Friday, 28 November 2014

'Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.'

'It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.'  So sayeth the mighty John Steinbeck.  Today has been Black Friday and what a black day it is.  Hordes of people desperate to have something for nothing.  It really is the antithesis to Thanksgiving yesterday and ironically hails from the same shores.  Why can't we import a festival that celebrates all that is wonderful about humankind, why do we have to have something which encourages greed and (if the tv footage is anything to go by), appalling bad manners when shopping?  Apparently, it was Amazon who imported Black Friday five years ago (thanks for that) and each year it has grown a little so that now it has become officially, a 'thing' in Britain.  To the uninitiated, such as myself, it seems to be an opportunity to hone those skills so beloved of the January sales lover - the shoving, the wanton neediness for tat, the gleam in the eye for a bargain that you never know, may come in useful at some stage in the future.  I sound cynical.  No, really?  I hate this about people.  While I appreciate a bargain as much as the next person, I don't see what this incessant need for 'stuff' is all about.  Perhaps if people thought a little more about what they should be grateful about; those simple things like shelter, water and food, good health and a wage coming in, they wouldn't worry about what they don't have and can't consume and might be happy with less.  But then if we weren't bombarded with advertising which tells us what we can't possibly be happy without, we wouldn't know what it was we couldn't live without.  And then we might be happy.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

'Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.'

Oprah Winfrey said that.  I like her.  She seems a sensible woman, who has control of her own life and appreciates everything she has worked hard for.  She talks a lot of sense, in-between the self-help twaddle.  I used to watch her show, back in the day, when I was in my teens and early twenties and it was on before Neighbours and Home and Away when I got back in from work.  I must admit to having the occasional guilty pleasure, buying O magazine and seeing what the great one had to say on everything from faith to fornication via cookery tips and meditation - all in one magazine!  Incredible.  I liked her strong sense of herself, her place in the world and how thankful she was to be there.  Okay, so she also had Tom Cruise jumping up and down on her sofa but even she couldn't avoid being pulled into the glamour of Hollywood sometimes.  I admire her still for the way she has a concept of her spiritual self that she is happy to embrace and to share. 
However, this was supposed to be about Thanksgiving.  I really do wish that we had something like that over here.  i woke up this morning to Radio Four's Prayer for the Day and for a brief couple of minutes was encouraged to think about what it actually meant to be thankful for simply being, not for having stuff, not for being glad that we weren't in a worse place (see BandAid's most controversial line - tonight thank God it's them instead of you), no this was simply a call to the heart to be thankful for what we have, the small pleasures and delights that are a part of every day we pass through, however bad it might seem at the time.  From the outside, Thanksgiving seems to be about reconnecting to simplicity, sharing time with family and friends and appreciating all that we have, rather than mourning all that we perceive to be missing out on - usually materialistic in focus.  I hope it really is still about this at its core and if it is, long may it continue.
I will try and hold onto those words of wisdom from Oprah and Prayer for the Day as this day comes to an end and the next, full of promise and wonder, prepares to arrive.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

'The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt'

Sylvia Plath wrote that and she knew a thing or two about creativity.  The more I read about writing, the more I think about it and learn about it as both a scholarly and creative pursuit, the less i actually write.  Before I even began my creative writing diploma, I wrote every morning before either going to work or beginning studying and i finished the first two parts of two separate trilogies.  I had even begun to send work off to publishers.  Now I rarely write even when a perfect opportunity like NaNoWriMo knocks at my door and what i do write, I agonise over ridiculous things and find it impossible to edit and difficult to share.  I don't really have much experience of anything much so although it doesn't appear that I am 'laying myself bare', I am constantly rereading and consulting with myself as to whether someone could find something out about me, about my character, my dreams and fears, the silly things that raise a white flag occasionally and say that no, it isn't alright and you are an idiot. Of course, the main reason that this doesn't happen is because nobody reads what I write so there is very little chance that anybody will find out anything about me that I do not intend.  I am going to have to address the not writing because I don't have time (I have the same number of hours in the day as everybody else after all) and that will definitely be the foundation of a new year's resolution - I love making resolutions.  As for the scholarly side, I will have to write pieces that can be published and the first thing that I need to learn is that you must have the publication in mind to write for rather than write something you think is incredible and then tote it around to a variety of journals and hope that they will like it.
Time to start writing a list of things I need to do then.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

'I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.'

You can thank Winston Churchill for that quote.  I wonder what he thought of chickens?  As far as I'm aware, history did not capture his thoughts on these feathered mercenaries of the garden.  I'm sure if he did have something to say about them though, it would be considered, erudite and finely tuned - purposeful you might even say.  Whether he said anything or not, I have a few things to say about these delightful birds.  I was warned that they would wreck the garden so I really, honestly was prepared for this.  However, looking out onto the sea of mud that was grass (not quite a lawn but manicured somewhere between a roadside verge and a sand-dune with a liberal spattering of moss added in for good measure), I have to admit that the ladies have beaten me.  The garden is no great thing of beauty but it was more beautiful than it is now so that is something which needs to be addressed.  I have a cunning network of a variety of fencing materials all designed to keep the chickens out and the foliage safe.  It has become clear that when necessary and often by accident, my feathered friends can fly.  Blast.  I need to up my game so a new, longer and taller fence is on its way to me and the free range opportunities for my little egg layers will shortly be curtailed.

Monday, 24 November 2014

My mother's handbag

My mother's handbag was a small, brown thing.  But she loved it.  It was always slung over her shoulder, her left I think,  I began below it and as I grew, my fingers were able to reach it, then my hair brushed it, eventually my shoulders passed by the once plush pouch with its huge tarnished, silver hoops which acted as the clasp.  I was allowed to carry it too then, you see.  The bag contained the mysteries of womanhood; articles that were of interest to me like spare change for sweets and lipstick to transform along with boring and less fascinating objects like tissues and tampons.  The tan colour would have once been a deeper chocolate brown I think but time and use had weathered it.  The bag smelled of mum on the outside and leather on the inside and when i opened it, the hoops clinked together.  I sat on the kitchen floor and spent some time trying to slip the rings through one another.  They never passed each other in this way.  I sat, feeling the knot in the long leather strap which was rubbed shiny and could never be teased out.  The shallow loop that it created at the top of the strap, with the double row of frayed stitches, was pleasant to hold in my small hand.  It fitted me. I looked for the bag once, at the bottom of her wardrobe after she was gone.  I never found it.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

'One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.'

Words are funny things.  We need language to communicate and for most of us, that means using words.  Words are sounds strung together with squiggly lines on paper standing in for them; just signs that mean something which we all agree to abide to and for the most part, think we understand.  But rules... rules... who writes them and what if they are not written down?  What do we do then?  How do we all agree on what we mean and what is the result of misunderstanding?  I ask this because I was misunderstood earlier this week when I put what I considered a perfectly innocent comment on a friend's facebook photo stating that I was scared of clowns (it was in response to a photo of a clown, fact fans, so not as random as that might sound).  I followed this with a further comment that I found the makeup which I took as a way to hide one's face, unnerving and that I worried that the person who spent their time using a persona to interact with their public might be actually unhappy and that the effort of being a happy, outgoing person would be exhausting, leaving nothing left for the person to keep for themselves.  I say, 'worried' but the word is used advisedly; it is hardly something which keeps me awake at night and there are far more troubling and worthwhile things in this vast and wonderful world to expend energy on but having talked to someone who was a clown and who was the saddest (and I mean unhappy, not sad as in pathetic) person I ever spoke to, this is what I thought. 
As I write this, I still think that saying it in the first place was rather banal and most definitely said more about me than about clowns.  In fact, to paraphrase wonder film critic, Mark Kermode; it wasn't even really about clowns.  However, I attracted some criticism from people I didn't even know (welcome to the open plan nature of Facebook, Rebecca - some friends of friends really don't have anything better to do than comment on things that are nothing to do with them) who seemed to read into my comment that I: felt clowning was an easy job; one with no skills necessary; not a real job; not an art form; had no history to it and that I had personally attacked clowns by suggested that they were tired, unhappy and pathetic individuals with nothing to go home to at night.  Wow.  Of course I knew that I didn't write that but that was what people had interpreted my squiggles on the page to mean.  I apologised and exited quickly because I found it surprisingly SO TEMPTING to get into an argument.  Ridiculous.  I did manage a few smart remarks and have ignored the responses as I don't want to be pulled further into head wrecking pointless correspondence with strangers whom I will never meet and who have no interest in a conversation as to what I actually meant over what they interpreted.
In future I will think more carefully about what I say and what I mean but not be afraid to speak my mind.  I will avoid anything to do with clowns though.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Wedding music and dreams in general

I heard a piece of music on the radio today which is one of my favourites: Corelli's Concerto grosso no. 8, or to give it the other name, the Christmas Concerto.  It is a sublime piece of music and one I have loved for a very long time.  So long, in fact, that it was my music of choice for my wedding.  As Oscar pointed out in the car as we were driving somewhere and I was singing along (or rather humming badly), 'but you never got married, did you?'  Thanks for reminding me.  He did make it sound as though I had endured some wedding aisle catastrophe from which I had never recovered.  But no Miss Haversham dusty white dress hysterics for me - no,  I never got that near a church because nobody ever asked me to marry them.  It does seem silly now to have thought so much about something that never happened but I don't think it has left me needing any long term therapy.  Dreaming is essential though and as we did our 'trick or treating' last night, I did find my attention wandering from ensuring the children said 'happy Halloween' and 'thank you' at appropriate points during the evening to admiring the beautiful homes we were on the doorstep of.  I could have a home like that, with beautiful tiles and lovely vases, I found myself thinking.  Thankfully, my sensible self was quick to point out that if I had a spare couple of million, yes, I probably could have a house like that but shouldn't I be thankful for what I did have rather than dreaming about what I hadn't?  Dreaming is wonderful as long as you remember the limits.  Otherwise it just serves to make you feel hard done by and miserable.

Talking of dreaming, I'm still attempting that novel and as it is now NaNoWriMo once again, I was up at five this morning to chug out three quarters of an hour on something, anything which might merit further attention at the end of the month.  I am going to indulge in some 'free writing' which hopefully will spark something interesting and even if it doesn't, will enable me to just write every morning with no fixed agenda and therefore no possibility of blocking or failure in the first instance.  It was quite liberating finishing mid-sentence when my phone alarm went off to tell me to stop.

Every day should have a few points where there are some missing full stops.  That's when the dreams creep in.