.  I try to hide too that I struggle with the written word.  I even taught myself script handwriting from the back of a literacy manual so that my handwriting doesn’t give me away.  I don’t use biro either for the same reason.

Words give you away.

Words are much more than just words.  They say a lot about the speaker or writer too.

Sometimes that’s too much for me.

I’m scared of giving too much away.

I hide behind masks.

But still get claustrophobic.

Writing, loving to write made me weird.  It wasn’t cool, it wasn’t even normal.

I also had to accept that I wasn’t really any good at it.

So I gave up.

The words, the writing got suppressed within me.

I’m used to having my head whirling with ideas.  This new improved dosage has given me back a lot more creativity too; I dream stories rather than fight nightmares in Escher-like landscapes.

Writing was something that was meant to come easily to a writer, or so I thought.  Not only did it have to come easily but also had to come ‘good’.  The quality had to be there from the start.  No one ever thought to tell me that most writers spend years honing their craft or that, apart from in the novels, writers rarely produce a perfect first manuscript that makes their name as a published author.

No, writing is apparently like any other skill.  It can come naturally to you but you still have to develop it.  You have to grow in ability, honing that skill, perfecting it (even if perfection isn’t actually achievable).  Writing needs training, exercise, practice, experience.

You’re not meant to get it right first time.

No one told me that.

So I humbly gave up.

But the words, the writing still comes.

I don’t if I have what it takes, I struggle to express myself and, I have to admit, I struggle with language and words.  I can only get so far; I had the reading ability of a twelve-year-old when I was six.  That was great.  But the problem is that I still do.  I peaked early, misleading people into thinking that I was gifted.  And my literacy was good enough to hide my (significantly worse) numeracy problems.

There are words that I can still not remember how to say properly.  I now go for a deliberate course of mispronunciation of a variety of words and place names so I can hide when I do actually make a mistake, opting for idiosyncrasy rather than admitting my problems.  I always read place-boh, super-flu-us, amby-vale-ent.  I’m likely to say them like that too.  It embarrasses me.  I can’t say words like py-jamas either.  Well, I’m getting better at that one, I have to think very carefully about it first then say it slowly and deliberately.  It tends to come out as juh-mahmas.  Not cool.  Not grown up.  Not right.

I hate making mistakes.

Making mistakes is failure, right?

Perhaps.

Should I be ashamed of myself?

Just because I struggle, does that mean I should give up writing?

And when it comes to writing, how do you know when you’ve got it right?

Only when you get published?

I don’t know.  The world has changed a lot.  There’s blogging now, you probably know about that.

So I think I’m going to try to keep writing, my confidence is in a very new and surprising place at the moment and I don’t quite trust that, but I love words and the words keep coming.  Maybe I can keeping work on my weaknesses, maybe the mistakes don’t really matter after all.  I’m doing what I love, what I have always loved even before I knew the alphabet, so that has to count for something.

Just promise me that you’ll tell me when I make a mistake, yes?

Working Out

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Brick Wall

I’m not entirely convinced that ‘working out’ has the right connotation.  It’s a fairly positive term, indicating a deliberate choice to develop something through to resolution, that is to say, a successful outcome.

Working out does, of course, have other meanings.  In this modern age it is perhaps most often used as an exercise term.  It’s about putting yourself through some routine that challenges you perhaps, but certainly develops you.  There will be effort and strain and the results may not always be tangible, at least not immediately.  I can see how this compares with my psychological health situation.  Perhaps ‘working out’ is an apt expression for what I am going through mentally after all.  The routine may not be as well-defined, moving from one exercise or piece of equipment to another, but my mind does journey from one problem or issue to another, linking them, building ideas, trying to find (hopefully) even a resolution to a situation.  I also hope to come out the other side as a better, stronger, healthier person.

There is a key downside to this physical comparison.  I am a notoriously slow learner when it comes to motion memory.  The steps don’t sink easily into my grey cells and they definitely aren’t keen on staying there.  Learning to knit is a case in point.  I have laboured for many years to get to a point where just the basic skills come naturally, inherently to my fingers and my brain.

So it is psychologically.  I find myself dealing with the same problems and issues time after time.  Sometimes I haven’t learned what I need to do or say, sometimes I forget what I decided was the best course of action as emotions and misguided principles sway me yet again, sometimes life sweeps away the best of intentions or knocks you down with some other crisis or other.

This brings me to another use of the term.  Long again when maths was a compulsory part of my life not just an accidental hazard when cooking, shopping or knitting, I was often required to provide my ‘working out’.  I’ve never been good at this.  I often go straight from beginning to end in one move, somehow instinctually, relying on gut more than rational thought or science.  This doesn’t impress teachers and examiners; they want you to prove how you got to your end and why.  Sometimes in psychological health, you have to slow the journey down, however painful, and break it into steps.  One step at a time, leaving a clear trail of working out behind you, evidence that can be used again in the future, maybe even as protection.

As you may have by now guessed, I have been struggling with my psychological health.  (I really don’t like the expression ‘mental’, I don’t like the added connotations).  It’s funny how as my physical health improves so my psychological health declines.  The reason is simple, I have more energy.  More energy to fret, to worry, to grieve, to pain.  And I don’t necessarily get much choice in the matter.  The nights are full of flashbacks and nightmares and the days are spent moping around feeling miserable and lethargic.

Even after all this time, I still debate which is the worst state: lacking the actual energy to do anything or lacking the motivation (despite probably having the energy) to do anything.  I don’t know.  Both are paralysing, frustrating, laden with guilt.  I don’t like either in my life, there is so much more I could be doing and, more importantly, enjoying.

There’s been a lot of ‘stuff’, as usual, going on this year which I haven’t had the energy to process so when the energy started returning all those issues came flooding in.  My anxiety levels haven’t been brilliant throughout the year but increased energy takes it to new heights.  I’m fighting a lot of old phobias and problems that I have for the most part kept successfully under wrap for the last decade.  It’s a little bit terrifying to be dealing with them all over again.  As well as frustrating. And shameful.  I expect better of myself, I want more control.  I need more control.  This isn’t a pleasant ride.

So while my head sorts itself out (relatively, of course), I haven’t really been writing here.  My head is too full, too busy, too distracted, too overwhelmed.  I’ve had to work through some things, old and new, working out what is real and not real, what is true and not true.  I’ve been trying to find my feet and my place in the world again.

It can be easy to sometimes sweep the horrible, painful, messy debris under the metaphorical carpet but the pieces are still there and the heap just gets bigger.  I bury things, it’s not something I advocate, in fact I tell everyone else that they need to talk, that they must talk.  Maybe there’s a touch of the hypocrite in me.  I tell other people that it’s important to show your feelings and discuss things whilst I keep quiet about the things affecting me and cover up my emotions as much as possible.  Perhaps on some level it is easier.  However, life unfortunately has also taught me that is what people want from me, what is expected.  I try to deliver but the mountain under the carpet sometimes gets a little too noticeable.

So what do I need to do?  Figuratively, I need to sit down and clean up the mess.  I’ve been going through all sorts of stuff, old and new (it’s amazing what you can find under there) and I’ve asked to go and see someone about it too.  That’s a big step.  A very scary big step.  And honestly when all they can promise me is twelve sessions then I wonder if it’s worth it.

But at least it’s encouraged me to return to my old therapy of writing things down.  Of exploring and discussing things in writing.  I haven’t been able to write like that for a very long time; a few years ago someone took my book off me and decided to take umbrage.  It was just as well that the whole thing was a statement of fact and didn’t have a tad of opinion but I guess some people don’t take kindly to the truth, especially not in ink.  It hurt and did a lot of damage.  It’s taken a good few years to build the courage back up to virtually even hold the pen over the page.  But now I have returned, it was the ‘therapy’ that kept me going through quite a few dark patches in my teens and it’s been very hard to deal with the last few years without it.  I need to write.  It allows me to make sense of the world.  However, not being able to write in my own private space also prompted me to take up this blogging adventure, whether that’s a good thing or not I’ll leave you poor readers to decide.

I’m using something online to measure my moods.  The pedant in me questions the accuracy of it and well, asking someone whether they feel hostile is always going to provoke hostility.  It has been interesting though to use it to chart my ups and downs (especially as I thought my mood was fairly static but apparently not) and since I started writing it all out there’s been a definite mood improvement.  This is even more significant as I’ve just run out of that all-important medicine which I have been heavily relying on the last few weeks, especially when it comes to the anxiety (which it’s been barely touching), there was even days when I was taking double doses (I’m sure that the new GP will have something to say about that).

Writing helps me.  It’s a space for discussion, to turn things around and see them from different perspectives.  I can drag a statement from my messed up head then question it, each question prompting more meditation which brings me clarity and sometimes even resolution.  Sometimes it’s simply about getting the words, the ideas, the problems out of my head and onto a page, beyond me, free from me, leaving them there in the twisted loops of ink.  I can challenge myself and provide the working out.  I can move on but I can also choose to come back.  Writing like this has always felt liberating.  It makes me and my head lighter and clearer.

Maybe I am working things out after all.

Oh, and although I like writing, I don’t like carpet.  Never have.  It collects too much dust and bugs and rubbish.  Metaphorically and figuratively.  Can you get mental laminate?

 

 

 

Trifecta: Normal

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He bit excitedly into the apple, savouring the sweet juiciness even as it dribbled down his chin.  In his head, the world paused and focused on the delicious tastes and textures of the treat but his feet kept pace with the dirty, ragged shoal of boys as they twitched and swirled from one mischief to another.  He knew that it would be dangerous to lose this protective crowd here in this frontier between two worlds, a land of worn, cracked pavements and tatty shop fronts, a jumble of ethnic markets and knock-off sporting goods.

It segued gradually from the tatty shop fronts to another world of long abandoned, almost derelict fronts.  There were women loitering by the lampposts, brashly painted in skimpy clothes and wobbling, cheap heels.  An occasional car cruised by causing faces to look up.  In some of the doorways, men stood, singly usually, caps pulled low, a conscious look of disinterest on their faces but they saw everything that went by.

The boy sighed to himself with the last bite of the apple core; he had a long wait until he was old enough to run their errands, earning himself more than just the coins that they tossed out.   He liked his own bravery, cocky in his swagger as he stepped over an unseen line into that frontier land, proud of who he was and where he’d come from.  He had yet to travel beyond into the other world that his brother would hardly mention.

They raced down the street, each hundred metres or so getting dingier and more derelict.  Under the arches by the riverfront, the piles of rags and cardboard muttered and cursed at them as they swept past, tearing worn blankets and strips of card free.  He laughed at the game, joining in with light, practised hands.

They’d spend the afternoon on the waterfront, in one of the old yards, tearing things down, kicking oil drums.  The normal summer’s afternoon in the only world he had ever known.

This week’s Trifecta challenges asks us to use the third meaning of the noun ‘normal’ (a form or state regarded as the norm : standard).  Using normal as a noun doesn’t quite seem normal because that surely is an adjective?  Anyway, I find it fascinating how as children we accept whatever ‘normal’ life presents us with and it is only later that we realise the diversity of lifes and worlds around us and how perhaps what we once perceived as ‘normal’ isn’t actually the case.

WOE: Freedom

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She slipped out of bed and into the clothes laying out ready on the chair in the corner of the room in movements so fluid and easy that the first uncomfortable niggle starting signalling that this was some disturbing unreality to her mind.  The clothes were High Street smart, simple, ordinary work clothes.  Then she headed into the kitchen reaching the cereal down from the shelf and pouring the bottle of milk in those same fluid, easy movements.  She watched as if she was some other external being from this body that was apparently she, accepting the reality but still bemused.  She ate, browsing through a magazine, glancing at the clock.  She washed the bowl and spoon out in the clear and tidy sink then left them on the side to drain.  Her coat and bag were hanging ready on the hooks by the door and the shoes underneath were High street smart, black court shoes like millions of women wear every day.  She took the key down and unlocked the door. Time to go to work.  A day, a routine just like everyone else’s.  It would be a beautiful day.

Her subconscious was fully disturbed now and her conscious started to clamour too, causing her to shift painfully and rouse slightly, calling her back to reality.  A reality where there would be no going to work, where there would be no easy slipping on of ‘normal’ clothes.  A reality where there was only pain and limitation.  The tears smarted in the corners of her eyes as, now fully conscious, she realised the vicious trick that her subconscious had played on her, luring her, deceiving her.

It would have been a beautiful day in that reality.  A day of freedom.

She lifted herself carefully, resting automatically for a moment before stiffly swinging her legs out from under the covers and letting them rest carefully on the floor.  She sighed then chuckled.

‘Normal’ women would have got up and had a shower in the morning, spending time on their hair and makeup before heading out of the door.  Even her subconscious had forgotten what freedom was.

She sighed again.  Ah, freedom.  She missed it when she could remember it.

The dream left her morning tinged with bitterness as she slowly navigated the reality that made her a prisoner in her own body.

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

 

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WOE: Sand

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The beach was clear of people, the dank weather was keeping people away, but she hunkered down between the dunes staring out at the sea beyond, running her hands across the cold sand, appreciating the moment of isolation.  She had played and lounged on this beach in and out of season all the years of her life, it was her beach, their beach.  She drew her breath in sharply, some barely conscious thought paining her although her eyes still hadn’t lost their focus on the distant, rolling waves.  The clouds seemed to merge with the water, grey and leaden as her heart.

She dropped back onto her bottom, never caring for the dampness and crossed her legs, brushing back the slightly crunchy curls that form in that specific combination of dank weather and sea spray and drawing the hood of her jacket over her head.  Her thoughts were a blurry fog of emotions, tears slowing forming in the corners of her eyes, smarting.  She stared out.

Slowly she picked up a handful of sand from beside her, letting it drift from her fingers, catching slightly with the wind and spraying out.  She smiled slightly, calling to mind a distant past when she had the freedom of childhood and had tossed handfuls of sand against the backdrop of a fantastical blue sky.  She picked up another, letting it drift again slowly.

Apparently all she had to do was let go, such a simple aphoristic sound bite of modern life that, she felt, was tossed about a little too freely, as if there was a button in front of her and she could reach out and press it and everything would be ‘let go’.  Instead, she reached out for another handful of sand, something tangible, something manageable.

Tense and lost in her flurry of thoughts, she crushed her hand over the sand; it compacted into a loose, damp ball.  She sighed again, letting go of the sand, this time it landed with soft thumps.  Her eyes drew to the soft sound, looking at the scattered piles.

She picked up another handful, letting it drift away before picking up another, holding it tightly this time.

Maybe it was her after all; maybe she wasn’t ready to let go, maybe she was holding on too tightly.  And maybe it was just as simple as opening her hand and letting it fall, however it landed.

~

This prompt response came to me in the middle of a night this week before speedily disappearing from my grey cells, it’s the story of my life at the moment.  This version feels very much second best but it does come in bang on the 400!

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood