Sunday, 29 January 2012

Challenge, Curse or Comfort?

This past few days (weeks!), I have mostly been distracted from writing ... thinking about Twitter. Ironic really, given that my reason for joining Twitter in the first place was to boost my writing!

My relationship with Twitter is fraught with ambivalence so I've decided to spend this blog post exploring it and asking you to consider (and tell me) about your own relationship with the big T.

I find Twitter a challenge because it is full of rules I still don't completely understand or more accurately, I think, the rules are still being worked out. The word limit rule gives a false sense of it being a restricted form but human imagination, creativity and the sheer urge to communicate finds new and inventive ways around this. And therein lies the challenge. The uninitiated amongst us (or is it JUST me?) are still trying to work it out. I just about get the whole #hashtag, and incredibly useful it is too. There's the *written between the stars* that I remain unsure of though? Then there's links, genuine brilliant links linking to genuinely brilliant 'stuff' - newspaper articles, blogs (SO many brilliant blogs), websites, information, poems - all life is there. I LOVE IT! And pictures and video, music, books ... The key thing achieved, I think, by the restricted word count is extended engagement. 'I'll just have a quick look on Twitter' ... An hour or two later and there I am, STILL looking - sound familiar?

“The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful” – Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard law professor and Internet expert

And here lies the the 'curse' of Twitter .... there's just TOO MUCH! I know there's rubbish but I'm very careful who I follow and I'm quite careful about who I allow to follow me too - I tend to block marketing unless it's businesses in my area or things I think I have some vague connection with (I have no need to be in-Twitter-touch with the marketers of sexy underwear, I live in the North, warm pants are essential here) but the bad stuff is far far outweighed by the good, the interesting, the surprising (in a good way - poetry not porn), the inspirational, the informative, the encouraging.

And here lies the 'comfort' of Twitter. I joined up to give myself the opportunity to keep up with what's going on in the world and to engage with the world as a writer. It allows me to engage with other writers and other people interested in writing and they are, on the whole, a lovely, kind and generous bunch. Although I worry (often about the possibility of the teenager burning the house down) I don't always get it right - a witty response in my head could be interpreted quite differently by somebody picking it up on the other side of the web-a-sphere and this does make me a little shy (relatively speaking anyway), I thoroughly enjoy the opportunities for engagement Twitter does permit me and (mostly) when I do opt to tweet or respond to someone's it's fun!

So how about you then? Is Twitter a challenge, a curse or a comfort for you? 

Monday, 16 January 2012

Crafting The Dash

This past few days, I have mostly been distracted from writing ... thinking about my 'dash' ...

In her 'Dash Poem' Linda Ellis (follow this to read the full version - offers reassurance to grieving family and friends which places them and their memories of a deceased loved one at the heart of what is important to life. The poem offers a way to see beyond the blinding fog of grief to reflect on the life that has been lived. The reader is urged to look within the dates that are the markings of a life (the birth and death dates inscribed on a tomb stone) into the detail of the dash that separates them.

'For that dash represents all the time

That she spent alive on earth

And now only those who love her

Know what that little line is worth

I came across this listening to Chris Evans' breakfast show, it had featured in the previous day's Thought For The Day by the Reverand Ruth. Inspiring stuff, who'da thought?! (ok I admit, I was a dedicated TOG - a young one, I might add).

Apart from its potential to offer solace in grief, the poem got me reflecting on the dash I have thus far constructed and how I might craft what ever remains.

Small thing a dash - hope I haven't left it too late?!!!

The brevity of the dash symbolises of the brevity of our existence where, in the grand scheme of things, we amount to little more than a mark on a stone. Reasonable to surmise then that it is important to craft the dash (or what's left of it) well. Resisting my default reaction to spin into oh-it's-too-late, I decided to go with the optimistic starting point of, I'm quite probably (with less wine, fags, chocolate and more exercise) about half way through and therefore still able to make a difference.

'For it matters not, how much we own,

The cars…the house…the cash.

What matters is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.

At the end of it all, we leave a whisper in the hearts of our family and friends and, if we are really lucky we have managed to reach out to a wider audience. This brought to mind a picture I had found to use for some training I delivered (on using questions in the classroom to maximise students learning - in cases you're wondering).

I LOVE this picture, it illustrates how the neurons in the brain fire together (an idea explored by Donald Ebb) and supports the theory that what we learn (and experience) and how that makes us feel, physically alters our brain and therefore who we are.

Thus, being a good, reliable family member, a good friend and colleague, even a good customer in the Supermarket (I need to work harder at this) we can have a positive impact in the minds of others. As for my writing, I reason, if I can write something that makes somebody feel positive then I will be able to claim success. In any case, the fact that my writing makes ME feel positive (mostly) makes me better able to be a more positive person - which can only be a good starting point in my interactions with those around me (even those in the Supermarket).

Enjoy your dash!

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Being ...

This past few days (weeks/months/years) I have mostly been distracted from writing ... thinking about 'being'.

I am much indebted to Caitlin Moran for this insight! The few evenings and (stolen) mornings I have spent reading her text have been far more enlightening than years of therapy (cheaper too). For a long time I have accepted that I am something of a dreamer, as well as an expert procrastinator but it wasn't until I got to the end of Moran's brilliant, somewhat confrontational and incredibly humorous book, 'How To Be A Woman' that I was able to really understand how my infinite capacity to think about BEING rather than actually getting on and DOING is the thing that most categorically holds me trapped in a world of underachievement.

Moran manages to balance a brutal honesty with a gentle compassion for her younger self and every other woman of the western world who has ever, even once, been confused about how to negotiate the contradictory demands and subtly coded confusions of being female; concluding that the fundamental barrier to success for us all is in our distraction with worrying about BEING when we really need to just get on and DO IT!

Just as I did as a teenager, I daydream, debate and deliberate regularly on what kind of a person I want to be; what kind of a wife, mother, daughter, friend, colleague and, increasingly, what kind of a writer I want to be.

I'd quite like to be the kind of wife Jerry Hall's mother advocated: 'you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom'. I think this sounds fun and although Hall said she would take care of the bedroom bit herself and pay someone to take care of the other two, I do quite enjoy a bit of cooking. I'd like to be a 'good' mother but it seems to me there is little agreement of what this actually constitutes. We didn't have a 'naughty step' in the early years because we lived in a bungalow but I do have a relatively short fuse which, I believe, can't be wholly ignored when we consider (fingers crossed) that the 15 year old can be honestly referred to as a 'good lad'! As for being a good daughter, I have to admit I am still trying and the older I get the more effort this seems to require and the relationship maintains its inherent capacity to confuse me. I'm quite a good friend, it's probably the role I understand most and, as a woman of a certain age, anybody who doesn't agree has gone now. The colleague aspect of my being is complicated. When I worked full time as a teacher, I was much clearer about my roles and responsibilities and, physically, emotionally and intellectually draining though they were, they were quite clear cut. I am now something of a 'leader' but I work part time with an amazing group of (mostly) women who are more than capable of leading themselves and everybody else around them.

As for being a writer, well ... this is the critical bit. This, for me, is about nurturing the potential for me to forge future achievement and success. I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. It is a dream, an ambition, that has distracted me from my 'real' life for the last twenty years. I have slowly (ok VERY slowly) begun to explore and come to terms with what BEING a writer means. Could it be that if I had spent as much time actually getting on with it as I have pondering what I will wear and say at the 'awards', I might have actually written something worth reading by now? Moran's right, I need to stop worrying about being a writer and just get on and do it!

Monday, 2 January 2012


This past few days, I have mostly been distracted from writing ... thinking about the idea 'settlement'. 

In her fantastically honest, sometimes brutal but ultimately uplifting book 'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal', Jeanette Winterson describes how she finds 'settlement' following her search and ultimate reunion with her birth mother. It is less the fact of actually meeting her birth mother and more the understanding she gains from it, most importantly the knowledge that she was always wanted, that is pivotal in Winterson's self acceptance and celebration. Critically, the idea of having found a 'settlement' is most definitely NOT the same as having found a compromise, it is much more dynamic, active, much less conciliatory. 

This struck a chord with me or (in keeping with my writing exercises to challenge all cliches) this detonated neural pathways in my mind previously gridlocked with domestic traffic. It forced me to THINK, to reflects and to reevaluate. As good a topic as any to open my new (year) blog. 

I'm very definitely a glass-half-full woman, often describing myself as having the (proverbial) life of Riley I live in a loving and supportive marriage with our teenage son who, despite the occasional lapse, is not the demon the word has come to evoke. We live a relatively quiet but comfortable existence. We keep two cats, a small and very cute dog and four chickens. When I think about this life that I am able to claim as my own I feel very fortunate. It is not the life I thought I might ever actually have, although elements of it are very much fragments of the life I fantasised about as an emerging and somewhat emotionally erratic adult. I think of myself as content, happy, settled. But (and this is the crux of it) I also (usually during hormonally challenged days in the month) wonder if I'm not letting myself off the hook too early. 

I 'used' to be ambitious, I 'used' to feel more vital, I 'used' to have to fight much harder to make it through each day in one piece! It's the 'settled' that's the problem, when we describe ourselves as 'settled' it sounds so 'over', 'done'. Concluded! Whereas understanding we have arrived at a 'settlement' is positive, dynamic even, offering opportunities for the future. Suddenly, I feel energised, empowered, ready!

I very much want to be a writer, that's what all this is about, me (not) writing and I very much hope I can do so from my (mostly clement) 'settlement'.