Just As I Am
A keyboard in front of me – dusty (I really must clean more), a buzzing computer and a pile of papers in front of my screen. This is all clutter to be cleared. Sitting in an office chair, wearing thermal trousers (pants, as the Americans call them) and a blue Bear Grylls top. Active wear for a not so active activity.
Some sadness and some relief – an ending , a journey , a struggle. Post lunch fatigue, post assignment apathy. Having come from smart advice from a smart, successful and disciplined writer, and feeling that coming to this task ahead of me, I bring nothing. No smart idea, no brilliant revelation, no witticisms or wisdom, or tragic disclosure. A half hour or so tap tap tapping.
A reminder that the printer isn’t working. A jam leaving half eaten snatches of paper ripped to shreds in unreachable parts and unmapped locations where inky fingers fear to poke and prod. Another prevarication, another writer’s block. Not block but jam. And jam still in the crevices of my fingernails after an unwanted spillage discovery on the kitchen surface just before lunch. Before scrambling the eggs, and toasting of bread. That chattering mind, that monkey on the back. Sit and be still.
Sit and be quiet.
Sit and be.
Tortoise slow and hibernation dull, a reflection on proof reading, editing, ghost writing, creative verse and poetry, sports writing, journalism and blogging. Creating content, selling ideas, apps and websites all designed for this strange and tortuous practice of writing. For pleasure, for profit, for fun and out of boredom. To expose, to reflect, to analyse and opine. Words on paper, words on screen, doodles and hastily written snatches of conversation or half noticed observations. All the better to see you with.
A countdown is ending. A journey is coming to a close. This discomfort shall pass. There are deadlines ahead – more words to find, more corrections to make, more dreams to catch, make or break.
Outdoor wear for an inner adventure. A somatic awareness of the aches and pains of the tap tap tap. The anticipation of ending, of relief, of … success? And yet those words of advice, the difference between competitive and competition. Making comparisons and trying toavoid comparisons. The challenge to motivate, to coach and be coached, to discipline and to drive.And the urge to sit and be quiet.
To sit and be.
Tap tap tap.
A Walk To Clear Your Mind
The buzzing is too much. Voices, shouting deadlines and ideas and the noise of a chattering mind. The fear of failing, the critical inner voice, shouting so much louder than all the their books and novels and articles and blogs and evidence of what has already being achieved. But it’s not happening now and it’s not happening fast enough. At the moment there are no publication dates, no deadlines, no cheering editors or publishers clamouring for more work. No delicious reviews, no awards ceremonies, no writer’s panels or reading events or interviews or proposals.
It all seems blank.
The screen, the paper, the mind. All blank.
I rise, weary from doing nothing, from being and knowing nothing, and slip into a heavy coat with this heavy frame of mind, and take heavy footsteps towards the closed and locked front door. I turn the lock, slowly open the door into a cold, wet, scary Real World. The World outside my front door.
A slow dismount of the stairs. I lean on the wall for company, for support and reassurance. Slumping my way down it like a drunk from a Saturday night stag do, barely aware of who or where I am. A rush of cold air passes over me from the stairwell, an unwelcome reminder that it is still the darkness of winter and that summer is many months away. Perhaps, this year, it never will arrive, and we shall stay covered with snow and dark skies.
The hill is steep, an uphill struggle, and I clamour for breath as my heart beats hard and fast with the struggle to put one foot in front of the other. progress is made and at the top I stop, gasping, and bent over. Further steps, with feet so heavy, tired muscles unworked, avoiding the foul shit of dogs and pigeons and police horses and discarded johnnies full of spend seed and fast food wrappers and cartons and litter, newspaper articles and postings for lost pets and feather from birds mauled by feral cats and rabid dogs. All this detritus of man and nature, an unholy mess outside my front door.
I stumble, broken, bleary, exhausted, to the bottom of the hill. A bridge over dark water. I lean on the curving wall, and close my eyes. I breathe, and feel the coming spring sun on my face. I hear rooks and the cackling of magpies and the improvised song of blackbirds, the gruff coo of a wood pigeon, and the distant rush of traffic.
And I breathe freely.
Drops on the window. Who needs the shrill cry of an alarm clock. A deluge now awaits me outside.
At first, in bed, a reluctance to get out from the warm womb, to enter a wet and miserable daytime. Memories of the kitchen flooding last week, the drip drip drip of water from lighting sockets and that dreadful feeling that the roof will bulge, become pregnant with puddled water, and suddenly burst. Waters breaking to give birth to nothing but water. A drip becomes a torrent. A torrent becomes a flood. From the flat above, drenching the kitchen floor again. Damned mops and towels. Damned plumbers and insurance.
Calm down, calm down. That was then and this is now. The rain is outside. It’s on the window. A hypnotic tap tap tap. Let it lull you back to sleep, to calm you like a warm bath. Spring is coming. The rain is watering roots, feeding half dead tubers and bulbs, satiating the ground’s dry thirst after a long and lonely winter.
You are warm, you are dry. Today has no agenda. There is no fear needed. There is the gym, a wet walk to the powerhouse, to the usual regimes of weights, and cardio, of warming up and cooling down. Stretches and shakes. An hour, three times a week, four when it feels good. A regime. A healthy interest. A habit, a lifestyle, a life-saver.
And the writing. Not a whole book in a single wet day. But some notes, some exercises. That Business Writing Diploma that’s taking forever. Those assignments that seem so dull and insurmountable. On a wet day, amidst the dullness and the creeping bleak mist, an expanse of light and sunshine – distant worlds, far off worlds, remembered worlds, imagined worlds.
All of which are sensible things to do on a wet day. Yes, yes, all sensible, all a good use of time. If I can get out of this bed. This warm, warm, dry bed. A tempting home for the day. Other things too. Other stay at home things – a movie, a DVD, a bake (some lemons still in the box – that gin and tonic drizzle cake I’ve got the recipe for and always wanted tot try). Or into town, a wet wait at the bus stop, then a bus ride smelling damp hair and wiping the condensation from the window to watch th passing gloom. To the flicks. To shop til I drop. To brunch and to afternoon tea with cream cakes and lace tablecloths, sandwiches cut into triangle with no crusts.
Or none of this. A devil may care, break-all-the-rules, throw-caution-to-the-wind spontaneity. I could jump out and break free. Break the routine. Strip away all of my dull sleepy clothes, open the door as naked as the day I was born, embrace the world, its disappointments, its wet misery, its gloom and pessimism – and Go Dancing, Naked In The Rain.
In a break with tradition in the supposedly macho heterosexual world of the kicking game known as football, the first premier league player has declared his Gay Pride on a live televised match. Pedro ‘Mary’ Streisand of Dolly Rovers twerked his way around the pitch wearing a sequin emblazoned jacket bearing the words ‘Out and Proud’ after he finished the match against Manchestford CityUnited last Saturday. Dolly Rovers won 1-0.
The Institute of Kickyball Studies claims that as many as 100% of the Premier League players might be gay or bisexual, despite appearances. ‘They certainly play like girls, and many of them even have manicures’, a spokesman said.
Pedro’s former girlfriend, Cazza Broomsweep-Longthorne, exclusively told us ‘I just thought his Liza Minnelli, Queen and Pet Shop Boys record collection were indications of an eclectic musical taste. We had a perfectly normal sex life that I could tell – I would go out with the girls for a prosecco and Pedro had a pint with the boys.’
Fans have enthusiastically welcome Pedro’s coming out. ‘It’s great news for the sport. It’s 2017, and of course nobody really believed that there were no gay players’ Fan ‘Dogger’ Grimes told us. ‘We’re pleased to see him show such strong self-esteem, and to act so courageously in the face of discrimination. As far as fans are concerned, the whole England team could come out, and the fans would be welcoming and supportive. Some of us might even find a date!’
The FA have not made any comment.
*In case you haven’t noticed, this is allegedly an example of ‘satire’ I’ve written as part of a writing course. No animals were injured in the writing of this story, and any resemblance to persons and Football Legends living or dead is entirely a matter of unlikely and ludicrous coincidence
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was a timid little thing.The sort of child that wouldn’t really say boo to a goose. Then, at school – after being overlooked for the central casting – a guy called Patrick was forced to pull out of the school nativity play. It was ‘The Shepherd’s Story’, and he was the lead shepherd. I was asked to help the rest of the cast by reading his lines in rehearsal. I can still remember the opening lines:
I wish I’d never been married. I wish, I wish, I WISH I’d never been married.
This from an 11 year old soon-to-realise- homosexual. I began to quite like the acting thing, and so was secretly pleased when Patrick failed to recover in time for the performance. All of a sudden, the timid child had found a voice, and it felt really good.
From there, I joined a local panto group (oh yes I did!) and went on to school plays, and on to studying drama at University. In the midst of it all, I found the power in having a voice – both in projecting on stage and to a crowd, and to find the individual voice for myself as powerful, engaged and active. I studied the voice as part of the drama degree, alongside using my body, working in space and working at different levels, and it became a journey of knowing more about my interaction with other people.
In a second career, I trained as a counsellor, a psychotherapist. I helped other people tell their stories, helped them to find a voice for themselves – to name and reclaim shameful of frightening parts of themselves. As much of the work was over the telephone, I found ways to quieten and soften my voice, to put aside views and judgements which impeded the client’s telling and speaking. I became a soft spoken facilitator of feelings, a person-whisperer.
And then people had to ask me to ‘speak up’. I’d become so accustomed to soft speaking that it was a habit, that instead of performing I found myself shrinking. The quiet voice quietened my physically, artistically, emotionally and politically.
For the first time in -ooh, 20 years- I’ve been performing again. A couple of one-offs, but a journey in rediscovering the power of my voice. Feeling it resonate in my body, the power of a voice in the auditorium. Shouting, screaming, laughing, swearing. All those – words. ALOUD. Not thoughts, but spoken words.
It’s like running or swimming, rediscovering muscles unused for too long.
Today was an interview – again, the softly spoken facilitation. It returns easily, that quiet and timid part of me.
But there’s still a part of me able to shout out:
I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN MARRIED! I WISH, I WISH, I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN MARRIED!
Never real and always true – Antonin Artaud
Dreams fascinate me. I dream deeply and often. Last night was a confusing mash of visists from dead friends, vague acquaintances, family – some terror, some fun, set in the twilight between the past and the present. There was no depth, no message, no psychic foresight. It was all just a dream …
I recently read Richard Wiseman’s Night School, a great account of sleep, dreaming and psychological research. On the subject of dreams, I’m none the wiser. Am I deleting unused or unnecessary information? Am I processing difficult thoughts and feelings? As I entering my subconscious? Am I entering some shamanic dream world denied to me during the waking hours? Am I seeing warnings of the future?
At some time, nearly all of these have been true. I’ve had dreams of foreboding, and sometimes acted on them. I’ve had dreams prompted by anger, injustices, or trauma of the days and weeks beforehand. I often find I’m flying, and always have done since being a a child. I have dreamed lucidly, knowing it was a dream, and being able to choose which direction to take – not often, but sometimes. More and more, dead friends visit me in my dreams – one in particular. It’s never frightening, and sometimes I know that he’s a spectre, and sometimes it seems we’ve just met up again as we used to. Invariably, he has some sort of message or some discovery or revelation to bring. Mostly, I feel comforted that he has visited because I cannot reach him any other way. For a while, he is real to me.
For a time, following surgery and medication, in the midst of anxiety or depression, I lost my dreams. These were the most unsettling times. I knew of their absence, and begged for their return, no matter how frightening or terrifying they might be, because the loss of them was worse than the truths they brough. They have always returned.
There have been brief times when my dream world and my real world have interacted. Immediately after my heart surgery, my world was populated with Chinese nurses, vengeful caretakers, hippos created out of paper mache, and Arabian princes. I believed them all, and it took years for me to be dissuaded of their reality. I daydream easily and often, my mind wandering off into half created worlds and futures, passing minutes or even hours.
On and off, I have kept dream diaries. I ask for dreams, and sometimes the requests are granted – answers to life decision, ideas for stories, characters, plots and projects. I can always remember at least some of my dream when I wake – although often feel frustrated that I haven’t recollected enough, or got to the end. But my dreams don’t have endings – mostly, the waking is its own end. I have often died in dreams, and dream in colour, destroying at least two popular myths.
I don’t (largely) snore – so I am told, and have never talked or walked in my sleep, the thought of which disturbs me greatly. My dreams are entirely private, and acting them out in some way in public fills me with a self censorship my dreamland has always freed me from.
I’m not a Jungian, or Freudian, and don’t really believe in dream symbols or interpretations. Occasionally , counselling clients discussed their dreams with me, and therapeutically I have found it most helpful to ask what emotion the dream brings up for them, as well as any special meaning they might attach to the dream. Invariably, we are able to find some understanding of the dream, although this is most probably simply interpretation rather than a ‘real meaning’. But dreams have never been unhelpful for me or for clients, and as a writer I am always surprised and welcoming f the worlds created by my dreams.
I wish I knew more. For someone who spends so much time dreaming, I know instinctively that it must be important. I cherish my dreams, and wish you all the best, and sweetest, of dreams…
I had a letter last week. From myself. Which I had written 5 years ago. See, Time Travel is real. I am The Doctor.
I was watching an arts event, Pilots, at my local arts centre in January 2011. It was all kind of interesting and experimental, and one of the projects was by Cross Collaborations as part of their ‘Past Present Future’ project. We were invited to write a message to our future selves, to choose a button we liked from a little collection, and return it with a stamp addressed envelope to be posted 5 years hence to our future self.
As it happens, there was an interval coming up. I was bored an uninspired and had difficulty imagining myself 5 years into the future. So what I wrote was a statement of fact, what was happening in the here and now. Just a piece of information. I felt I was cheating a little and not taking the exercise seriously enough. But it didn’t have to be anything profound, or anything special. I hadn’t got any special plans for 5 years’ time.
…the will be an interval …
And completely forget about it.
I say I didn’t have plans. At least, I didn’t for five years in the future. But I was just booking a holiday for later in the year – to Peru. I’d heard so much about Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the holiday included staying with a native family on tree rafts at Lake Titicaca. This holiday had all of them and plenty more besides. Some time ago I’d attended a self development workshop, where we were all asked to imagine achieving something exciting and wonderful. One very timid young girl eventually confessed to wanting to go to Machu Picchu. I brought her a brochure the next day for an adventure group I was part of (SPICE – Special Programme of Initiative, Challenge and Excitement) which happened to be advertising a trekking holiday to Machu Picchu, just to encourage her to believe in the possibilities. A year later I got a virtual postcard from her with pictures of her at Machu Picchu. She was beaming.
So I was excited, and terrified. I’d never been on for great heights, so it was also a challenge to myself – initiative, challenge, excitement. My brother, rather sensibly, suggested checking with my cardiologist as it was a high-altitude holiday. I dismissed the idea but, as the time came for the holiday, I booked an appointment.
Which is just as well. Because that’s when they found out that not only my mitral valve (which had been repaired ten years earlier) was leaking, but that there was also a problem with my aortic valve – more so, in fact. When the cardiologist delivered the news, she told me to think very carefully about the holiday to Peru, because it would be very dangerous. And then told me not to cry, as she couldn’t stand it when patients cried.
I had to cancel the holiday. Fortunately, I got all my money back on the insurance.So I didn’t get to Peru, or Machu Picchu, or Lake Titicaca. Although she had said a heart operation probably wouldn’t be necessary for 5 – 10 years, in fact I needed emergency surgery within 3 years.
There will be an interval
None of which I could know writing myself a letter to the future. As I didn’t know that I would also have testicular cancer, lose my job,or lose my driving license through an eyesight problem.
Which meant, that when I did receive a letter I’d completely forgotten about writing – in my own handwriting – I was a little confused and felt I’d suddenly stepped into an episode of Lost. And I sat and looked at the message:
There will be an interval
And I laughed. And I cried. And goosebumps ran down my spine. It all seemed so prescient, so insightful, so philosophical, naive and so pertinent. The little message from five year ago me was like a hug from someone who really cared about me. And a phrase that meant nothing at the time – except that there was going to be an interval, a comfort break for a pee and an ice cream – put everything in perspective. An interval had almost ben a finale, the script I though would be performed had become an improvisation, and sometimes we surprise ourselves, and don;t realise the significance of what we do at any on time. And it’s not all about the big performance, the centrepiece, the main event.
There will be an interval